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Jang Keun Suk – The Ultimate Entertainer

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I’ve just finished watching Jang Keun Suk’s Endless Summer concert in Osaka. Held on July 19, at Osaka-Jo Hall, the concert was broadcast live by the Japanese paid cable station TBS to subscribers.

All I can say is Great Heavens! Jang Keun Suk really has become the ultimate showman & entertainer. He now rivals all the best from musical history, regardless of the country of origin. I was utter amazed at his extraordinary showmanship, his ability to connect with his audience, and the way he draws his audience in. I’ve watched many great singers perform before an audience – and Jang Keun Suk equals the best in the industry, including Tony Bennett who has often been hailed as the ultimate songster and entertainer before live audiences.

Jang, who is also an well known Korean Wave (Hallyu) actor with more 25 years in the acting profession, has always had the ability to connect with his audience. That is part of his appeal. When he decided to sing professionally, he chose to do so in Japan while doing all his acting in Korea. To connect with his Japanese audience, he first began by studying the language and the culture. He is not a standard entertainer who arrives, sings and leaves the stage. He talks to his audience, tells them stories, asks them questions, and often teases them. As a result, his concerts sell out with minutes. He has performed at Tokyo’s largest venue, the Tokyo Dome, to a sold out crowd of over 40K people.

The last couple of years he’s chosen to keep his concert venues down to around 10 thousand or fewer people to create a more intimate atmosphere…but even so the venue, like Osaka’s Castle Hall, is enormous. Viewers in upper seats virtually need opera glasses to see him. Fortunately, the entire show can be seen on large monitor screens behind the stage.

Having watched via video many if not most of his concerts, I can honestly say that Endless Summer in Osaka is his best concert yet. I thought his previous concert for his album, Monochrome, was his best. And it was to date. He had mastered his breathing and learned how to use his diaphragm to control his voice better while being physically active on stage. But everything about this new one is so much better. His voice is absolutely stunning!!! Utterly perfect. Each and every note on is on key, regardless of whether he’s standing still or dancing or bouncing around.

Often in his early live concerts, he had trouble reaching the higher notes of his older Korean Kdrama songs. His unique baritone voice, even with it wide range, struggled to reach the higher tenor notes, causing his voice to crack and go off key. However, thanks to his hard work and much vocal training, he’s been able master those songs for live performances. In addition, I noticed that many of those songs had been rearranged ever so slightly so he doesn’t have to stretch quite as much to hit those difficult high notes. The changes are extremely subtle and do nothing alter the mood or melody of the songs but suit his baritone voice so much better.

Adding to his unique personality is his ability to sing and converse in Korean, Japanese and English as he seeks to connect on a personal level with his audience. He even recorded two songs in Mandarin although he doesn’t speak the language. Moreover, he has this unique ability to set the tone and atmosphere for each concert that makes his concert goes want it to continue long after the time limit has expired. By comparison, Korean groups like Big Band and others that receive so much media attention, particularly in the US, are mediocre neophytes. Jang Keun Suk’s singing ability and his stage performances and presence far exceeds any Korean group in the current media spotlight. His ability to charm an audience is well known throughout Asia where he literally has millions of SNS fans. But lesser known is that he has created a fan base that extends across the globe to nearly every country.

He’s always had a unique charisma that drew his audience to him, regardless of how youthful and inexperienced he was. As a highly regarded experienced actor turned singer, he always grasped the necessity of understanding and interpreting the lyrics of a song. No matter how naturally talented a singer may be, if he or she cannot convey the emotions inherent in the lyrics to the audience, that singer will fail to become a great artist. Jang Keun Suk’s years of acting experience lent itself to his ability to put over a song in a way that his audience experiences and empathizes with the lyrics. Only truly talented singers are capable of this ability.

While watching the video of this concert, I kept thinking about what an extraordinary performer he’s become in just last few years. His singing is among the best I’ve ever heard and his acting, as noted in his latest Kdrama “Jackpot, the Royal Gambler” would likely win him an Oscar in the States.

To be quite honest, this young man is really far too good and far too talented to be just well known in Asia.

I’m not a fan girl by any means. In all of my decades of living, I’ve never written about or cared much about any singer or actor. But I do appreciate and respect a superior talent when I see it, especially a superior talent which is significantly under-represented in the vast media market.

Here are a couple songs from the Osaka Endless Summer concert. But you’s have to see the entire concert to understand why I praise him so highly.

Written by Valerie Curl

September 6, 2016 at 7:18 PM

Daebak ~Further Reflection on Episode 22

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One thing that should be noted now that subs are completed is Daebak doesn’t make clear either whether Yeoninggun poisoned his brother the King. It leaves that mystery up the viewer just as actual history leaves it up to the reader. Is it possible that Yeoninggun poisoned his brother to gain the throne? Certainly. The Lee [Yi] family were infamous for wiping out competitors for the throne. One has only to back at Taejong and the number of brothers he killed to take and keep the throne. The historical record of the Joseon Dynasty is rife with murders, assassinations, and overthrown kings by family members who had a strong claim to the throne, i.e. being male member of that lineage but were not in direct line to attain it. Lest anyone think the Joseon Dynasty was alone in this behavior, I would remind them of Britain and, specifically, the War of the Roses as well as the many wars following the William’s 1066 conquest of England for control of the throne.

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But is it likely that Yeoninggun murdered his brother, the King? Probably not. Nevertheless, the writer-nim has taken some dramatic license to potentially, although not directly, indict Yeoninggun as that works better for the plot. It is true that the Sorons, fearing their loss of power, did incite violence by using the rumor that Yeoning poisoned the King. They posted flyers throughout the country, attempting to incite the populace in their favor as they planned their rebellion. They needed the people to be with them to overthrow any local Noron officials along the way towards Hanyang.

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Although Injwa makes a big deal about overthrowing the Yi kings for the sake of the common people, the fact is, as is stated obliquely, that his plan seeks revenge (and his vision of justice) for his own and those other Soron families who lost power during Sukjong’s purge of them decades earlier. When his voice-over discusses discusses leading a revolt against a corrupt government, he’s most definitely not talking about the needs, wants or desires of the common people. He’s talking about the deaths and exiles of his and other yangban families who were executed or banished by Sukjong. To him, as is the case in actual history, the plight of the average, common people was irrelevant. What mattered was seeking revenge for the loss of their family power and prestige in a highly structured neo-Confusian society where parentage and birth status meant everything for one’s opportunities in life. In other words, if you weren’t born in the yangban [noble] class, no matter how smart you were, you couldn’t achieve much of anything in that rigid hierarchical structure.

 

Although Daebak states the rebellion beginnings in Cheongju in south central Joseon, not too far from the capital, it in fact had began in Jeolla Province at Jeonju with the other leaders of the rebellion. Nevertheless. Cheongju became an important location for the furtherance of the rebellion simply because of its central location and the ability of the rebel leaders to mobilize their disparate armies in that location.

Many rebels appear convinced that the rebellion would be led by fifth-columnists who could mobilise powerful military resources for the rebels. Put simply, the rebel organization initiated the rebellion because it believed it had sufficient resources to attack the government. The rebel organization believed it had acquired sufficient resources because the fifth-columnists had come to power, and the fifth-columnists were only in power because of the 1727 Soron restoration.

Perhaps if Yeongjo had not practiced a policy of factional reconciliation, the rebellion may not have taken place. But in fact, the Sorons, although they were brought back to court, feared that their place in politics was only temporary. They had not forgotten the harsh treatment of the Noron faction at their hands during the reign of Gyeongjong and believed that their installation into court politics was only temporary…as well they should have. It is certainly true that Yeongjo grew ever more tired of the Noron demands and sought to use the Sorons to balance the power scales.

In fact, many among the Soron rebels believed not only their return to power was only temporary but that they would soon be ejected again. Having had a taste of power once again, they were not willing to relinquish it. In the end, their lust for permanent power spelled the Soron’s permanent downfall. Not only did the Soron faction lose as a result of Injwa’s Mushin Rebellion, it never regained any power position thereafter. It could even be said that Crown Prince Sado’s demise was in part due to his alignment with the Soron court faction against the reigning Noron faction.

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Interestingly, Yeongjo gives Daegil five days to succeed, and although the Soron faction side with Injwa, the Soron faction leaders fear he may lose. They hedge their bets in the drama, just as they did in reality. Nevertheless, the fact that they are Sorons leaves them in suspicion. Regardless, from the time Yeongjo decided to mobilize to the end of the Rebellion was a mere 15 days…under the leadership of the Soron general. General O defeated Injwa’s army south of Suwon near a crossroads. Injwa was captured and taken to Hanyang. Other rebel leaders were killed and beheaded along the way. Their heads were sent to the palace.

One other thing in this episode that needs to be emphasized again is King Yeongjo was very sensitive about his maternal heritage. He loved his mother very much and wrote many poems to her and about her. He spent years trying to attain the status of National Mother for her as other mothers’ of Kings were given (although not necessarily for the concubine mothers of kings…again neo-Confucion status). But because she was not of of the yangban (noble) status but of the cheonmin (lowest) class,  he was blocked over and over again.

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Nevertheless, whenever anyone was foolish enough to deride his mother as a water maid (one of those persons in the lowest hierarchical structure of Joseon’s neo-Confucian society), he took great offense and dealt with them harshly. After decades of trying, he finally attained his wish and his mother was given the recognition he sought for her…and the proper burial place he wanted. Until that occurred, he was even denied, by the court, from going to her burial place and offering annual rites to her.

From Wikipedia:
Although Yeongjo in his adulthood was very sensible about the origins of his mother, one cannot deny the deep love he had for his birth mother, Choe Suk-bin. His reverence for his mother had no limit. He wrote her many poems and said in one of them, “My father begot me, my mother fed me, led me, bred me, brought me up, reared me, kept her eye on me, tended me, at every turn aided me. Their goods deeds I would requite”. Yeongjo fought at court to have his mother Choe Suk-bin recognized as a public mother, but she was like other concubines—mothers of Kings but regarded as a “private mother of the King”. But Yeongjo wanted to change that and have her as his “public mother”; however, the officials were opposed to making her a public parent as this meant the ministers would have to honor her and gave the King the right to visit her tomb often as a part of his royal ceremonies.

During the time he was fighting this, there are two interesting accounts of his feelings about this situation. In 1739, the day before the scheduled visit to Choe Suk-bin’s tomb, dissatisfied with the protocols that the Board of Rites had drawn up, he censured two officials who were directly responsible for them. The Sillok explains the measure, “The King respectfully served his private parent [Choe Suk-bin], but he suspected that the officials were unwilling to comply with his desire. Thus, on each occasion sudden clashes erupted, inevitably followed by a distressing royal declamation.” On another occasion, the King was leaving her tomb for the Palace. About to mount the palanquin, he instead summoned the Minister of Military Affairs, Kim Songung. Breaking into sobs, he said, “Since 1737, this was the first time I came to pay respect to my mother. For those years, my heart has been filled with sadness. When children fall down, they automatically call out for their mother. This is human nature. At the time of divination, if there is no person offering earth, how can there be a divination? I have sent down orders [to make his birth mother a public or legal mother], but the bureaus in charge have ignored them. True, the ruler is not allowed to have private concerns, but it is wrong to lose trust [in his officials]. The elite scholars of today are just too cold-hearted. Those elite scholars must also have parents. They could not have fallen from Heaven or sprung from earth.” In the end, he got what he wanted and Choe Suk-bin was made Yeongjo’s public mother.

So, when Yeongjo sentences the Daegum of the Sorons to death, he’s not only sentencing him for attempted assassination and disloyalty, he’s sentencing him for disloyalty and insults to his mother as well as towards himself. Additionally, Yeongjo’s birth status as the son of a water maid is the leading reason why Prince Mal-wha, aka Poon Mile Goon,  choose to join Injwa’s Rebellion. It’s also part of the excuse the Dowager Queen Seonui uses when she joins hands with Injwa.

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Even though I argued with myself over which subject to put first, in the end Injwa’s Mushin Rebellion and Yeongjo’s birth status as the son of a former water maid are inseparable. Towards the end of Yeongjo’s reign, a leading Joseon scholar wrote that Joseon’s neo-Confucian philosophy was corruption of Confucius’  philosophy and unjust largely because of the extreme focus on parentage, birth status, and one’s birth ranking in the nation’s hierarchy.

For more complete information on Injwa’s Mushin Rebellion:

http://www.koreanhistories.org/files/Volume_3_2/Jackson.pdf
– google books – http://bit.ly/1U6NWsD

Written by Valerie Curl

June 7, 2016 at 11:02 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Daebak Episode 22: In Jwa’s Revolution Begins

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The excitement really begins now as In-jwa escaped capture and King Gyeongjong died. First, it should be noted that when Gyeongjong died, Yeoninggun was accused by the Soron faction of poisoning his brother, the king. The official record does not provided a clear conclusion. It’s probable that Gyeongjong died of food poisoning from eating tainted shrimp. The shrimp had been transported 30 miles from the ocean to the palace in fairly hot weather and the shrimp were not keep cold and fresh. No ice was packed around the shrimp so by the time they reached the palace, they were really not fit to eat.

The Sorons refused to accept that Gyeonjong died from simple food poisoning, and even if they did accept it, they refused to tell anyone as keeping the murder rumor alive was one sure way of defeating Yeongjo. They couldn’t stop him from ascending the throne, but they could use the rumor against him in other ways. And that is exactly what they did.

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As the Mu-shin revolt moved north towards Hanyang, the armies were clad in mourning clothing and carrying flags for Gyeongjong. They claimed they were revolting against the murderer of King Gyeongjong who usurped the throne.They roused the people by spreading the rumor far and wide. Some governors and military commanders along the way simply handed over the keys and supplies to the revolutionaries because either they were Sorons or they believed the rumor. Others tried to fight and were slaughtered. Once In-jwa’s army captured a city or garrison, he put one of his people in charge.

From Korea Review, Vol 3:

This conspiracy was headed by the son of the executed Kim Il-gyung, by Mok si-rung the brother of Mok Ho-ryung and by the sons and other relatives of the killed and banished leaders of the Soron party. A large force was collected in Kyung-sang Province and Yi In-jwa was Chong Heui-ryang [Jeong Hee-ryang] were put in command. The conspiracy honeycombed the whole country, for we are told that in Pyung-an Province Yi Sa-sung took charge of an insurrectionary force, while at the capital Kim Chung-Geri and Nam T’a-jung worked in its interests. It was agreed that on the twentieth of the third moon Seoul should be entered and that Prince Mil-wha be put on the throne.

Further south, Jeong Hee-ryung lead another army while Park Pil Mong lead a third. Unfortunately for Park, his army was defeated early in the Jeolla area where the local commanders and governor stopped them early. Jeong’s army too was eventually defeated and he was killed. In-jwa’s army marched further north, to nearly reach Hanyang before they were stopped. More on that later.

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So, first in this episode, we have In-jwa recruit Prince Mil-wha. Now, how he was related to Yeongjo, I don’t know. I cannot find his lineage, but it has to back a couple of, or even several, generations to the kings’ prior to Sukjong.

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A second note to be aware of is the introduction in this episode of Yeongjo’s son. This son is not Sado. Sado was Yeongjo’s second son. The son shown is Crown Prince Hyojang (효장세자, 1719–1728).

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The child was born to Royal Noble Consort Jeong of the Lee clan as both of Yeongjo’s Queens remained childless. It’s fairly obvious that this young prince, in the episode, will be a victim of In-jwa’s Mu-shin Rebellion. So, we can expect him to die in the next episode. My suspicion is that Gyeongjong’s widowed queen, Queen Seonui, will play a part in the child’s death. She dies 2 years later in 1730.

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Written by Valerie Curl

June 7, 2016 at 8:55 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Daebak ~ Daegil and Park Mun Su Speculation

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Since the airing of episode 18, some viewers speculate that Daegil will evolve into the legendary Park Mun Su, the famous undercover inspector (amhaeng-eosa) for King Yeongjo. It’s possible…after all this is dramaland.

 

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A Little History Please ~

 The life of an undercover – or secret – inspector was far from easy. Generally, young officials (usually in their thirties) of low or middle rank were appointed as secret royal inspectors because they had to travel long distances for an extended period of time. Young officials also were more likely to have a strong sense of justice and were less likely to have personal connection with local officials. Even though the secret royal inspector position was temporary (and young men of lower rank were appointed to it), its authority was equivalent to a governor (highest-ranking local official) and had the power to dismiss local officials including governor in the name of the king.

So, who actually were the amhaeng-eosa in the Joseon Kingdom? Generally, they were young, incorruptible officials who were recommended for amhaeng-eosa by retainers and appointed directly by the king, though their positions were not as high a rank as people may think. For their secret missions, they received a letter of appointment or “bongseo” from the king, and a description of their destination for surveillance was written in the letter. The appointed officials were basically required to leave as soon as they received their missions. They were sent to local provinces to punish corrupt officials and comfort the sufferings of people while traveling incognito. The amhaeng-eosa system was one of the most excellent inspection systems in the world, the likes of which is very unique and hard to find in other countries.

For their secret mission, besides receiving a letter of appointment (bongseo) and a description of their destination and mission (samok), they were given a “horse requisition tablet” called mapae, which they used to requisite horses and men from a local station run by the central government. Mapae was a symbol of the secret royal inspector. There were horses carved on the mapae, meaning the inspectors could commandeer as many horses as were carved on the mapae. The mapae was used not only to ask for horses but also to prove identity. Whenever the inspector made an appearance, a team of royal inspectors reportedly exclaimed, “Now entering, the secret royal inspector,” presenting the mapae in hand. The mapae was used as a stamp of the inspector.

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To ensure secrecy of the mission, a secret royal inspector could open bongseo only after leaving the capital. When they arrived at the assigned district, they surveyed the area in disguise. After the secret surveillance was completed, they revealed themselves by presenting mapae or bongseo and inspected the magistrate’s office and records. If they found cases that were unjustly judged, they presided on retrials to redress wrongs. After the completion of their mission, inspectors presented reports to the king called “seogye” and “byuldan.” In seogye, rights and wrongs committed by former and active local officials were written in detail, and the byuldan included indictments of the province that they inspected, the mood of the populace and virtuous villagers for awards. The Joseon Kingdom took actions based on the reports of the inspectors, for instance, taking disciplinary measures against corrupt local officials and conferring awards on virtuous women and exemplary sons.

However, the mission of a secret royal inspector was not an easy job. Although they were the rigorous royal inspectors who even terrified tyrannical officials, they faced many challenges. They traveled wearing ragged robes, broken hats, and with little money. Sometimes they had to sleep in old inns, were exposed to danger, or even got mysteriously killed while performing surveillance and concealing their identity. As a matter of conscience, a large number of inspectors chose to share the suffering, joy and sorrow of the people by travelling in rags instead of donning official uniforms.

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The secret inspector system was very effective in reducing corruption in provinces, but it also had many problems. According to one account, the survival rate of secret royal inspector was only 30%. Sometimes they fell victim to wild animals, bandits, or assassins sent by a corrupt official. In addition, secret royal inspectors had to pay expenses for the mission out of their pockets. Therefore, a secret royal inspector sometimes had to pose as a beggar more out of necessity than for sake of secrecy. After Sukjong’s reign, the secret royal inspector system was also abused as a weapon in factional fighting.

Since the Middle Joseon period, about 670 secret royal inspectors went into action. Jo Gwang-jo, Yi Hwang Jeong, Yak-yong Yi Sibal (during Seonjo‘s reign), Yi Geon-chang (during Gojong‘s reign) and especially Park Mun-su (during Yeongjo‘s reign) are famous for their work as secret royal inspector. Secret royal inspectors were a popular subject for fiction in both Joseon period and modern times. Many legends about Park Mun-su as the avenger for the people exploited by corrupt officials have passed down through folk tales (There are 300 such stories). The exploits of secret royal inspector were featured in the popular Joseon-era novel, Chunhyangjeon.

Of the secret royal inspectors of the Joseon era, Park Mun-su (during KingYeongjo’s reign) is considered to be the most famous figure. He had a lot of administrative experience and was thoughtful and caring about the lives of ordinary people, so he insisted that the government help people starving from famine and make a national effort to encourage old maids to marry. It is obvious that such a person must have left a strong impression on the people when serving as righteous a judge and secret royal inspector.

The Real Park Mun Su ~

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The real Park Mun Su was born in 1691 to a misfortunate family: his father and grandfather both passed away while he was still a child. Nevertheless, through diligent study, he passed the government exams and began his career as a government scribe in 1723. He was promoted a year later but was soon laid off, the scapegoat of a political feud.

After entering government service, he developed a special relationship with King Youngjo and earned great merit in putting down Yi In-jwa’s rebellion, although I have yet to discover what he did to put down the rebellion. Regardless, it seems that Park Mun Su was a person with a strong will and character who had always wanted to serve the public. In that regard, he was a very attractive figure and was very much trusted by king Yeongjo. Yet at the same time, he was not much of an academician, and he had a short temper. Thus, when King Yeongjo carried out a court-wide reform in 1727 to bring political sects under control, he reinstated Park Min Su. Their relationship continued until he died in 1756.

Having noticed Park’s integrity and sound political views, the king sent him to the Yeongnam area (Gyeongsang Province) as his secret inspector. Up until March of 1728, Park traveled all over the southeastern part of the country to investigate the wrongdoings of local officials and dismiss them if found guilty. He also returned the illegally seized assets to their rightful owners and appointed qualified and respected figures to fill the vacant posts. His righteous actions against the powerful made him a folk hero among the ordinary people.

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Park was again dispatched in King Yeongjo’s seventh year to investigate the famine and ensuing unrest in the southern regions. He gave away his personal belongings and riches to the poor and reported the dire situation back to the king. When he was touring the Gyeongsang region in southeast, he saw lumber and homes floating in the sea and realized that a big flood had swept the northern region. He ordered that 3,000 seoks (480,000 kilograms) of grain be immediately shipped to Hamgyeong Province in the north to relieve post-flood famine.

In addition to his post as undercover inspector, Park served in many different government capacities, such as defense minister, justice minister, and Gyeongsang Province governor. In 1749 Minister Park Mun Su wrote a rulebook that set the regulation for the finance uses of the palace and central offices to reduce royal expenses. The book set standards to reduce the goods from different provinces that were offered to the king, to different palace buildings, to the crown prince, princesses, and so on. It was published to correct the financial system of that time which was rife with corruption.

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Records show, however, that he served as secret inspector only four times – in 1727, 1731, 1741, and 1750. But what he did to remedy the hopeless situations of the poor and stand up to high-ranking government officials to correct social injustice gave rise to numerous legends and a classical fiction named “The Story of Eosa Park Mun-su.” Understandably, these folklores, which number about 210, paint a grander picture of Park as a secret inspector appearing all over the country and carrying out superhero-like deeds.

But there is reason for Park’s undying fame as the most righteous official of Joseon even after his death. That’s because he showed what a public servant should be, by unrelentingly standing up against the powerful and sincerely looking after the interests of the poor. Moreover, during his thirty years in office, he showed unique political traits for that era. He did not focus on theories or parties but instead showed excellent abilities for actual work, with a broad perspective.

After he died, official commemorative projects for him were poor. Intellectuals out of office and the general public have written and handed on many stories. As a result, most of the stories about Park Mun-su written later were based on his achievements and disposition. The public has accepted his down-to-earth personality with an affinity, and has described him as a witty character. The public has also projects their wishes into his administrative abilities, and has created his image as a salvager. There is a broad contact between history and folklore. The historical facts have provided dynamics for handing on folklore. Folklore has not stopped making efforts to participate in history.

Baek Daegil as Pak Mun Su ~

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 Given the development of Daegil’s character over the last several episodes, with his now chosen desire to work for the people and his vow to protect Yeoninggun, it’s more than possible Daebak’s writer chose Park Mun Su as Daegil’s role model. Moreover, as seen in the first episode, Daegil throws off the silken robes of a noble and wears the simple robes and broken hats of the peasantry. So, it is possible that Daegil’s identity could change one more time to become Park Mun-su. Having Daegil evolve into Pak Mun Su would be nice resolution for the two brothers, and especially for their never-ending fight against political and governmental corruption that had been so pervasive for generations upon generations.

Written by Valerie Curl

June 1, 2016 at 4:43 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Daebak Episode 19 ~ Beginning The Second Turning Point

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Just as an early episode represented a change from Gae Ddong to Dae Gil, this episode represents a major turning in the politics of the nation as well as a major turning point for our leading protagonists, Dae Gil and Yeoninggun. But let’s step back into history first.

With the death of King Sukjong, Crown Prince Yi Yoon assumes the throne as King Gyeonjong. He’s not an especially bright individual and easily swayed by whomever get to him first. Moreover, he’s physically sickly. Unlike his mother in the drama, history records her as saying she wanted him to die with her and, using a wooden instrument, inflicted a wound on his body that prevented him from reproducing. Nevertheless, the new King is allied with the Soron party – the party of In Jwa and Jeong Hee Ryang. Shortly after Yi Yoon assumes the throne as King Gyeonjong, a major merge occurs. The Sorons take power and throw the Norons out. Worse, a multitude of Norons are killed. The remaining Norons continue to pin their hopes on Yeoninggun whom Gyeonjong has named Crown Prince.

Partly of self-interest and partly out of concern because of the King’s illness, the Norons push to make Yeoninggun Crown Prince Regent. Their plans fails, however, and more Norons are exiled or killed. After that plan fails, the Norons decide to assassinate the king. Again their plan fails and more lose their heads.

Meanwhile, the Sorons are not satisfied with having momentarily defeated their political opponents, they still fear Yeoninggun who has assumed control of most the government due to his brother’s illness. They want him dead. Their first plot to assassinate him while on a hunting trip to rid the palace of a white fox fails. Yeoninggun learns of the plot and hides out with the Dowager Queen Inwon who protects him. Afterwards, he tells his brother, the King, that he wishes to resign his station and live as a commoner. This plea was not the first nor the last time Yeoninggun used this ploy to show his loyalty to the Crown. His plea, though, is refused, and he remains Crown Prince. The only ones who suffer from the plot are the Soron servants who assisted their masters.

At the end of four years, Gyeonjong dies after eating shrimp salad. The shrimp had been brought from the coast, some 30 miles away, during the heat of the year without any ice to keep them fresh. Seeing their chance again to rid themselves of Yeoninggun, the Sorons accuse him poisoning the King. However, given the absolute rules of succession, they can’t stop him from assuming the throne as King Yeongjo. Once he does, the Norons regain their ascendency and the Sorons not only lose power but also forfeit thousands of lives. The History of Korea says Yeongjo was probably powerless to stop the Norons from their bloody revenge, but he grew so distraught by their blood lust that he brought back some Sorons to counterbalance the control of the Norons.

The Sorons, though, don’t give up. Determined to regain the former power, they spread the rumor throughout Joseon that Yeongjong poisoned his brother, the former King.  Yeongjo constantly battles those rumors and eventually beheads Kim Il Kyung, one of the leading Soron ministers who spread the rumor. However, the Soron plot to rid themselves of Yeongjo doesn’t end with Kim’s beheading. The Sorons decide the only way is revolution. Continuing to spread their rumor throughout Joseon and building up support, they devise a coup d’etat. Both Yi Injwa and Jeong Hee Ryang are recruited as generals. At first, Yeongjo doesn’t take their posters and activities seriously. However, when word reaches the palace of the Soron backed armies marching north, taking town after town and garrison after garrison under the banner of the dead King, towards Hanyang, he mobilizes the five military branches. He sends extra troops north, east, west and south. In an almost surprising move, he promotes a Soron, O Myeong Hang, to General In Chief. Needless to say, the main instigators of the rebellion are caught and beheaded. Jeong’s army is defeated fairly early, and General O defeats In Jwa’s army on their march towards Hanyang. General O captures In Jwa and takes his prisoner to Hanyang. The heads of the revolutionary leaders are mounted on the city gates. And King Yeongjo holds a palace feast to celebrate the victory and to reward General O and others for their loyalty.

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So, with all of that history having been said, we can begin to see where Daebak is heading. Sukjong is dead; Yi Yoon ascends the throne as Gyeonjong; Yeoninggun becomes Crown Prince; Jeong Hee Ryang is in prison; and In Jwa remains free and able to influence the new King. Given how closely the script writer, Kwon Soon Gyu, has chosen to follow actual history, it’s not impossible to assume that Jeong will be released from prison at the insistence of In Jwa and that many of the Noron leaders will disappear as a result of both Soron revenge and their own aborted treasonous plots against Gyeongjong. Both Dae Gil and Yeoninggun will be caught in the middle of this political battle for ascendency. How Kwon, in the few remaining episodes, deals with all this political upheaval obviously remains to be seen. But we know Yeoninggun survives to become King Yeongjo.  And Dae Gi;’s fate? Maybe he will become the Dynasty’s fabled corruption fighter.

Now, episode 19. Here I have a couple of nitpicks with writer Kim concerning logic.  First, why was the young, murdered prince living outside the palace (or so it seems) and unguarded? Okay, I get that he wanted to spend as little as possible on himself and give his allowance to the poor, but still…unguarded and living outside the palace? Second, why did all the ministers assume or want to assume that Yeoninggun committed the murder of his younger brother? What would he gain by killing a younger brother? I could understand Yeoninggun wanted to rid himself of his older brother to gain the throne, but his younger brother?  My last nitpick concerns the portrayal of the rebel Jeong. He’s portrayed as this great hero of the common man fighting against the deep corruption and rot of the government who suddenly turns out to be as corrupt and rotten as the government.

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Nevertheless, many of the plot threads, through this episode, begin to come together into a tightly woven tapestry of political intrigue and psychological warfare. And episode provides the turning point that brings all those threads together. At least I hope that is the case. Quite honestly, in my opinion, episode 19 is one of the best of the drama. It didn’t leave me sitting on the edge of my chair, demanding to know what happens next, or leave me stunned shock. Rather it sparked some psychological nerve that said slow down, look closely and think about what occurred. Where will the drama – and the characters – go now while at the same time remaining true to history? How are the multiple threads coming together? And why is Man Geum running around so mysteriously? Does he really believe his son, whom he raised and knows so well, will choose to be King or has he lost his mind? What was the point of bringing him back to life when he seems like such a doomed character? Is he aligned with In Jwa and Jeong as this episode indicates or not as episode 17 led us to think. I can’t quite figure out his presence yet…or why Dae Gil with all his seeming allies can’t find him. It’s all these questions that cause me to say this drama is a suspenseful mystery rather than just a historical drama. And perhaps only mystery addicts would love it as we try to figure out “who done it” and why.

Written by Valerie Curl

May 31, 2016 at 12:45 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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

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