Mandate of Heaven
The last spring kdrama I’m checking out, simply because the rest are uninteresting. With Mandate of Heaven joining my kdrama roster, I’ve just made my April-June sageukpalooza more sageuk-filled than it already is.
Mandate of Heaven (also known less impressively as Fugitive of Joseon) is about a royal physician, Choi Won, who wants nothing to do with palace politics and is only there because he wants to find a cure for his ill daughter. He gets involved anyway once he’s framed for the murder of the Crown Prince’s personal physician. Condemned to die for a murder he didn’t commit, Choi Won breaks out of prison and attempts to clear his name while running away from the people who want to kill him (i.e., the police and the people who framed him).
I’ll be the first to admit that I found Mandate of Heaven tonally jarring during its first four episodes. There’s a disconnect between the seriousness of the main plot and the sudden bursts of humor there. I suppose that the lighter moments (usually involving the bandit girl Sobaek) could have been integrated better to the plot, but the humor just seemed so out of place.
I’m happy to report that with Sobaek and co. fully integrated into the plot, the tonal shifts are less abrupt and I can now fully enjoy the show without cringing at the sudden funneh.
This minor nitpick aside, I’m impressed with this show as a whole. Sure Lee Dong-wook sometimes overacts, but he’s not as bad as Jo In-sung was in That Winter, the Wind Blows. I love Choi Won’s dynamic with the people around him, which range from pure love (his daughter Rang and his sister Woo-young, as well as the poor astrologer guy) to grudging respect (the Crown Prince and the bandits). He is the center of this show, but the other characters are no less important. I love that Mandate of Heaven acknowledges that while Choi Won is the central figure, the character itself is just a pawn in a plot to remove the Crown Prince from the throne. As a result, the world-building feels convincing and realistic, and somehow personal.
One of the best things about Mandate of Heaven is its strong female characters. All of them are brave and brilliant and flawed. I love Da-in, whose rashness in pretending to ally herself with the baddies will bite her in the ass someday. I love Woo-young, whose defiance makes her seem the boss of police chief Jung-hwan even though she’s a slave now. I even enjoy watching Queen Munjeong, who runs the show with nothing but a smile and a few platitudes. And then there’s Rang, whose illness somehow makes her stronger and more determined to live.
I have never seen a bigger group of strong women in a single kdrama, ever.
Oh, and I ship this.
The Verdict: LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. There were a few bumps early on, but these are pretty much resolved as of episode 8.
Il Wol Ji Ga - Sun Ye (Wonder Girls)
From Conspiracy in the Court OST
So sad. So so sad.
My only qualm with Conspiracy in the Court: The dialogue is so complex, I spend all my time trying to follow the subs rather than watching what’s happening. But it’s still so intensely captivating.
Jang Ok-jung, Live in Love - my current kdrama obsession. I love it like I haven’t loved a drama since Arang although the two dramas are very different. Kim Tae-hee is a revelation here, actually emoting as opposed to just glaring in intense scenes. Yoo Ah-in is perfection as usual. The two have such an unexpectedly intense chemistry, I’m drowning in emotions whenever they’re together. I love Lee Sang-yeob’s Prince Dongpyung, who pretends to be some fop but is actually serious and competent when push comes to shove. I love the villains Min Yoo-jung and Jang Hyun, whose schemes are both repellent but nonetheless interesting. I love everything about this show. I have no complaints whatsoever, except that I episode 9 isn’t here yet.
Gu Family Book - dropped as of episode 6. It got better in episode 3, got worse in the next, and got even worse in the next few episodes. I’m not big on meaningless repetitions of epic failures (the whole Seo-hwa thing). So… buh-bye.
Conspiracy in the Court - the most sageuk sageuk I’ve seen thus far, also featuring the most in-depth discussion of Joseon’s issues problems during the time of King Jeongjo. It’s interesting and incredibly well-acted (Lee Chun-hee is the best of the three very promising leads), not to mention thought-provoking. Now, I just wish the subs were more understandable so I could actually get what’s going on half the time. Mister X’s subs are no doubt an accurate translation of Joseon’s high court speech into English, but I find the English itself obscure and thus difficult to understand.
The episodes of CitC are densely packed and will definitely require at least a rewatch in order to be understood better. But that’s one of its charms. I’m watching this show slowly but surely, and I’ll probably watch this again once I’m done.
Interesting insight not only on Jang Ok-jung, Live in Love’s lack of popularity at home, but also on how people perceive history in general.