Warrior Baek Dong Soo – Episode 29 – review and rant

As we start episode 29, Dong Soo is riding out to meet Un. They go for a walk, and Dong Soo tells Un that he should come back to them. They run across a group of boys playing at swords, and Un helps the one who lost and shows him how to hold a sword. They reflect back to being that young, and Un says that had he known back then what he does now, he never would have picked up a sword, and regrets it every day. Dong Soo tells him that he doesn’t need to carry all of the burden for his actions.


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Meanwhile, Cho Rip is telling the Prince that Chun Joo killed his father (ok, to clarify, I’m saying Chun Joo here because Cho Rip is purposely using the title, not the name). Cho Rip tells the Prince that he needs to destroy the Assassins and kill Chun Joo to help stabilize authority.

The Prince, however, remembers that it was Un who helped protect him from the rebels. As a final nail, Cho Rip admits that Un is his friend, but that’s irrelevant, he needs to be killed. (again, WTH Cho Rip? Granted that he isn’t wrong about the power of the Assassins, but given that Un helped ya’ll out just the other day, couldn’t you ask around first?).

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At the Assassins, Gu Hyang asks Un why he seems so much happier, and he says it’s because he’s finally cast off the destiny of being a killer. He gathers up the guild’s ledgers, preparing to clear the books and close the place down.

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Dong Soo arrives home to a happy gathering. The next day Dong Soo meets with the Prince and is shocked to hear that the Prince wants Un dead. Dong Soo asks if this was Cho Rip’s idea, and hears that it was, but the Prince agrees. The spy network hears some of this and sends an urgent message back to Un. Gu Hyang burns the last ledger at Un’s command but doesn’t deliver the message from the spy network. His assistant arrives with a list of new identities for everyone, but he’s hasn’t yet told anyone but Gu Hyang that he intends to shut down the Assassins. Gu Hyang asks if he really thinks they can all go back to normal lives, and he replies that it will be hard but they can. He turns and asks if she is going to come with them.

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Dong Soo tracks down Cho Rip and asks what he was thinking. Cho Rip insists that Un left their side long ago, and that while Un saved his life, he was merely using Cho Rip to fool the rebels. (WTH Cho Rip?) He insists that the assassins are too dangerous, and Un is the head of the assassins. Dong Soo sadly asks if they shouldn’t welcome Un back, to what they were like in the past. Cho Rip insists they have no other way, and that this is their fate. ::tosses things at screen in frustration::

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Dong Soo takes a message to a merchant and tells him to deliver it to Un. Gu Hyang delivers it to Un, who writes a reply and tells her the time they’ll meet- call it 9. Instead Gu Hyang burns the message and tells the assistant that she’s doing it because she knows that Un’s friend Cho Rip got the Prince to order Un’s death and that Dong Soo is supposed to do it. However, she didn’t inform Un of this. So she isn’t going to set up a meeting with Dong Soo as ordered (WTH Gu Hyang? – for the first time in your life you are going to withhold info from a Chun Joo and go behind his back when they’ve always proved to have motives you know bupkus about? Especially since you are the only one who knows he’s shutting the Assassins down? Not buying it. Not even on half price sale do I buy this sudden veering from your character.)

Anyway, she asks the assistant to help her set things up.

Dong Soo asks Cho Rip to trust him and they receive a message via arrow to meet. Even Mi So reminds Cho Rip that Un is their friend, and that despite her own father being killed by the Assassins, she doesn’t blame Un for it. Cho Rip finally agrees to meet with Un, and the message said meet at 7.

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They meet at the gisaeng house, and Gu Hyang serves them. She drugs them both, and calls in the assistant. However, they were feigning being drugged, and grab the assistant. When questioned, Gu Hyang insists that Un didn’t send them, but Cho Rip doesn’t believe it. Dong Soo tells them to tell Un to come find him.

Un sees Dong Soo storming after Cho Rip, and goes to the gisaeng house to find out what happened. Gu Hyang finally tells him about the Prince’s order to kill him. Un insists that they wouldn’t do that to him. Even more, he tells her that even if they had such orders, he would still owe it to them to beg their forgiveness.

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Un decides to have a wee visit with the Prince to see what is really going on. He strolls into the palace, and enters the Prince’s rooms much as Chun did with the Crown Prince all those episodes ago.

He sits and the Prince asks him if he killed the Crown Prince and Un agrees he did. (Ok, actually, Chun killed the Crown Prince, but Un is willing to take the blame for his part in it. Frankly, I thought Gwang Taek had told the Prince this episodes ago, and I’m puzzled why someone doesn’t make the distinction now between Chun and Un.) The Prince tells Un that there are three reasons he has to die: first, he killed the Crown Prince (Un says he regrets it and will bow before the Crown Prince’s grave in repentance and even cut off his arm if need be); second, the Assassins have killed too many innocent people and have tentacles everywhere (Un says he’s removing all the spies from the palace and their funds will be returned to people in reparations); third, the Prince can’t allow anyone who can freely walk like a shadow into his rooms to live (Un tells him that he’s dismantling the Assassins, and will no longer be Chun Joo).

The Prince agrees to trust Un, who bows to him.

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Dong Soo tries to convince Cho Rip to meet with Un, but he’s being a pig about it, tells Dong Soo he’s too trusting and leaves. Un shows up and asks if Dong Soo was really going to kill him. He tells him that the Prince gave him a reprieve, and Dong Soo is relieved. He tells Dong Soo that he’s shutting down the Assassins and will be leaving.

Dong Soo protests that he doesn’t have to leave, but Un tells him that he has to go someplace where no one knows who he is.

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Un tells his assembled men that he’s dismantling the group. He hands them their new identities and some money. He tells them to work and raise families. They protest that they only know how to fight, and he tells them it’s an order.

Gu Hyang, Un’s assistant, and the two fighters meet and formulate a plan. The network goes into action and Cho Rip finds a note on his desk asking him to meet Un. (again this makes no sense – if they are being shut down, why would Cho Rip matter now?) He rides out to the middle of freaking nowhere, taking a sword but meeting Seo along the way.

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There, instead of Un, he finds Tae San, the assistant, and Baek the scholar. They then say they have to kill him. More assassins pop up and they tell them that the Assassins have been dismantled but they have taken this as their last mission (why?? I’m about to switch languages in order to curse properly at this screen.)

Long story short, after bantering back and forth some more, they prepare attack Cho Rip.

Back at the Assassins, Un asks where everyone is, and Gu Hyang tells Un that half of the people have left already. He asks why she’s lying, because he knows that their swords aren’t in the weapons room. He has to threaten her, and the next thing we know, he’s riding out towards Cho Rip, praying that he’s safe.

Cho Rip stands off against the Assassins, but is wounded badly. (well, at least Cho Rip got a final fight in.)

Dong Soo hears from Seo that Cho Rip was off to meet with Un (and somehow magically knows exactly where they’ll meet, but hey, at this point unicorns make more sense than this plot), He runs off praying Cho Rip doesn’t do something stupid because everything was already settled.

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Un arrives telling everyone to stop. He runs to Cho Rip, who refuses his help. (I’m on my third language of curses at this point.) He tells Un that as long as Un is alive the Assassins will be around, and that the Prince and Dong Soo won’t be safe. He lists everyone died who because of the Assassins and therefore Un.

Cho Rip collapses, and Un feels the weight of all the guilt back on him again. He gets up and tells the remaining fighters to drop their weapons and leave, and that he’ll kill anyone who disobeys. So, they wander off, and Un stands there wondering what to do.

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Dong Soo arrives, finding Cho Rip barely hanging on. He asks Un if he did this, and Un nods in agreement. Dong Soo asks why Un did this when it was already all over. Un tells him that for a short time he thought otherwise, but in the end he’s just a killer. Un asks Dong Soo what he’s going to do with him – he’s a killer, Chun Joo and a criminal. Dong Soo tells him not to use fate as an excuse, but Un asks him again what he’s going to do. Then he asks what he, himself, should do.

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Finally, Un tells him that it looks like they’ll have to fight, and draws his sword. Dong Soo asks if Un thinks he will win, and Un points out that Dong Soo has never beaten him. Dong Soo draws his sword, and they begin a lovely fight sequence interspersed with flashbacks. It becomes obvious that neither is really trying to strike each other, so Un spins and slashes Dong Soo’s arm.

The guards start to arrive with troops and find Cho Rip. It seems that the mountain boys had reported to the Prince that Cho Rip had gone out to meet Un, and Dong Soo had followed. Their orders were that if Cho Rip was harmed, they were to kill Un.

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They continue to fight, again without striking. Finally, Un tells Dong Soo that he has to fight meaning to kill him. They back away, and crying, Dong Soo asks if they can’t go back. Un tells him that being with him and Cho Rip was the one place where he was happy for that short time, and it was enough.

They take up their positions and move forward — Dong Soo merely brings his sword forward and braces himself, while Un leaps into the air, throws his swords away and impales himself on Dong Soo’s sword (and sadly that’s not a euphemism).

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As Dong Soo reacts in shock, Un clutches his shoulder and tells him that if he had to be killed, he always wished it was by Dong Soo’s hand. Dong Soo tells him that he can still live, but Un shifts to make the wound worse. Un says he’ll kneel before to the Crown Prince and Gwang Taek in the afterlife for forgiveness. He pats Dong Soo on the back, tells him not to blame himself and thanks him. And then he dies.

Dong Soo is left with Un in his arms, begging him not to die.

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We fade to a scene some unspecified time later, of Dong Soo drinking by himself, as quietly Un, dressed as when they were slightly younger, sits down next to him and smiles. As Dong Soo pours another drink, we see that it’s Ji Sun sitting there. She asks why he’s drinking (well, DUH) and he agrees that it’s because he misses Un.

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Anyway – Mi So comes by and it turns out that Sa Mo and Jang Mi just got married and the mountain boys are hanging out outside their room being idiots. Jin Ki wanders by as they are horsing around and they tell him that the Prince has cleared his name so he’s no longer wanted. Cho Rip shows up, and everyone is paired off holding hands – Dong Soo and Ji Sun; Hong Do and Jin Ju; Cho Rip and Mi So.

Over at the palace, the King is weakly telling the Prince to become a good king, He tells the Prince that he’ll ask the Crown Prince for forgiveness in the afterlife. And then he dies.

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After a flashback of the Crown Prince, we see the Prince, now King Jeongjo, declaring from the throne that his father was Prince Sado, and henceforth insulting him is punishable offense. Then a scene of Dong Soo training the troops while Hong Do helps document it. Then Jin Ju and Mi So practicing with wooden swords, except that Hong Do and Cho Rip come by to tell them that women shouldn’t use swords (sexist pigs). Hong Do drags Jin Ju off, and Cho Rip and Mi So kiss. Hong Do takes Jin Ju out for a walk and gives her a nice bouquet and a painting of them getting married. Sa Mo and Jin Ki randomly hang out and plan on relaxing and growing old. Dong Soo presents his training manual to the King.

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Ji Sun goes through the market buying ginseng and is met by Dong Soo on horseback. As they ride off, again they see a group of boys play swordfighting. The one who had his rear handed to him tells Dong Soo that his father told him not to give up, which Dong Soo remembers saying about fighting Un. He asks the boy if he knows what martial arts is. Dong Soo tells him that it truly means saving a friend, people or a country. The boy asks if Dong Soo will teach him, and Dong Soo agrees.

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And then Ji Sun and Dong Soo ride off into the sunset.

And now for the ranting epilogue – and slightly epic review

You were all sensing my reluctance to recap the finale, weren’t you? I’ve ranted quite a bit about it already. From what I can tell, the verdict around the globe was a resounding WTF!? It doesn’t seem to be so much of an issue that Un died (hey, it’s a sageuk, peeps are gonna die) or even that he was killed by Dong Soo since it was clearly set up as a matched set of older/younger generation mirror, although there is a faction of viewers who feel that Un dying to save Dong Soo from something would have been just as fitting and would have allowed him to escape his fate and die an honorable death.

I think what irked viewers most was how they got to that fight and that both Cho Rip and Gu Hyang acted out of character to set things in motion. The deus ex machina was a particularly dumb one, particularly hinging on Cho Rip not finding out or even being able to believe that Un would shut the Assassins down. Even then, I don’t think we would have reacted so negatively if it hadn’t segued so quickly into happy times at Sa Mo’s.

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I really think it was the discordant happily ever afters that jarred everyone. Had the episode just ended at the point of Dong Soo getting drunk and missing Un, I think we could have lived with it. But no, the writers went bonko in the OTP department. I may never forgive these writers for the riding off into the sunset bit, not to mention the giggly, “oh dearies don’t be playing with swords anymore” bit. Mind you, I don’t dislike a little happily ever after. Other recent shows got there after much travail. Even Chuno tossed us a little bone of reviving Gen. Choi and Wangson and giving them a farm and inn to live out their days.

The other thing that grated was that they literally spent 25 episodes impressing on Un and us that he could change his fate. Then he attempted to do so. In the end, it was Cho Rip who thought that Un couldn’t change his fate, and that was the last straw that made Un give up.

In the end, most people seemed to take away the message that Un couldn’t change his fate and I’m pretty sure that’s not the message that we were supposed to be getting.

::rage rage rant rant:: Now that I’ve finished beating my head against my desk, I’ll just try to round up some thoughts to finish this series up.

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In general, the acting was pretty good, but for me, Choi Min Soo was truly fantastic. Honestly, without him, I wouldn’t have even wanted to recap this. I mentioned in the first recap that I have a serious failing for long haired fighting men in black. He really upped the ante in that department. He really grabbed the role of Chun and just went with it. He was great.

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It was lovely to see Manzzang rock the hat and chew the scenery in the early episodes.

Yoon Ji Min as Ji was a quiet and yet kickass character who was also great to watch. Ji Chang Wook and also Yeo Jin Goo as young Dong Soo were quite good, and JCW really had to go from highs to lows and everything in between, and ended up being fun to watch as well. Yoo Seung Ho started slowly as Un, but seemed to grow in to the role more, until finally he was owning it. Yoon So Yi overdid it a bit in her first episodes as Jin Ju but settled in as well, especially after the writers suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be kickass too.

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The opening fight sequence between Chun and Gwang Taek actually ranks fairly high on my memorable scene list. From the second Chun shows up with that hawk on his arm to the very end of the fight, THAT was a heck of a well-crafted sequence. If there is a second unit director or cinematographer for Chun’s scenes, I’d give that guy credit for his scenes being framed and shot so well.

For the rest of the show, all of Chun’s scenes seemed to be better lit and directed. But many of the earliest episodes were nicely shot in general.

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In terms of the action sequences, it was fascinating that they chose to have Dong Soo end up with Chun’s style of fighting and Un with Gwang Taek’s. Some of the training sequences were really incredibly well done, like Un practicing alone in the woods. Whoever did the training and stunt doubling, well done guys!

For the low notes, well, obviously I have issues with the ending. But I also blame the extension in part for messing up what was clearly the planned the arc of the show with additional padding and nonsense. Whoever made the choice of obsessive and excessive use of flashbacks needs to go back to directing school.

And for a show that was clearly reaching for filler material, I blame the writers for dropping some narrative threads into an abyss from whence they never returned.

I also blame them for taking the lessons of the day and then brutally proving it to be false. If you are going to pound those things home narratively as WBDS did, then you have to follow through.

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As for the down side of the actors, I think we can all agree that Shin Hyun Bin wasn’t helpful to the cause. I rather pity the actors who were trying do scenes with her because she was so stiff and reactionless that they had nothing to play off of. And then there was Dae Ung. I happen to know, from seeing him in other things, that Park Chul Min is a decent actor. Which only leads me to the conclusion that he was specifically directed to be the screeching annoying deathless wonder that he was. Why? Other than going for cartoon-like based, screeching, evil villain, I really don’t know. But instead of being an evil Riddler, he became an annoying buzzing mosquito. If he was going for cartoon villain, he over-reached.

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On the down side for the action, some of the larger action sequences were terribly derivative even for this show. If you are so minded, compare the sequence where Un joins Dong Soo in fighting in episode 28 to the one in QSD where Yushin comes charging in to help Bidam defend Deokman the first time and then toss in Bidam’s fight when he’s a false prophet trying to escape Mishal right before the eclipse. Clearly I’ve seen way too many action movies and dramas, but either they had the same choreographer, or this one just liked those moves so much that they cropped up again.

It also became clear that in the later episodes, that the quality of production suffered somewhat in some continuity issues and some sloppiness in the staging of action scenes. Although they were not quite shooting live, they were clearly more pressed for time than in the earliest episodes when the production values were higher.

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I happen to be a sageuk junkie. I am not going to pretend WBDS is the greatest thing ever. Not even the greatest fusion saguek ever. In fact, not the best one this year. It’s not going to make my top 10 saguek list. Happily it doesn’t make my lowest 10 list, either (and yes, I really have seen that many).

This show was based on a manhwa. It didn’t really pretend to be anything else. It played so fast and loose with history that I only rarely used the real names of the historical figures like the King and Prince because the story lived in such a distant alternate reality that I couldn’t really bring myself to do so. If you are looking for history, give the show a wide pass (and if it makes you feel any better, historically Cho Rip’s character ends up dying in miserable exile for political machinations).

However, in terms of wanting a rollicking yarn that you can park your brains to watch? In that, Warrior Baek Dong Soo succeeded for most of the series. If you happen to like swashbuckling stories with handsome and pretty men, well then, this fits the bill. I happen to be of the ilk and age where I was happy to sit back and watch Choi Min Soo. Other, possibly younger, folk might say the same of Ji Chang Wook and Yoo Seung Ho.

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This to me is not a problem in choosing a show to watch, despite the knowledge that Life Is Too Short For Bad Dramas(tm hjkomo). I’ll admit to watching QSD almost exclusively for the Hwarang hotties, and King Geunchogo for a particular actor even after it got to the point where I hoped he got killed off so I wouldn’t feel a moral obligation to watch. So I understand watching shows for the pretty.

Earlier this year, Thundie asked what made a drama a good drama. I opined, more or less, that I thought a good drama did what it set out to do. A great drama did that and more. An okay drama had some problems somewhere, say in acting or writing. A bad drama had some serious problems, and the worst dramas were ones that could have been either good or great but for some reason went horribly wrong somewhere.

Realistically, I’m going to have to say that WBDS is an okay drama that included some really quite good parts. I certainly enjoyed a great deal of it, and if I knew someone who also liked a good swashbuckler, I’d recommend it.

If you managed to make it this far to the end of all of the recaps and this ranting finale, you are made of brave stuff!

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But finally, and most importantly, I need to thank Thundie for letting me take up residence here for the last few months. My recaps went from fairly terse to overly epic, from having her insert the screenshots to me throwing in so many that it might as well have been a photo book. Thundie, thank you for your patience! It’s been fun!

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76 thoughts on “Warrior Baek Dong Soo – Episode 29 – review and rant

  1. Most of Korean dramas end in a tragic way. I wonder why good guys always have to die that way. Is that their real life or just acting, they should try to make one drama of a happy ending please

  2. Momasa, I read your reviews faithfully after I consumed each episode in this series. Thank you for your writing about WBDS.
    What I liked about WBDS:
    a) Adult storyline lead actors nailed it and drew me in immediately. The quiet and gentle Gwang Taek versus the hard-drinking and hard-hearted Chun was compelling throughout the entire series.
    b) Young adult storyline lead actors grew and eventually hooked me too. As the characters transitioned from child to adult, the power of their storyline increased. The friendship between Baek Dong Soo and Yeo Woon was real. The betrayal at their divergent paths coupled with yearning to be friends again was palpable.
    c) Top notch fight scenes. Not every fight scene was excellent, but there was beautifully staged and directed fight scenes in this series. Baek Dong Soo’s single sword and Yeo Woon’s double swords flew many times in this series. Gwang Taek’s finesse and Chun’s direct fighting were impactful.
    d) Loved Yeo Woon’s glossy hair, Baek Dong Soo’s cockiness (he evolved away from this), Gwang Taek’s soulful eyes, Chun’s inability to drink without dribbling, dug Crown Prince Sado’s welding of the pole weapon, Ji Joo’s archery that saved folks multiple times, and Sa Mo’s meat cleaver fighting style.

    What I did not like about WBDS:
    a) Villains get away with murder (again and again) and had the upper hand the majority of the series. The balance of power should shift between the good and evil forces during the series, not stay squarely in the villain’s domain. It makes our heroes weaker and less effective. Villains either weren’t killed when you thought (In, Creepy Body Guard) or never touched Lord Hong, Hong1, Hong2, Queen, etc.
    b) Character reversals in the final episode. Cho Rip and Gu Hyang were written so their actions created an intolerable situation for Yeo Woon. This was difficult to swallow and reduced my opinion of the overall drama. They should have ended the series at episode 28.
    c) The final episode epilog was too long. Most kdramas epilogs are the briefest glimpse into the future and I crave more. Here the epilog went on and on and on. I could not wait for the final episode to end.
    d) Hated In’s crackle, Ji Sun’s impassive staring and overall lack of feeling, Lord Hong never had to sweat (his stay in jail was only 2 hours!), the “fate is nonsense” message reiterated over and over but nullified in the final episode, villains did not die, and the sexist “don’t play with swords” message to women.

  3. I agree that the series should have ended with episode 28. The last episode, particularly the last ten minutes, was singularly unsatisfying. And call me crazy…I know one shouldn’t expect historical accuracy, but what is this business with Dong Su’s riding off with Jisun? Was this some sort of fling before he ended up with Hwang Jin Ju, his wife (at least according to Wikipedia). A great part of Dong Su’s charm was his kind and loving heart, but why else would frozen-faced Jisun hold any appeal for him?!

  4. I’m just going to pretend Dong Soo & Jinju got together in the end. The romance here was so wack. Can someone please explain to me why Dong Soo was together with Jisun? Why was he so in love with her? They had no similarities, no experiences together at all. Jisun with Un would’ve made so much more sense, plus for a while it seemed like she had more feelings for Un also. Jinju was my favorite and they didn’t build up her romance AT ALL she was just all of a sudden together with the painter. BTW wasn’t the painter supposed to be a top 8 best martial artist? We didn’t see him fight once. Dong soo and Jinju were so perfect!! UGH!! and f Cho Rip. Plus I hate that they never explained at the end that Un didn’t fight Cho Rip.

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