Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review on Korean Drama: The King and I (2007 to 2008)

Title: The King and I (2007 to 2008)
Genre:  Romance, Period drama
Duration:  63 episodes
Oh Man-seok as Kim Chuh-sun/Chun Dong
Ku Hye Sun as Yoon So-hwa
Go Joo-won as King Sungjong
Jeon Gwang-ryul as Jo Chi-gyum
Ahn Jae-mo as Jung Han-soo
Jeon In-Hwa as Queen Insoo
Jung Tae-woo as Prince Yunsan

“You will become a hero or a traitor.  It’s a very thin line...”
Synopsis:  Where should loyalty and sacrifices for the greater good end and loving oneself begin?  How much should we give-up for love and for one’s country?  Plotting and scheming for the betterment of the nation, is it all worth it in the end? 
This drama focuses on the political struggles, sacrifices, loyalty and the pain behind the desire to maintain control of the throne.  It strived to show how one’s love could drive a man to castrate himself and become a eunuch in wanting to be close to the woman he loves.
Chun Dong/Kim Chuh-sun, Oh Man-Seok, was a man who was destined to become a eunuch and achieve the greatest feat in the history of eunuchs.  His foster mother refused to believe his son’s destiny and tried everything possible to make sure he does not become a eunuch.  However, Chun Dong decided to do his own castration when the love of his life, Sohwa (Ku Hye Sun), decided to become a concubine and enter the palace.  In order to stay by her side, he decided to become a eunuch notwithstanding death in becoming one. 
After becoming a eunuch though, he was filled with the zeal of maintaining moral fortitude and eradicating corruption.  He led his fellow eunuchs in making a stand to force the corrupt eunuchs admit their guilt and change their ways.  His childhood friend who is now the king lauded his achievement but sent him on exile after the ministers and royalty pressured him to punish the leader of the eunuch’s reform calling it mutiny. 
The queen eventually dies and King Sunjong decided that he would make the love of his life, Sohwa, his queen specially after she gave birth to his first son.  Amidst heavy objections from almost everyone, he triumphantly makes her a queen.  However, her personality is just too strong, too straight and too frank that she made an enemy against the king’s mother, the concubines and court maids and servants.  The only person who did not go against her was Kim Chuh-sun, more so because he is secretly in love with her than anything else.  Because she has successfully alienated herself from everyone, she became an easy target for a frame-up to depose her and eventually kill her specially after the king had an affair with Ulwoodong which drove her to jealousy.  It was during the king’s affair that she realized that the king’s love has waned and that she could not find the reason to stay in the court anymore except to be with her son. 
Because she stood alone against everyone, she failed to prove her innocence, was deposed and eventually ordered to drink poison to maintain peace and control in the court. 
Many years later, when her son became the king, he was driven to insanity when he realized that his mother was framed and mercilessly killed by the people whose desire was to gain power.  He started a bloodbath in the name of pursuing justice for his dead mother.  He also rebelled against all the court rules and laws and was haunted to maintain his complete control of his court officials and ministers that he became a tyrant while drinking all day and night and sleeping with various women.  He also brought in a slave and declared her to be his concubine. 
Chuh-sun believed that his obligation and duty was to protect the king.  He refused his foster father’s suggestion to change the man on the throne and decided instead to confront the king to make him change his ways knowing full well that it may lead to his death.  It was during this confrontation that he first openly admitted his love for Sohwa and the reason why he became a eunuch.  The king hearing this confession and the reproach against his behaviour in court, in a blind fury, killed Chuh-sun with his own hands. 
The death of Chuh-sun led other eunuchs to make a stand that eventually led them to their deaths as well.  Court officials and minister seeing the slaughter decided to put an end to the tyranny and revolted to put another king on the throne and exiling King Yunsan.
Review:  Watching Oh Man-seok was painful specially when he is using a pained expression.  I understood how some people would like to tear their eye sockets out because I felt the same when I see him in this show.  I could not understand why in the duration of the drama, instead of becoming better in his role, he actually turned bad to worst.  Although he is the main protagonist in the drama, I could not sympathize with the character because I never felt the sincerity of his character.  His character was pitiful at all times because his acting sucked big time.  I could not understand how his character could have been the hero in the story when everything he does is actuality pursuing his unrequited love but shrouding it under the guise of his upright moral principles.  His struggle to provide justice becomes ridiculous at times it even became painful to watch after some time. 
Ku Hye Sun was alright but there were moments when I felt she was overdoing it specially when she became queen and she was standing up against Queen Insoo.  Her stare would just be of defiance but no elegance or depth.  It looked more of a rebellious teenager against her mother who is scolding her that even when I knew she was right, it made it hard for me to sympathize. 
Queen Insoo made me mad a couple of times when she was trying to control the court and even scheming with the ministers to pressure her son to do her bidding.  I could not understand why she had a hard time dealing with Queen Sohwa when she originally planned her son to marry her before he actually became king.  I do not understand how she could have wanted to kill the woman her son supposedly loves and the mother of the prince.
The one thing that competed with my frustration with Oh Man-seok’s mind-numbing acting is King Sungjong.  He promised his unending love for Sohwa and yet maintained 10 concubines and having an affair with a loose, married woman.  He was ready to leave everything behind him just to spend a moment with her.   I actually had the impression that he loved her more deeply than Sohwa because he was going against everything he believed in and against everyone, not withstand the slander to his image as the king.  All this while maintaining that Sohwa is and always will be the love of his life yet throwing her down, knowing that she is heavily pregnant with his child.  I just don’t understand it. 
I also do not believe that Sohwa was just merely protecting and worrying about the king when she went out the first time and met with Ulwoodong.  It was obvious that she was insanely jealous of her and at the same time worried about the impact of their relationship to the monarchy.  But maintaining that she did it out of her desire to solely protect the king is ridiculous.  I also don’t understand why she had to be so antagonistic towards her servants when she could have used more benevolence and understanding.  She was just pure mean.  It made me think that she might actually be guilty of all the cases thrown at her but the story made me think that it was a frame-up.  I think she was really a witch that’s why her son turned out the way he did.  I do not believe that a bad apple could have come from a good orange tree.   If she was as good as they wanted to project of her, her son could not have turned out so badly specially not when he is so bright and intelligent to begin with.  He did not become insane just because he discovered that his mother was innocently killed leaving him with no mother but enjoying the attention of everyone while growing up.
What made me watch this show until the end is actually his foster father, Jeong Gwang Ryul and his loyal bodyguard. Jo Chi-gyum character being complicated in the sense that he is more in the grey area and not just being good or bad.  When he is struggling with himself, it reflected in his eyes and his actions.  His actions always reflected the true meaning of his words although he might say otherwise.  I thought he was very regal and his presence commanded respect and attention although he was a mere eunuch.
I was frustrated with so many aspects of this show specially when they were flinging accusations and punishing people without even proving the guilt.  There were some scenes when they were stretching the human emotion and yet failing to gain the sympathy from the viewer.  I specially hated the part when the king developed a relationship with Ulwoodong proving that he goes for the look more than the character.  It also proved that he actually plays around a lot and not what was initially shown of him sleeping around in defying his mother who refused to marry him to his first love.
I give this show 7 out of 10 stars because my biggest frustration is the main male protagonist who made it painful for me to watch the show.

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