Wednesday, October 19, 2011

thoughts: Warrior Baek Dong Soo (Korean) -- eps. 1 to 5 -- the childhood years

무사 백동수 -- Musa Baek Dong Su

As a warning, this article will contain some spoilers, so proceed with caution.
For an overall short review of this series with no spoilers, please refer to intro info: Warrior Baek Dong Soo

This article was supposed to have been published probably about a month ago after I finished watching the first few episodes of Warrior Baek Dong Soo and then felt like writing down some random thoughts about those first few episodes. Unfortunately, a big case of slacking off as well as interest in other drama series ended up delaying this post. By now, the entire series has finished it's broadcast, extension of the story included. Having been slated for only 20 episodes, the rumor mill made mention that Warrior Baek would get extended to 30. But the final number ended up being 29.

And so I had been waiting for a good point to continue watching Warrior Baek so that I wouldn't end up anticipating the next unaired episode at the edge of my seat. From what I had already watched, the series was only going to become more interesting.

In the near future as I finish watching this series, I may or may not continue posting some ongoing thoughts about it; however, more than likely, this will be the only "mid-series" article and I will simply present the usual intro info and thoughts posts for Warrior Baek Dong Soo.

From episode one and onward, the series went through a rather enjoyable build up. Having stopped somewhere around episode ten when I started writing this article, I was actually still a little lost on what it was exactly that I wanted to chronicle -- and also, I think I got my time frames a little mixed up anyway. And so I went back and rewatched the first five episodes in order to rewrite this article with more conviction.

The actual adventures, after all, have yet to begin, but the development of the story line including political intrigue, love lines, and brothership have already begun to take form. These first five episodes serve as a wonderful back story to our anticipation of Baek Dong Soo's true adventure in the pending future as we see him grow as a twelve year old child next to Yeo Woon. It won't be until the end of episode five that Hwang Jin Ju comes back onto the screen, but meanwhile, we still get to see some shots of Yoo Ji Seon's plight.

Having been born with a terrible deformity in his limbs, the young Dong Soo cannot live like a normal boy. He is tied to his casts and walks extremely stiffly, even as he desires to be able to run like normal. But we are shown almost immediately that twelve year old Dong Soo will stop at nothing to prove that he can be normal like the rest of the village kids; on top of that, he's got quite the childish and irrational temper, as well as an arrogantly immature personality to boot. This might be due to being restricted ever since he was young. The kid wants to be the best and believes truly that he CAN be the best even if he is proven wrong many times over. He is unyielding in his own stubborn pride and wants to show that, even though he's unlike other kids, he can be better than them.

As the child Baek Dong Soo grows, he continues his penchant for being loud-mouthed, easily tempered, arrogant, and honestly, not very sensible. I don't know if it was such a good idea to remove his casts so early, but that's just me thinking he needs to be kept on a leash.

While it is true that he's got the brains and the physique for a true martial artist, his immaturity is his ultimate downfall, and I predict that later on in the story line, that that over confidence and immaturity might cost him some immense heartbreak. It definitely won't cost him his own life; that would make things too easy on him. But from a lesson he will need to learn in the future, his stubborn irrationality and arrogance might one day cost him the life of a loved one.

In hopes that he will soon grow to understand his own defining character flaws and improve upon them, I look forward to seeing him continue to develop.

The other three young main characters of Warrior Baek are also introduced almost at the same time that young Dong Soo comes onto the scene.

Yeo Woon appears as an extremely troubled and emo kid who has somehow learnt amazing sword fighting (though we are never told where he picked up that skill). He resents and is resented by his father, possibly due to the fact that his mother's death was tied to his own life -- of which he DOES not know until five minutes into his first appearance when a bunch of kids are making fun of him about it. Learning that his mother died at the hands of his father, Yeo Woon is fairly pissed off to the point that he runs away and ends up joining the Choksa Horong (Assassins) which will end up continuing his already tragic life to an even more tragic future.

His will power and level-headed wit keeps him going though. Yeo Woon is like the foil to Dong Soo's loud-mouthed pride. Rather than running around boasting about being the best, Yeo Woon is able to simply show people that he is highly skilled and has his wits about him by reacting when the situation calls for it.

I foresee a lot of heartache between him and Dong Soo, with the strained tension of the two of them having become friends, but needing to become enemies.

The child Hwang Jin Ju and Yoo Ji Seon also make an appearance, although Jin Ju's childhood doesn't seem to lend much significance to the story line aside from being there as a friend of Dong Soo. He, of course, only sees her as a pesky and annoying tag-a-long because she's a tomboy; and so like the rest of the kids in the village, he treats her like dirt even though she practically worships the ground he walks on after he saves her life from becoming pit barbeque.

Yoo Ji Seon, however, has already been given her significance as the carrier of the Northern Expedition Book of War, which is pretty much a secret map which will lead straight to Beijing without encountering any obstacles at all. An extremely heavy burden for such a young girl at that age; and so we can already foresee a long and difficult journey ahead of her for the rest of the story line. And of course, as would happen, Ji Seon is written as an elegant nobleman's daughter with an icy-cold personality. Why is this important? Because this is the making of two men who end up becoming attracted to her immediately -- beauty, elegance, iciness, all in one package.

Throughout these first few episodes, I've found that I've been enjoying the friendship development between Dong Soo, Yeo Woon, and their third, Yang Cho Rip. With these boys, the brothership dynamics are incredibly innocent and pure as the three of them train together and grow together. Dong Soo and Yang Cho Rip readily attach themselves to each other as immediate friends and Yeo Woon subconsciously attaches himself to Dong Soo.

Yeo Woon's development seems the most interesting, encasing the identity of a young assassin in secret, but at the same time desiring the warmth of friendships and care. He, of course, does not openly admit this, but the expressions in his eyes, his unknowing actions, and sometimes even some of his words suggests that he DOES yearn for someone to call a brother. His constant fluttering back and forth from cold to warm is a great indication that, despite making the decision to become a cold-hearted assassin, he also is just another young boy who wants companionship.

It had been hard to tell at first, but after seeing Yeo Woon's continued interest in Dong Soo's actions and well-being, we can clearly see that he has slowly grown to care about the arrogant and rash Baek Dong Soo as the series progresses into their young adolescence. When he is the first to cross the sea and reach the beach during their Warrior Camp training and he does not see Dong Soo among the scattered mess of boys, he immediately registers panic that Dong Soo had not made it. Whether this was because he sees Dong Soo as a potential equal in terms of strength or if this is because he's begun to care about Dong Soo is still up in the air though. No doubt, however, he certainly does take interest in Dong Soo.

It is a very heartbreaking revelation to himself as well as viewers, I'm sure, because there is no doubt that Yeo Woon was created to become the main antagonist in the near future of the story line. His closeness to Dong Soo will only serve to form angst and melancholy between the two young men when they finally have to face off against each other. But I have my hopes up that Yeo Woon's ultimate stance will return to the side of his brothers and join them in whatever cause they might have.

Of course, that mysteriousness of his character and the impending turn of his persona to "the dark side" is also quite an intriguing idea to encounter.

Relationship-wise, with two girls presented along with the two boys, of course there will be a little bit of young love flying around to make the story a little spicier. There is absolutely no doubt that Baek Dong Soo has already fallen for the stoic and icy elegance of Yoo Ji Seon. Yeo Woon has the same exact sentiments, but he is less open to expressing these feelings for whatever reason it may be. This leaves our loveable and strong-hearted Hwang Jin Ju on the sidelines with her one-sided crush on a boy who wouldn't even bother with her due to his one-tracked mind and a slightly selfish tendency to only think about his own ego, pride, and griefs.

At the age of twelve, being so caught up in his own self woes and his own stubborn pride, I was actually rather surprised that Jin Ju would even fall for someone like that in the first place. If anything, had she met the quiet and sophisticated Yeo Woon first, the story might have been a bit more interesting. But I guess you never truly forget the person who saves your life, even IF 50% of it was due to his own big, manly hero instincts running in overdrive. The other 50% is probably truly due to the fact that he secretly DOES care about Jin Ju as a friend and there is no doubt that Dong Soo is the type who would cherish his friendships even if he won't admit it.

I just hope that there's more about Dong Soo worthy of such an undying love, because up to this point in the series, aside from his loyalty to his friends and his extra compassion to those significant people around him, I have found Dong Soo to be a rather annoying, dramatic, and immature adolescent (the descriptions just keep recycling themselves). He really needs to take a reality check score and learn that the world DOES NOT revolve around him.

Sure, Dong Soo has done a lot of amazing things already. He has saved lives. He has used his knowledge and quick wit to solve problems. He's a lucky kid and has managed to win quite the brownie points from almost everyone he meets with little gestures.

But ultimately, it would be nice when he finally learns to grow up a little.

Of course, this is work in progress and I think that it will come as a pleasant surprise when he finally DOES step into a more mature character. It's refreshing that he doesn't start off the story with the true personality of a hero. By the time that comes around, as the viewer, you can feel some pride in little Dong Soo who has grown to become a great hero of a man. While he can be immature and haughty at times, there is absolutely no doubting that Dong Soo has a good heart and truly wishes wellness to everyone around him, even IF he acts like a dumbass most of the time.

I'm not feeling this guy yet, but I'm hoping that he'll prove to me that I've been wrong to pre-judge him so soon. After all, a righteous hero from beginning til end can usually become quite monotonous, but a slowly developing hero is always fun to follow.

Yeo Woon, however, is the young boy I'm completely drawn to and curious about. Due to the way he was raised, with a father who had wanted him dead since the day he was born, he's carried a tragic and lonely heart all these years. And then he ends up joining the Hoksa Chorong and even stains his own hands with his father's blood (even if he blocks that memory out and even if the true killer was Chun, the assassin). This boy is complex and it hurts me dearly to know that one day he'll end up fighting againt Dong Soo rather than with him as a brother-in-arms. This can only lead to more heartache on his part when he has to turn the tables on his close friends and either betray them or kill them.

Because as the viewer, even WE can see that Yeo Woon has his own desire to be that good person that Dong Soo is; but being an assassin renders him unable to have a heart of gold and restricts him from being the comrade to Dong Soo that he subconsciously becomes as the two grow together. A lot of his reactions cannot be faked, especially at such a young age. His genuine care for Dong Soo shows at all the most crucial times. His behavior tells us that he is NOT just pretending to befriend the other boy for his ulterior reasons. As the boys grow to adolescense, he has developed quite the understanding of Dong Soo's actions and mindset. Few things about Dong Soo seems to surprise him anymore and the rare events that DO surprise him usually appear to be a pleasant surprise rather than jealous or cautious surprise.

While I completely expect him to turn into the antagonist at any time in the story line, it will be a rather disappointing melancholy for me if he remains in that stance forever. Because I would love to be able to see the two rekindle their friendship and fight together for a common goal. I would love to be able to see Yeo Woon let down his secret dark curtain and genuinely be happy and have his fun with his friends. He has spent so much time as a boy going through so much pain that you feel heartbroken to continue watching him slide further down that dark road of self-destruction, never getting the opportunity to be the carefree and happy boy that he should have been at twelve years old.

In this sense, I think he kind of envies Dong Soo's honest, blunt and carefree personality.

As for the love rectangle that is sure to develop, I don't think I'm too worried about it since the relationships can go in any way. While I've already stood in the side of the Jin Ju and Dong Soo ship, I'm not saying that I will totally be disappointed if the ultimate couple puts Ji Seon together with our titular protagonist. It was a given anyway and I've grown to accept that. I just hope that Jin Ju at least gets a good conclusion for her story, because while she didn't have much of one during her childhood, the story line hints at so much more depth and development in her character back history as well as her immediate future.

In a way, I'm almost thinking that Jin Ju will be that female lead we all hope to relate with, but who will ultimately come to a tragic end when she finally gets what she's been dreaming for. Here's hoping for the best for Hwang Jin Ju though.

The political intrigue of the series hasn't quite drawn me in yet. Prince Sado's fight against the Noron faction and the Qing country are duly noted. And the thrill is there. But thus far, everything else has been overshadowed by the relationship dynamics between Dong Soo and Yeo Woon -- and in a sense, if this were Chinese wuxia, then it is perfectly acceptable. In the land of wuxia, the ideas of brother-ship is one of the most important factors of the Jiang Wu life. Since I'm not familiar with Korean historical story lines, I can't quite comment on this factor.

As a comment on the actors, they are nothing short of amazing. The child actor, Park Geon Tae who portrays Yeo Woon's twelve year old tragedy does wonderfully, bringing out enough angst, tension and rage so that you can see and feel the conflict and emotion surging through him at that fragile young age. Yeo Jin Goo does a rather entertaining job of portraying the twelve year old Baek Dong Soo, giving him the right amount of arrogance, dramatic woe and egoism that continues on even as Ji Chang Wook takes over for Dong Soo's young adolescent twenty year old transition.

Yoo Seung Ho is beautiful as the grown up Yeo Woon, keeping a lot of that quiet turmoil, but including a dash of what it fees like to have made friends to keep oneself entertained within the eight years of growth. Both of these boys are able to hold their own, forming excellent preludes to the great fighters or swordsmen that they will become in the future.

As for the female cast, they don't quite stand out as much. Shin Hyun Bin as Yoo Ji Seon is still an undecided thought for me as I'm not sure what to make of this young girl yet. I'm at least glad that Ji Seon didn't end up as a one hundred percent damsel in distress who wouldn't even be able to take care of herself anywhere outside of her own room; but she proves to be quite strong of mind and level-headed enough for me to have respect for her made for damsel character. She just seems so fragile that I know it's going to be a subject of heartache for everyone around her in the long run. Hwang Jin Ju is a very admirable young girl, though with quick to act, rash behavior and some unfounded over confidence. As of present, while I like the brave and outgoing Hwang Jin Ju, the portrayal by Yoon So Yi has been a little... well, I'm not quite sure what it is about her that seems to bug me. There is a slight bit of over-excitement in her actions and her voice, but I haven't yet figured out whether it is due to her character, or due to the actress herself. Nonetheless, Jin Ju seems like the type of girl I will end up favoring if only for her bravery and that chaotic righteousness she appears to have. Unfortunately, I can see her being quite the pushover where Dong Soo is concerned and I'm already preparing for the worst when she continuously follows Dong Soo around only to be treated like a toad underling.

The series is progressing quite nicely. The three boys have finally grown into young men and will begin to serve the Crown Prince. Dong Soo and Jin Ju have unofficially entered "reunion" territory as they meet again in adult form, even if they don't recognize each other -- it'll only be a matter of time before they start to journey together. Yoo Ji Seon ended up having the Northern Expedition Book of War tatooed to her back by her dying father, and so now she is truly going to be a tragic bearer of significance.

The adventures, of course, will probably finally begin to take form. I look forward to seeing what will end up happening next as well as whether or not that extension to the series is going to be well worth it. Hopefully we'll be seeing a more mature Dong Soo in the future, a more significant Jin Ju, and a less tragic Yeo Woon by the end of the series.


Related articles:
first impression: Warrior Baek Dong Soo
thoughts: Warrior Baek Dong Soo -- a hero and a twist of fate
thoughts: Warrior Baek Dong Soo -- the end and an overall look


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