Born as the third prince, Chung Nyeong, was far from ascending the throne. His early years were turbulent as Korea faced political tensions from both within and abroad and facing abduction as a boy to make matters worse. Eventually, the young prince finds himself living in a private residence outside of the palace and experiences the everyday life of commoners until he is a young man. Later on his ascension to the throne, Chung Nyeong (now called King Se Jong) stabilizes the newly born country and gives rise to the blooming culture of Joseon. In the process, he invents Hangul, the Korean writing system.
Cast & Credits
The first half of the show is particularly strong, in part due to outstanding performances by Kim Young Chul as Taejong and Choi Myung Gil as his embittered queen. Taejong may be monstrous, but he’s also powerfully human, and the show loses some of its spark when he exits the scene. The second half is weaker, perhaps because the series was cut down from 100 episodes to 86. This causes pacing issues, as some events are rushed through while drawn-out moments of pathos feel unearned due to a lack of dramatic set-up. Subplots get dropped and major characters disappear without acknowledgment or comment. It also means that Sejong comes off as far more serious than perhaps he was, as the show leaves out such “frivolous” elements of his life as his love of music and his passionate relationships with his concubines. In general, the show is more comfortable in the elegiac than the celebratory mode, but its tendency to emphasize loss sometimes deflects attention from just how extraordinary Sejong’s achievements were. It may be difficult to do great things, but there is great joy in such success as well.