Archive | March 2018

Empress Ki – a half-review

Somehow I’ve made it through about 30 or so episodes of Empress Ki, mostly due to being sick and unable to do anything else. Thankfully, I am better now and enjoying the sunshine flooding Minnesota this week.

Empress Ki, like most of the Korean historical dramas, is decidedly epic in scale. A lot of the time it has me remembering the Lord of the Rings movies and that’s mainly due to the wonderful costumes and sets. The clothing alone makes the series worth watching. Empress Ki is a fast watch, despite so many episodes, because there’s really not much filler. Every episode has something major happen and the plot continually moves forward. The lead actors, Ha Ji-Won (Empress Ki/Seung Nyang), Joo Jin-Mo (Wang Yoo, the Korean king), and Ji Chang Wook (Ta Hwan/Emperor of Yuan), are all outstanding and do a good job with what they are given. I stress, what they are given, to work with.

Now to the story and writing. I’m in favor of keeping the plot moving most of the time and Empress Ki’s writing certainly fulfills that, however, in this case it comes at a cost, namely character and emotional development. Because the characters are constantly besieged by taxing or exciting moment after moment, they never really have time to process what’s happened to them, and neither does the audience. Seung Nyang and Wang Yoo, because they are strong characters, both physically and emotionally, deal with everything stoically–too stoically. We rarely get to see their vulnerabilities or them acting, for lack of a better expression, like humans! In contrast to them the Emperor of Yuan is so weak as to strain credulity. True, he’s much used and abused by the villain Yeon Chul (the subtitles I’m watching label him as El Tamur), and he’s young, but he has no interests or vices or focus in his life except for Seung Nyang and his out-of-control emotions often seem out of place. He would be more interesting, for example, if he actually was a drunk or a womanizer or even an actual basket case. The other leads, too, have no interests except the future direction of Korea and/or revenge. With a shorter series, these flaws would be fine, but at 51 episodes it’s not so excusable that most of the  emotional impact comes from minor characters, especially the eunuchs. Hopefully this gets addressed in the last 20 episodes, but it’s making me question whether I want to continue watching.

The love triangle is also irritating me, because the scenes depicting it are scarce and short. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was made up for by, say, amazing actions scenes, but, sadly it’s not. The Yuan Emperor has the most scenes dealing with romance, mostly his unrequited love for Seung Nyang. She is stoic, shows him no tenderness, has next-to-no feminine attributes and wiles that I’m often scratching my head at how he’s so infatuated. Because the plot calls for it, I guess. Also, the epic love for all time between Seung Nyang and Wang Yoo is scarcely represented adequately as such. She gets a ton more screen time with the man for whom she feels nothing. On top of that, both men seem incapable of having their own lives apart from Seung Nyang. She is amazing as their buddy and helping them get out of scrapes, but again, it’s baffling that she has cast such a spell over them in a (supposedly) romantic way, and she ironically seemed more feminine when everyone still thought she was a man.  I don’t think in writing strong female characters we need to balance it by making the male characters weaker, but it’s often done, though not quite believable.

All that aside, there are a lot of great scenes in Empress Ki, and many solid emotional scenes. We relish Seung Nyang triumphing over both villain Yeon Chul and his daughter, the Yuan Empress (played perfectly by Baek Jin-Hee of Missing Nine – Baek is a power house actress and her character’s story is a pathetic one.) We feel for Seung Nyang at certain losses and admire her smarts and resourcefulness. We feel the heartbreak of Wang Yoo and the Emperor, even if it’s not explained well.

I’ve decided to try and finish Empress Ki and I hope that it ends as well or better than it started, because the first fifteen to twenty episodes were pretty good. Middles are always hard to write and I do admire the writers for keeping the series jam packed with happenings, and for the production team and director having such attention to detail in the clothing, sets, and camerawork. I’ll have a full review up once I finish the series.


On Being an Invalid

Illness is a stumbling block. Cold, flu, measles, whatever it is, it throws a healthy person off their feet. Some illness is so mild that the people land immediately back on their feet, but sometimes it takes a person a few tumbles and wobbles before, shakily and uncertainly, they rise to the health they previously held. The ones who never recover are either permanent invalids or dead.

After being sick this week and unable to do much else but sit and stare and maybe watch some YouTube, I recalled to mind the strange desire I had as a child to be Colin from The Secret Garden. What would life be like, I wondered, if you weren’t required to do anything but lie about all day? Well, there’s my laziness for you! I didn’t see Colin’s loneliness, poor health from simply not moving much, and what he’d suffered from actual disease. Would I have been as happy as he was to find that he wasn’t crippled after all? Would illness have been so romantic to me had it been a permanent state for myself?  Probably not.

I turn 40 in about a week and have definitely had my share of illness over the years. I began life too early, so early, in fact, that my mother had to be air-lifted to the Twin Cities way back in 1978. Back then being 2+ months premature was a dire state, today, babies are born and thrive even months earlier than that. When I popped out of momma, I was blue and had a heart murmur.  Today, I’m still rather wheezy, but my heart has no murmur and I’m generally healthy except for loads of allergies likely due to being stored in an incubator for the first few months of my life. The biggest thing health wise, I lack, is energy. Is this a troubled spirit thing or a troubled body thing? I don’t know, I just know I seem to get tired a lot, no matter how much I sleep, or how much coffee I drink. As an adult, there’s no way I would happily dream about being confined to my bed for the rest of my days and I am so sorry for the people that have that as their life and I hope they are able to find joy hiding somewhere in their circumstances.

Sometimes illness and disease are parts of characters for stories. What would Moulin Rouge be without Satine’s tuberculosis? It’s both part of her character and part of the plot. What would Unbreakable be without Samuel L. Jackson’s “glass man” to Bruce Willis’s secret superhero? I’d like to write a detective series where the detective was continually dying of something. It wouldn’t be a long series, but the urgency in solving the mysteries would be somewhat unique. Actually, it’s probably already been done somewhere, so if you know of a series like this, add a comment, as I’d like to read it.

So I’m on the mend, tumbling back to my feet, and I think it’s going to be a really great spring. That warm weather energy is hovering and waiting until just the right moment, and then everything will be humming with life, including my writing. Oh, the stories I have to tell! No, not ready to be a permanent invalid, not even close. And thank God for health. Sometimes, in this world, it’s all we really have to keep us going.