Saturday, February 7, 2009

Damo; An Attempt To Organize My Thoughts

mae hwa bat [A Grove Of Ja -

Damo I just finished this drama and the tears are still streaming down my face as I listen to part of the official sound track to Damo: Adagio and A Song of Sorrow.

Damo was another of those Korean Dramas I thought would be important for me to watch like Stairway to Heaven, Winter Sonata and Full House. I was no where close to being as touched by any of those three dramas as I was with Damo. I’d been putting off watching for a while; I had read the summaries, the plot had a little of a disturbing twist that I think I was avoiding, but I decided last weekend to give it a go. It was only 14 episodes, after all.

Damo is the story of Jae Hui (played superbly by Ha Jin Won)– a seven year old girl whose nobleman Damo3 father, after a government scandal, kills himself rather than be taken in by the royal guard. Jae Hui and her brother Jae Mo (played by Kim Min Joon) ride off together so they are not captured by the guards and taken away. This attempt is for naught, they are captured and cruelly separated.

Damo1-1 Enter Hwangbok Yoon (played by Lee Seo Jin), teenage son of a nobleman and his mistress, he is shunned by a society that favors noble purebreds. Jae Hui becomes his slave girl, but as they grow a familial bond forms between the two that cannot be broken. Jae Hui is no longer called so by society, since she is a slave, her name becomes Chae Ohk, which aptly means a colorful marble.

Damo2 Chae Ohk becomes a damo – a female police officer. Not quite what we in the west consider a female police officer, she is also still considered a servant girl, less than nothing, used as a female police officer when a woman dies so she can investigate where no men can go. This position is suitable to both Chae Ohk and Joon, she is able to serve him and he is able to keep an eye on her and keep her near.

As time goes on, we sense his confusion as Joon becomes aware of and begins to acknowledge deeper feelings for Ohk but because of his rank, he is unable to express them. We sense that Ohk may have feelings for Joon as well, but she will not give them any purchase because she is a slave and unworthy to even have thoughts of loving him. It is enough for her to think of him as family.

Chae Ohk goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of counterfeiters/Damo4 rebels in the mountains and meets the very charismatic Jang Sung Baek, leader of the rebels. As a part of the gang, Ohk begins to see that Sung Baek is not just a foul law breaker, but a leader of people who love him, who loves them back as a loving father would. She is drawn to Sung Baek and his mountain people – and begins to develop feelings for him.

She knows her duty, but her instinct will not allow her to kill him. Jang Sung Baek knows that Chae Ohk is a damo, knows she has infiltrated his camp, but his instinct will not allow him to kill her or give her up to his men.

We learn pretty early on that Jang Sung Baek is Chae Ohk’s brother and are a little creeped out that they are falling in love. While we are trying to cope with that, we watch as obsession begins to overtake Hwangbok Joon, as he gives in to his love for Chae Ohk and has to find her.

Watching the irony, as Chae Ohk pushes away Joon, saying she loved Hwangbok Joon as her brother, but drawing love nearer as a woman to her blood brother Jang Sung Baek.

Hwangbok Joon, laments throughout the series that he has never done one thing for Chae Ohk, all he now wants is to take her into the mountains to love her and care for her forever. Jang Sung Baek no longer wants to live the life of a rebel, wants to take Chae Ohk to the mountains; “I used to dream about the “good” life where I could hold a shovel instead of a sword, and till a field, and find a wife and raise a child. My "good" life is the treason and the conspiracy”.

I was pulled in every direction possible with this series. What was right? What was wrong? Characters manipulated by evil power hungry nobles, trapped in a cruel society that discriminated based on birth, based on perceived scandal, who fought to hide the love they felt for fear of disgracing themselves and their families.

In the end, I understood that Chae Ohk truly loved Joon as a man and the pull of love she felt toward Jang Sung Baek was the love of a sister for her brother – they had both confused the attraction of their blood for something more earthly.

There were so many moving moments I can barely enumerate them. The final scene at the beach, the scene at the cliffs, Joon cleaning Chae Ohk up and brushing her hair in the temple when she is in a coma, when Jang Sung Baek realizes he just missed Jae Hui in the temple and runs out to find her, but cannot.

I thought the ending was as it had to be. Hwangbok Joon was finally finally able to do something for his beloved Chae Ohk. Jang Sung Baek understood that his movement of the people would continue, that his steps simply forged the beginnings of a new road for those he loved. He as at last able to shed his pain and look upon his sister. I wept and wept the last 15 minutes of the series and for some time afterward, in fact, as I type now, I am still crying.

I will be haunted by those words, “I missed you Jae Hui.”

“A far off mountain, a mountain with a deep green forest.
A destiny that could not foresee that divide
A love I could not measure
A love that tore apart my heart
Not again, never again
Do not live for me”


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