Daebak (also known as Jackpot) tells the story of prince Baek Dae Gil (Jang Geun Suk) who is forced to live his life as a commoner, but becomes super skilled at gambling. Because of an intricate plot to control the throne by a man named Lee In Jwa, Dae Gil ends up going head to head with his brother Prince Yeo Ning (Yeo Jin Goo).
Daebak was definitely daebak (awesome)! With a stellar cast all around, the acting was superb. It also had gorgeous cinematography that made every scene enjoyable to look at. I really enjoyed the soundtrack too which included some emotional ballads as well as very epic background music. The story was interesting all the way through, and I was hooked on Daebak from episode one.
The main thing to keep in mind with this drama is that it should be viewed as a sort of legend about the man Baek Dae Gil. And as with most legends, many fantastical things happened that are pretty unbelievable. But Baek Dae Gil is meant to be a legendary figure with fate on his side to such an extent that almost nothing can stop him.
The back story to set things up was intense and moved quickly. Our story begins with the man Lee In Jwa orchestrating a complex plan to get the King interested in a water maid and have her bare the King a son. This man is crafty and not someone to be messed with. He plans to one day put this baby on throne to serve his purposes. And the first part of his plan easily succeeds.
But when it is evident that her baby is born too early, rumors begin to circulate that he is not the King’s son which puts his life in jeapordy. So his mother sends him away from the palace to be raised by her former husband and pretends that he died in order to protect him. This baby becomes our ill-fated Dae Gil.
She eventually gives birth to another son, Prince Yeo Ning, and does her best to protect him from the cruelty that is being born of royal blood. Then we fast forward to the present and introduce our main cast and things just get better.
Jang Geun Suk certainly goes all out for the role of Dae Gil who is raised by his gambler father of poor status who teaches him the art of gambling. Dae Gil’s fate is sort of mixed in that luck seems to be on his side when it comes to surviving, but in order to get to the surviving part, he has to go through a whole lot of heartache.
Dae Gil is initially a good-hearted, but naïve and rash man. He charges ahead full force without thinking about the consequences, and he has a pitiful life that seems to be leading no where. Then one tragedy after another befalls him. But fate is so much on his side that he is practically un-killable.
As a baby, he is injured and even thrown off of a cliff, but is still able to survive. As a young man, he’s beaten, his arms and legs broken, thrown off of another cliff, and stabbed multiple times, but you just can’t kill this guy! He’s tortured and humiliated in many different ways, but he maintains this fire that keeps him charging forward.
And Jang Geun Suk fully immersed himself in this character. He spent a good chuck of the first half of the drama having to portray all of the horrible things that happened to Dae Gil. And he actually did some pretty intense stuff including eating a raw snake and being buried up to his neck in mud. Kudos to him for being so dedicated.
Jang Geun Suk also brings such an intensity with his acting. He portrays the more humorous, loud, and overly confident side of Dae Gil perfectly. But he can always bring forth the subtle emotions of pain and sadness through his eyes. And Dae Gil goes through a lot of sadness. I’m so glad Jang Geun Suk took on this role and really gave his all.
Then we have Yeo Jin Goo as Prince Yeo Ning, and he is made for roles like this. He has such a large presence when he is decked out in his princely robes with a fierce gaze that bores right into you. He pretends to be an immature playboy to survive the palace politics, but he actually has very high morals and wants the best for his people.
Yeo Jin Goo is always so intense. He brings such strong emotion whether it’s dealing with the seriousness of his situation or being completely distraught by losing his loved ones. He really knows how to give a moving performance. We don’t get to see much of that light-hearted, fun side of Yeo Jin Goo in Daebak, but he does flash that lovely smile a handful of times.
And the villain of our drama is Lee In Jwa played by the talented actor Jun Kwang Ryul. He is the mastermind behind everything that goes on in his quest to control the throne and mold the nation into how he believes it should be.
Lee In Jwa is not someone to be taken lightly as he has a plan for every situation as well as the support needed to carry out such a large task as placing who he wants to be king on the throne.
Im Ji Yeon as Dam Seo was probably the weakest link in this cast of stellar actors. She becomes Lee In Jwa’s student in order to take revenge upon the King for the death of her father. She came off a bit bland to me, and I’m not kidding when I say I don’t think she smiled a single time during the entire drama.
Choi Min Soo plays the powerful King Suk Jong. And this guy is scary! He’s so intense that he sometimes made me uncomfortable. It felt like he could just step out of the screen and tower over me with that looming presence of his at any moment. Big applause for his portrayal of the King.
I was super excited when Ahn Kil Kang was cast as Dae Gil’s mentor Kim Che Gun. Ahn Kil Kang is one of my favorite actors, and he too has such a strong presence. When he comes on screen, I always get excited.
For me, he’s basically the action hero of sageuks, and that’s what he is in Daebak as he trains Dae Gil to become a fighter. I always love that sort of mentor/student relationship. Ahn Kil Kang did the exact same thing in the classic drama Iljimae with Lee Joon Gi. He’s just perfect for roles like this with his mixture of seriousness and humor.
The relationship between Che Gun and Dae Gil was a highlight for me. These two guys were a great duo and were completely loyal to each other. I loved how they would put their lives on the line for one another without hesitation. They also respected each other so much that even when their desires clashed, they would take the other one’s needs into consideration. Wonderful relationship.
Lee Moon Shik plays Dae Gil’s father Baek Man Geum. Man Geum is pretty weaselly in the first few episodes. But Lee Moon Shik has a way of a bringing a softness to characters like this. He does some pretty awful things, but you pretty much forget about them because of what a dedicated father he becomes to Dae Gil.
Choi Suk Bin (Yoon Jin Seo) is Dae Gil’s mother. Thanks to the plot by Lee In Jwa, she soon finds herself lving in the palace giving birth to a prince. But circumstances force her to make a horrible choice that separates her from her son. But she never stops loving him, and one day she gets the chance to show him that.
Dokkebi (Im Hyun Shik) is both funny and heartwarming as a sort of grandfather figure to Dae Gil. He comes into Dae Gil’s life as a baby and becomes friend with Man Geum. The two raise Dae Gil and form a tight family unit. Dokkebi is always there for a Dae Gil, and it was a relationship I enjoyed.
Kim Ga Im was wonderful as Gye Seol Im. She meets Dae Gil when he is sold as a slave to the same place she is. She takes a liking to him and tries to take care of him. Having a friend in a place like that is a precious commodity, so he ends up growing fond of her, and the two develop a nice bond.
And I really loved these two as a couple. My only complaint would be that I of course would have loved to have seen more romance between the two since their relationship was more of a side element to the main story. But even though it wasn’t a focus, Seol Im was still very involved with Dae Gil’s plans to stop Lee In Jwa.
Gyung Jong (Hyun Woo) is Yeo Ning’s older brother. I knew he would be trouble the moment I saw him! Lee In Jwa takes him under his wing in his plan to use him to control the throne. And in many ways it works. He ends up having a very complicated relationship with Yeo Ning as well as his father.
Hwang Jin Ki (Han Jung Soo) is the rival of Kim Che Gun. But this guy is awesome! He’s one of those actors that isn’t as well known, but I’m always excited when he pops up in a drama.
Jin Ki has a gruff exterior and works with Lee In Jwa, but in reality, he’s a bit of a softy who really does want the best for his nation. There’s this great scene where he gets locked in a room that’s on fire, but does that stop him? No way! He just knocks the door down and emerges in all his fiery glory! Daebak!
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the gambling aspect of the drama. I loved the golden glow of the smoky gambling den. And the matches were always very interesting as each side was trying to swindle the other.
The latter half of the drama definitely has a lot less traditional gambling, which I found I sort of missed. There’s a lot more palace politics and political strategy to replace it though. I’m not usually a big fan of those things, but I found myself very interested in them with Daebak.
Some of the plot points also get pretty crazy and illogical. If you have a low tolerance for that, I would say skip this one. But I didn’t mind most of the craziness and just found the relationship between the brothers very intense, so that naturally spilled over to aid in my enjoyment of those things.
There’s also some repetition concerning taking down Lee In Jwa. It’s one of those scenarios where he almost gets taken down repeatedly, but he always narrowly escapes at the end. Many times it’s even Dae Gil who saves him! So be prepared for that. I found that I just liked the drama so much that it didn’t bother me at all.
There’s not much romance in Daebak either. But both Dae Gil and Yeo Ning fall for Dam Seo. Dae Gil is completely hilarious in his early interactions with her as he basically falls in love at first sight. But their relationship soon grows much more complicated. His relationship with Seol Im becomes more prominent in the second half.
Yeo Ning also takes a liking to Dam Seo, but it is a relationship that has no where to go. I did enjoy their brief encounters though, and it would have been nice if there were some way at all for the two to be happy together.
Dae Gil’s journey from a good for nothing gambler’s son to the hero of the people was fascinating to watch. He should be one of the most important people in the nation, but he literally comes from nothing.
We watch him struggle and go through a ridiculous amount of pain in a short amount of time. But all of that shapes him into a man truly prepared to lead his people. A very inspiring story.
I thought it was really interesting how we really have two male leads in Daebak. But the two are each on their own missions and going down their own paths. During the first half of the drama, most of the time Jang Geun Suk and Yeo Jin Goo aren’t on the screen together. But I thought the drama did very well at equally presenting each of their distinct stories.
While they each had their goals, they sometimes intersected with each other. But then in the second half, our two brothers become cautious allies with each needing the other one to take on Lee Jin Hwa. And when you put these two on screen together, wow! They each have such a strong presence, and I really loved their interactions. From light bickering to making plans to take down Lee In Jwa, they were a fun pair.
But things aren’t all rosy, Lee In Jwa continues his manipulations and eventually causes suspicion between Yeo Ning and Dae Gil. It’s as though our two brothers were never meant to be just that…brothers.
ENDING SPOILERS BELOW
Things get pretty intense in that final stretch. Dae Gil and Yeo Ning lose a lot a of family members including the King, their mother, and younger brother. It was sad all around. And the girl they both cared for deeply, Dam Seo, even loses her life. She didn’t have a ton of screen time and wasn’t that appealing to me, but I was saddened for them upon her death.
Our guys really had a lot to deal with. But their loss was all the more reason for them to cling to each other. Sometimes they are able to do just that, but eventually Dae Gil and Yeo Ning have to follow their individual paths.
And being royalty is a dangerous thing. Securing the throne becomes a life and death situation that pits brother against brother. After King Suk Jong dies, Yeo Ning’s eldest brother Gyung Jong ascends to the throne. He becomes power hungry and sees betrayal at every turn including from Yeo Ning.
But he is sickly and the political factions are already plotting against the brothers. It becomes clear that if Yeo Ning doesn’t do as the faction wants, he will be killed. So Gyung Jong finally agrees to allow Yeo Ning to poison him and ascend the throne. This was not easy for Yeo Ning and becomes a definite turning point for him.
As he and Dae Gil go their own ways, Yeo Ning realizes just how lonely being King is. And then Lee In Jwa raises up a rebellion that puts him directly at odds with Dae Gil in how to handle the matter. Their relationship becomes quite tense with Yeo Ning questioning Dae Gil. Dae Gil always keeps the people in mind in his decision making, but he also wants the best for his brother.
After many escapes and with much difficulty, the two are able to work together to finally take Lee In Jwa down. But Yeo Ning’s victory is short lived as some of the ministers and the Empress Dowager plot against him. He loses his closest allies as well as his only son. While he stops the plot to kill him, he truly does become alone.
While Dae Gil is living peacefully and being loved and celebrated by the people for helping them, Yeo Ning has no one. In his fearful state, Yeo Ning even questions Dae Gil and considers killing him so that he can never steal his throne. But thankfully Dae Gil is able to soften his heart and show he really cares for Yeo Ning and has no desire to be on the throne.
I found the ending both sad and very fitting. Dae Gil and Yeo Ning continue to live their separate lives. Dae Gil is surrounded by loved ones including his father, Dokkebi, and he even marries Seol Im (a big yay to that!).
Yeo Ning continues to rule alone in the palace. But he is not completely alone. Our two guys continue to meet each other from time to time away from everyone else. The last scene of Dae Gil and Yeo Ning standing upon the hill overlooking the nation was quite beautiful. After all they had been through, in the end, they were simply brothers, and how fitting that is.
My Rating: 8.5/10
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