Divided Loyalties in Empress Ki

Empress Ki
Empress Ki

Many historical K-dramas (sageuk) revolve around royal figures involved in romantic quadrangles involving male and female leads. However, political realities complicate amorous entanglements, family relationships and general camaraderie in Empress Ki.

I know. Watchers of this K-drama were divided early on into Team Wang Yu (Wang Yoo, King of Goryeo, played by Joo Jin Mo) and Team Emperor (Emperor of Yuan, played by Ji Chang Wook).  Wang Yu is in a tough position: king of a country under the thumb of an empire. He doesn’t have much power, and he can’t ally with another country. Most of all, he can’t stop the Yuan empire from taking the resources from Goryeo, including its women.Bbecause he’s frustrated, he has an unhappy smiley face though much of this K-drama.

Emperor-to-Be of Yuan doesn’t have it much better: pawn of the much more powerful and violent El Temur, the regent. He’s also the puppet of his overprotective mother/guardian Empress Dowager (played by Kim Seo Hyeong). In order to survive, he has to appear as naive as possible, lest he end up like every other powerful male in his family: dead!

empresski_sungnyang

These political realities complicate their romantic interest in the female lead, Empress Ki/Sungnyang (played by Ha Ji Won), who has to choose between the two. She’s not just some cute subject of the realm. Wang Yoo has to overcome the side-eye of liking one of his subjects and the fact that he has very little power to protect her when he sends her on missions impossible. The Emperor has to overcome criticisms by those who look down on his fraternization with the enemy aka “that Goryeo wench.”  I found myself cheering Sungnyang on for her bravery (and the random decisions to have her shoot arrows in her royal finery!) and work on behalf of the Goryeo people. I admit, I was Team Wang Yoo all the way, so I like the few opportunities they had to have  relationship. I was less impressed  so when she looks like she is out for self, gets sucked into Yuan politics and looks like she has real feelings for that punk the Emperor, who never seems to grasp that he can’t have a love relationship when his world is collapsing around him.

empresski_taltalSungnyang isn’t the only one grappling with politics and relationships.   One of my favorite characters is Tal Tal (played by Jin Lee Han), the ever-practical second-in-command to Baek An (played by Kim Young Ho). He is nothing if not consistent! Scarily good at strategy, he’s the one character who seems to always know all angles to a situation. Tal Tal is the moral pillar of the Yuan court. He’s cool with the Yuan empire, but he and his clan has suffered under the yoke of El Temur too, so they are keen to take him out. In the meantime,  he’s working to get his clan some power by playing the political game, but he also has a love for the Yuan people, which Baek An and the Emperor do not. Tal Tal draws the line when Baek An goes supercray. When Baek An’s unscrupulous activities threaten the people, Tal Tal steps in and does the unthinkable.

No one escapes the impact of politics in Empress Ki, making it more than your standard historical Kdrama complicated by romance.

Images:

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Main Poster,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/51.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Wang Yoo,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/52.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Emperor,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/53.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Empress Ki/Sungnyang,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/54.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Tal Tal,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/55.
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Warrior Hair in Kdrama

kingdomofthewind

Historical Kdramas are known for the palace intrigue, political drama and tensions between the ruler and the ruled. But if you are a frequent viewer, you also wait with anticipation for the other hallmark of the period Kdrama: warrior hair!

What is warrior hair? Warrior hair is an aesthetic common to the historical Kdrama, when heroes (and villains) tie their hair up on their heads or back in a ponytail,  presumably to keep it out of their eyes and they embark on the multiple episodes that make up these kdramas, all the while allowing it to cascade down in all kinds of ways.  Headbands are optional.

You know what I’m talking about. Exhibit A: Ji Chang Wook as Baek Dong Soo in Warrior Baek Dong Soo:

warriorbaekdongsoo

Before he decides to stop being a boob and devote himself to martial arts, that hair is just, well, there. You know he’s serious when he ties it back.

Exhibit B: Lee Min Ho as Choi Young in Faith:

faith

Do I even have to say anything about this? This is great because from episode one, he’s a warrior, so the warrior hair is always on display.

Exhibit C: Jang Hyuk as Lee Dae Gil and Oh Ji Ho as Song Tae Ha in Chuno:

chuno

Here we have two for the price of one!  While Tae Ha is technically the only warrior, you get the picture.

Most viewers of Kdrama I know agree: everyone looks good in warrior hair. But it also serves a couple of  important purposes. First, warrior hair marks the transition in the development of a character. Sometimes, it appears after the requisite “child phase” with the first appearance of the adult versions of characters.

Second, warrior hair denotes class distinctions. Most of the time, if you are sporting warrior hair, you are not inclined to follow the rules. You aren’t part of the royal family, and you are definitely not part of the noble class. You are drifting on the outskirts of society, like one of my favorites, Kim Nam Gil as Bidam in Queen Seondeok:

seondeokbidam

But even military officials and members of the court may fall out of favor with respectable society. How do you know? LOOK AT THAT HAIR! That’s precisely what happens with Lee Seung Hyo as Alcheon in Queen Seondeok. For much of the Kdrama, Alcheon is prim and proper with his hair tied up in a respectable way, nary a strand of out place and a key member of the Hwarang. However, once stuff goes down in the palace, and Seondeok and her loyal followers are hiding out in the forest, no one has time for that. It’s warrior hair time!

Finally, facial hair is the sidekick to warrior hair. And like warrior hair, it means something. Sometimes, it’s used to tell the viewer that a character has gotten older (you know how much time a Kdrama can cover). However, it can also be used to suggest a change in character and nowhere is this more apparent than with Ju Jin Mo as Jin Ha in Bichunmoo. He starts out as a nice, considerate guy, but once a whole bunch of tragedy befalls him, not the least of which is when someone tries to kill him, he becomes a lot less nice and forgiving.  And in case you missed the personality change, warrior hair is there to help!

Source:  http://www.soompi.com/forums/topic/176217-drama-2008-bichunmoo/page__st__40

Source:  http://www.soompi.com/forums/topic/176217-drama-2008-bichunmoo/page__st__100

So the next time you watch a sageuk, take some time to appreciate the warrior hair!