A Jewel in the Korean Drama Scene
Another drama from 2003, Dae Jang Geum is a historical classic that had been sitting on the “To Be Watched” list long enough. Tackling a 54-episode drama may sound daunting, but some dramas need to be seen for their historical significance. Although based on a true historical figure, not many details are really known about Jang Geum’s life and story. Under the direction of Lee Byung Hoon, a record-breaking drama was born. The fictionalization of her life was inspiring, and the story was captivating.
Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10
Dae Jang Geum, also known as The Great Jang Geum or Jewel of the Palace, is the story of a girl, orphaned at a young age, who overcomes many difficulties to become the Royal Physician to King JungJong. Her parents were fugitives, hiding from the crazed palace political scene that sought their lives for one reason or another. An unfortunate remark by the young Jang Geum cost her parents their lives and brought her happy childhood to an abrupt end. Cheerful and resourceful, Jang Geum made her way into the Royal kitchens where she served as a Court Lady for years until political maneuvering triggered her exile. It was fortune itself that landed her in the pharmacy of a strong-willed female “Physician Lady” who trained her as a means of making her way back into the palace to seek revenge.
Script/Acting: My rating 7/10
The vast majority of the script (and there is a lot of it!) was well written. A major complaint would be the repetitiveness – either of scenes or audio lines. While it would make sense to use repeats to refresh the viewers’ memory of something that occurred much earlier in the series, (which did happen necessarily – the drama was, after 54 episodes!) all too often the repeating happened within 3-10 minutes of the original scene or sound bite. As the repetition increased it began to seem like a tool to fill time.
The acting, however, was enjoyable. Lee Young Ae was endearing as Jang Geum, even when scenes were a bit over-dramatized. The character she played was appealing and believable. The young Jang Geum was played by the delightful Jo Jung Eun. This little darling’s acting was entirely captivating.
While historically it is unlikely that Min Jung Ho, a.k.a. Sir Min, had any love interest in Jang Geum, his character was the perfect archetype for her leading man. Ji Jin Hee is dashing leading man material indeed, and pulled off the character with sincerity and passion.
Enter the Dragons: Park Jung Soo as Head Lady Park Yong Shin, Hong Ri Na as Choi Geum Young (a dragon with soft teeth, but a dragon, nonetheless), Kyun Mi Ri as Court Lady Choi Sung Geum, Geum Young’s evil scheming aunt, and Lee Hee Do as Choi Pan Sool, Lady Choi’s wealthy, powerful merchant brother. The four, with help from powerful political allies, wrought havoc throughout the drama for their own gain, be it prestige, wealth, or secrecy.
The Royal family were well-cast as well: Im Ho as King JungJong, good hearted but somewhat impotent during much of his career, a richly complex character by the end of the drama; Park Jung Sook as the powerful, yet empathetic Queen Munjeong; and Eom Yoo Shin as Dowager Queen Jasun.
There was a wide range of superb characters. Kim Yeo Jin as Jang Duk, physician lady from Jeju, paradisiacal land of exile, played an irascible character upon which (I’ll wager) her character in “Flower Boy Next Door” seemed to be based. Park Eun Hye was Lee Yeon Saeng, Jang Geum’s best friend, loyal throughout, who become concubine to the king. Yang Mi Kyung was Court Lady Han Baek Young, best friend to Jang Geum’s mother, and Jang Geum’s mentor in the kitchen, whose genuineness and love become a driving force in Jang Geum’s life. Im Hyun Sik played Kang Duk Goo, Jang Geum’s comical adoptive father and the hilarious Geum Bo Ra played Na Joo Daek, Duk Goo’s wife. The two added much needed comic relief to the series with panache. The entire cast was outstanding, bringing to life characters that changed and grew as the drama progressed.
Cinematography: My rating 8/10
Stunning. Simply stunning. Words can scarcely describe how the masterful use of the natural beauty of Korea’s landscape created a spectacular backdrop for scene after delightful scene. The costuming was lavish and detailed. The food was mouthwateringly tempting. The sets became so iconic that they have been recreated lock, stock and barrel, in a Dae Jang Geum theme park outside of Seoul that are used to film historical drama today.
Music: My rating 7/10
The theme song was reminded me of old TV series theme songs. It has a rather dated feeling to it, rather than a period feel: “Chang Ryong” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VGbs88kJtM
Theme used often and sung with a chorus. Lovely and appropriate. “Onara” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4H-Qrd1gTQ
Grand. Operatic. “Hamangyeon” Safina http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qclaqU7ua-o
Piano instumental. “Apna” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTmmFNbsrok
Haunting. “Yun Do” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vLTePSnLYU
Overall Charisma: My rating 7/10
Wow. How could such an epic drama receive such a score? To be brutally honest there were parts that were exasperating slow. And the repetition nearly drove me insane. If it weren’t for the great characters and wonderful cinematography it might have been difficult to watch the entire 54 episodes. But the story and characters were compelling. In the end it was more than worthwhile viewing and definitely a must-see for any Korean Drama Enthusiast. I know many who tell me they only watch the “short” dramas – 16-20 episodes are more than plenty. But some stories cannot be told in 20 episodes. Some tales are can only be done properly by thoroughly exploring the convoluted narrative and diligently developing the myriad of characters essential to the story – nay Epic Legend. Such a saga becomes necessary to do justice to the content. Belay your fears! Conquer the epic drama!
Happy Drama Watching!
Created by Kim Yeong Hyeon
Chief Producer: Jo Joong Hyun
Director: Lee Byung Hoon
Writer: Kim Young Hyun