I’m just two episodes in, and already I can understand why the ratings have been increasing steadily. MBC hasn’t really been stable with their drama offerings in the recent years, be it sageuk or modern dramas. There’re only a couple that are worth watching, both for the plot and the cast, such as Two Weeks, Arang and the Magistrate (hey, it’s a coincidence that my oppa acted in both), The King2Hearts (wasn’t impressed by this, but I admit it’s a winner for many people). It also doesn’t help that the predecessors in the Mon-Tue timeslot had been continuous flops, so for Empress Ki to actually turn the tables FINALLY in the rating games is an interesting change.
I’d always been a sageuk lover, but I was disappointed in the recent offerings. It’s rare to have a solid drama like The Princess’ Man, or a well thought out fantasy sageuk like Arang. I wanted to watch Goddess of Fire, but seeing who the writing team (the guys behind Warrior Baek Dong Soo, which I watched, and I wasn’t sure what I was watching) was made me hesitate, and after reading poor reviews for it, I’m glad I did not spend any time watching.
Anyway, back to Empress Ki. I’d watched both the most recent works of the writing team behind Empress Ki, namely History of A Salaryman and Incarnation of Money. I love both dramas, for their quirkiness and fast pace in unfolding the story. The writing team is the biggest reason why I’ve decided to watch Empress Ki, jinxed timeslot or not. Some tidbits about the writing team: They’re a husband and wife team, having written Giant in 2010, and winning a Best Screenwriter at the 38th Korean Broadcasting Prizes. The husband, Jang Young Chul also wrote Dae Jo Young in 2008, which won numerous awards at the KBS Drama Awards. Dae Jo Young was about the legendary King Dae Jo Young, founder of the Balhae Kingdoms, which was founded after the fall of Goguryeo. Having experience in writing characters from the Three Kingdoms era, I have faith that the scriptwriters will come up with a convincing story befitting that era.
The strength of Empress Ki so far, is the speed at which the story develops. We waste no time in the childhood segment; which took up only about one-third of Episode 1, after the opening sequence of Seung Nyang (Ha Ji Won) marrying Ta Hwan (Ji Chang Wook) officially as the new Empress, and Wang Yoo (Joo Jin Mo) looks from afar, and we get the adult counterparts after that. No dilly-dallying of the overused troupe of meeting in childhood = fated lovers. Child Wang Yoo and Child Ki Nyang most likely have no idea who each other is, let alone remembering each other. Their meeting in childhood is as brief as it can be, he the young Crown Prince, she the slave girl to be sent to Yuan Dynasty along with many more other unfortunate girls.
Her disguise as a guy is her means of survival, and I will not dwell on Ha Ji Won being too pretty to be a guy, because she has excellent martial arts and is more resilient and resourceful than any other guys. I also like that she has already found out who her father in by Episode 2, instead of dragging for a few episodes, and she did not make her identity known even to her father. There are plot maneuverings, but when carefully written, they become excellent plot points, instead of being contrieved.
The other thing I like about Empress Ki is, it feels like watching some seasoned sageuk actors reunion! Joo Jin Mo is no stranger to playing Kings, having played a fictional Goryeo King in the tragic movie, Frozen Flower (a personal favorite), Ha Ji Won was the beautiful gisaeng in Hwang Jin Yi the drama in 2006, Ji Chang Wook played the titular character in Warrior Baek Dong Soo. We also get a whole secondary cast who have had experiences in sageuks, Wang Go (Lee Jae Young, a sageuk veteran, really), Yeon Chul (Jun Gook Hwan, always the evil minister in court, last sageuk he was in was Mandate of Heaven), Dok Man (Lee Won Jong, also another sageuk veteran), Baek Ahn (Kim Young Ho, I’ll never forget him in Ballad of Suh Dong), Byung Soo (Jung Woong In, the brother of delightfully evil Mi Shil in Queen Seon Deok), just to name a few. I had not read the characters descriptions before watching, so it was happiness to see veteran sageuk ahjusshi actors popping up one after another on my screen.
I wouldn’t be doing recap for Empress Ki, but it sure is on my watching list because this is just too good to be missed. Do refer to The Talking Cupboard for recaps, as well as a detailed character descriptions.
PS: I just remembered that I’d wanted to write this part, but I forgot about it when I clicked the Publish button a few days ago. I remember Miss Koala saying before Empress Ki started, that the Mainland Chinese fans will most likely be criticizing mercilessly about the historical inaccuracies in the drama, I guess starting with the costume worn by the Yuan monarchy. While I’m no costume expert, and I don’t really care, I have to agree that I don’t think the Yuan King wears that beads curtain thing (pardon my lack of knowledge for fashion related words) during the enthronement ceremony. Also, because the Yuan was founded by Mongolians, which makes than non-Han Chinese, the oppression on Han Chinese is very severe, so I don’t think the lashback on factual discrepancies would be as much as let’s say, if it’s the Tang Dynasty. Why so? Because there’s always strong anti-sentiments against the non-Han monarchies.