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Deabak Episode 17 & Beyond: Much Ado about Everything

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Thus far in media stories for Episode 17, we’ve seen Daegil dig up his father’s coffin and scream in pain while tears pour down his face. We’ve seen Kim Chaegun hand over the saving tag  Sukjong gave him to Seolim who hands it to Daegil while he tells Daegil to use it. We’ve seen Daegil stop Yeoninggun from slicing Injwa’s head off. We’ve seen Deagil in a police uniform, probably so he can enter the prison easily. And now we see Daegil in mourning clothes, performing last rites.

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Given all the released details of Episode 17, I think at this point the story line speeds up. No more lingering over torturous pain and long bouts of gambling.

The writer-nim and PD have too much ground to cover in these next seven episodes. If the writer stays as close to history as he has so far, Daebak has another almost 6 to 8 years to cover very quickly. Granted, we don’t know if the drama ends after Injwa’s 1728 Revolt or before it. (Personally, I hope after the Revolt ’cause I want to see Injwa completely lose to the combined forces of the two brothers.) But we do know that Yeoninggun takes the throne to become King Yeoning in 1724 before the drama ends. We saw that in the opening scenes of the drama.

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Right now the story remains in 1717 or early 1718 ’cause Suk Bin is still alive. ..at least so far at the end of episode 16. A thought just occurred to me, is Daegil mourning his lost father, Mangeum, or does he hold mourning rites for the passing of his long lost mother, Lady Choi Suk Bin? I’m betting on the former.

Anyway, Suk Bin dies in 1718…and Sukjong dies two years later. The Crown Prince takes over in 1718 when Sukjong retires and becomes King Gyeongjeong in 1720 when Sukjong dies. During the four years of Gyeongjong’s reign, the Soron’s more or less reign supreme. He was a weak king, both in mind and body. Sickly most of his life, he handed over much of the reins of government to Yeoninggun. Nevertheless, he controlled everything…but how he reigned had everything to do with who got to him first and convinced him to take the action that person wanted.  He was capricious, to say the least.

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For our story, the scenario of Gyongjong being king is tailor made of Injwa and his merry band of Sorons who absolutely despise Yeoninggun for no other reason than that his mother was a water maid. By the way, the Norons weren’t exactly in love with him either for the same reason, but they knew he fell on their side of the political aisle so they tolerated him and supported him for their own political futures.

Finally, the Sorons are in control of the government…more or less. Injwa is a “pal” of the new weak king and can get him to do whatever Injwa wants. But this new king is sick. As a result, Injwa continues as a cunning devil intent on bringing down the current Yi (Lee) monarchy and installing Daegil as his own puppet king, replacing Yeonninggun, the lowly son of a water maid who should never be king.

As a logical side note and bending history just a touch, the rebel Jeong should join Injwa in his rebellion. Jeong was the family name of Jeong Dojeon who was the King Taejo’s Prime Minister and the primary force behind not only ending the Goryeo Dynasty but also in creating the Joseon Dynasty. (Watch Six Flying Dragons for all the details.) Anyway, Jeong’s followers raged against the Yi kings because Taejo’s son, Yi Bang-won, killed him and became King Taejong. (Taejong was the father of the famous King Sejong,)  Jeong’s family and followers harbored hatred for the Yi monarchs for decades. So it’s easy to imagine Deabak’s writer using that piece of history to throw another log onto the fire of revolution. He already has to some extent, but will the rebel Jeong take Injwa’s bait or be caught and die? Only the writer-nim knows.

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In addition to add the action packed events that take place over this period of time, the Sorons attempt to assassinate Yeonginggun a few times before he becomes king. The most famous is their plan to kill him while on a hunting trip, but Yeoninggun learned of it and fled to his step-mother, Queen Inwon, for protection. No, we’ve not met her yet…and she may not show up. Anyway, when Gyeongjong dies of food poisoning (Never order unrefrigerated shrimp in the hot summer months!), the Sorons accuse Yeoninggun of poisoning his brother the King. Too late…Yeoninggun has already become King Yeoning.

The Sorons lose the majority of their power, but Yeoning rules unlike his father. He desires reconciliation and power sharing between the two parties. As a result…and I shouldn’t give the story away if the writer continues to follow history…Injwa is betrayed by his own Soron party.

Written by Valerie Curl

May 22, 2016 at 7:31 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Kpop Herald Recognizes Jang Keun Suk’s International Fans in Interview

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On Thursday, May 19, 2016, Kpop Herald asked its readers to submit questions to them for an eminent press conference with Jang Kuen Suk and Yoo Jin Goo for #Daebak, the newest SBS fusion seguek drama offering. Unlike previous fusion segueks, Deabak (aka Jackpot or the Royal Gambler) is the story of a real prince, the son of King Sukjong, who died shortly after his premature birth (Yeonigso) and, through the creative imagination of the screen writer, takes the viewers on an adventure of what his life might have been had he lived as an outcast prince who was born too soon. His being born too soon casts a pall across his life and the lives of his mother and brother, the future King Yeoning, as well as causing political factional fights for his father, King Sukjong. Nevertheless, this young prince grows up as Baek DaeGil, never knowing his royal heritage and endures unimaginable hardships, loss and tortures…until the day arrives when he learns the truth. The story supposedly pits two brothers, Yeoning and DaeGil, against each other for the crown while at the same time showing how similar they are. They are, in every sense of the word, close friends and comrades in their fight against the political and economic corruption and injustice that infects Joseon society in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

 

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Much to everyone’s surprise, Kpop Herald chose three Eels Family members’ questions for their article from the hundreds they received. Two of the questions are from residents in the USA and one from Australia. Two people asking the questions are members of The Eels Family (TEF) as well as being members of EelsUSA. EelsUSA is a recently created Jang Keun Suk fan club exclusively for United States fans of Jang. Although not yet certified, it hopes to become a subsidiary club to The Eels Family which is one of the main Jang Keun Suk international fan clubs. The Eels Family membership comprises fans from all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, Canada and, of course, the United States. TEF boasts a membership in the thousands and is constantly growing as Jang’s reputation for music and acting spreads across the planet with lightening speed…and access to his concerts and acting performances became more accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The third TEF member who had her question answered is a long time fan of Jang Keun Suk from Australia where he is well-known and much admired.

 

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The first question mentioned in the article came from a Jang Keun Suk fan in Kentucky in the United States. Her question was, “Your growth as an actor is apparent when watching Daebak. Though maturity is sure to have played a role, to what do you attribute this growth? Have you had to do anything in particular to prepare for this role that you haven’t done to prepare for others?

Kpop Herald edited down her question, but, nevertheless, posed it. You can read his answer in the published interview. He went on to respond to the two other equally complex questions posed by TEF and USAEels members. The mere fact that Kpop Herald chose questions from TEF and USAEels points to not only his worldwide appeal but also the native intelligence and curiosity exhibited by both The Eels Family and EelsUSA members. His “pretty boy” image not withstanding, they exhibit through their questions a desire to know the person behind the celebrity image and his motivations. Japanese fans have long been privey with the person behind the personality of Jang Keun Suk’s public image, but rarely has the rest of the globe had a peek into his world in a language they can understand. Kpop Herald chose to step outside of traditional boundaries by not only asking for questions from across the globe but also choosing questions from those international fans. That change is unique amongst Korean media and signals a recognition of Jang Keun Suk’s international fame and stardom that extends well beyond the accepted boundaries of Asia.

 

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Here’s hoping that the rest of the media, especially in Korea, takes note that Jang Keun Suk is a highly respected and admired international actor and singer who shines a bright, glowing light on Korea.

The Kpop article, in English, follows:

 

 

 

Written by Valerie Curl

May 20, 2016 at 10:28 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Budapest Diary ~ A Review

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The first time I watched Budapest Diary I fell in love with it. I lost count of how many times I’ve seen it since and each time it captivates me. I wrote this review about a year ago and watching the film again last night reminded me of it. My views about this short film haven’t changed since I originally wrote this review.

Made in 2011, the plot is a romantic story of lost love. Jang Geun Seok’s emotions range from initial anger to acceptance to a return to living to, finally, redemption. In 40 minutes, Jang, under the direction of Director Chang, presents the entire range of emotions that accompany the loss of love. An amazing feat in a Korean industry that takes multiple hours upon hours to tell the same or similar story. In that sense, Budapest Diary has a very American feel to it. It gets to the heart of the story quickly and shows the character’s emotions without lengthy discussion or display. The film moves quickly, but yet it’s the many little details, such as a shot of left over food littered on the coffee table in his hotel room or Jang suddenly staring staring at at a tulip on his table in the restaurant scene, that enable the viewer’s imagination to fill in – or color – all of the character’s emotions without explicit explanation.

It’s like the difference between Dickens’ explicit, detailed scenes and Hemingway’s highly descriptive short use of words to show a scene. Dickens provides every detail, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. Hemingway, on the other hand, does the opposite by providing just enough detail for the reader to use his vivid imagination to fill in details of the scene.

I believe it was famed acting coach Strasberg who taught that, when acting, the emotions should be honest; otherwise the audience won’t believe them. It’s clearly apparent that Jang displays honest emotions in this short film. In viewing Budapest Diary yet again, it’s obvious that anyone who denigrates this actor’s acting abilities hasn’t watched this film. The range of honest emotions he displays takes the viewer from lows to highs, from ddep anger to desperate sadness to free-wheeling joy to calm acceptance and everything in between. We partake in his emotional journey because we believe in it. It’s real to the viewer.

That ability to create desired emotional sensations in the viewer is the essence of good acting. Anyone within the industry –  or out –  who claims he’s not a great actor has not studied this short film. As that Korean/Canadian director recently tweeted, Jang is highly under rated by his Korean industry. Personally, given the broad stretch of emotions required in this film as well as in his other films (specifically, The Case of Itaewon Homicide), I believe Jang has the acting talent to become far more than an Asian actor. As yet, I’m not convinced that Tree J, which is his company, understands that potential.

Nevertheless, if I were still in school, I’d choose Budapest Diary for a thesis paper. It’s like a John Donne poem or late Shakespearean play: tightly woven and full of imagery that not only sets the mood but describes emotions, thoughts, settings and ideas without elaborate descriptions and words. Each scene is a painting, full of details that only the subconscious registers, creating a specific mood in the viewer’s mind.

Every time I watch it, I see different aspects of the film. I don’t think any film has so intrigued me. Maybe because it is so short that it’s easy to watch over and over again. The overall picture, like a masterpiece at the Louvre, is condensed; thus, each detail stands out waiting to be discovered. Director Chang and film editor did a masterful job. Interestingly, Chang is also the director for CAMP. Thus, I suspect the same attention to artistic details – metaphors, similes, and symbols – all designed to elicit an emotional response, without the viewer even realizing it. It’s highly possible that CAMP could well be extraordinary, given how much both have grown both in life and in the industry.

Moreover, even the music, from the initial song to the harmonica solo to the final orchestration, draws the viewers’ emotions along on the character’s journey: solitude to sadness to joy to, finally, grandeur…or hope. If you listen closely, you can hear the horn instruments softly holding up (or lifting up) the stringed instruments. Again, every detail of the film is as finely honed as a masterpiece…which makes me wonder why Tree J did not treat it as such?

Written by Valerie Curl

May 1, 2016 at 5:27 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Daebak (Jackpot) Queries, Post Episode 10 ~ History vs Fiction, in one of the most fascinating eras of Joseon history, and What Happens

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I’ve just finished watching the fully subbed version of Ep 10 of #Daebak. So, here some questions to ponder before the next episode.

 

1) When Chae-geon referred to the Tiger that could move mountains he once knew and adored and to whom Dae-gil reminded him, to what person was he referring?


2) Do Dae-gil and Yeoning become friends at some point after rescuing Dam-seo?

3) Are Dae-gil & Yeoninggun working in concert? They both wear In-jwa’s old white masks and are both coming at In-jwa from different angles, converging on him, but have they coordinated their efforts?

4) If they’re not working in concert, why did they both choose to use In-jwa’s old gambling masks at the same time?

5) What is Sukjong, if he’s still alive at this point, up to? He’s a master at playing politics, and from the look on his face when he dismisses Yeoninggun, telling him not to investigate further, he’s deciding on something. Who is he going to use and what is he going to do to bring down Yi In-jwa?

6) And what about Dam-seo? Does she just disappear? Where will she again appear? And what will she do now that she’s been disabused of her long held beliefs regarding her father’s death? Will she too choose revenge? If so, to whose camp will she choose to use her skills, Dae-gil’s or Yeoninggun’s?

7) Speaking of characters, when will Gye Sul Im show up again? And how will she, as a Busan gisaeng, help Dae-gil?

8) What about Kim Chang-jib, a previous Minister to Qing under a Cultural Exchange Program who has returned after 17 years, in 1712, and is now the new leader of the Noron party? He’s an actual historical person associated with the Noron Faction, although information on him is difficult to find. Nevertheless, what does he do to thwart In-jwa whom he finds objectionable?

9) Meanwhile, what about Crown Prince Yoon (aka King Gyeongjong)? Although he is politically aligned via his mother and her family to the Sorons, he’s a weak Crown Prince and King due to illness and, historically, a weak character who was easily swayed by whomever got to him first. (His reign as King only lasted 4 years.) But what does he do; does he continue to protect In-jwa?

Aside from the gambling aspect and the character Dae-gil, none of the historical aspects of this drama are too far off the possibilities of the historical record. Yi In-jwa did lose his family in the 1680 Gyeongsin Hwanguk purge. His father and grandfather both had been high officials in the Joseon government, but their downfall destroyed In-jwa’s future. So, even while the Annuals (not in English yet) don’t state the reasons for In-jwa’s Revolt in 1728, it’s not hard to imagine his scheming and planning a revolt against Sukjong and his son, King Yeongso (aks Yeoninggun/Prince Yeoning). Nor is it hard to imagine the other historical figures – Sukjong, Yeoninggun, Crown Prince Yoon, Kim Chang-jib, and even Suk Bin – acting as they do in this drama.

Personally, I think the scriptwriter, Kwon Soon-Gyu, has done a masterful job of distilling 30 years of Joseon history into one 24 episode fictionalized account. He’s blended the factional history of one of Joseon’s most dynamic kingship eras with a fictional story of gambling, revenge, and honor. It’s like reading a great suspenseful novel, filled with any number of heroes and villains, almost villains, greedy side characters, sorrowful characters, and great schemers. It’s a mystery, a thriller, and a fictionalized history all rolled into one…like a Steve Berry novel that combines history, mystery, and thrilling adventure into one magnificent tale.

But it requires an engaged mind, rather than being simple mindless entertainment, to enjoy this drama. Nevertheless, I am sure it will stand out as one of 2016’s best dramas.

 

Written by Valerie Curl

April 26, 2016 at 9:37 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Daebak The Royal Gambler is daebak

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Great heavens, I’m really loving Daebak The Royal Gambler!

In Hangul, the word deabak means a jackpot. In other words, this drama is a winner. It truly is a jackpot.

It’s been a long time since I watched a show that engaged my mind the way Deabak does. The closest to it was SBS’s sageuk drama Six Flying Dragons. But Deabak is by far a better drama.

Every episode just gets better and better. My only complaint is that the episodes end too soon. I want them to continue. I don’t want to stop watching what happens next. Honestly, this drama is better – more captivating – than Six Flying Dragons (and DoS), and I didn’t think any current drama could beat Six Flying Dragons. Yet, Daebak has easily…and I’m not saying that as a Jang Keun Suk fan. I’m saying that as a fan of suspenseful, high quality, well scripted and directed shows.

One of my main problems with Kdramas is that after the first couple of episodes the dramas fall into lag as main characters begin to over-analyze or become paralyzed into inaction. They let opportunity after opportunity bypass while they figuratively suck their thumbs. Daebak, thus far, hasn’t fallen into that trap. The story is fast paced and the tension remains constantly high, moving from one event to another with just enough dialogue to keep the plot logically moving without it’s becoming tiresome.


For me at least, it’s like reading a Steve Berry thriller that combines both actual history and fiction to create a story that keeps the reader up all night reading. It’s more than engaging. It’s suspenseful and action-packed with a touch of humor and a just enough actual history to intrigue the mind of the reader. Or in this case, the mind of the viewer. I’m left after each episode – as with a well written chapter – wanting to know what happens next. I want to stay up all night with the story.


Of course, it doesn’t hurt at all that Daebak is extremely well acted. Nevertheless,  it’s the story – the plot – that draws my attention and makes me want to watch more and more and more.

Written by Valerie Curl

April 19, 2016 at 9:30 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Daebak The Royal Gambler – Jang Keun Suk, The Mark of a Great Actor

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Jang Keun Suk has thousands of expressions in his repertoire. Each expression conveys the thoughts of the character he’s portraying. With one expression he can humanize his character and say more than any amount of explanatory dialogue, regardless of whether it’s the lusty teasing in Mary Marry Me or the haughty disdain he displays in You’re Beautiful, or the distilled evil of a psychotic killer in Where the Truth Lies.


Nevertheless, the expression he displays in Episode 6 of Daebak the Royal Gambler, leaning against the tree looking over at the Swordsman, is entirely new to him. That one look conveys hopeless desperation, paralyzing fear, wary apprehension, bone-chilling exhaustion, and forlorn despair. I don’t know what anyone else thought when they watched this scene, before he ruthlessly pulls the snake off the branch, stripping its’ skin away with his teeth and biting hungrily into its’ bloody flesh, but for me at least, that short moment in this scene represents the turning point in this character’s life. It’s the penultimate climax in which Gae-ddong starts becoming Dae-gil.

He’s reached his lowest point outside of death itself. His body still bleeding from the knife wound In-jwa inflicted and starvation racking his endurance, he’s desperate to escape.  Almost subconsciously he knows that if the familiar-looking but still unknown Swordsman yells out, Gae-ddong cum Dae-gil will die. He knows Demon will ruthlessly slice his spine for attempting to escape. He wants to run but is too afraid to move. Exhaustion and starvation have taken their toll on his body and his mind.  He can’t move. He can barely think. All of his attention and thoughts are focused on the mysterious Swordsman: if he sees me, what will he do; where can I hide; how will I escape death. His thoughts at this moment no longer center around revenge but solely on finding a way to continue living. He knows he has reached the ebb of his life…and the Swordsman holds his life in the balance.

Daebak’s script writer could have written a thousand words of dialogue to describe what JKS conveys with just that one expression. For me, at least, that one expression, combining a multitude of thoughts and fears, defines JKS’ amazing acting talent. Through his own innate sensibilities, he digests his character he portrays and becomes that character. Truly great actors have said they stay in character even when not filming as they don’t want to lose the character even for a moment because it’s too difficult to recapture the character. I don’t know if that statement is true of JKS, but I do know this solitary moment in Daebak The Royal Gambler defines the remaining development of Gae-ddong into Dae-gil,

Metaphorically, too, the entire scene holds resonance. With the Swordsman making a slight nod of his head, Gae-ddong subconsciously realizes he may have a friend. Moreover, in pulling the snake off the tree branch and devouring it, another metaphor is added. Snakes, in literature, are used to describe both evil and good, death and rebirth. One has only to look at the symbol of modern of medicine to see the snake of death and health entwined to see the symbolism. Thus, the slight nod of the Swordsman metaphorically signals the bloody change in Gae-ddong. In eating the flesh of the snake, Gae-ddong ingests the metaphorical powers of the viper – wisdom, deceit, cunning, and regeneration – as well as its’ life-giving flesh. It’s as if having eaten the bloody flesh of the viper, Gae-ddong unwittingly is reborn as Dae-gil, even though he fails to realize it until he meets his real tiger and endures yet another trauma to his rebirth.

Regardless, in that one short moment before Gae-ddong ruthlessly yanks the viper from the tree branch, Jang Keun Suk treats his audience to a multitude of emotions through one solitary expression that says so much and, thus, defines the enormous acting talent of this actor. When one expression displaces thousands of words, that truly is extraordinary acting talent.

Written by Valerie Curl

April 16, 2016 at 11:12 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Jang Keun Suk – A Pheonix Reborn

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Jang Keun Suk has never had as physically and emotionally demanding a role as he now plays in Daebak The Royal Gambler.

In his past roles, he played a variety of characters, from a psychotic killer to a loveable if emotionally scarred musician. His previous roles absolutely showed his acting talent and his potential to play more substantial characters. His portrayal in Where the Truth Lies of a young adult who wantonly murders a stranger chills the audience. He plays the role with a charisma that makes you want to like him; then suddenly he exhibits pure evil with one look. That one look is shockingly real and intense, leaving us both confused and frightened. In Beethoven’s Virus, he makes us believe he is a musical genius, torn between loyalty and honor for his mentor and his desire to be strike out on his own, seeking new interpretations of classical compositions even at the cost of being abandoned. At times, he seems so lost and alone and at others abrupt and abrasive. But we empathize with his character and want him to succeed because Jang plays the role with such honesty and truth.

 

 

Acting, according to the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, is the art of making the unreal real. In other words, the acting must appear honest and real and truthful – of making the audience believe everything the actor does and says really happens. As many directors who have worked with Jang have said, he’s a natural born actor. He instinctively knows what to do, how to say a line, what look to give, and what movement to make to create a believable character.

His character, though, in Daebak (Jackpot) The Royal Gambler is something entirely new for Jang. Born out of long year of reflection and a greed for strong role, he chose this script exactly for the reason that it would change the trajectory of his acting career. No more soft roles, he said; he wanted roles and characters that were difficult to play and would challenge him as never before, to force him out of his comfort zone. But he’s never had to endure physical stunts that would make most of us cringe and go screaming towards the exit.

 

 

Although early in Daebak, he plays a free-wheeling, mischievous country boy, innocent of city ways and city people, his character swiftly endures harsh struggles to survive and is nearly killed in the process. He sees his father murdered in front of him; he’s beaten, stabbed, falls off a cliff, gets buried up to his chin in salt flat mud, and starved long enough to grab and rip the skin off a live viper and feast on its’ raw meat. And if that isn’t enough, he’s tossed into the outhouse dung hole.

 

 

Having endured all those traumas, much like the protagonist of a Greek tragedy – and in many ways, Daebak is much like a Greek tragedy – he emerges a stronger, wiser, and even harder man. He becomes Dae-Gil the Royal Gambler, the best gambler in Joseon. He may not like this new world he’s discovered, where winner takes all and never mind the consequences to others, but he knows how to play the game, even if it requires swindling. Yet, for all his newly found toughness, he harbors a sense of goodness, fairness, and honor. We see the compassion in his eyes when he encounters injustice to others. We also see the hard gleam of revenge flashing in those same eyes when he seeks to destroy his antagonist.

 

 

This actor is not the soft, handsome Jang, with his long locks, winning smile, and bluff jokes, so often portrayed in the media and elsewhere. This Jang is one who has acquired a vision of his career and now greedily pursues that vision, regardless of the hardships and physical challenges required.

 

 

His year of reflection, wherein he endured the stings and barbs of the media and public opinion, created a new Jang. He emerged stronger Jang who, like his character in Daebak, single-mindedly seeks his goal of becoming a truly great artiste.

This Jang is a phoenix reborn from the ashes of his past.

 

 

 

 

Written by Valerie Curl

April 13, 2016 at 2:06 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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