Airing on SBS from March through June, Daebak, also known as Jackpot or The Royal Gambler, follows Dae Gil (Jang Geun Suk), a prince who is sent away from the palace soon after his birth. He is adopted by his mother’s ex-husband, one of the greatest gamblers in town. The family’s fate would not have ended up this way if it weren’t for the nobleman and royal teacher Yi In Jwa (Jun Kwang Ryul)’s manipulative plan to overthrow the king. Despite growing up in a poor family, Dae Gil is born extremely lucky and is fated to take part in political affairs. As Dae Gil grew up, he crosses paths with Yi in gambling venues multiple times. He eventually learns about his birth and Yi’s role in ruining his family and cruelty to the people of Joseon, which drives him to vow revenge and destroy Yi through gambling. Whether it is to fight for the people’s loyalty to win the king’s seat or find love, the characters find out fate often has other plans in store.
I found the story to be quite interesting, as it’s rare to find a historical drama revolving around gambling culture. Gambling is often seen negatively, as people often get in over their heads and end up losing money. In this drama, gambling is more than just winning money, but it is the key to save the people of Joseon by playing with the elite.
The story also highlights the power of common people. Despite being of royal blood, the prince grows up as a commoner and understands the hardships the common people face everyday. Instead of focusing on the elite constantly threatening each other for more power, the show conveys the message that together, even common people can best the rich and the powerful.
This drama is Jang’s first historical drama in 10 years since his notable project Hwang Jini, which also starred Ha Ji Won. In Hwang Jini, his character was a dull romantic nobleman who could not be with the love of his life. His acting skills weren’t showcased much, as the scenes were more focused on the couple’s romantic and cute interactions. However, Jang is able to show how much his acting has matured through Daebak. Compared to his character portrayal in Hwang Jini, he is much more physically expressive, facially and bodily, which really helps viewers connect with his character.
A unique casting choice in this drama is the antagonist Yi. Jun Kwang Ryul is known for being a protagonist-regular. He usually plays the good guy who trains people to do great things. But this time around, he is able to pull off a character that makes viewers hate him so deeply, which goes to show his acting prowess.
An interesting thing to note about this drama is that it’s quite similar to a popular historical drama from a couple of years ago, Warrior Baek Dong Soo. Both leading men were both not mean to be born, but ended up surviving and growing up with tough lives. Also, they both developed from rookie fighters to becoming some of the best in Joseon. These similarities probably come from the fact that both dramas are written by the same writer Kwon Soon-Gyu. Despite the similarities, the writer takes his latest story in a different direction, providing historical drama lovers a new show to enjoy.