This is sageuk of epic proportions! Don't be intimidated by the 134 episodes (it's not 100 as it's described on some websites). It starts slowly, but only because it sets the stage for what's going to happen in the future. The drama is about Dae Jo Yeong's life and the establishment of Balhae State that led to him being the first King of the Balhae Kingdom.
Even if you don't like historical read moredramas, this is definitely a drama to watch! It has all of the key elements that make sageuk great: a prophecy that needs to be kept secret, intense battle scenes, two love interests for the main character, and an impressive cast of really good actors. You get involved in the drama: you cheer for the good guys, can't wait for the bad guys to get what they deserve and there's even a reason to cry.
It stars Choi Soo-Jong as Dae Jo Yeong. His portrayal of Jo Yeong was very well done (he prepared for his role by reading history books to learn about the story and won an award for his acting). If you've watched any other dramas written by Jan Yeong-Cheol (Salaryman, Giant), then many of the actors will be familiar to you.
The OST enhances the drama and features music by Brown Eyed Girls and Park Hyo-Shin. This drama pulled in really good numbers during its run. The last episode had over 30% viewership. I enjoyed all 134 episodes!
If you can handle watching a very long drama of 134 episodes (1hour long each) then I'd highly recommend this drama. It's a long drama but it never drags or prolongs things. It moves from one situation to another and the flow is very good and well paced. It took me over 2 weeks of straight marathoning it to complete it.
The drama is about the life of Dae Jo Yeong and read morehis quest to recapture the old Goguryeo and create an empire that embraces all people from all origins (Baekjae, Goguryeo, Khitan, Silla, Mohe, Turks ectra...). It's about the founding of the Kingdom of Balhae. And all the heroes that were involved in its rising: Dae Jungsang, Dae Jo Yeong, Gulsabiwu and countless others. This drama does not lay heavily on facts (just take a look at Wikipedia and you'll know lol) - many of the characters life, death and even existence is quite fictional - but it made for a great story. One, the two main females don't even exist in reality :P Some sites say that the two rivals in this drama, Jo Yeong & Kaigu (Hae Gu) vie for the love of the two leading women - but that's simply not true. There will be two romances for Jo Yeong (one that never should have been and one that was always right) but as for the other guy, he only looked at one woman.
Cast/Characters: My all time favorite character was played by Choi Chul Ho as Gulsabiwu (one of Jo Yeong's sworn brothers). I adored him so much, out of all the characters in this drama I would marry him ^_^ His character was very loyal and faithful - a true friend/brother. He had an unending passion and determination to not let the enemy defeat him and when teamed up with Jo Yeong and Sudol he was unstoppable ^^ (I'm also a fan of this actor and I love it when I get to see him as a good guy so my heart can freely go "gaga" over him lol).
Dae Jo Yeong played by Choi Soo Jong - he is the reason I decided to watch this drama, I've been a fan of CSJ since I first watched him in 'Into the Flames' (his latest drama and I started backtracking all his dramas since then). I always like him in leader type roles as he plays them exceptionally well (Dae Jo Yeong, The Great Kings Dream, Into the Flames, Comrades, President, and more...). I always admire his characters and would follow his leadership without a doubt. His character in this drama was exactly like that: one you can trust and depend upon. His character is full of love and passion for his people. He pursued his dream of recapturing the old Goguryeo not for his own selfish desires but b/c it was not only his dream but his peoples dream. He once quoted: "One man's dream may end a dream, but a dream that we dream together always comes true." He was a man full of love, honor, and selflessness.
Kaigu played by Jeong Bo Seok was a man full of envy, hatred, greed and a thirst for revenge. His "dream" was out of selfish motivation. He only loved one woman but b/c of that also spurred him to hate Jo Yeong even more, as he felt what was his was taken. I kind of got tired of his "I'm angry" face as it felt extremely forced and uncomfortable.
Suk Yeong played by Hong Soo Hyun was the girl I liked in this drama and the one who I believed was always right for our lead character. She had a selfless heart, full of love and compassion just like our lead. They were very well matched. And I wish our lead had only had eyes for her for the entire drama but whatever... lol. She reminded me of Seo Ji Hye's character from 'Kim Soo Ro' b/c of her love that went unnoticed for awhile b/c his eyes were directed elsewhere - but eventually they look to the right one.
Chulin played by Park Ye Jin, I did not like her at all. I wish she would have stayed where she belonged b/c it was a love that I personally believed was very wrong - you cannot be lovers with someone that you are helping to destroy. Opposite sides cannot be together, it can only end badly and you could even make things worse. I couldn't believe that our lead guy didn't realize that. She would have been a decent character on her own but b/c the writers made her this way made me unable to ever like her.
Geom played by Jung Tae Woo (an actor I've started to really like since I first saw him in 'Comrades') comes on in the latter part of the drama (I think around the 80ish episodes) was a great addition to the casting, I really liked his character, even though you end up feeling so bad for him b/c of how torn he is and you can literally see it eating him up. But your heart will surly move for him. A great actor who really deserves lead roles! He always seems to be stuck doing "Supporting or guest roles" and I think that is just not fair to this actor who is so talented (I mean unless it's his choice but I don't think that's so).
And there were tons of other characters that shined but I obviously can't describe them all lol but I'll list there names: Mimosa, Geumlan, Dae Jungsang, Keum Mo Jang, Dae Dan, Yang Man Chun, & King Bojang. Heuk Sudol was a great friend but I wasn't too keen on him b/c outside of his friendship he was kind of a numbskull and drank too much and when he bickered or raised his voice I got annoyed. But I enjoyed the bromance between him and Gulsabiwu & Jo Yeong.
Music: Throughout the entire drama it's just instrumental music. The lyric songs came on during the credits (but who sits and watches those unless it's airing?) so the first time an actual song played was in episode 128 (the ending) by Park Hyo Shin (and you'll cry). And then a little later another song is played a couple of times but more as background music. Songs: Park Hyo Shin 'Ae Sang/Sorrow' (it was played in a very appropriate scene). L. Woo & Sung Ho 'Before the Break Up' (I actually don't remember where this was played in the drama) and Joo Byung Sun 'Mothers Land'.
Also you may have to bear with the first 7 episodes as it's all about the older cast - I was quite bored during those episodes b/c they didn't have anyone I wanted to look at lol - the main cast doesn't appear until episode 8. Also if your like me you might hate the first romance. I almost dropped this drama during the span of episodes 40-50. After that I had no desire to drop it though - so if you reach that point just press through (skip watch if you must) and it will get much better ^_^ I personally skipped most scenes about the Empress of Tang and Xui Rengui (since it was things I pretty much already knew about anyways).
The story of this show is about the unifying of the three kingdoms ( Goguryo, Baekji and silla). By the way the actor who plays the role of the main character is the same actor who played the leading role in dae jo yeong >>> ((Choi Soo Jong)).
2 very different characters -
Dae Jo Yeong: A man full of love, honor, selflessness - driven for his people, & sought power for all = a good and right dream.
Kaigu: A man full of hatred, envy and greed - driven by revenge and a lust for power to glorify himself = a bad and wrong dream.
I loved my man Gulsabiwu ^_^ I'm so glad the drama writers didn't break my heart with him <3
This is a very good but very long historical drama, it never drags or gets dull - but there are characters you will hate [Chulin, Kaigu, Shin Hong, Sa Bugu, the other Shin guy, Bu Kiwon, and more]. but the characters you love make everything worthwhile [Dae Jo Yeong, Gulsabiwu, Geom, Mimosa, Geumlan, Jungsang, Dolbal, Jang Sanhae, Bojang, Mo Jang, Dae Dan, Suk Yeong and even Jing Chung of the Khitans later in the series].
This series definitely veers off facts lol *DON'T READ THIS PART IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE HISTORICAL SPOILERISH FACTS* In Wikepedia it states that Xue Rengui doesn't last as long as they made him in this drama - it says he died a long time before this drama shows him. And in history, it says Gulsabiwu (my man) and Dae Jungsang both died at the same time on some mountain (can't remember why right now) - this fact had me worried throughout the drama b/c I loved him so much lol - but this drama goes so far off actual history that they made his character meet Joyeong almost immediately in the drama and they become sworn brothers that last all the way to the very end ^^ I personally was very happy they veered off history for this one ;)
I contemplated dropping this drama around episode 40-50 - I was dragging my feet through mud at that point in the drama for no reason but the fact that I hated Chulin and Joyeong's romance - luckily, I was able to continue after episode 50 b/c that ended thank heavens! and the drama got much better for me ^^
I could have done with less of the jibber jabber between the "stoneheads" as I like to call them [Heuk Sudol, Gaepilsamun, Tung So and Kye Do] - they were all kind of stupid and had big heads and all were basically on the same "level" - they never said anything productive when gripping at one another... :/ Heuk Sudol was a good friend to Joyeong and Gulsabiwu - but other than that, he didn't bring much to the table, he was loyal and a good friend not much more (for me anyways), I did not like the voices of Sudol, or Kye Do when they yelled. Also, I swear Kye Do was the replica of a Billy Goat - that's what he reminded me of whenever he'd shake his head that weird way or sort of "ram" someone with his body.
Keum Mo Jang :'( Broke my heart! That evil "king" Anseung needs to die for that!!! >_<
Dae Jo Yeong is now severely injured, Mo Jang is dead :'( and my favorite Geolsabiu is stuck in the Khitan Tang camp :'( (I know he won't go bad b/c I read the history) but I want him back with his blood brothers!!!
I seriously feel like dropping this drama :/ I hate the love story between Chulin and Jo Yeong so much >_< If that wasn't in this drama I'd be so worth watching for a historical war type drama but this girl, this romance ruins the drama for me - I get more bitter every time I them together >_< Gosh, I hate feeling that way in a drama :/ I came into the drama for Choi Soo Jong (but his romance ruins his performance for me) and I came to love Geolsabiu <3 So he's making me tempted to at least skip watch his scenes.... but I don't know if I can bear doing that... ugh, this is so frustrating! Why did the writer have to put that horrid romance into this drama?! Out of the girls I like the princess (and only the princess)! I'm on episode 45 and I really just don't know if I can go on with it anymore... :/
If this series had a poster it would be say something like "The story of one of Korea's greatest hereoes" But just as applicable would be a line spoken by one of the main characters, which went something like "Nobody remains a friend forever, and nobody remains an enemy forever.
I'll divide my review into sections.
I'll give names of characters, as I'm not very good at remembering actors names. It's too tedious to keep looking them up.
Best performance. Li Geom. (blood son of chulin and Daejo young
Usually I am more impressed by the older actors in korean costume/historical dramas. But this guy was excellent. I want to see him in more stuff.
The last king of goguryeo, whose name I can't remember.
dae joyung's father
Those for me were the best performances.
Best character and look at me performance
When Xui Rengui tells hongpei to take his purple cloak off referring to it as a curtain.
Most poignant scene.
The death of Geomlan.
There are at least two types of dialogue here.
Professional screen dialogue, and dialogue that sounds like it was
written for a school play, or that youngsters might say when playing war games.
The battle/fight/violence scenes.
Was all that jumping up and down really how they faught in those days. As episodes wore on, scenes became more graphic.
At first that impressed me, but later I became unconvinced by how unlikely looking the blood was. It looked just too much like strawberry jam.
Scenes that kind of grew tiresome.
"Give me death your majesty" I was hoping that for once someone would actually get what they were supposedly looking for.
Daejoung (mostly) in disguise and peeering up from under his big hat.
Characters i found a bit tiresome, but I suppose I got used to them.
Heuk sodol, and the guy with the weird voice.
A fascinating story, that kept me enthrallled.
But still 9/10