❤ !good morning! I have only one post on Damo and it doesn’t center on the two main characters, Ohk and Yoon. It centers on my reaction to the theme song called mae hwa bat. Because I have not studied music then I have no discussions on what kind of music it is, sorry. For a layman’s viewpoint I can only say that it’s a lovely instrumental, haunting, and it pictures the mood of this drama. I edited this post because I finally learned how to create a picture gallery, which I thought was fun, so I made them here. !and it is spring! — a post with ume and sakura rightly deserves attention 🙂 Today is April 20, 2014. I greet Happy Easter all who celebrate it. Here’s to a new life for all!
Damo is one of those unforgettable tale of loves, in its varied facets and set in a specific time. But it speaks for the entire history of mankind. I share with you some of my thoughts on it, welcome again. The smaller pictures enlarge a bit when clicked on. Have a nice day everyone 🙂 … thanks for dropping by …
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I can sum up Damo this way: it is a statement on commitment. In this particular story its focus is the one between Hwangbo Yoon and Jang Chae Ohk.
Sure there are the usual political intrigues and plot twists but these are, to me, only background material against which the dynamics of “commitment” are played. The entire series follows the development of the investigation involving counterfeit coins, until the point where a conspiracy almost succeeds. This line by itself is absorbing, substantive, and it’s strong enough to make Damo into a no-nonsense quasi-extended movie. However, it is the dynamics in the personal relationships between the three main leads that produces the episodic sub-plots.
The start of the story is a presentation of the challenge to this commitment. Before this first episode ends the commitment has been made crystal clear. It is awesome how Yoon and Ohk can go to extreme lengths just to be able to ensure the well-being of the other. This is the scene that I remember their commitment to each other by:
Yoon and Ohk passing through an ume (?) grove
I had thought that these are cherry blossoms, sakura. However I noticed that among the official soundtracks is one called mae hwa bat, translated as A Grove of Japanese Apricot Blossoms. Ah, so, these are ume, and not sakura. This is only a conclusion by association, and is not necessarily a proof.
There are two incidents that immediately precede this scene. The earlier one is the day’s polo match with the other branch bureau that ended in a riot because of Ohk’s furtive participation in the game, which was sanctioned by all the guys. In that event was shown the close camaraderie within Yoon’s command.
Because of that riot Ohk independently decides to take all the blame to save Yoon’s career, by offering her right arm to the sword of the Right Police Bureau Commander. This enrages Yoon and he quarrels with Ohk as well as with that other commander.
Commander Hwangbo treats Ohk’s sword cut
Fortunately Ohk’s arm wasn’t cut off. But the sword grazed her. Yoon treats it on their way home. As Yoon applies medicine this is their dialogue:
Hwangbo Yoon: “Does it hurt?”
Chae Ohk: “Yes.”
HY: “It hurts me as well.” (background music starts) “Although you are my subordinate you are no different from a younger sister. Don’t hurt me.”
CO: “My lord, since I was seven I’ve been at your side. I would lay my life down for you, but I do not want to become an obstacle. I have served you for 15 years. I know the suffering you went through better than anyone else. I do not want to see your dream fall apart because of me.”
HY: “I have no intention of sacrificing you in order to achieve my dream.”
This conversation is significant because personal involvements across class levels is illegitimate in their society. However, both have crossed this line on the very day they met, when they were just children. As Yoon’s servant Ohk is not permitted to even lift her gaze while he talks to her. She is vigilant, therefore, that her association with Yoon does not tint his reputation in society, which is that of the noble class. Ohk understands this very well because she herself belonged to the noble class by blood. Yoon, too, understands this very well because his mother is of the servant class and he has seen how she had suffered.
There are many reasons why I like Damo but I cannot name all of them yet. I do not have to justify why I like Damo. It’s more than just a love story or the exploits of a policewoman-cum-tea-server in a society that denigrates her status. It’s a valuable work of art. I would recommend it to anyone anytime anywhere who has an interest in non-West themes about life and the human capacity for loyalty, or devotion, which is what steadfast love is. Only that I have to say, too, that it’s 14 hours long and that it’s bound to make one cry, a lot. But this depends on the viewer’s constitution, of course. For myself I could still cry over it days after having watched it.
There are scenes that are not believable, but that’s part of the art, of the martial arts genre films. These are the scenes in the series that belong to the dream world, where people can fly. I had to brace myself against the sword-fights and such, though. (Btw, do horses get hurt when they are shot being shot? These scenes in films bother me.) I appreciate that the night-lighting effects considers the realistic illumination by fire. It’s cozy to the eyes. The four female characters aren’t “protector” dependent. They are just humans that happen to be female and they didn’t make me want to gag. I’d say the story is awash with machismo, but that certainly isn’t a reason why I like it. It goes with the context and so the male egoism is not out of place. The two ideals, Hwangbo Yoon and Jang Sung Baek, have very heavy burdens to carry. They have dedicated themselves to fighting the ills of their society. I appreciate it that they were not projected as superheroes. They are like any one of us who have dreams and are motivated towards that goal despite the narrow road or the uphill path. I also saw the gravity of straw-sandals-for-servants versus shoes-for-the-nobles, at all times, even in winter. This thing really speaks volumes.
There are five people-forces interacting in the story. First is Hwangbo Yoon’s immediate circle, in the Left Police Bureau. Second is Jang Sung Baek’s immediate circle, just ordinary poor people but tagged as “rebels” nevertheless. Third is the potential represented by the king, one that can move much but depending on the information that reaches the throne. Fourth is the hidden government officials who ruthlessly manipulate Jang Sung Baek. Fifth is the common folks living ordinary everyday lives. The main characters Hwangbo Yoon, Jang Chae Ohk, and Jang Sung Baek navigate among these forces within the parameters of their societal values.
I am not Korean. I am new to the world of the Korean culture. I do not know the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. I know that I have to know the words spoken in the dialogues so that I can get into the delicate nuances that have mountains of meaning behind them, which is of a particular worldview. Alas, I am totally dependent on the English translations (and millions of us around the world are very grateful to the translators!) But I know deep within my bones what discrimination is, what helplessness is, what hopelessness is, and of that bubbling spring present within me that resuscitates hope and self-help.
This is the beauty of the sageuks that I have so far seen, that they cater to the presence of the bubbling spring deep within any one of us. (But I do not agree with the formulaic emphasis on revenge.) This should be one of the beauties of Damo: that it fights against helplessness and hopelessness. Any human can identify with that. When I watch a sageuk I do not think of the events I see on the screen as confined only in that part of Korea and in that particular period of history only, but that I am in fact looking at the soul of the human being. This is what a human is. S/He can be strong, weak, corrupt, upright, joyful, depressed, cruel, gentle, vindictive, generous, and s/he can be anyone anytime anywhere, of any age, in the entire globe, regardless of ideology or conviction or worldview. Not one is exempted—most especially those who consider themselves privileged because of one factor or another, like class or economy or education or achievement or status or heritage or conviction.
Both Yoon and Sung Baek are precious to Chae Ohk. To Yoon, she is mute. The forces limiting their bond are too strong for arguments. In their last scene together in the series, Yoon had to remove the binding around her mouth so that she could shout out her most important line in the entire story. To Sung Baek she is blindfolded. She gropes in the dark in her acknowledgment of their bond. It was within the darkness of a cave where she intuitively saw Jang Sung Baek’s significance to her. Chae Ohk is an epitome of will-power and loyalty. Any Yoon would be very blessed to have an Ohk, and vice-versa. Indeed I wonder if her character is realistic, though it is one worth aspiring to. All in all the story of these three has a feeling of a (modern-day) mythology.
Having considered all of these it is now worth noting that the couple’s scene beneath the blossoms does not have mae hwa bat (A Grove of Japanese Apricot Blossoms) as the background music, but has dan shim ga (A Song of Devotion) instead. A Song of Devotion plays whenever the story focuses on the bond between Ohk and Yoon, like in this scene under the blossoms. I found out about this in my quest to familiarize myself with the melody of mae hwa bat, thinking that it is played in this ethereal scene.
I have located six scenes where mae hwa bat is played: in Episode 4 (in one Ohk drinks out her misery of having separated from Yoon, in another Ohk cries after it got emphasized to her face that her servant status makes it “impossible” for her to “mix” with Yoon’s social class); in Episode 6, as Ohk thinks of her father and is having a conversation with Sung Baek; in Episode 7 when Sung Baek was removing the bullet from Ohk’s shoulder; in Episode 9 when Yoon, after the royal doctor’s failure, holds Ohk to his chest, and astride his horse, is on their way to their Teacher (Seonsaengnim actually, or Sonsengnim, but to my ear sounds like Susunim) as the last measure to save Ohk; finally, in Episode 10 when Ohk was revived by Yoon using their Teacher’s harrowing method.
Mae hwa bat plays in scenes where Ohk is “hurt” and her resilience, for survival itself, is tested. It’s an apt symbolism because the mae hwa blossoms at the end of winter, in coldness. Speaking of which, there is a magnificent shot of Yoon and Ohk practicing their sword skills learned from their Teacher, in their mountain world, their home, their heaven, before they came down to the police bureau.
Yoon’s circumstances is similar to Ohk’s. He realized this the moment they met, when immediately forged a bond as Ohk, the newly acquired family servant, took his offer to be carried on his back as they ran in the rain through the bamboo forest. Though favored by his nobleman father, Yoon is still a half-blood because of his lower-class mother. He’s like a non-person, like those of Ohk’s class. It is illegal to call his father “father” and he is not qualified to take the military service exams, let alone the civil service. Yoon and Ohk had to grow up and blossom under these suppressions.
Mountain home, aerial view. Yoon and Ohk appear as dots right in the middle.
Jang Sung Baek is also a mae hwa. His father was the capital’s library director. Sung Baek had already received excellent education from him before the family tragedy happened. His father had him brought then to an excellent teacher who was exiled in the mountains. As the son of a nobleman convicted of treason, and so forever in hiding from authorities, Sung Baek also had to blossom in dire conditions.
Jang Sung Baek
I would like to give special mention to the character Soo-myung
, the constant companion of Sung Baek. She is also a mae hwa
. She is beholden to the scum who manipulates Sung Baek but when the time came to draw the line she chose Sung Baek without any hesitation. Her speaking lines are short and her role is simple but she is projected as a bulwark for Sung Baek. She locates her life’s meaning in Sung Baek — this is nearly similar to what Ohk and Yoon are to each other. Their harmony is apparent all throughout the story and most likely they would have lived together happily until whenever had the circumstances been different. But the winter was too cruel for this mae hwa
of theirs to blossom.
On the other hand, dan shim ga is played many more times in the series. It is played when Yoon worries about Ohk, when Ohk worries about Yoon, when it is emphasized how one is committed to the other against an opposing factor like a disagreement, or when both express to each other his/her intention to her/him like in the scene under the Japanese apricot blossoms. Dan shim ga is certainly calling for another post. Ma ji mak ahn shik chuh (The Last Haven), which is associated with Yoon, and bi ga (A Song of Sorrow), which is associated with Jang Sung Baek, are also worth looking at. Damo’s main soundtrack is sook myung (Destiny) – it’s self-explanatory.
The ume and the sakura look similar but they bloom at different times of the year and so that’s a major indication. However, those who have paid attention to their differences can generally tell one from the other. To the none-too-particular viewer they are indistinguishable. To everyone they are both as lovely.
sakura = cherry blossoms
ume = maehwa = Chinese plum blossoms = Japanese apricot blossoms
The maehwa is the Chinese plum blossom meihua (梅花), or simply the plum blossom, and is also called the Japanese apricot blossom. In Wikipedia it says that in Chinese culture: The plum blossom is seen as a symbol of winter and a harbinger of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are viewed as blooming most vibrantly amidst the winter snow, exuding an ethereal elegance, while their fragrance is noticed to still subtly pervade the air at even the coldest times of the year. Therefore the plum blossom came to symbolize perseverance and hope, but also beauty, purity, and the transitory-ness of life. In Confucianism, the plum blossom stands for the principles and values of virtue.
In Damo the maehwa largely symbolizes the relationship of Hwangbo Yoon and Chae Ohk, as well as of Jang Sung Baek and Chae Ohk (…I hope to find time to write on this…it’s the dynamics in these two intertwining relationships that makes this sageuk unforgettable…).
Thanks to thegardenofzen.com for the pictures of ume and sakura. A million thanks to the sites that made it possible to access Damo shots, and a billion thanks to all translators.
Thank you for reading and all the best to you.
♥ p.s. [My post on Seiji and Kiyoha, click here, has a picture of a sakura grove.]
hello. uhm, just a quick note before this amazing realization slips my mind… 😉 I was at my usual meditative position (hahaha) when I sort of just suddenly snapped together some strains of thought that have been with me for several days now… first, it’s just that I suddenly got hooked on Yim Jae Bum’s voice and so I simply had to take a peek at Chuno again — in fact I’ve made a 6+ minute video of captures from episodes 12 & 13 using the OST Stigma — and so it got me to compare Chuno and Damo, of how can two dramas of despair be alike and yet be different, or are they? This actually is a continuation of my meditation on why is it always imperative for movies to include romantic themes in order to be assured of box-office success — I was thinking along the lines of: what if the romance was removed from Dae Jang Geum, Chuno, and Damo? I was actually thinking of how come there are no kissing scenes in Dae Jang Geum (the lead actress suggested that it wasn’t important in the story line) and despite of it/because of it, it was a big success? Then how come that Hwangbo Yoon’s and Daegil’s angst are hinged on their love for a woman, and would the story be empty without this angle? And so I came to the conclusion that (but not an answer to the last question) Damo is actually just Ohk’s story, of her world and what happened to her, and that Yoon is not an essential part of it, because any man not as magnificent as Yoon could just take his place WHEREAS Jang Sung baek is ESSENTIAL to Ohk’s story. I now even say that Damo is the story of both Ohk and Sung Baek, and that the main male character is in fact not Yoon but Sung Baek <— 🙂 this is that sudden amazing realization 😀 and I must write something on it one of these days. I mean, sure, what I wrote above in the original post still goes, that is, if one looks at the back-and-forth movements of Ohk from Yoon to Sung Baek and back and back (hehehe yeah it really begs for another post 🙂 ) then it is commitment. But then this vacillation happened because Sung Baek exists, and in fact the start of the story has both Ohk and Sung Baek at the center of it. For Yoon Ohk was just an accessory, an accident, and it could have been anyone or none there in that way for him. But for Sung Baek Ohk is an essential. The angst of the entire story line could not have materialized had there been no Ohk and Sung Baek, and of what happened to them.
As to Daegil, well, I’ve come up with the conclusion that the underlying story is the chasing after hope, after a dream, after a false dream, after a mirage, after a dream that will bound to disappoint one, albeit has Daegil’s particular world as the main sphere of movement, and so it must be presented in different manifestations (though I don’t intend it to sound this negatively, and in fact it’s something I, too, would opt for, I mean, rather than just “lay down and die” so to speak PLUS that Daegil’s life wasn’t at all that empty and useless like he thought it was, and me at first impression, too — but all these have to be written on one separate lovely post ❤ ). For example, unrequited romantic love is one popular and easy illustration for it. Also, the chasing after the slaves, the life and cause of the slaves, the motive/incentive of the minister’s son, the life of a chuno, Seolhwa’s life and the likes of her, the life of the female innkeepers, the cause of Song Tae Ha & companions — these are the vehicles where hopelessness has been illustrated and I like the way all these threads were woven together into one story that at first glance didn’t make me see all of them (I was immersed at the action and the music 😉 ). Actually I’d say the Un-nyeon part somehow represents the vanity of all this chasing after something that forever eludes… I mean, the Un-nyeon character is the embodiment of how pathetic a chasing-after can be. Sorry, it doesn’t mean the way I’m sounding here, because I certainly with all my heart concur that the slaves’ cause and the ordinary folks’ lives like Seolhwa isn’t pathetic — but, there, see, it’s too complicated to speak about in just a handful of sentences … and so I just need to put them all here before they all totally escape me and I wouldn’t be able to catch them again (so to say) haha!
today is April 26, 2014, a lovely spring day, and I’m trying not to panic over my undone homework 😉 ciao. May God bless us all.