Empress Ki: Two Kingdoms

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This is it. This is the longest Korean drama that I will ever watch at 51 episodes. I had put this one off only because of the length for quite some time, and only recently decided to brave it. I am totally glad I did as it is turning out to be one of the best dramas I have watched in awhile. It has all the fixings of a saguek that I love. Ha Ji Won plays Suenyang, a Goryo born woman who lost her mother during her childhood as they were being hauled off to be the Chinese Yuan Kindom’s concubine tribute. After seeing mother and daughter being beat badly, young crown prince of Goryo, Wang Yu, attempts to free them. However, in her attempt to escape the slave caravan, her mother is shot down by Tanqishi, son of the all powerful Regent of China. Seungyang ends up crossdressing as a boy for most of her life to hide from the authorities and to have more independence. She ends up working for Wang Go, uncle to the Goryo Crown Prince, but secretly undermining him as he is the one fueling the concubine trade. She passes along information to the royal officers to take him down. She and her loyal group of followers manage to thwart Wang Go’s plans with the help of the now grown up Wang Yu. However, she does not know he is the crown prince. They end up forming a brotherly bond as they help each other out. Wang Yu is portrayed as a handsome and passionate man who tries to follow the just path. As they go their separate ways after, she manages to find her long lost father who is a General for the royal family. During her stay with him, they are tasked with making sure the exiled Crown Prince of China would stay alive and lately return back to China. The current Regent of China was El Temur, a brutal tyrant who was trying to obtain all the power for himself by killing off the Crown Prince of China in Goryo lands so that he can also oppress Goryo. Two birds with one stone. The Crown Prince of China is Ta Hwan, who will name as baby emperor as all he does is cry, whine, and pout. He is scared for his life and cowers whenever there is a fight. He manages to escape the Regent’s first attempt at killing him off because he was hiding and ends up being shunted to an isolated island for his protection.

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Painter of the Wind: Hidden Brushstrokes

 

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Of course in my saguek mania mode, I decided to add one more traditional epic onto my plate. I have always admired Moon Geun Young as a very talented young actress. Add in a little crossdressing fun like Sungkyunkwan Scandal and you have me hooked. However, instead of your youth fusion, Painter of the Wind breaks some usual drama barriers. Moon plays Yun-bok, a young genius painter who is attending the royal school for artists. She is also a girl, but was brought up as a guy by her adopted family because her father had committed a sin against the royal family. She has a unique way of painting and looking at the world. One day, she hopes to work for the palace, but in the mean time she makes side money painting lewd paintings for nobles. She especially likes painting romantic rendezvous. However, during a painting competition held by the school, she unknowingly painted the Queen dowager having a illicit affair with a mysterious man. She submitted the work anonymously, but it caught the attention of the royal court and it become a huge deal. The queen was incredibly angry and wanted the hands cut off of the person who drew her affair, but did not want to give it away that it was her. Instead, a genius, but exiled painter was called back to figure our which younger painter in the school had painted it. Said genius is a Hong-do, a middle-aged gentleman who has unique teaching methods, but is incredibly famous for his amazing paintings. He especially had the king’s favor, who is also opposed to his grandmother’s power in the royal court. Hong-do manages to figure out that is was Yun-bok who painted the illegal painting, but did not know that she was a girl or that she was the daughter of his previous mentee. He takes her under his wing due to her amazing talent. Meanwhile, Yun-bok gets to know a gisaeng who is very pretty, haughty, has very high standards. She becomes her muse while the gisaeng actually slowly falls in love with her without knowing that they are both girls. Yun-bok really adores Jung-hyang who embodies the feminine side that Yun-bok never got to explore. Luckily Hong-do manages to save Yun-bok from getting her hands chopped off, but at the sacrifice of her adopted brother who got exiled from the school instead. Yun-bok also makes it into the royal painters association due to her skill and overcomes the obstacles that are set against her by jealous colleagues. However, it came with a price as the king now wants her and Hong-do to be his spies in order to best his scheming ministers. Of course, now Yun-bok is engaged in a weird love triangle between her new mentor and the gisaeng with neither of them knowing her true gender.

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Moonlight Drawn By Clouds: Eunuch Style

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Is this Sungkyunkwan Scandal v 2.0 that I smell? The recipe of one uptight young man, one mane of glory, one womanizer, and one too pretty to pass for a real boy cross=dresser, equals a sageuk fusion cake!

I am totally in the mood for the hijinks of another ancient F4 complete with palace politics. MDBC tells the story of young Crown Prince Lee Yeong who is the carefree, yet sarcastic underdog of the palace. His father seems to be a lame duck of a king who is being controlled by the queen’s family. Instead of embroiling himself in the palace battle, the Crown Prince prefers to stay out of the way and constantly dons costumes in order to explore out of the palace. One day he meets Ra-On, who on the surface looked like a young noble boy. However, Ra-On is actually a girl who is trying to earn a living doing whatever she can whether that be writing fake love letters or acting in a circus play. One love letter she ends up ghost writing for, was actually between the Crown Princess and a noble who was in love with her.

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Mirror of the Witch: Dark Magic

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The beautiful teasers are what drew me to this fantasy sageuk. Sae Ron plays Princess Yeon Hee, abandoned sister to the Crown Prince. Before the twins were born, the Queen was having trouble conceiving because she was barren. The Queen Dowager, who was extremely controlling, decided to call in a shamaness to use magic to get an heir to the thrown. Furthermore, the kind was a lame duck whose decisions were always overruled by the Queen Dowager, his grandmother. Without heeding the Taoist monks who were in control of the spiritual side of the nation at that time, the Queen Dowager persuaded the shamaness to use black magic to make the Queen pregnant. However, because the children were born through bloodshed from a priestess who was used as a sacrifice, they were cursed. To preserve the crown prince of the twins, the shamaness transferred all the of the curse to the princess instead. It was said that on the twin’s 17th birthday, both children would die. The shamaness made the head Taoist monk use a purifying ritual to burn/kill the princess so that the curse would not come to pass. However, the king ordered the Taoist monk to save the princess instead beforehand. Thus, the princess grew up isolated from the rest of the nation under a talisman guarded house in the forest. Enter, Heo Jun, who seems to be a scam artist in need of 500 nan for some purpose. He makes a hard living trying to sell fake products and gambling. One day, a rich scholar bets that he can’t retrieve a kite that was flying over a “cursed forest”. Heo Jun takes this bet in order to earn the necessary money. He finds that this kite actually belongs to Princess Yeon Hee. He enters her guarded area to talk with her and feels bad that she has been isolated for so long, unable to see the pleasures of the world. Unfortunately, the kite’s strings were cut and neither of them ended up with the kite which had been stuck in a tree. Dissapointed, Heo Jun disappears before her guardians come back while Princess Yeon Hee’s good friend Poon Yeon tempts her to escape her prison to visit a lantern festival.

I find Yoon Shi Yoon to be a fun actor who chooses interesting and variety of different projects. While I have not found his character to be intriguing yet so far, I hope to see how his past has made him this way. He seems like a smart individual, and seems to have a good set of values even if his current occupation says otherwise. Meanwhile, Sae Ron is ethereally beautiful, perfect for her developing role as a princess and future witch. For a girl who hasn’t seen much of the world outside, I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to escape yet or find out why she is trapped like so. This story has hints of The Moon Embraces the Sun and Moon, but is definitely still unique in its own right.

 

 

Snow Lotus: Deeply Rooted

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Another modern saguek fusion like Splish Splash Love, but with a different take on reincarnation. Snow Lotus focuses mainly on two characeter’s lucid dreams about a past life in Joseon times. These dreams feel so real to them that they keep on trying to find connections in real life that pertain to them. Ji Jin Hee plays San Baek and Soo Hyun. San Baek plays the historical part of a commoner’s son who ends up becoming a scholar using a secret identity. Lee Ji Ah plays Yeong Dae and Yeon Hee. Yeong Dae is nobleman’s daughter who is skilled in swordplay and in an arranged marriage with her childhood friend Moon Jae. However, Moon Jae’s love is not reciprocated in her. Instead, Yeong Dae falls in love with San Baek which Moon Jae tries to break them up. Their love story ends in tragedy when Moon Jae accidentally kills Yeon Dae. Fast-forward in modern times, Soo Hyun is the CEO of a gaming company who ends up hiring intern Yeon Hee as a character designer. Yeon Hee, an artist masquerades as a man for a large part of the story due to certain circumstances during hiring. Both of them keep on dreaming similar dreams and searching for their counterparts. However, their happy reunion is cut short by Moon Jae’s modern reincarnation of Yoo Ri. As a punishment for killing Yeong Dae in the past, he is reincarnated as a woman who ends up being in love with Soo Hyun. Like her past counterpart, she throws Yeon Hee off the roof of a building in a fit of anger after Soo Hyun cancel’s their loveless marriage ceremony. Will history repeat itself in the form of a tragic ending?

As a two episode drama, it was a decent watch, but not give me the feels. I enjoyed the unique storyline of lucid dreaming and reincarnation, but was not feeling the chemistry as much between Jin Hee and Ji Ah. Perhaps a different pair of leads would have made the story more heartfelt? However, I feel there was a marked improvement of Ahn Jae Hyun from Blood to this saguek character here. His villainous role was very on point. I did find it interesting how the drama played up the genderbending portin of the story. For a large of the drama, when Jin Hee’s character did not know that Ji Ah’s character was a woman, Jin Hee’s character did not seem too bothered that he was in love with a man both in his dreams as well as in real life. I find that to be refreshingly progressive and different.