It’s sleek and intense. The first 3 minutes (I know! It’s short) already warns us to brace ourselves for the ugly battle between father King Seonjo (Lee Sung Jae) and son Prince Gwanghae (Seo In Gook). As usual, history is the worst spoiler for us, but the fun lies in how much liberty Show is taking to bring us to where events were as recorded in history.
Show was plagued with the crazy controversy of plagarism and whatnot, of the movie The Face Reader, but be rest assured, the only similarity is the physiognomy aspect, and nothing else. If I didn’t remember wrongly, it was mentioned way in the beginning that the drama will be on Prince Gwanghae, while the movie was about King Sejo. Here, the main character is not the physiognomist but a member of the royal family. The movie revolved around the physiognomist instead. I hope the backstage drama isn’t going to mar the quality of Show, because I really like what I’ve seen so far.
Another similarity of Show would be to that of another current drama, Secret Door (I’m still trying to find time to catch up with that), which also is dealing with bad father-son relationship. However, the biggest difference between both the father figures is, in Secret Door, King Yeongjo tries to teach his son Prince Sado how to be a king with infallible legitimacy and power, while King Seonjo here is portrayed as a controlling king who refuses to give up his power, thus employing means to make his son unsuitable to be king.
The central conceit here is physiognomy, and because this is THE selling point, I’m going to go along with its importance in the story. So King Seonjo makes sure that Prince Gwanghae’s face gets altered and will not become a king in the future. King Seonjo himself, was plagued by the disastrous reading of his own face, by the royal physiognomist (special appearance by everybody’s favourite grumpy Gramps Lee Soon Jae), where supposedly Prince Haseong (future King Seonjo) should never become a king, and should he be, the people will suffer and the country will fall into ruins. The “fact” that he didn’t have the face of a king haunts him even to adulthood, and we see that even without physiognomy, King Seonjo here is a hypocrite and cruel.
I think Seo In Gook is a natural actor, as he carries himself rather well even in the serious scenes where Prince Gwanghae’s life is at stake. Prince Gwanghae already knows his father is doing something to his face, but because he still respects and loves his father, he just cannot understand why, and tries to find out on his own. As such, he also reads on physiognomy, which I’m rather sure it’ll come in handy in the future. Prince Gwanghae is also rather well-trained in martial arts, and I hope we get to see how and why he’s good in it.
We’re introduced to almost all the important characters in Episode 1 (except for Shin Sung Rok‘s Kim Do Chi), and lest I forget about our female leads, Jo Yoon Hee‘s Kim Ga Hee is currently cross-dressing as a man, because her face spells a fate which would be so very dire if she continues to live as a woman. There’s a chance encounter between her and Prince Gwanghae in childhood, though it was shown in the first 3 minutes of Episode 1, Ga Hee ends up being a consort to King Seonjo. I’m rather interested to see how she agrees to becoming a consort, since she obviously likes Prince Gwanghae since young. I’d also like to see more of Kim Gwi-in (Kim Gyu Ri), because she revealed during the presscon that her character is one that will invite lots of hate.
While everyone’s raving about the other Wed-Thu dramas, I hope people will also give this a try, especially if you don’t mind sageuks. Being a sageuk is already like half the battle lost because most overseas viewers aren’t that interested in period dramas. I’m definitely going to find time for this (and yes, Secret Door as well), because I’m a saguek buff like that.