Joseon was a miserable place if you were not Yang-ban, this has been made pretty clear in many sageuks but I think that Jackpot takes the misery to new levels. The unhappiness that the commoners endure at the hands of those in power is hard to watch. It becomes really easy to understand why brutality and greed becomes an everyday thing as everyone scrambles to amass power in order to ensure that they are never helpless again.
First we have the all-seeing omnipotent villain known as Yi In Jwa, who starts off as seemingly a man with philosophical ideals and ideas that he wants to implement in Joseon by usurping the king.However as his story unfolds his motivations actually boil down to revenge at King Sukjong for exterminating his family in one of the factional purges that were so common in Joseon.
Yi Injwa’s main flaw is that he sees himself as the saviour of Joseon yet his tactics to amass wealth and power perpetuate the vicious cycle of exploitation and poverty.His tactics help to keep corrupt ministers and officials in power as a means to fuel his fantasy of creating an Ideal Joseon. His reliance on groundless superstition, his dependence on a shaman to read people and plot all his moves is an annoying part of the plot so the less said about it, the better. Still it must be noted that this superstitious nature has led to even more cruel ,bloodthirsty and unnecessary acts all in the name of a misguided belief about supernatural luck.
The common people of Joseon know this misery all too well and a good number of them make it worse by gambling and selling away what little power they have to others even more powerful than themselves.
Jackpot introduces us to one such man, Baek Man Geum who seems to have a death wish and gambles his entire existence to chase that ever elusive gold at the end of the rainbow. He gambles away his family name and eventually his wife to the king of the nation and she in turn to get away from him opts to stay with the king rather than endure any more misery at his hands.
The female leads introduced in jackpot are however not very compelling and I can safely say that at this point in the story arc it will take a lot to make the viewer invest any deep emotion in any one of them.As the story began it seemed as if they were set to be strong and charismatic characters, from a femme fatale version of Dong Yi to a bad to the bone ninja assassin type and a vengeful Gisaeng but so far none of the characters has managed to inspire me and I doubt they have inspired any other viewers watching this show.
Poor reviews of their characterizations on other internet forums are the reason I am confident enough to make such a judgement so far.
The heroes born into the misery Jackpot seems intent on conveying to the viewer always appear to be on the losing end when they try to reverse the status quo.The status quo being Yi In Jwa’s hold over the corrupt ministers of Joseon and the long suffering citizens of Joseon.
Baek Dae Gil and Prince Yeoning are brothers who do not even know their relationship and while both have had radically different childhoods each have been sufficiently miserable in their own way that I believe if they were offered a train out of Joseon they would get out of town pretty fast.
The unwashed masses are not forgotten in this festival of misery that is Jackpot and it is routine in this Joseon for human lives to be gambled away on a whim and people of all ages to be subjected to indentured servitude in order to pay back unrealistic debts to thugs and goons who more often than not answer directly to Yi In Jwa. The situations of slavery, death, misery, revenge and abusive cycles can be hard for the viewer to take and that may seem to be all that this show has to offer until one realizes that there are underlying themes of hope and redemption for our heroes and the people of Joseon.
The King played by Choi Min Soo is an all powerful, all seeing presence who seems to be the only one who can stay ten steps ahead of the resident psychopath ,Yi In Jwa. Actually Jeon Kwang Leol who plays Yi In Jwa and Choi Min Soo make quite a formidable team when they play polar opposites in a drama. This was evident when they played martial arts/assassin friends turned foe in the drama Warrior Baek Dong Soo. Both really know how to act both scary and benevolent at the same time and their performances can be disturbingly believable.
The king always offers a hand when the heroes seem to be done for and his presence offers the hope that Yi In Jwa is not invincible. The show has also hinted at the invaluable nature of team work although Baek Dae Gil seems to have learned this lesson much faster than his younger brother Prince Yeoning who tries to single handedly take on corrupt ministers and merchants.
Jackpot does have an exciting story line which does not always deliver as precisely as promised but it is worth watching to the very end. Any fan of Six Flying Dragons need not compare these shows in the comment section, I know and feel your pain but it really is time to move on 🙂