Sunday, March 29, 2009

Little Bit on Emperor of the Sea

I watched Emperor of the Sea two years ago now, but thanks to a recent re-run, there has been renewed interest in my very first Korean Drama – the one I had so desperately wanted to discuss with someone, but no one shared my fever.

I like my endings happy and it certainly would have been more satisfying if that little pig Yang Kim would have been gotten cut to pieces, and Jang Bogo had grown old with his wife and children, and if Jung Hwa had finally opened her heart to a redeemed Yeom Moon and given his life the meaning he lacked. As a team, Yeom Moon and Jang Bogo would have done great things for the world.

I found that of the little I know about the history of Jang BoGo was that he got a little too involved in politics and Yeom Moon did kill him. So it would seem that the writers were trying to keep that part of the story real. This isn't Hollywood and this tale has all the markings of a Greek tragedy. The bad guys won. Well, sometimes they do. But can we find any positive message in the way our beloved characters died in the end?

I want to tackle this from a little different perspective. BoGo was stubborn to a fault – he expressed that to Yeom at one point. Was he doing the right thing? He wasn't going to compromise himself. It could be said that that unrelenting "morality" was going to bring war upon countless thousands of people. There was going to be blood and a lot of innocent people were going to die. I suppose that in the end, he recognized the risk, his people agreed with him and they were all willing to die rather than live in a world where corrupt nobles bought and sold them like chattel.

Yeom Moon wanted to spare everyone all the bloodshed. I don't think that's a less noble position. He walked into the lions den in order to change BoGo's mind. Just bend this little bit – we can save people – you and your family can still live. You can do more good things if you only live. Brilliant as well, Yeom discerned BoGo's reaction and was prepared for that. He warned BoGo, "If you don't climb off this wall, I'm going to have to kill you." Not particularly admirable to you and me and it tore him up because I think he so loved and admired BoGo. He thought he was doing the right thing though, and he did it.

Yeom did have one guiding principle in his life. His love for Jung-Hwa. He was unable to be with other women because of her, he defied Master Lee because of her and risked his life saving her life countless times. His love of her was the principle that he couldn't compromise. And I think he DID redeem himself in the end – he saved Jung-Hwa, but he also saved BoGo's child.

So maybe more the message is, even if you lose, you win. BoGo and all the inhabitants of Cheon-Hae were slain – but for a brief shining period of time, they lived as they wanted to live. Free and equal. They died for that ideal. Yeom Moon died for his ideal too. He died saving Jung-Hwa and was finally released from his life of pain. Beautiful, conflicted and tragic - he achieved his long sought peace in death. In the end, the good guy didn't win. He doesn't always win in real life either. But I'd like to think that the takeaway is - be the good guy, even if you have to die doing it. There's honor in that.

It's a testament to the writers and the actors of the series that we cared so much about these characters. We loved them and wanted them to win. We grieved when they were gone. The chemistry between Choi Soo-Jong and Song Il Guk was incredible. Song Il Guk is a superb actor – you could feel all the conflict without him saying a word. You pulled for Yeom Moon, you hated Jung Hwa for not loving him, and you wanted so much for Yeom and BoGo to be friends. I don't know how many actors could have pulled that off. Song Il Guk is the one that kept me coming back night after night. Very powerful.

I really hated the ending too – I wanted my Hollywood ending. But the story of these historical characters didn’t have a happy ending either. Since I didn't get my happily ever after, in order for me to make sense of the series I needed to at least come up with some reasons why it was redeeming in the end. I spent countless hours watching it – I had to justify it somehow.


KonaBeans said...

I truly enjoyed your reviews of Emperor of the Sea. As an avid fan of Song Il-Kook, I must confess that I've watched this series 5 times, and fell for Yeom Yang all over again each time.

E said...

Hi KonaBeans! I'm not on Soompi as much as I used to be any more, so I miss all the back and forth.

Glad you liked the review! Take care!


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