First Look: The Royal Gambler (Jackpot)

Not to glorify the trade but gambling as a sub-genre in film has always been a personal favorite of mine, exuding a distinct flair that can make the simple shuffling of cards hypnotic. 

The Royal Gambler 대박 combines varied themes together with gambling, a battle for the throne and a hero with abandonment issues tightly written into a story set in historical Joseon. Yes, I am all in, pun intended.

2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot



Episode 1 begins with a preview of Lee In Jwa's (Jun Kwang Ryul) revolt in 1728, then a flashback to the man who wanted to stop it from happening. Baek Dae Gil (Jang Geun Suk) and his teacher, Lee In Jwa, play a round of chess metaphoric of their respective stances on the nation. Lee In Jwa is willing and able to sacrifice every man for the throne while Baek Dae Gil values the people above all else.

Jun Kwang Ryul in 2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot
Jang Geun Suk in 2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot
2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot
2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot
Their dialogue escalates to an outright challenge by Dae Gil daring Lee In Jwa to slay him, if he can. Their guards engage in a three-way sword fight, ultimately ending in a standoff. 

What a tease because we rewind to another time in 1693 where Lee In Jwa arranges for the low-born wife of a destitute noble to win the heart of a king.

First Impressions: The action sequences have swag, akin to a choreographed dance accompanied by a musical score to complete the mood. Neither Dae Gil nor Lee In Jwa batted an eyelash throughout the fight, which made for a very cool scene that can be admittedly cheesy, yet I thrive for moments like these


Sad as I may, the main cast had to be pushed aside to properly explain the reason behind an abandoned prince. We are introduced to this drama's version of Dong Yi's love story with King Sukjong and the veterans' acting prowess do not disappoint. 

Having seen Jun Kwang Ryul in other dramas (most recently Son's War), I expected as much but I actually failed to recognize the actor playing the king. It took a quick googling to find that the he is none other than Choi Min Soo from 1995 hit k-drama Sandglass. No wonder I hear good things about Choi Min Soo because he is intense.

Choi Min Soo and Yoon Jin Seo 2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot

Choi Min Soo in 2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot
Yoon Jin Seo in 2016 historical k-drama The Royal Gambler aka Jackpot
Choi Min Soo as King Sukjong brings forth such a commanding presence that I had to take notice. He is kingly, no doubt about that, but tinged with an erratically sinister aura fit for a man who has the world at his feet.

Frankly, I don't buy the setup revolving around Lee In Jwa's masterplan to puppeteer King Sukjong into falling for Bok Soon (Yoon Jin Seo), which was overly presumptuous. "On the third breath, his soul will be yours," what? how? why? Nevertheless, the story must go on and I'm looking forward to the main cast's appearance in next week's episode. Watch on Viki.

For synopsis, cast and ratings, see 2016 kdrama listing.


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