From a humble maid to become the Empress of the Yuan Dynasty… the ambition, fight and love of a Goryeo girl who is as brilliant as a Fire Flower!
Premiere Date: 28 October 2013 9:55 PM KST / 5:55 AM PST
Network: MBC 52nd Anniversary Special Production (all stills below provided by MBC except as noted)
Producer/Director: Han Hee (“Dr. Jin” “Over the Rainbow” “Personal Taste”)
Writers: Jang Young-cheol and Jung Kyung-soon (“Incarnation of Money” “History of Salaryman” “Giant”)
Ha Ji-won as Lady Ki of Goryeo / Empress Ki of Yuan (b. 1315 – d. 1370 est.)
Joo Jin-mo as King Chung-hye of Goryeo (b. 1315 – d. 1344)
Ji Chang-wook as Crown Prince Sunje / Emperor Huizong of Yuan (b. 1320 – d. 1370)
(courtesy of Ji Chang-wook)
For those of you not familiar with the history behind the upcoming MBC sageuk “Empress Ki,” I have put together a brief (but not perfect) overview on this extremely bloody and tumultuous period in China-Korea relations. I gotta tell you, the Goryeo years between 918 and 1392 were marked with political machinations that would rival today’s fights in the U.S. Congress. But as it is with all Fusion Sageuks, we should see a watered-down storyline that kicks the history to the curb and instead focuses on the fight between the Two Kings (Emperor Huizong of Yuan and King Chung-hye of Goryeo) for the affections of the aforementioned Empress Ki. I’m not giving away any serious plotlines of the show here, as anyone can look up the basics of the players and form their own conclusions thusly.
The drama purportedly begins in the year 1328, as the Mongolian Empire (hereinafter referred to as the Yuan) cut a wide swath across the Korean Peninsula in their attempt to control the most eastern parts of Asia, and were well-known for their raping and pillaging in the name of World Domination. There we meet Ki (Ha Ji-won), who begins the story as a servant to the Goryeo Royal Court after her parents were killed trying to escape during one of the battles. Her feistyness and bravery somehow wins the heart of Prince Chung-hye (Joo Jin-Mo), and he takes notice of her plight by rescuing Ki and bestowing favors galore… not to mention taking a bit of a shine to her.
But that did not go as planned, as the Yuan decided they would keep invading Goryeo until they got it right. While still serving in the employ of the Royal Family, she meets the Crown Prince Sunje (Ji Chang-wook), who had his own life turned around by a coup to install his half-brother Ningzong on the Yuan throne instead of Sunje (who technically was the next in line for succession). In order for that to happen first, his father is poisoned and Sunje was forcibly exiled to Goryeo (and later to Guangxi in the southern provinces of China, but it looks like the script will gloss over that fact). Lady Ki captures the young Prince’s heart with her friendship as kindred ‘fish out of water,’ and he immediately falls in love with her. Lady Ki sees this opportunity for power to be gained in order to avenge the Yuan takeover and return Goryeo under autonomous control again.
After yet another coup in Yuan and failed attempt to install yet another half-brother on the throne, Sunje was recalled to Yinjing (what we know now as Beijing) and was finally elevated to the Yuan Throne as Emperor Huizong. To make matters worse upon his return, Huizong would be then forced into a marriage of convenience by the Empress Dowager Hwang (Kim Seo-hyung), acting as Huizong’s de facto mother since his own died giving birth to him, with the Princess Danashri (Baek Jin-hee), the daughter of a Yuan cabinet minister. Doesn’t sound like our Young Emperor liked that idea too much, as he brings with him (forcibly or under her own control is still up for discussion) Lady Ki to become his concubine. After Consort Ki bears Emperor Huizong a son (the Crown Prince Ayurshiridar), Empress Danashri is overthrown and dies. The Empress Dowager Hwang (one of Ki’s enemies and main distractors to keep Ki under control) also dies, and Consort Ki is elevated to Empress Ki of Yuan in 1340.
Backing up a bit… in 1330, King Chung-suk of Goryeo abdicated and Chung-hye was recalled to assume the throne, becoming the 28th King of the Goryeo Dynasty. But in 1332, King Chung-suk decided he would call take-backs and stole the throne away from Chung-hye, leaving Chung-hye with no choice but to return to Yinjing with a burning desire to free Goryeo from under the Yuan Empire’s control. What is unclear at present is at what timeframe King Chung-hye does return to Yinjing to reunite with Empress Ki and eventually becomes her trusted confidant. It is well-known that Emperor Huizong had become increasingly uninterested with Yuan politics and became a hands-off kind of ruler with no interest in the day-to-day details towards the end of his reign, so I would possibly place these events around 1365 or so.
Unfortunately, history was unkind to poor Emperor Huizong, as his claim to fame would only be as the last true Emperor before Yuan was overthrown by the Ming Empire in 1368. Emperor Huizong and Empress Ki abdicated to Yingchang thereafter, with his eventual death in 1370 at the age of 50. Empress Ki’s own demise is suspect, as the historians have noted that after Emperor Huizong’s death, Ki’s status was elevated to Empress Dowager upon their son Ayurshiridar’s ascension to the throne. After that, she soon went missing and nothing further has been written as to her whereabouts, assuming she also died shortly after Emperor Huizong as well.
So the gist of the drama looks like it will focus on Empress Ki’s struggle between the pull of her Goryeo birthplace with the increasing political influence she gains during her life in Yinjing, not to mention the difficulties (*cough*) she faces having to deal with two pretty boys having the hots for her at the same time. The PD-nim has stated he would focus on Empress Ki’s ‘sad love story,’ so let us hope that keeps the ‘old guys sitting around staring at each other discussing politics’ scenes to a minimum. But with 50 episodes staring us in the face… I’m not holding my breath and believe my finger will be hovering over the fast-forward button. *sigh*
Of course, any Korean Historical Drama is going to have its detractors, and this one is no exception. A group called “The Eminent Scholars of Korea” (and I use the terms ’eminent’ and ‘scholars’ loosely, because I bet you dollars-to-doughnuts that it’s only a group of loud-mouthed netizens) that has been monitoring this production ever since it was announced in April 2013 are highly upset that this history is going to be “whitewashed” and “glossed over” in an attempt to humanize the three lead characters in order to sympathize with their stories. It’s not the history of Empress Ki that they’re so angry about, it’s the treatment of the history that they have their 팬티 in a wad over.
OF COURSE IT WILL BE!!! Who the hell wants to watch 50 episodes of a documentary where everything is told EXACTLY how it happened in real life? As with all depictions of historical events, it is not even clear if certain events chronicled transpired exactly how they were written down at the times they occurred. Were any of these ‘scholars’ on site when such events happened? I think not (unless they’re a gumiho or time-travelling prince or something…).
(Director Han Hee, Ha Ji-won and Ji Chang-wook on location 14 October 2013; courtesy of @flubber1023)
Even if I wasn’t watching this primarily for My Precious Ji Chang-wook, I would still be highly interested in the drama as the sageuk genre is my favorite, which made me more interested in ancient Korean history, which made me research the background of each character in order to be fully prepared for the premiere, etc. etc. etc. And yes, it was a very evil and bloody time in Goryeo history, but that was then and this is now. This is a retelling as FICTION, plain and simple — and that’s why I accept this production for what it is. Who gives a rat’s hinder about not having the proper HAIRSTYLES depicted? It was the PD-nim’s decision to not go the ‘pigtail’ route so commonly noted during the Mongol Empire, for the main reason that he didn’t want to turn his show into such a documentary by being a stickler for every little detail. Major props to Han Hee and his company for not bowing to pressure!!
So as I step down off my soapbox, I would like to give many thanks to Rovi at Dramabeans for providing the basic outline of the players and events so I could further flesh out what I wanted to write and not sound like a total doofus. Doofusing aside, I await mopping up the drool covering my keyboard oh so early every Monday and Tuesday mornings for the next six months.
Thanks for reading, and see you all back here for full recaps from 28 October!!! EDIT 30 October: After much debate and some personal issues that must be dealt with ASAP, I will NOT be recapping this wonderful show. There are so many other recappers taking on this show that I do not care to add to the noise. Check out my sidebar for their links. Gomawo!