Jumong was the founder of Goguryeo in 37 BC. He was the son of General Hae Mo Su and Lady Yoo Hwa and was raised by King Geum Wa, who took him and his mother in when Hae Mo Su was believed to have been killed in an ambush by the Han Dynasty. So Seo No was a merchant's daughter who helped Jumong in realizing his dream to build a new country, and later became his second wife.
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The plot lines may hardly be original, but the complexity of the main characters gives the old stories a freshness and power they would otherwise lack. Song Il Guk does a fine job as the young prince destined to found an empire, but my favorite actors (and characters) were Hu Joon Ho as the grizzled veteran Haemosu and Jun Kwang Ryul as the tormented king Kumwa. Hu exudes presence every moment he’s onscreen, and Jun’s portrayal of the king’s increasingly conflicted and destructive loyalties is devastating. The show also uses its length to draw us so completely into its web of relationships that many of its most powerful scenes are not the giant battles but the quiet moments where a truth is revealed or a lie is told or a heart is broken.
Does everything work? No. The plot meanders in the final third, with wild goose chases down narrative lines that seem designed to kill time rather than actually deliver meaningful revelations. I could have lived without the saccharine pop ballad love songs on endless repeat and you could get rip-roaring drunk in no time if you took a shot whenever someone stages an ambush, falls off a cliff, discusses an evil plan around an ornate wooden table or survives getting shot by multiple arrows. However, if you’re looking for ridiculously immersive popular entertainment and don’t mind sleep deprivation, you’re in for a hell of a ride. Just be careful – this whole drama thing can get addictive . . . .
I would highly recommend this drama to anyone who can appreciate a great story with action, romance, bromance and a great cause to fight for.