Jae Young (Jang Hyuk) was an unlikely hero, humble, sweet, nerdy and full of fears. But he was also a smart kid, with a positive attitude and a persistent smile. Until one day, his scheming father and psychopath older brother caused the death of his best friends, and managed to make him somewhat responsible.
Jae Young lost his will to live and his self-esteem was nearly destroyed. From that moment on, he carried that cross, the debilitating burden of guilt, and you could feel it in every gesture. His voice had become but a whisper. Jang Hyuk’s interpretation of the character’s deep depression was wonderful.
Spoiler alert! This review and slideshow contain some spoilers
But even before this event, Jae Young never thought he had what it took to be a leader, let alone a hero.
“Do you know why I want to emancipate my friends’ families? It is not out of loyalty. I just want to be able to sleep at night. I still wake up with nightmares of my friend’s heads rolling on the floor. I just watched them. I have no sense of loyalty. I don’t know martial arts. I’m not that smart. I was used so stupidly and that got my friends killed. I’m that kind of fellow. Being a hero? That has nothing to do with me” said Jae Young
He considered himself a loser, but he also knew it was impossible for him to remain indifferent to other people’s suffering. So he meddled, and sometimes, made things worse! What to do? kill himself? Oh well, he certainly tried that, but it didn’t work out either. So Jae Young had no choice but to grow up, face life and become his own kind of hero.
His personality, was the opposite of his cold-blooded father and older brother. His first instinct was to run away, forget, live in peace, but he couldn’t, because he possessed that pesky thing called conscience. And that annoying conscience wouldn’t let him sleep at night if he didn’t do “something” to “save his friends, help the villagers not die of hunger, save the love of his life” etc.
Daemang was among other things a coming of age story. The story of Jae Young finding a way to be a unique kind of hero, despite all his shortcomings.
It was also the story of his older brother, who possessed all the characteristics of a psychopath (lack of empathy, boredom, animal cruelty, etc) and his “existential” crisis. A cold-blooded monster who questioned himself? That aspect of the story was interesting and actor Han Jae-Suk made a subtle interpretation of the character. In fact, I’ve read there were people who were more into Si Young’s story than Jae Young’s. But I won’t focus too much on it because I didn’t find it as fascinating. However, if you are planning to watch Daemang, be aware that Si Young takes about half the screen time and he is first on the credits, because this is as much his story as Jae Young’s
But personally, I was much more interested in Jae Young and his friends. Which also makes me think of the “It takes a Village” concept. Jae Young had a strong spirit but he wouldn’t have accomplished so much if he hadn’t been surrounded by such good friends who all mentored and inspired him in one way or another.
The merchant who believed in his leadership qualities, from the very beginning. The wonderful and wise tomboy Dong Hee (Son Ye Jin), who verbally expressed Jae Young’s feelings as if she was his conscience, and forced him to face them. Doo Lee who despite his insanity showed him what a good father could be like. The villagers who didn’t trust him at first and forced him to use his brain to win them over. Lee Soo, the tiger hunter who helped his mother give birth to him and protected him later on. His two mothers, who sacrificed so much for him. The fearful Crown Prince who didn’t want to be King. And possibly the most important of all was Yeo Jin (Lee Yo Won), the smart and stoic girl he loved. She inspired him to be stronger and better, only so he could deserve her. Although more reserved and quiet, Yeo Jin was a kindred spirit to Jae Young, shared his deep sense of compassion and resilience, so even when they weren’t together, one could feel their deep connection.
His mentor, Dong Hee’s father, spoke of three kinds of leaders:
- The leader who controls with power
- The leader who controls with prospect benefits
- The leader who trusts other people around him from the bottom of his heart
The merchant thought Jae Young was the third kind of leader:
“I can’t trust other people, in that way I don’t have many losses, but I can’t be a proper leader” he admitted
But Jae Young who knew himself better and was more sincere than anything corrected him
“I can’t even trust myself. I can be a coward and run away if things get harder than I expected. Since I know how I am, I can’t get upset with others. So it is not that I trust others, it’s just that I can’t hate them”
So Jae Young became a fourth kind of leader, one that inspired others with his resilience, sincerity and compassion and who drew his strength from his own humanity, unusual sense of empathy and self-awareness.
Daemang has its dose of drama but it is not overly melodramatic. It has a lot of humorous moments and it is first and foremost an endearing story, full of likable characters and a lot of heart. To read more about Daemang/Great Ambition you can visit the Soompi Daemang thread.