Writer : Fenny Setiawan
Editor: Val Kaye Taozen and Tabby Cat
Picture credit : SBS
“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” ~ Quote by Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist For Yi In Jwa and his determination, then!
Dae Gil returns to Hanyang. He has become someone more self-assured that his willpower could move mountains and that he could turn Yi In Jwa’s plan to dust, soon!
I like the fact that Dae Gil no longer only seeks revenge for his father’s death, but instead he has a greater plan to fight for. It will cause Yi In Jwa to feel a tremor of fear about his current opponent.
This episode starts with the suspense at the end of episode 10: The first encounter between Yi In Jwa and the new Baek Dae Gil who conquered the gambling dens by becoming the white-masked gambler. He went around the eight cities’ gambling dens and wiped them out, which left In Jwa furious. However, as usual, Yi In Jwa shows no surprise when Dae Gil arrives and allows his mask to be removed. In Jwa already expects Dae Gil’s imminent appearance. In Jwa asks Dae Gil if he still wants revenge for his father’s death—if revenge is his only intention—then he tells Dae Gil to forget about revenge as it will restrict him from being able to move on. Crushing the white mask on the floor with his foot, Dae Gil replies that In Jwa would already have died a hundred times if his only reason for returning was revenge. Instead he says that to complete the picture he’s drawing In Jwa needs him. In Jwa thinks Dae Gil finally realizes what his plan is all about; however, Dae Gil curtly tells him to wake up from his dream. In Jwa can never be an ally, not for him, not for the king, and also not for the people in this nation. Before Dae Gil says goodbye, he tells him that they will meet often… and coldly reminds In Jwa that only he is letting him live today. (Ouch!)
After Dae Gil leaves, In Jwa picks up the white mask from the floor. He reflect
s back on how he started to wear a white mask. The memories show a young In Jwa studying Confucius with his grandfather. They discuss the meaning of the saying: know your morals and stand by your virtues. The young Yi Hyun Jwa (later Yi In Jwa) thought he was living in a world as perfect as what was written in the books he read, but he learned that reality was very different. He witnessed extreme poverty, the worthless justice following the Manchu war in 1636, and the slaughter of his whole family by the king. Left in despair at such young age, he chose to hide behind a white mask, longing for the day that he finally could drop his mask and seize the world with his hands. Returning to the present, In Jwa mentally tells Baek Dae Gil that he is going to take the same difficult path that In Jwa once had walked.
Hwang Jin Ki hails Dae Gil as he’s leaving. Just as Jin Ki begins to draw his sword Dae Gil rushes back and stops him, asking if he wants to settle things right now. Witnessing Dae Gil’s sudden speed, Jin Ki immediately notices Dae Gil’s martial arts skills are tremendously improved. That idea arouses Jin Ki’s curiosity whereupon he asks In Jwa if is still thinking of making Dae Gil the king and what about the Crown Prince. In Jwa replies that the Crown Prince is a discarded play: merely a card he has tossed. Because the Crown Prince was born and raised in the palace, accustomed to the current system, there are things he can never do. “The great cause can never happen or start under the feet of his Majesty.” Dae Gil, on the other hand, is someone from outside the palace, someone who has experienced the hardship of the common people and someone who could rule the world without the king’s boundaries. (In Jwa, now are you thinking of become The Apprentice’s guru!?!)
Meanwhile, Yeoning meets with the old man he saw at the Gisaeng house (from the previous episode). Yeoning asks him if he knows of the ledger that the small, non-chartered merchants mentioned which records filthy deals between In Jwa and the large, licensed merchants. The old man reminds Yeoning about the dangers that could lead to his death if he continues to search for the book. However, he does offers to sell Yeoning the book for 1000 nyang: 500 nyang to match the price In Jwa offered and an additional 500 nyang for his safety. Yeoning agrees as long as the old man agrees to stand before the ministers and testifies. The old man hands the ledger to Yeoning and says he doesn’t need money but wants protection.
Following the meeting, Yeoning’s bodyguard informs him that Dae Gil is currently in Hanyang. Yeoning sends a guard to find Dae Gil and bring him to a gyobang. At first Dae Gil seems surprised that the person looking for him is none other than Prince Yeoning. Being his usual self, he greets Yeoning wittily by asking if his reason for drinking in midday is because he has been dumped by someone? (Obviously someone is also a little bit jealous here :p) Ignoring Dae Gil’s taunt, Yeoning replies by asking Dae Gil if he is curious about Dam Seo. (Spot on.) Yeoning offers a drink to Dae Gil, stops to decry his ill manners, but ends up pouring anyway, before getting around to his point. He wants to know if Dae Gil is willing to become his comrade (since they can’t be a friends anyhow) to fight against Yi In Jwa. To Yeoning’s surprise Dae Gil rejects the offer and suggests Yeoning mind his own business and not get in his way. Conversation over.
Before Dae Gil leaves, Yeoning sees Dae Gil still carries the sword the King gave to him. He asks if Dae Gil knows why the King entrusted him with the sword. The question brings back Dae Gil’s memory of a conversation with his master. Kim Chae Gun once said to Dae Gil, “There are many different swords in the land. There are swords that kill people and swords that save people. Which one will it be? Which type of sword will you hold in your hands?” Dae Gil answered, “ONE determined act rather than thinking a HUNDRED times. That is the meaning behind this sword in my hand.” After Dae Gil leaves, Yeoning repeats to himself what Dae Gil said. (Brotherly lesson number 1, checked!)
In the palace, under King Sukjong’s surveillance, Crown Prince Yoon goes through his usual administrative routine with his ministers. Suddenly Yeoning enters the hall and approaches the Crown Prince. Apologizing for being late, he offers a stack of records as evidence of severe punishment and penalties lowly people, who steal for their rice bowl, are forced to endure as a result of corrupted laws and taxes. He questions the unfairness caused by the government for which the commoners have to pay the consequences. Yeoning proposes several matters including the abolition of death penalty and severe punishments. He also requests the king end the merchants’ license ban, showing the accounting book as evidence of corruption. Instead he seeks government support for legal and fair commerce. This suggestion causes a ruckus among the ministers, prompting King SukJong to ask Yeoning if peace will happen even after these requests are granted.
Dae Gil wanders downtown and suddenly see his grandpa is selling silks. He hides his face behind his fan and pretends to be a buyer, but Grandpa quickly finds out. The joyful reunion is cut short, however, because the authorities approach and accuse Grandpa of illegally trading. They confiscate his stock, leaving Grandpa quite unhappy. From the incident, Dae Gil learns about “license ban on smaller merchants”—the monopolism of bigger merchant over smaller ones.
With no merchandise left in his little shop, Grandpa and Dae Gil leave for a reunion dinner. Over the meal, Grandpa asks for money and when told he has none, Grandpa complains about how costly it was to raise Dae Gil. Easily the cost, he says, would be an amount too heavy to carry. Dae Gil gives in and tosses Grandpa a bag of coins but adds that in return Grandpa has to work for it. As a result, Grandpa draws a gambling location map, and Dae Gil marks the target locations using janggi pieces. First, he puts a blank piece where his current location is, then he places another janggi piece at Hong Mae’s den (洪—the Hong piece represents Hong Mae). Next he marks Seosomun (鬼—the Ghost piece represents Six Ghosts), Jeongno (犬—the Dog piece represents Cutter), and ends with Mapo (骨—the Bone piece represent Gol Sa). Fiercely, Dae Gil explains his strategy to Grandpa when he asks why Dae Gil chooses to attack these three from all the other dens around. Dae Gil explains that these are Yi In Jwa’s source of money for manipulating the ministers. Hong Mae’s den is In Jwa right hand; the Shaman in Wolhyanggak is In Jwa’s left hand; Six Ghost (in Seosomun), Cutter (in Jongno) and Golsa (in Mapo) are In Jwa’s legs. He first plans to cut off In Jwa’s legs before approaching the next targets. (Dae Gil already mentioned to In Jwa during their encounter that he would cut off his legs, his right and left hands, and finally slit his throat.) Grandpa asks which leg will Dae Gil cut first? Dae Gil confidently says that he will start with Six Ghosts (while saying this, his vivid memory of Seol Im’s agony at losing her parents because of Six Ghosts flashes into his mind). He will start his first attack partly for Seol Im’s sake!
In the palace, Yeoning speaks to the Crown Prince and tries to assure him about abolishing the license ban on small merchants and reviving the free trade. However, the Crown Prince reminds him that the King himself established the law and taxes are the sources of income to sustain the country. Yeoning responds that the law has been abused and, because of the taxes, people are suffering. The Crown Prince, still not convinced, tells Yeoning his evidence is not enough as it still doesn’t show who is behind the bribery. Moreover, the Crown Prince reminds Yeoning about his promise to be his eyes and ears. Yeoning tells the Crown Prince he still intends to keep his promise but before that the Crown Prince must get rid of Yi In Jwa, otherwise he will do it himself. Yeoning bumps into Kim Chang Jib and the Noron faction ministers after leaving the Crown Prince. The ministers admonish Yeoning for his absurd proposal to abolish the merchant license law. Yeoning, not the least intimidated by the ministers, responds by asking if they are afraid their dirty little secret would be exposed. Before they can mount a counter argument, he tells them it’s time for them to let it go; they have already eaten enough of the nation’s wealth. With that Yeoning stalks away. Meanwhile from afar, Jo Il Soo (Soron faction) alertly observes their conversation.
Back at Yi In Jwa’s residence, In Jwa explains to Moo Myong (his loyal follower) that Yeoning’s aggressive plan to abolish the merchant license law will not merely be opposed by the Soron faction but will also create a disadvantage for the Norons. Furthermore, it will decrease merchant revenues that they need to pay the levies Six Ghosts demands, as most of the merchants have fallen victim to Six Ghosts' loan shark scam by borrowing money they never can hope to repay.
Yeoning briefly pays a visit to his obviously ailing mother, Choi Suk Bin. He explains that his main purpose in pushing the new law that no one supports is to capture In Jwa.
That evening Jo Il Soo and other Soron ministers gather to discuss Yeoning’s impulsive plan. They argue that abolishing the ban on non-chartered merchants doesn’t make any sense because tax revenues would decrease as well as what they could collect in rent from the merchants. While they are discussing the issue, Yeoning suddenly enters to the room. He calmly tells the minister that, as a son from lowly water maid, he is a fearless and has nothing to lose; therefore, he has no intention of stopping his reform plan. However, he might spare their wrongdoing if they give up Yi In Jwa and sever their ties with him.
As always expected by now, Yi In Jwa shows up just as his name enters the conversation. After Yeoning leaves, Yi In Jwa tells the minister to go ahead and give him up as Yeoning requested and advises, too, that they open the rice supplies to share with people. He, then, tells the minister to trust his plan on how to handle Yeoning.
Meanwhile in a gisaeng house, Moo Myeong follows In Jwa’s order to kill the witness (the old man) whose keeps the accounting book and whom Yeoning promised to protect. Moo Myeong easily tricks the guards into turning their attention away from the witness just long enough for Hong Mae to poison his drink. Mission accomplished, the old man dies.
Soon, Yeoning finds out that his witness died from the poison administered by In Jwa’s cronies. When Yeoning arrives at the gisaeng house to check out the incident, the witness’ son is already there. He angrily accuses Yeoning of causing his father’s death. Right after he apologizes to the witness’ son, Yeoning goes to the Shaman’s gobang where In Jwa holds court and demands an answer for the old man’s death. But ignoring Yeoning’s questions, In Jwa calmly reminds Yeoning that it was he who first touched what belonged to In Jwa and asks what does he want to gain by coming to there right now? For revenge by putting him to the sword? In response to In Jwa’s question, Yeoning says that he has a better thing for In Jwa than drawing his sword. Unexpected by everyone, he gives In Jwa a hard punch right to his face. (I honestly rejoiced when I watched this scene. You deserve it, In Jwa!)
Returning to the witness’ residence, Yeoning checks on the funeral's whereabouts; however, he discovers there is no funeral. He learns the small merchants’ leader only pretended to be the witness’ son earlier. Yeoning interrogates them regarding their intentions for wanting the missing half of the ledgers. Are they wanted as evidence to make a threat or a deal with the bigger merchants? Yeoning suggests that he, as a prince, will be able to help them with whatever deal they hope to achieve as long as they trust in him. Each of the merchants show their slavery brand as the small merchants’ leader tells Yoening that he will only trust him if Yeoning sets them free from Six Ghosts' slavery. Yeoning asks them where he can find Six Ghosts.
In Seosomun, Dae Gil walks through the area where he only sees beggars and homeless. Human trafficking and corpse trades are among the common everyday sights too. Seosomun belongs wholly and completely to Six Ghosts. When Dae Gil asks about Six Ghosts, a local describes him as worse than the king of hell. Dae Gil witnesses an obnoxious scene of slavery recruitment. Flashing back he remembers the scene in the salt flats where the owner forced him to sign the slavery contract. Six Ghost does not spare the lives of children, women and elderly from his slavery. While seeing this happen, he sees a crying, starving child, who melts his heart, and gives the child a piece of rice cake. Seeing the cruel action of Six Ghost toward the crowded slaves, Dae Gil wants to approach him, but suddenly Yeoning appears beside Dae Gil and mocks him for always acting impulsively. Dae Gil replies it is better than only thinking without doing. They part to go their own ways.
In front of Six Ghosts gambling room, Yeoning tries to enter but is stopped the guard, asking him if he has money with him. He grins and reveals that he forgot. The guard points him to the person who evaluates the value of people who put themselves up as a gambling bet. While queuing, Yeoning again meets Dae Gil who apparently also plans to enter the den. After a short sibling banter, an astonished Yeoning asks if Dae Gil plans to work with him inside Six Ghosts' gambling room. Dea Gil mutters, “Do I have to spell it out for you?”
Before the evaluator stamps Dae Gil’s wrist, Dae Gil warns him that he at least worth of 100 nyang as he is still young and strong. Intimidated by Dae Gil, the evaluator agrees on the deal. Yeoning also demands the same amount; however, the evaluator tells him to stick with 30 nyang, otherwise he will price him at 20 nyang instead. Dae Gil teases Yeoning that a prince without royal costume is only worth 30 nyang. Standing in front of the gambling den, the two continue bickering—Dae Gil can’t seem to resist teasing the slightly stuffy Yeoning. Finally, the gambling guard, losing patience with them, interrupts with a yell. Do they wish die? As a result, both of our heroes throw the guards through the door to enter the gambling house (ha ha).
Toward the end of the episode, after Dae Gil and Yeoning create a ruckus and agree to do their different parts, Six Ghosts finally appears in front of Dae Gil. He asks Dae Gil why came empty-handed if he wishes to gamble. Dae Gil tells Six Ghost he’s worth 100 nyang. The gambling table is set and people are gathered, including the slaves worth only 10 nyang. Six Ghosts decides to use their lives as baduk (go) stones. Presumably, for each stone knocked from the board, a slave would be killed.
Simultaneously, Yeoning goes down to the storeroom where Six Ghosts keeps all the slavery papers. Most of the small merchants’ lives depend on that record evidence, but to Yeoning’s surprise, Hwang Jin Ki is already inside the storeroom. He’s been waiting for Yeoning to arrive. And as usual, he’s been carving a Buddha’s statue while waiting.
Back in the gambling room, Six Ghosts reminds Dae Gil about their bets. If Dae Gil wins the bet, the gambling den becomes his; however, if Six Ghosts wins then he has the right to kill Dae Gil. Six Ghosts also emphasizes not to end the game too fast as he wants to have the fun of enjoying every moment when he takes a slave’s life. Dae Gil, no longer able to tolerate the obnoxious scene and Six Ghosts' behavior, takes up his sword and slices the baduk board in half. He tells Six Ghost that he does not want to be a human anymore, seeing all the evil deeds Six Ghosts has done. He adds that if Six Ghosts can’t deal with him honestly then they should just have it out, but before he proceeds further, a familiar voice stops him. Seol Im suddenly appears and says, “It has been a long time, Baek Dae Gil.”
Episode 11 ends with yet another cliffhanger that makes me curious what actually happened to Seol Im and why she was in Six Ghost gambling den. What has she become since her last separation from Dae Gil. I am rooting for Seol Im. Her character in this drama brightens the atmosphere as so many intense acts are involved. I wanted to see her have more interaction with Dae Gil. I also hoped for more collaboration between Dae Gil and Yeoning. I enjoyed their bromance moments in the episode 11.
I once again admire that the writer-nim was able to present a well thought-out metaphorical story plot. I found it very intriguing when Dae Gil told In Jwa that he will cut off his legs, right and left hands, and finally slit his throat in a metaphorical way. I am looking forward to what he will do to finally slit In Jwa’s throat, metaphorically.
For me, Daebak is not a light drama. The story can be overwhelming to digest at times; however, I am certainly still looking forward to watching it until the end. Aren’t you?