Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Legend; The Story of the First King's Four Gods"

“Man no longer waits for heaven. Now it is heaven who waits for man.”

I think that was the overarching theme of the series; that man can do good of his own free will. I think fans of the show might question that the writers/producers/directors of “Legend” did “good” with the way the series ended.

There was a lot about “Legend” that I didn’t understand. I had assumed that I found the whole fantasy concept of the White Tiger, Blue Dragon, Black Turtle Snake and Red Phoenix strange because I’m western. I think that was part of it. There is such a long history of Korea, unlike the brief 200 years of United States history.

However, the ending seemed fast and forced and unclear to me. After reading fan comments I felt a little better. It seemed fast and forced and unclear to them as well. The hope had been that Dam Deok and Sujini would be together forever raising little Yuri (it was the kid’s name in Jumong; I can’t remember his name in Legend). But Dam Deok broke the Damul bow, causing all the “gods” to “die”, went toward the light of heaven, and the show was over. Fans were infuriated.

You know, I think the series could have developed more satisfactorily had they not focused so much on the variety of wars, the planning, the stratagems. They could have used exposition through the scribe to do that. It was a noble endeavor on a noble subject with complex characters and situations that needed better treatment than they received. There were some really fine character moments that could have been developed more. It felt like the powers that be fully expected to be able to extend the series (as so often happens) but unforeseen factors stopped it and they were forced to finish sooner than they really hoped.

I read several alternate endings and some sounded like they would have been pretty good. It appears that the cost of the project, coupled with the continued injuries sustained by some of the main characters prohibited extending the series to clarify and bring happy closure to our characters. Bae Yong Joon, God bless him, ripped some ligaments on his index finger (it’s all bandaged up in the last episode) and sustained significant injuries to his knee. BYJ looked like he had lost a lot of weight and just didn't look well.

That ending left holes that I suppose the “Legend” powers that be assumed the fans would fill in themselves. So I filled in explanations that made me happy.

Dam Deok’s father teaches the boy to hide his greatness, to not let others see his abilities so that they will think him a weak fool, thereby protecting him until he’s old enough to deal with palace intrigue. This worked for years (a long freaking 11 episodes btw) until DD becomes a man. DD has an admirable quality of humility and sincerely believes that his cousin Hogae would make a better King. He never sought the title, though it was thrust on him by the Heavens. All signs eventually point to him being the Joo Shin King and he feels forced to accept the role.

But at what cost? He loves his parents, his friends, his family and his people. His method of rule is always geared toward saving lives, to making the lives of his people better. He is a just and kind King using love first and justice when needed, but always tempered with mercy.

His mother dies. He is forced to confront his Aunt's atrocities when he is a young boy and she commits suicide. His father later takes his own life so that DD will become King. He loses his faith in his youthful love Kiha, he loses the love of his cousin Hogae through jealousy and vengeance, the friends from his youth die protecting him, men go to battle for him and die, his people suffer because Hogae tries to gain the throne through force. Sujini leaves to protect DD and his son.

Dam Deok is tired of the Heavens. He says to General Go, “Joo Shin King, do you know how much I resent that title? The many things I have lost because of that title? My mother, my father, my people.” He looks longingly at the last thing that Sujini touched before she left him, so we know that her loss still weighs heavily on his heart 8 years later. He has lost so much, yet has ruled Goguryeo wisely, supporting his people and the clans around him to the benefit of all. His war tactics are always geared toward the least loss of life possible. He hasn’t needed the heavens to help him rule, yet he has lost everything closest to him in sacrifice to the heavens for a rule thrust upon him; one that he never wanted.

In the last battle, Hogae kills the loyal General Go. Dam Deok does not hesitate, he immediately takes the same spear that killed Go and kills Hogae. After Hogae passes, Dam Deok looks at the battle raging all around him and he feels the pointlessness of it all, the killing and dying because of the title the heavens bestowed on him.

He determines in the end that his purpose on earth was to show that mankind could, through his own will, rule with wisdom, with grace, with love and with mercy. They didn’t need the heavens to intervene any longer. The problem was, that as long as heavenly blood coursed through the veins of his descendants, there would always be those intent on usurping power. To prevent others from coming along to claim the heavenly powers through destruction, and to prevent the hold that the Heavens have upon man's free will, he destroys the link between heaven and earth; the Damul Bow.

I don’t think the breaking of the Damul Bow killed the four gods and the Joo Shin King. We don’t see any of them actually die; we see the three gods on the battlefield clutch their hearts, weaken with pain, but we don’t see them die. We don’t even see Kiha actually die, she just floats in her cocoon of cherry Jell-O. I think the breaking of the bow took away the gods and the Joo Shin King’s “CGI” powers; you know, the blue dragon-y spear of death, the Black Turtle Snake cone of lost time, the White Tiger’s ability to – what the hell did that thing do besides save Hogae anyway? – I mean damn, that axe, and the Red Phoenix’s Bic Lighter Fighter Fingers.

In the end, I like to think we get the human Dam Deok, King and husband of Sujini, the perky alcoholic, mother to Yuri, son of Jumong… sorry, I mean Dam Deok. There’s Jumuchi - father of twins, the white robed guy with a cane still hustling people out of money, and poor long faced long javelin spear throwing man who will unrequitedly love Sujini forever but will serve Dam Deok faithfully.

Oh, and I’m not sure about Kiha. She might still be smiling in the cherry Jell-O.


Anonymous said...

thanks God, finally i found someone who can reveal the real meaning of this Legend think :D

thank you so much for the best review

Ani said...

Thank you for your review.

As an American, I had to watch this twice to understand that any possibility of Sujini and Dam Deok being together as a couple ended when she realized that her sister bore his child. In Korean culture that made the King like a brother in law and any relationship with him would be incestuous. My take on this is that the tie and powers were broken but the King lived on to his 23rd year of reign. Then was his demise, the subtitles told me. I assume he and Sujini were friends until his death.

I loved this series and the characters and although I would never turn my back on God and never think I don't need him, I understand why DD does this.

I wonder about where this legend originated. Is this a part of Korean culture or an invention for this series?

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