(aka "The Undercover Lady Detective" )


directed by Lee Jae-Gyu
Korea 2003



It was just my luck – good and maybe not so good - to have been introduced to opera, ballet and music theatre by the best of the best: Windgassen and Nilsson singing Tristan; the Bolshoi on tour in the late 1950s with Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet; and West Side Story with members of the original cast. These experiences let me know what was possible, but they also spoiled me, playing to my weak suit as a kvetch. As if to caution myself against that danger, I try to look for the Bolshoi in every performance – even in television drama.

So it was my luck that my first experiences with Korean television drama were Dae Jang Geum, Sandglass, and Damo – three of the best of the best.

Little did [MBC] know that on a hot night in July [2003], Korean TV Dramas would never be the same again. One of the first obvious consequences of the 'wired' culture in Korea was the changing attitudes towards Drama viewership and their importance vis--vis the role of the Internet. Whereas before producers would only look at the ratings, now legions of netizens would start writing, commenting, discussing about the shows, regardless of their popularity. You didn't just have a bunch of numbers, but a collection of a thousand, ten thousand, sometimes a hundred thousand opinions. Was last night's show good? Did the lead actress' acting stink? . . . An amazing number of people got together, discussed about the Drama, went back to the spots and locations which left a lasting impression on them after watching the series. Yet, that was nothing compared to 'Damo'. Within hours of the end of the show, the official website went down. No, it wasn't the occasional server failure, it's just that a few hundred thousand people tried to post at the same time, and the site's message board was literally flooded with comments. Hundreds per hours, thousands per day. A few weeks after the show started airing, the message board hit the Million post mark, something which never, ever happened for anything shown on Korean TV. 'Damo' had become more than a simple TV Drama. It was a full fledged cultural phenomenon. – Twitch Magazine HERE.

Indeed, Damo came as a complete surprise. I had seen a couple of Korean historical martial arts feature films and felt these guys had a way to go to sort out their contribution to the art form. As far as I was concerned, blood and gore was not going to buy Korea a place in the Hall of Fame. Being a made-for-TV series, everything explicit would have to be toned down and worked around – which, in my book, is generally a good thing, providing an intelligent script.


Damo is an example of what could be termed "fusion" art, and as such, ran a huge risk of doing injustice to each of its several progenitors: the historical film, the legend, revisionist feminism, wire-fu, martial arts, love story triangles: all with a multiplicity of music genres, production design and camera tricks to support them. This goulash should have given us the most distasteful indigestion, but somehow it all works – perhaps because there is one form that conveniently embraces all of the above: the fantasy. That is how I responded to it, and may even have been the intention.

From the opening shots, we know at once this is going to be no typical television drama. After brief aerial shots of virgin landscape, we arrive at a standoff between indefatigable opposing forces: two people, bloodied in combat, a man and a woman. Though their duel, which gives the immediate impression of having gone on for years by this time, is set at the top of the forest, we see that this is no lyrical dance, as in Crouching Tiger, but rather, it is a moment – possibly their final moment – of betrayal. To our surprise we soon observe that it is she would pursues him, that she represents the law, and that he is a criminal. He gets away for long enough to make a mad dash on horseback across the plains, pursued by a posse armed with arrows. He is soon cornered. She arrives in a final embrace of swords to finish him off . . . Cut to some months earlier. . .

 - Leonard Norwitz

DVD Review: YA Entertainment (Complete Television Series in 14 Episode) - Region 0 - NTSC

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YA Entertainment

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 840 min

1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: avg. mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio Korean DD2.0
Subtitles English, Korean, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: YA Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 1.85:1

Edition Details:
• Korean television series, complete in 14 one-hour episodes on 7 discs

DVD Release Date: August 30, 2004
Hard outer case / 2 inner cases

Chapters 14



Edition: 7
The YAE edition has been much maligned for its being letterboxed. [Indeed, this was not the fault of YAE, but rather an accident of the material supplied by Korea.] If it weren't for the existence of an anamorphic edition, there might have been as much hue and cry. The now rare as lizard's teeth Region 3 Bitwin edition of the Director's Cut is about an hour or so longer, fleshing out some of the characters and refusing to cut away from some of the more intimate gore. It also comes in the most gorgeous presentation box ever seen. The image, too, is sharper, even at twice the size. It has a much higher bit rate (typically right around 9.5 regardless of the brightness of the scene) and is more dimensional. Even the audio is more dynamic and of higher contrast – making a little more of its subtle audio cues (forest sounds and falling rain) as well as the more dramatic moments of the clash of arms. Sadly, this edition does not have English subtitles, or I would not have been able to obtain one by the time I learned of its existence. All the same, I strongly urge that you make an effort to find one. You might still be able to obtain one from HERE.

Here's the deal: Buy the YAE now. You're going to want to watch this series more than once anyhow. Then watch the R3 soon after the YAE. You will be amazed at how much you have retained and how much more emotionally involving watching a series like Damo can be if you're not also trying to process the subtitles. Of course, I recommend this trick even if you can't find the anamorphic edition.

Image : 7 (5.5/8)
The score of 7 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other standard definition DVDs on a 10-point scale for SD DVDs. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image on a 10-point scale that accommodates both standard and high-definition DVDs – where any score above 7 for an SD is outstanding, since the large majority of high definition DVDs are 8-9.5. The second number in parentheses indicates how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre or, in the case of made-for-TV fare.

First, a word about the Region 3 Bitwin edition in comparison to the YAE. As noted above, the Bitwin is anamorphic, and therefore just about twice the size in their natural habitat, so to speak. On a large screen with front projection, it is not recommended that the YAE be zoomed out to fill the screen, but even in its correct size, the YAE is somewhat less sharp. Curiously, there are inconsistent differences in contrast between the editions, not particularly favoring one over the other (unlike the case with Jumong, where the YAE was clearly to be preferred). If there were no Region 3 edition and the YAE were anamorphic, we would not find all that much to complain about.

Enhancement and artifacts are at a minimum – hardly noticeable unless you were looking for them. Like the majority of YAE Korean TV dramas, this one is not progressive, but there are few distractions once we get into the story.

Audio & Music : 7/9
Even though only a made for TV DD 2.0, the soundtrack is fairly cinematic, lacking only the breadth of dynamic that a movie of a similar genre. The music is as exceptional as it is varied, in keeping with the fusion style. The Bitwin edition scores about a half point higher in clarity and dynamics.

Translation & Subtitles : 8/8
The translation is better than adequate, if not especially subtle. Some of the political intrigue gets a bit muddy, but the Reference Guide turns out to be quite helpful in this regard. Subtitles are white, bordered in black so as to always be clear against any background. The font is a bit large for my taste.

Operations & Box Design : 8/6
The YAE menu operations are simplicity itself. Of course, there aren't extra features to speak of, so there's little that can lead us astray. The outer box is especially nice: a tight fitting, magnetic flip cover which, when opened offers two cases, holding 3 and four discs respectively. The cases are clunky and take up more room on the shelf than is called for.

Extras : 7
YAE provides a very useful 24-page Reference Guide that [a] places each
character in context and reminds us how they relate to each other, [b] offers a good deal of background information about the role of the Damo and other aspects of social heirachy in this era of Korean history, and [c] summarizes the events of each episode. Unhappily, it does not list the actors who play those characters. Odd. On the other hand, the first disc provides exactly that as part of the two extra features: both in text and graphics only. One is titled Story Theme and describes the basic frame of the drama. The other provides a brief description of the main characters with photos of the actors in costume, along with their names.

Recommendation: 9
The only thing that argues against this set is its being non-anamorphic. Damo is must-have, must watch more than once Korean drama. My recommendation is to buy both the subtitled, non-anamorphic YAE and the unsubtitled anamorphic Region 3 Bitwin. Watching Damo on the big screen is like a huge classic novel unfolding in cinematic form.

 - Leonard Norwitz


DVD Menus


Screen Captures


YA Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Bitwin Region 3 - NTSC BOTTOM




YA Entertainment - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Bitwin Region 3 - NTSC BOTTOM





















DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:




Distribution YA Entertainment

Region 0 - NTSC



CONTEST: (for a FREE copy of Damo)


The title character in Damo is a lady detective from centuries ago. Name as many such figures from feature films. The one with the mostest wins a free set of this great drama series.

Email answers to KoreanDrama@DVDBeavere.com with your address and phone number.


WINNER: D. Gordon, Princeton, NJ

The winner will receive a complimentary copy of the complete series: Damo - The Undercover Lady Detective. Our Winner found no fewer than 60 female detectives to sweep the field.
Congratulations, D. Gordon.

Our runner-up this week is Troy W from Moorhead MN.





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