Friday, September 12, 2014

Final Review of The King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang (제왕의딸, 수백향)

Committing yourself to watching a daily historical drama as it airs is a risky business. It’s like saying yes to a perfect stranger not knowing whether you’re going to end up with a psycho or prince charming.

And although there is no risk involved (except for long delay), writing a review for a drama requires more than just a commitment.

I’m not saying that I regret watching the King’s Daughter or promising to write its final review for I’m not. However, commitment is not an easy thing to do if you don’t have enough passion for it.

I need to be madly in love with a drama in order to put it as priority in my time schedule.

Back during Coffee House day my time schedule was filled with it. I was so obsessed I even wrote a review of one of Coffee House’s episodes during my working hours – right in the middle of a seminar/meeting with the Vice President.

Believe it or not there are actually specific times set for my postings and whenever that fails I use my favorite motto “it’s better late than never” to make myself feel better.

The King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang is far from perfect, fortunately I don’t need perfection to love a drama.

Coffee House isn’t perfect but I love it. 49 Days isn’t perfect either yet despite really hating its ending it’s my second favorite drama of all time.

So what’s wrong with the King’s Daughter?

Why does it take so long for me to write its final review when the drama grants me my most fervent wishes. It gives me a strong female lead and a happy ending.

I think what upsets me the most about the King’s Daughter is the fact that I could love it. I mean really love it. Love it with the kind of love that I have for both Coffee House and 49 Days.

It has all my favorite ingredients for a drama so it should be nothing but unadulterated love.

Unlike many historical dramas that are populated with Kings/Queens/high court officials and characters that are obsessed with power or revenge taking, the King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang is refreshingly free of baddies. Which in my book is a very good thing.

Watching unpleasant characters trying to ruin someone else’s lives isn’t my idea of fun. Seeing Kings killing his own relatives and subjects just to secure his throne raises my blood pressure. I feel like plotting evil plots myself when power hunger characters are hell bent to destroying whoever stands in their ways.

I don’t want to waste my precious time watching dramas and end up with a desire to kill someone. The least a drama could do is to make me happy.

The King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang offers something new. It promises garden of roses. I smell love in the air. And surprisingly it does fill with love.

With the exception of Solhi (Soe Woo) everyone else is driven by love or desire to do something good for their loved ones or for the greater good of their country. No one is really evil by nature despite doing bad things here and there.

Unfortunately, although we only have one snake in our garden Solhi is more than enough to raise your blood pressure and perhaps ruin your fun watching the King’s Daughter.

In a drama where the strength of love is palpable she stands out like an ugly duck. It’s hard to love or understand her. She is loved to death by her loved ones yet she loves none but herself.

I partially blame her (how her character is being written) for reducing the love I have for this drama. She makes me want to rewrite the King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang into an awesome perfect drama that it could be.

Of course that awesome perfect drama is according to my taste for some of you might already consider this drama perfect as it is.

The King’s Daughter is the first saguek where I like practically everyone (minus Solhi of course). And guess what?  It has the cutest and most adorable Queen in saguek land. It also has the cutest little pumpkin that makes you want to save every orphan in the world.

Now, let’s have a look at its main characters.

Firstly, the First Marshall/Japyong (Lee Jae Ryong), later King Muryong (무령왕).

I have mix feelings about King Muryong. I want to like him but I can’t warm up to him. At least not in the beginning when the story starts.

His inability to recognise and understand the murderous intents in King’s Dongsong‘s heart is a strike against his good judgment. And his lack of judgment in judging his right hand man (later Grand Marshall Hae) has resulted in the death of many people.

Baek Ga is guilty and perhaps deserved to die despite the fact that he is encouraged and pushed to kill King Dongsong by Grand Marshall Hae. But there are other innocent people who have to die because of this trickery and King Muryong’s stupidity.

In the romance’s part I don’t like how Japyong treats his lover Chaehwa (Myung Se Bin).

I’m not convinced that this couple deserves our support. It might be because we don’t get to see how their love story develops. Nevertheless, that sentiment makes it difficult for me to get on board on Japyong and Chaehwa’s ship.

Despite saying that he is willing to spend the rest of his life with her somewhere I don’t think he loves Chaehwa enough. Just look at what happens when a trial comes between them (the death of King Dongsong).

It becomes the death of their relationship and the rest of her family.

I’m appalled at how carelessly he delivers capital punishment for the father of the woman he is purported to love. I’m horrified at how coldly he rejects Chaehwa’s request to spare her father.

Yes, her father kills King Dongsong who he loves dearly but doesn’t he also love Chaehwa dearly?

Apparently not. It turns out that he loves his cousin more than her. And he also loves his kingdom more than her.

King Muryong redeems himself somewhat in my eyes when he switches his own son Myongnong with King Dongsong‘s son Jinmu. Hence Jinmu becomes Myongnong and Myongnong becomes Jinmu.

Unfortunately, despite his good deed he still doesn’t get my blessing in romance department. He might be a good man but in the affaires de coeur I’m firmly rooting for Chaehwa and Guchon (Yoon Tae Young).

I fall in love with Guchon the moment I see him feed the fish in the palace pool right when Chaehwa is about to cross the bridge under the watchful eyes of all her jealous spectators.

I did wonder albeit for a second whether his action is just a coincident or not. But of course it is not a coincident. He did that to save her honour from damaging rumour about her chastity.

Guchon might be deaf and mute but he certainly is not stupid nor blind. And when he loves, he loves with all his heart. I’m sure if he has to choose between a kingdom and a woman he loves, he’ll choose love over anything else.

I love every scene when Guchon and Chaehwa are together. Those scenes make watching the parents’ part enjoyable. Every time Guchon smiles I smile. Chaehwa might end up with a slave and not the King, but what a slave she gets.

I remember how hard it is for me to endure the first episodes of Queen Soen Doek. I have to constantly tell myself ‘it’ll get better soon’ just be patient.

The parents’ part of the King’s Daughter is yummy enough to make me commit myself to this drama (although honestly with Jo Hyun Jae in his first Saguek after Song of the Prince/Ballad of Soedong bailing out is not an option).

With the Crown Princes being switched and the fake Princess is on her crusade I imagine interesting plots ahead. And up to a point the writing holds up.

I love how instead of turning into melodramatic the show goes for light and happy tone. I love how instead of giving us complicated court intrigues it starts with the chaos caused by the philandering, pleasure seeking, good for nothing Prince Jinmu (Jun Tae Soo).

The King’s Daughter doesn’t go to places I imagine it might and could go to, but that’s alright since one of its strengths lies in its simplicity (too bad that its main weakness also lies in oversimplification besides glaring inconsistency).

Now, before I start rambling let’s have a look at our second character the Crown Prince Myongnong (Jo Hyun Jae).

Myongnong is like no other Crown Princes in most historical dramas. I love him from the first time I see him.

And no, it’s not because he is Jo Hyun Jae! (Although I must admit that part of the excitement of watching the first part of this drama is the waiting for Jo Hyun Jae’s first appearance).

Most Crown Princes have one thing in common regardless whether they are the spoiled useless heirs or the ambitious king wannabes. They all look forward to the day when the current King is gone and they could ascend the throne.

They do all they could including putting  an acting worth of an Oscar to get the King’s approval to maintain their status while carefully assessing the court to see who are on their side and who are on their rival’s side.

Myongnong has more than enough brains and skills to rule the country single handedly. He is shrewd enough to know who is who at King Muryong’s court. He has enough ice in his blood to manipulate and use other people to his benefit. 

But despite having all those qualities and the power to ensure his ruling he cares only for one thing.

The pleasure seeking Jinmu spends his time chasing women and creates one scandal after another but Myongnong who is feared and respected by all seeks his pleasure in striving to make the King proud – not to get the throne – but merely to make the King happy.

Myongnong cares for nothing and nobody. The King is the only person he loves (at least until he falls in love with Solnan/Soo Baek Hyang).

It is painful to watch how much he loves King Muryong. It hurts even more seeing how he tries to hide his pain knowing that the one King Muryong really loves is Jinmu.

On the surface Myongnong seems infallible. He looks like he is strong enough to carry any burden that happens to fall onto his shoulder. Nothing can shake his composure and determination.

But that’s just a façade that he puts for the world to see for the real Myongnong lives his life in fear. Always insecure. Always lonely.

When the big secret is out I don’t feel sorry for Jinmu, he kind of deserves it, but how I ache for Myongnong. I can’t imagine the pain that he has to endure when his worst fear has become reality.

It must be extremely painful for Myongnong to know that all this time when he loves the King with all his heart and only want the King to be happy but unknowingly his very existence has become the cause of King Muryong’s deepest pain. 

It must hurt like hell to finally learn why the King loves Jinmu so and why he never feels really loved by the King and why he always feels insecure.

My heart breaks when I see how despite extremely hurting Myongnong tries to keep his pains buried and proceeds to do what he has to do to ensure King Muryong’s happiness.

I wish I could wrap my arms around him and tell him, you’re not alone, don’t hold your pain inside, you have me and I love you.

Too bad I won’t be able to offer him any comfort for I’m not the one he loves. Let’s have a look at his beloved. Solnan aka the real Soo Baek Hyang.

This is the first time I agree with a drama when it describes its heroine as plain/ugly. Most of the time we are forced to accept a drop dead gorgeous actress described as plain and simple *remembering the extremely beautiful Song Hye Gyo in Full House where she is described as ordinary*.

No offense to Soe Hyun Jin, I don’t think she is pretty let alone beautiful. But strangely, as the story progresses she becomes prettier and even beautiful.

That’s perhaps also how Myongnong sees her. The indifferent, goal oriented Crown Prince slowly learns the value of his pawn. He finally sees the gem and covets it.

He who never cares for anything, who never wants anything finally find something that he wants. Something else besides the King that makes him happy.

Although her real name (Soo Baek Hyang) means protector of Baekjae, Solnan is actually the protector of Solhi for she is never taught to love Baekje (they don’t even live in Baekje) but she is taught to love and protect her little sister.

I’m quite alarmed when I see how the still very little Solnan fearlessly gets rid of a poisonous snake to save her little baby sister. That’s a good and bad news.

The bad news is that she puts Solhi above herself even then when she’s just a little girl. The good news is that I can see she has courage, brains and enough determination to conquer any obstacles stand in her way.

And I’m not disappointed. I like the grown up Solnan.

She is kind and easy going. A happy village girl who has no ambition except for eating chicken. A simple girl who often becomes the personal slave of her manipulative little step sister.

But what I like the most about Solnan is how beneath all that kind, easy going, and simple girl outlook, there is a brain and steeliness to her character that makes Solhi wearies of her.

I’m pleased that just like Chaehwa and Guchon, no matter how much she loves Solhi, Solnan isn’t completely blind to the real nature of her little sister. She lets Solhi gets her way because she loves her too much. Not because she is stupid.

Did you hear that? Dear writers, I’m looking at you!

*Taking a deep breath*

It seems I’ve come to the ranting part. How could I in almost the same breath praise and criticize the same drama?

Well, because that’s what this drama does to me. One moment I love it to death (this show delivers really romantic lines and cute scenes), but in the next moment I feel like pulling my hair out. 

Every time the latter happens I decide to believe that the main writer is on leave and we end up with a new writer who knows nothing about the main characters in this drama.

A new writer who doesn’t even watch the previous episodes but ends up writing for a few episodes in between. A new writer who can’t seem to remember that Solnan is not stupid nor weak.

A new writer who turns her into a complete idiot whenever she meets Solhi. A new writer who changes the Solnan that we know all a long into a completely new girl. A new girl who is hard to admire.

I still love the King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang but I must say that the inconsistency in the writing department has ruined it chance to become a really great drama.

I don’t know whether the live shooting has impacted the writing or whether we really have a number of writers who have different ideas regarding the main characters in this show.

Another major issue that I have with the King’s Daughter is the pacing. There are times when I’m sure even a snail would be ashamed to be put on a race with some of its episodes.

In all of 108 episodes of the King’s Daughter the most frustrating experience for me (besides Solhi’s scenes and Solnan sudden character’s change) is Maekgum’s episodes.

Who cares how long and faithfully Maekgum looks for Chaehwa? I don’t.

What? You want to know who Maekgum is? Don’t bother. She is a nobody. And you wouldn’t care either. Okay, she is Chaehwa’s personal hand maiden. There.

Does she deserve a full episode of her own? No, she doesn’t.

There are so many things that could be shown to the viewers and whatever those things are I’m sure they are going to be more interesting than the story of finding and convincing Maekgum to talk.

If the writers insist that this useless story must be told the director should compromise but letting them know who is in charge by showing Makgeum’s story in less than five minutes.

Forcing us to watch two full episodes of Makguem is a crime.

Wait a minute, don’t tell me that’s the time when the main writer was on leave (not alone) but together with the main director and we ended up with not only a new writer but a new director as well?

The strength of the King’s Daughter lies in its simplicity.  But its main weakness lies in oversimplification.

All the characters in this drama have already had their own personalities. But for Solhi’s sake the writers (it must be the new writers) chose to ignore that and turn them into a bunch of complete idiots.

Some villains deserve to be the center of a conflict. Villains like Mi Shil from Queen Soen Doek, Jo Phil Yon from Giant, and Min Jun Guk from I Hear Your Voice. I wish them all fire and hell but their characters are equipped with the appropriate brains to create hell in those dramas.

But not Solhi.

I hate her so don’t expect me to be fair. I’m not going to write good things about her for she ruins this drama for me. Okay, I know it’s not her. It’s the writer. But still it’s because of her.
I hate how Solnan turns into a stupid girl because of Solhi. I hate how one of the trusted guards from Crown Prince’s own elite force turns coat just because of pretty face.

I hate her because she kills my beloved Guchon.

Yes, I know it’s not actually by her own hand. I know she has no idea that she’s ordering a death sentence for her own father BUT it doesn’t matter because I don’t think she would act differently in the end if she knows what Guchon is about to do.

She doesn’t even mind killing Solnan who loves her to death just because she is afraid Solnan would reveal her secret. She certainly would have less hesitation killing Guchon.

Although he is her real father she never understands him and always hates the fact that she is a daughter of a deaf and mute slave. Solnan who isn’t Gulchon’s real daughter loves him more than his own daughter.
And let’s not forget Solhi is the reason why Solnan couldn’t be together with Myongnong.

Even after knowing that Myongnong is her brother Solnan couldn’t change her feelings for him. She still loves him just as much. She still wants him to be hers although she can’t.

What she fears the most is his reaction when he learns about their relationship.

Yeah, I blame Solhi for robbing me off of romantic scenes between Myongnong and Solnan. I blame her for not giving me the chance to see this couple together being cute and lovey dovey

I hate it when towards the end my OTP couldn’t be together.

I hate this separation nonsense as much as I hate a time jump that separates many other OTPs before and only brings them back together in the last two second of the final episode.

And I don’t like the just rewards being given to Solhie. It’s only a slap in the wrist for such a huge crime. Is that all you can do writers?

Now, lastly let’s have a look at our other Prince. Jinmu.

Despite trying and actually doing bad things I don’t hate Jinmu. Unlike Solhi, he is not evil. He doesn’t even want the throne. He has no ambition to be King.

If chancellor Yon doesn’t constantly whisper in his ears day in day out about how his father was being assassinated by King Muryong he wouldn’t do anything about it. What he really wants is to be loved and acknowledged by King Muryong. That’s all.

You might like the King’s Daughter or you might not. But this is one of few dramas that’s getting better towards the end. This is not a drama that will make you regret wasting your time after seeing its ending.

I haven’t seen the Empress Ki because I don’t like the ending. I haven’t finished the last few episodes of Queen Soen Doek because the last parts of the drama is rather taxing to watch.

Say whatever you like about the King’s Daughter but all the good stuffs are happening in the last parts of the drama. You might want more justice for Solhi, you might want more romance between the Crown Prince and Solnan but in the end, where ever you stand, we all get what we want.

So, yes. I recommend watching the King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang.

I don’t need to tell you that a liberal use of FF button might be needed during some episodes do I?
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