Thursday, July 5, 2007

KDrama Review: Dae Jang Geum

I liked it!

Set in 1500s Choseon (Korea), this series is about the first (and seemingly only) female doctor to the King in King JungJong's court. I'll grant that I have a limited library of kdrama, but dang, nearly all of what I have watched start with the main characters as children. DJG was no exception. In fact, it went a step further, going back to the main character's PARENTS as children, then we get a creepy-guy-
fortune-teller (reminiscent of the cackling old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who disappears into the fog) prophesying that Dad will meet 3 women. He is told that he kills the first one, the second one dies because of him and the third one kills him, but she will save many people.

Anyway, anyway, anyway - the little girl who played "Little Jang Geum" was adorable and a marvelous little actress. I think she was only 7 or 8 when she played this role; and I wept when she tried to feed her dying mother berries. She was worried her Mama couldn't chew them, so she chewed them for her, and fed her, and cried the whole while. It was very moving.

Moved pretty slowly for me though. Little Jang Geum endures struggle after tortuous struggle. Big Jang Geum endures struggle after tortuous struggle. HOT HOT Min Jeong-Ho (played but Ji Jin-Hee) endures struggle after tortuous struggle. The sickly king and his kids endure struggle after tortuous struggle. All the while women are chopping and slicing, and boiling and plating food. Plate after heaping plate of food.

Here's my version of the drama: "I cooked chicken noodle soup for his majesty because he has a cold." "No, that will not help him, he needs a needle in the foot and some red ginseng cakes mixed with bile." "Hey, King, this is my best dish. Its wild berry surprise on a stick. I fed this to my dying mother." I thought she was going to chew it for him. He takes a taste. The Queen takes a taste. The Queen Mum takes a taste. They all nod their heads. The rest of the food gets thrown out.

Wouldn't be a kdrama without the palace intrigue; I ffwd through most of that. The evil kitchen women were only slightly more intriguing than that; they too got the ffwd button. Fun fact, Evil Lady Choi, was Evil Queen in Jumong. She does evil quite well.

The love story between JG and MJH moved a little slowly for me. With that said though, it was very very sweet. And I was glad that the ending was happy! They usually aren't; if they don't all die a la Emperor of the Sea, at LEAST one main character has to have cancer or anorexia. Thankfully no one here did. Well, to be precise, the king, who fell in love with DJG, thereby creating our dreaded love triangle (another staple of the genre) had a hopelessly incurable impacted bowel . He died. Of constipation. The real King JungJong died 17 days after being cured of his constipation (according to Korean Historical Annals) (I almost typed anals) so I'm thinkin' this was a pretty bad problem. Coulda been all those bile laced red ginseng cakes.

Overall, I'd watch this series again, which is my benchmark of a good series. I liked it very much. However, the investment of time for the 53 episodes is not a small one, so it is unlikely to be any time soon.


dramaok said...

haha funny review. i agree. the cooking got tiresome. the lovestory got too slow.. but at least this was a bright and inspirational especially since this was a korean period drama.. usually everyone dies and no love ever fulfilled but DJG left you with a smile in the end.. and i read it as 'anals' anyway.

Chuck said...

Well, for someone who starts a review with "I liked it!", the rest of your review was awfully negative. One thing, at least, we can agree on: 'the little girl who played "Little Jang Geum" was adorable and a marvelous little actress.'

One of your criticisms was that Jang Geum, and Min Jeong Ho, and the King --- all faced constant struggles. Have you ever read a story in which the protagonists did not face struggles? If there is no struggle, there is no story. As soon as the struggles end, the story ends. The more struggle a story contains, the better the story is.

As for the love story, it wasn't too slow for me. The longer the period of courtship, the greater the joy when it comes to fruition. And the courtship itself is probably the most intensely emotional time in anyone's life. Surely it is better than meeting a man one week, marrying him the next, and divorcing him two years later.

Love triangles are common to all literature everywhere. It isn't just a K-Drama cliche. It's one of the most effective conflicts any story can be built upon, which is why it is used so often.

Your summary of the story was not meant seriously, I'm sure. If you liked the story, as you say, you cannot think of the story in the terms in which you summarized it. As for the King's health problems, I quote the physician lady, Jang Duk: "a physician doesn't have the right to be disgusted." We're dealing with the medical profession, this is what they deal with. Don't look for feet of clay in heroes!

Did the grand themes of the story mean nothing to you? Justice vs. revenge? Scientific inquiry vs. following the methods of the past, right or wrong? A mother's love for her daughter, and vice versa? Principled behavior vs. pragmatism and machiavellian power lust?

Maybe you fast forwarded a bit too much on this one. Watch it again.


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