I had very low expectations going into the first episode, despite the talented cast and screenwriters, Jang Young Chul and Jung Kyung Soon, who wrote shows I liked: Giant and History of a Salaryman. Mostly because the director. It’s Gummy fetus, Dr. Jin PD, Han Hee, whose works haven’t really been worth the investment of time – especially when we are talking about 50+ hours. Maybe he had a taste transplant? Because, by the end of the second episode, I wanted more and more and more!
What did I like?
I came expecting a typical saguek pace – ranging from a dreadfully slow 30 bpm, i.e., Sword and Flower to a lively 60 bpm, i.e., Warrior Baek Dong Su. Empress Ki presents us with a breathless 90 bpm that has carried through from the first moment of the first episode to the last one of the second.
The plot moves so fast we hardly get comfortable with the furniture in a scene before the story has run out of the room, and I just barely see the door closing behind it. It is a little unsettling, however, but at least until this point, I still know what is going on.
Here is a DB poster’s excellent advice to me on watching historical shows:
“Don’t watch sagueks with too much concentration. When I watch, I’m not that concerned that I understand all the intricacies of the plot – or even the plot itself, frankly. I watch with half of my brain, and enjoy all the pretty, and pick up what I can – without thinking too hard – of the plot… and in that way, I find sagueks quite pleasurable.”
The surprises? I laughed out loud, more than once. I giggled, I gasped, I held my breath at the sudden sexual tension, and I cared a lot about what happens to all these people they introduced. I want everyone to find out HJW’s a she not a he, but I don’t want anyone to find out. I want JCW to man up, but I like him wimping out. I want JJM to be able to love HJW forever, but Show has already told me that it’s impossible.
50 episodes of all of the above, I can enjoy.
The CastHa Ji-won, as Ki Seung Nyang and future Empress Ki, once again creates a heroine I can sympathize with and root for. Is Seung Nyang historically accurate or realistic? Do I really think that the folks around her believe she is a grown man because she struts and fights and pitches her voice really low? No, I don’t. Thus, I have decided, to heck with history! Just pretend this is about the Bwuyakz Kingdom of the Planet Ytrith and enjoy the ride. Since most of my favorite books I read growing up featured a cross-dressing princess/peasant girl who battled her way into the hero’s heart and saved her kidnapped father along the way, I can suspend my disbelief….enough.
He has done a credible job of playing “young” without being to puppy-like. His chemistry with HJW materializes at the characters’ first meeting. The fact that she is actually a woman has nothing to do with the sparks that fly between them. What starts out as bromantic rivalry will turn to love soon enough, but I actually enjoy their same sex relationship. Is he fond of her/him? Yes, but it isn’t sexual, so that makes it richer.
Ji Chang-wook has had very little screen time by the end of Episode 2, but he is definitely making this work on several levels. We see his majesty as a full-fledged royal, and we see his origins as a trembling coward.
Beautiful sets, costumes, music presented in gorgeous high definition splendor.
They spent a lot of money on this production and I appreciate it. Versatile, familiar faces create a background and foreground where our story unfolds. Mostly, so far, we have been enjoying a testosterone laden display of manly men attempting to out-manly each other.
In other words, this fangirl’s dream. The Goryeo battle gear – studded dark red leather gives me heart palpitations. It brings out my love for all things Arthurian, Manchurian and if we stretch, Tolkien.
We also get some comic relief with various side kickers-as-career actors. Kwon Oh Jung was sweet in Arang and the Magistrate. Yoon Yong Hong, from History of a Salaryman and The Duo. Plus we get Lee Moon Shik, my favorite supporting actor of many films and dramas including Giant.
There’s Bad Guys a-plenty – I am pretty sure there are at least four sides to this power struggle. Although, if you quizzed me right now to identify who any of these people are, I would fail. But for a change, they all seem smart enough to scare me convincingly.
People against Wang Yoo
Lee Yong Ae is so good at being bad, I would be afraid to meet him IRL. The only woman who has spoken thus far is Yooh Ah Jung – never saw her before. I am afraid she will do nothing other than fulfill the role of back-stabbing shrew, but I could be wrong.
I am not positive they are bad or good guys, actually. Kim Young Ho, is uber uber hot in uniform. I have never seen him before and pray he doesn’t get killed off early. Jin Yi Han I fell in love with in Who Are You? (2008) and he had a cameo in Master’s Sun.
Cha Do Jin looks fine in whatever it is they have him wear. Kim Jung Hyun was such a JERK in Giant, I immediately hated him in this role. Jun Gook Hwan, sigh, I despise him, and I feel bad. He probably isn’t a bad guy IRL, but he has played a bastard in all the dramas he has worked on in 2013, Nine, Goddess of Marriage and Heaven’s Mandate, now this.
Not reading what the real life people were like makes watching a sageuk more enjoyable for me. If I learn, for example, that someone dies by someone else’s hands, it is difficult for me to just let things happen. I anticipate rather than absorb. To me, these dramas are not for edumacation, but entertainment. When I want to make my brain smarter, I will read this book, until then, I will take my fantasy Empress Ki straight up with a side of sexy. Come on, Empress Ki, you can hold it together for 5o Episodes. I am all in!!!