My drama chingu Serendipity once wrote on Dramabeans OT: “It was HK sagas which taught me that essential Chinese phrase, to be screeched at the top of one’s lungs, preferably while running a sword through swathes of people, “Bao chou! Bao chou! Wo yao bao chou!” or “Revenge! Revenge! I want revenge!”
I quickly scribbled a response to her that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and luckily she found it rather amusing (phew, I hate to have a joke fall flat). I decided that since I took the time to compile a list demonstrating why Bao Chou! (or revenge) was a major FAIL in every wuxia, I ought to take the time to make the list more complete by showing that it was a useless endeavor in any drama, period, be it wuxia, sageuk or modern.
A Time Long Long Ago:
Revenge is perhaps the single most pervasive plot element used in Chinese wuxia serials (and to some extent, also becoming more prevalent in Korean drama). The notion of revenge becomes the driver for the development, growth, and catharsis for the main character(s). The impetus for revenge can be for personal reasons (“You killed my father, prepare to die!), or for the greater good reasons (“You destroyed my country, prepare to die!”).
We would all be a band of bloodthirsty revenge hounds if indeed revenge is a dish best served cold. It is not. These dramas demonstrate that revenge almost always ends up being a double-edged sword. But that doesn’t stop anyone from screaming Bao Chou! all day long, and then getting the inevitable karmic beat down when they succeed at their revenge only to discover along the way they lost a piece of their soul (or an arm, a leg, a wife, etc.).
Amongst the classic Louis Cha (the Godfather of the modern Chinese wuxia genre) novels, revenge is a critical factor. But LC is really into existential angst as well, and willing to examine the aftermath of revenge all day long. The final novel LC wrote finally upended revenge as a motivational device. LC’s The Duke of Mount Deer is truly revolutionary, as no one other than total douchenozzles in that novel ever utter the word Bao Chou!
The douchenozzles in The Duke of Mount Deer are trying to Fan Qing Fu Ming (Topple the Qing, Revive the Ming), which makes them about as delusional as they are douchey. But the lead character understands the revenge is not food you can eat, wine you can drink, or gold you can spend – ergo, it has no value and is therefore worthless a pursuit. Of course, he’s deemed to be a total miscreant and lacking in “honor”. Yet he’s the only sane person to see through useless pursuits of vengeance.
Is That Dish of Bao Chou Yummy?:
The Smiling Proud Wanderer – Only person screaming Bao Chou was a total douche, and willing to, ahem, castrate himself so that he can learn mighty kungfu to Bao Chou. He had good reason to Bao Chou (his entire family was annihilated because they possessed a powerful swordsplay manual that everyone wanted). The epic irony was that to learn that swordsplay technique, one had to first castrate oneself. Nice. I deem this situation to be: Moronic Douchery.
Legend of the Condor Heroes – Hhmm, neither of the lead characters want to Bao Chou, but everyone else related to them keep screaming for them to Bao Chou. So they do, and everyone suffers, half the book dies one way or another, and everyone is so worn out by the end they’ve quite forgotten why they want to Bao Chou to begin with. Forced Douchery.
Return of the Condor Heroes – Yup, here the lead character, as smart as he is, spends half the novel screaming Bao Chou. But this is during the middle portion when he in fact turned into a lovesick douche. He is prevented from a lifetime of douchebaggery when he sees the light of day right before offing his target. Redeemed Douchery.
Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain – Three generations of Bao Chou, no shit! The grandpa generation has an uber-misunderstanding, leading the pops generation to duel and then duel some more. Which creates yet another misunderstanding, requiring the grandson generation to duel and duel even more to resolve. Widespread Bao Chou, except all the dueling was pretty awesome, because it takes place all over the Snowy Mountains. Bao Chou with giant fur coats and muffs, teh awesome-cakes! Multi-generational Douchery.
Dragon Sabre and Heavenly Sword – Holy crap! So much Bao Chou here, I goes crazy from the “he killed her mom, so she kills his aunt, then he kills her uncle, but then he stole his fiancée, so she stole her fiancée, and so forth”. Geez, an entire novel full of douches. Massive Douchery.
The Book and The Sword – Everyone is trying to convince the second male lead, a Manchu Emperor, that since he was born a Han person and baby-switched at birth, he needs to Bao Chou for his own ethnicity and topple the dynasty he was raised to rule, and embrace a previous dynasty that had fallen mostly because it sucked. To no one’s surprise, he does nothing of that sort and smacks down everyone who wants him to Bao Chou. Nationalistic Douchery avoided.
Much as I mock, the honorable revenge motif is quite important to the pathos of a drama set in period times. It gives purpose and motivation to otherwise rather ordinary folks, and is the impetus to allow them to journey and create the story. So much as Bao Chou is usually pretty lame, when done right, it creates the conflict we need to turn boys into men!
If the Chinese Can Do It, The Koreans Can Do It (As Good If Not Better!):
In K-dramas, I’ve noticed more Bao Chou in what are typically considered the fushion sageuks. The traditional sageuks are less about Bao Chou as it’s about Machiavellian political scheming. Bao Chou is not Machiavellian in the least. It’s usually about a raw, primal urge to avenge a wrong.
The fusion sageuks appear to be borrowing this more elemental plot device from its wuxia counterparts, and succeeding rather well in utilizing it within the confines of the sageuk playbook. A few modern dramas have Bao Chou as well – revenge for infractions both big and small, life-altering and mind-boggling.
A look At Korean Bao Chou Gone Awry:
Chuno – Both Dae Gil and Tae Ha’s motivations in this drama are both variants of Bao Chou as a plot driver. Dae Gil has a personal Bao Chou vendetta to score with the runaway slave that killed his father, and absconded with his very clean female slave. Tae Hae has a nationalistic Bao Chou in avenging the death of the former Crown Prince by installing the baby Prince in power.
Damo – Rebel Leader wants to overthrow the government partially out of the need to Bao Chou for his family being labeled traitors and wiped out. Our Damo wants to Bao Chou at the very end of the drama for reasons I cannot speak of without wailing, but it’s a personal Bao Chou vendetta.
Tamra the Island – The Lady in Red’s plotting is partially motivated by the need to Bao Chou for her family being wiped out for supporting the losing royal in a coup.
Hong Gil Dong – The Prince-in-Hiding wants to over throw the government partially to Bao Chou for his mommy’s death at the hands of the current King, and partially to get back his “rightful” crown. Later, Yi Nok wants to Bao Chou for her parents’ death, by killing the parent of the man she loves.
Iljimae – Poor Iljimae’s family is wiped out by evil plotters. He goes all Robin Hood to Bao Chou and help the suffering commoners. Even if the ultimate target of his Bao Chou is the freaking King. Way to aim high, Iljimae!
Temptation of Wife – Long-suffering wife gets dumped for prettier mistress and is almost offed in the process. She returns after a personality and physical appearance makeover to make her shitty ex-husband, his bitchy new wife, and her cruel former in-laws all pay for their crimes against her. Yay for female Bao Chou! Boo for all the makjang histrionics. It would have been easier to report them to the police.
Temptation of Angel – Cheerful, plump and clueless husband gets worked over by his wife, who married him to Bao Chou for her parents, whose deaths were caused by the husband’s parents. Husband then gets a personality and physical appearance makeover (including shrinking a few inches in height) and returns to Bao Chou on the original Bao Chou-er, the wife. A boomerang of Bao Chou.
Time Between Dog and Wolf – Orphaned boy grows up to be elite agent, but discovers his parents’ killer during a sting operation. Elects to go undercover to Bao Chou. Loses his adopted father and almost loses his adopted brother in the process. Becomes the protégé to the killer, and discovers in the end that the killer was his father’s best friend. See? Bao Chou always unearths bad information that should remain hidden.
A Love to Kill – I heard this drama has Bao Chou. Never watched it, never will. But apparently Rain goes all Bao Chou on Shin Mina. Heh, now that normally I would pay to see. Nonetheless, I shall refrain after hearing some colorful reviews of this drama.
Story of a Man – A man who is wronged gets out of jail and goes all mano-a-mano in-your-face type of Bao Chou on the perpetrator of his plight.
East of Eden – I watched all 32846 episodes this ridiculous drama, which includes two brothers doing their own Bao Chou scheme on the man responsible for the death of their father. Turns out younger brother was said baddie’s son, and the baddie was unknowingly raising the real younger brother. Woah, Bao Chou bit you on the ass, boys!
Green Rose – One of the earliest classic Bao Chou K-dramas I watched. Hero gets framed for crime, he escapes and comes back using another identity to Bao Chou and get his girl back. Turns out the crime he was framed for was a Bao Chou scheme itself, the baddie was enacting his own Bao Chou. Irony, thy name is plot twists.
The Devil (Mawang) – This story is entirely about Bao Chou. Bao Chou and redemption. That is all I can say – anymore and I ruin the well-crafted suspense and intrigue.
Resurrection – I’ve heard this story is also about Bao Chou. Bao Chou and resurrection. That is all I can say – I have not yet watched it, and if I did, I wouldn’t say anymore and ruin the well-crafted suspense and intrigue.
Bad Guy – I have to drop this in, but it’s not yet done airing. No clue how this Bao Chou plan of the titular Bad Guy will play out (my gut feeling and the gut feeling left by watching a billion Bao Chou dramas – it will not end well). Bad Guy is planning to Bao Chou on an uber-rich family that took him in thinking he was the illegitimate son, only to unceremoniously dump him on the street when they discover they made a mistake.
You Bao Chou, Me Bao Chou – When Will This Cycle Ever End?:
If all those dramas I listed doesn’t convince you yet, let me state unequivocally: Bao Chou is a bad idea, it never ends well. But as a plot driver, it’s perfect and should be used more often.
It makes our hero and heroine all broody, moody and hot-and-bothered all the time because they have Bao Chou on their mind. And it makes them all wounded and allows the requisite kind and caring OTP to swoop in and heal their wounds. Making them realize that Bao Chou won’t make them happy, moving on is the only cure for their emotional baggage.
Except by then all the attempts to Bao Chou may have already driven our lead into bouts of insanity or depression, which no amount of kissing and backrubs from the OTP can cure. Sigh, Bao Chou, thy other name is bitch.