Tag Archive | Korean Drama

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.

 

The Great Doctor (Faith) 신의 — review

Poster-the-great-doctor-aka-faith-32029441-680-1000If you have not experienced the awesomeness of K-drama, or Korean TV dramas, I highly recommend giving them a view.  The set up is a bit different than American TV shows, the episodes are an hour or more long, and there’s usually only one “season” or anywhere from 16-30 episodes in each drama.  Given that the stories have a definite end point instead of yearly “will they or won’t they” renewals and extra seasons, the writing, acting and storytelling are stellar and don’t suffer from consecutive seasons that become more mediocre after each year.

The Great Doctor or Faith is a historical drama and romance set in the 1300s during a time when Korea or Goryeo is under the heavy thumb of the neighboring Chinese Yuan dynasty.  The young king is returning with a new queen to his homeland after years of living as a hostage in China.  The king and queen are being transported by a small group of royal guards called Woodalchi.  They are led by weary warrior Choi Young who has been serving for royals for many years.  They are attacked during the journey and the new queen is wounded.  Only a powerful surgeon can heal her, and one of the king’s advisors suggests going to a place he knows of with a magic gateway to heaven where a famous ancient doctor is said to have gone.

The gateway still exists and Choi Young is sent on a quest to heaven to find the great doctor.  “Heaven” is actually modern day Seoul as the “gate” turns out to be a wormhole bending time and space.  In a happy coincidence, Choi Young enters the future in direct vicinity of a plastic surgeons convention and kidnaps a surgeon named Yoo Eun-Soo after giving her a practical test to gauge her surgical abilities.  The show could have easily just run with the fish-out-of-water theme that it plays up in the first few episodes, but the writers smartly kept that to a minimum and focused more on the drama surrounding the king and queen and how the two protagonists deal with that and begin falling for each other.

From the first episode to the last, the production of The Great Doctor is a stellar, movie-quality experience.  The story drags a little at the end, but it’s mostly character driven with plenty of action.  If you don’t like the characters at the beginning, they will feel like old friends by the 24th episode.  There aren’t many special effects, but what is shown doesn’t look too corny.  The magic in the world is left partly unexplained, but the character and action more than make up for that.

Much of the series reminded me of the book series Outlander in which a WW2 nurse gets sent back to ancient Scotland and falls for a younger warrior.  Except this version is far more charming and romantic and doesn’t rely on sadism as a way of furthering the plot.

At first I thought Yoo Eun-Soo played by Kim Hee-Seon was annoying and acted a bit childishly for her age, but Kim won me over especially in the second half of the series as her character begins to bloom under the love of Choi Young.  Young is played by the popular and easy on the eyes Li Min-Ho who came to fame from the comedy series Boys Over Flowers (if you love high school shows and comedies do not pass Go, do not collect $200, but go directly the Kdrama app where you can watch the series for free).  His character is my favorite simply because I enjoy exploring the plight of the “faithful servant.”  He’s killed hundreds, possibly thousands of soldiers and others all at the request of the kings that he serves and his soul (Seoul, ha, ha!  Okay, I’ll stop being so punny) hurts because of it.  He’s damaged in a way that I cannot comprehend, but that I’m sure many of those who are soldiers and good at it can.

Like most shows and films The Great Doctor wasn’t easily made.  It suffered from production delays and the lack of a lead actor after the first and second choices for Choi Young fell through.  Li Min-Ho stepped up to the plate and did a decent job.  He’s a bit younger than the age the role calls for, but Li is believable as the captain of the royal warriors because he commands wonderful screen presence…and he’s tall. 🙂  Okay, all the warriors are tall (at least to me, I’m 5’3″– okay 5’2 and 1/2″), but Li was a good choice as he’s an expert at sporting a sort of bored “I’m cool” expression well-suited to a warrior who has probably seen every atrocity under the sun.  Also, the King Gongmin played impressively by Ryu Deok-Hwan is tiny!  At least, he appears that way in this production.  Ryu does a great job portraying someone who simultaneously has a lot of power and no power and who struggles with it constantly.  The king’s personal struggles with power over his own life mirror that of his best warrior, Choi Young, and their relationship is in a way more interesting than that between Young and the “great doctor from heaven.”  Also, the king and queen’s relationship is sweet.

I love romances, and the love story in this is wonderful with lots of funny moments and many touching, endearing ones.  By the end you just want to shout out the Jerry McGuire line: “You complete me!”  Yoo Eun-Soo fills the ache in Choi Young’s heart and vice versa.

One more shout out, and that’s to the soundtrack people.  The main theme is especially addicting and reminded me somewhat of the Pirates of the Caribbean music.