Sageuk fans know how hard it is to watch many sageuks, since they’re all filled with mean politicians and the same actors playing the same roles. So to start a sageuk, and actually wait for it weekly, is not an easy find. Hwajeong is that sageuk.
It’s called Splendid Politics so yes; it’s politics all the way. Even the love stories in the drama are all political. But, the thing about Hwajeong is that it present politics in an exciting way, through a chain of events that would leave you wanting more, especially since that chain is lead by The Invincible Cha Seung Won.
I know many people were worried about the number of episodes, and certain actors, but now are following the drama. That tells you something, doesn’t it?
So the drama covers the Prince Gwanghae’s life as a king. It starts with him as a crown prince, and highlights his bad relationship with his father, and Ming’s disapproval of him. The first episodes show some flashbacks on how Gwanghae’s political character develops. Being ill treated by his father, the second son of a concubine, disapproved of Ming and hated by his brothers, Gwanghae becomes a tough prince only aiming for the throne. Through his journey as a king, Gwanghae keeps struggling between the human and the king in him, between his ambitions and his feelings, between his love and care for his people, and the shackles tying him down by the politicians. The drama depicts Gwanghae the human, and the king, his political journey and his relationships with those around him, and his people.
And how he suffers!
Gwanghae has a dream; to make Joseon a strong and independent country under the sovereignty of no one. What a beautiful dream! But, he faces the objection of the two parties involved, the politicians and the people. The rotten politicians only care about their personal benefits, and therefore, such a dream does not suit them. The people only focus on the present, and can't fathom the future plan, added to the fact that they are manipulated by the politicians. Gwanghae has to face Ming and Later Jin, and the risk of a war, the selfish political factions and the pressure of his people. At the same time, Gwanghae the human has his own tough battles.
Despite the emotional scars, Gwanghae starts off as a caring brother. He is conflicted about having two true-blood siblings, but he makes it clear that he is going to protect them till the end. He has a wise and righteous advisor by his side, Haneum (Lee Sung Min) to save the human in him. But Gwanghae is too ambitious, and he has one extremely loyal woman beside him who’d do anything for him. That woman Gae Shi (Kim Yeo Jin) deems it necessary to get rid of any obstacle in the way of the man who is her universe. Gwanghae trusts and depends on Gae Shi the most. When he gets to know the awful deeds Gae Shi does on his behalf, he can't let go of her hand, and in turn he lets go of the human side instead.
Apart from the crimes he did not commit, but covered, or the ones he instructed to save the throne, Gwanghae was a sage king. Exactly as he had helped his father to get the uniform tax law approved. Gwanghae does not hesitate to defy everyone for what he believes is for the better of his country, and his people. Despite the aggressive disapproval of creating a weaponry bureau, where Joseon could invent and develop her own weapons, Gwanghae proceeds with his plans all the same. He’d go on missions himself and supervise the work personally. The weaponry is his child, and he wouldn’t allow anybody to mess it up. Of course that hated weaponry proved a huge step to the independence and development of a weak country at the time. Gwanghae, as well, could maintain a peaceful relationship with two powers surrounding him, Ming and Later Jin. If Gwanghae followed the politicians advices Joseon would have indulged in unnecessary wars but he was too perceptive to.
If you’ve watched The King’s Face then you’d have seen a great performance of Seo In Guk as Gwanghae. I admit, he was just awesome. But, what made me fall hopelessly in love with Gwanghae, and determine to write a paper on him one day, was Cha Seung Won. I bet Gwanghae himself would commend CSW for his outstanding and breathtaking acting here.
Man! CSW was born to be a Joseon King! The way the official attire suits him so well! Then, he goes on missions and wears the black one, and I faint! The melancholy in his eyes throughout the drama just hurts. Whether he is miserable or cruel, there is always a shadow of pain hanging behind him. His welled-up tears as he hurts are too painful to look at. His loneliness is written all over his face. His passionate defense of his dreams is so irresistibly inspiring. That voice is on fire! When that lip shivers and he clenches his fists! The hottest horse rider ever. His crying and agitation just draw me in to suffer with and for him. When he’s being evil, I can’t help but admire his determination and beliefs. Playing the shrewd, meticulous, evil, ambitious Gwanghae who doesn’t trust anyone and uses his people in a way that makes them feel they’re trusted is a great job. But that same Gwanghae is conflicted, pained and lonely. Not for a moment does CSW fail to be Gwanghae. He’s just so real.
P.S That smile! Heavens!
Gwanghae has one younger sister, Jeong Myeong (Lee Yeon Hee). When he was cornered by everyone as a crown prince, she was the only one capable of making him smile. He sincerely cared about her. But he knew he had to turn a blind eye when she was played up by Gae Shi. Why? Because what he wanted most was becoming a king. That sister was Gwanghae’s only hope to save the human inside.
Jeong Myeong has the true blood. For a country like Joseon, being the rightful heir is more important than gender. Though being a woman is not so welcomed. Jeong Myeong is born with a prophecy. People always believe what they can't prove. They love believing there is a higher power and some people are connected to it. So no matter what Gwanghae does to improve people’s lives, the fact that Jeong Myeong is born with a prophecy is more important. Jeong Myeong faces hell because of that prophecy. Not knowing exactly why or how she ends where she is, she lives dreaming of revenge against her older brother. But would she be able to ignore what kind of king her brother is for her personal benefit?!
Jeong Myeong is clever, brave, intelligent, carefree and wise. She is a girl who’s wanted to explore the world and has always rejected her defined role in society. Or that’s how the character starts. The writer loses her touch after a while and JM becomes intolerably nagging and annoying, like she is someone else. But thankfully she sees the light and her worthy personality comes back. Otherwise, I would have gone crazy.
Lee Yeon Hee is really giving me a hard time deciding whether to like or hate her here. At moments, especially when she’s confronting her enemies, she’s charismatic and beautiful. But when she’s with her lover she’s just… I don’t know if it’s her or the character but I’m so conflicted about her. I liked her when she pretended to be a boy. But the contrast between that autonomous personality and the weak and bullied other is so striking it doesn’t make sense.
Jeong Myeong is the centre of a love triangle (and one more) –have no idea why though-. Hong Joo Won (Seo Kang Joon) is a righteous young man working for the king to prove him wrong. Gwanghae sees a spark of genius in the man, and cultivates him. Knowing that Joo Won might become his fiercest enemy, Gwanghae throws at Joo Won questions, puzzles and ideas. Joo Won takes everything in and adds to his driving spirit. Joo Won is the idealist who tries to put everything back to its right place, without using any foul method, which is the reason why he hates Gwanghae so much. But as Joo Won grows personally, and politically, he realizes Gwanghae is not what he thinks he is.
Seo Kang Joon is doing an amazing job. Apart from the romantic scenes and chasing Yeon Hee around, he’s presenting a strong and attractive Joo Won. His moments with Cha Seung Won are priceless. And his bromance with Kang In Woo (Han Joo Wan) is sooooo heart throbbing.
Kang In Woo is the son of the most unattractive character in the drama –for me-, Kang Joo Sun (Jo Sung Ha). Though I love Jo Sung Ha, I cannot tolerate his one-dimensional character here. You know that typical inhuman villain with the evil smirk who thinks he’s some kind of god and wants to control the world. One more The Brain from the animation Pinky and the Brain but with no fun element. It’s so amusing how a son like In Woo would come out of such a father. So after Gwanghae, In Woo is the most intriguing character –again in my opinion-. He’s so clever and talented but he has no big dreams or ambitions. He hates his family situation and lives the life of a playboy without missing out on the important events around him. When he falls for Jeong Myeong, he places her as his life goal and runs towards her ready to eliminate everyone in the way. He doesn’t care what the methods are, who he partners with or what the consequences will be, he just steps forward.
Can you believe Han Joo Wan debuted only two years ago?! When I watched him in Joseon Gunman I surrendered my heart to him. He’s such a talented actor whose voice and expressions make the character so alive. In Woo is a complicated character but Joo Wan is giving it some spark. C’mon Jeong Myeong, who would reject such a man?! I wouldn’t!
Then comes the politicians’ perfect choice. Gwanghae is an independent and cunning king. No matter what the politicians do, he never succumbs. But, what they need is a puppet. They need someone they’d be able to control. So they pick the most suitable option; a superficial, silly, incautious, cynical, serpent-like, delusional and thoughtless prince with greed beyond his capabilities and an inferiority complex, Prince Neungyang (Kim Jae Won). Read some history and you’d know what that choice proved to be.
Too bad this is my first drama by Kim Jae Won. Yes he’s doing an awesome job at being sly, insensible and disgustingly childish. I admit he’s impressive. This makes me hate him even more. Knowing what will happen and having read the history of the era drives me insane the more I watch him.
I would love to discuss all the characters but that’s practically impossible so I’ll touch on a few I cannot miss.
Lee Sung Min appears briefly on the show as Haneum Lee Deok Hyung. As I mentioned earlier, he was Gwanghae’s goodness. LSM impressed as he portrayed the bold, loyal and wise Haneum and I cried when his role ended. Gwanghae never forgets Haneum and one of the reasons he brings Joo Won closer is his resemblance to Haneum.
5urprise Gong Myung plays Ja Kyung, the most beautiful –literally- person in the drama. Thanks to Seo Kang Joon he got to tag along. Ja Kyung is Jeong Myeong’s knight in shining armour. He lives for her and does anything that would make her happy. He’s bold, fearless and unbelievingly hot. His long hair just kills me. Lucky Jeong Myeong.
Ahn Nae Sang as Gyeosan Ho Gyon. If you watched The King’s Face you should have noticed how close Gwanghae’s relationship with Ho Gyon was (there he was played by Im Ji Kyu). Ho Gyon is a well-educated and intelligent scholar full of wit. He stays loyal to Gwanghae and helps him a lot until he falls victim to one of Gwanghae’s evil moves. The bigger the betrayal is, the bigger revenge becomes. What a loss of a great person! Ahn Nae Sang absolutely outperformed all in the few episodes he appeared in. I was so happy to see him there.
Kim Min Seo as Jo So Yong. We haven’t seen much of her yet but she’ll obviously play a great role in Prince Neungyang’s movement. She’s the cunning woman type with grand ambitions and no empathy. She’s a good actress.
I was completely startled when I saw Jo Min Ki. But I was more startled when I knew what his role was. Kim Ja Jeom is the mastermind behind Prince Neungyang's ... you all know.. coup d'etat. He plays a large historical role if you check him out. They picked the exact right person for Kim Ja Jeom. Jo Min Ki can be cruel.
Hwajeong is a combination of a huge cast in which each actor has a very important role, a fairly well-written story if we leave out the romance, awesome production, and superb acting. It would not have been the same if Gwanghae was anyone but Cha Seung Won. Honestly, the drama is 90% Cha Seung Won. They finally released two new OSTs by Kim Tae Woo and Yesung, really good ones. The outfits are just beautiful.
Hwajeong is full of unsolvable questions and raw ideas. It tackles so many issues. The power of dreams, omens and prophecies, selfish desires of politicians vs. people’s benefits, expectations vs. reality, epiphanies, misunderstandings, fate, manipulating history through different narratives, behind the scenes of the political world, history written by the winner, treachery, court ladies roles, and enemies disguised as friends. For power, the human shows one helluva an ugly side of him.
How far would loyalty drive someone? Is there ‘’really no child in the court’’? Are all people in the court potential enemies? What’s proper ruling? And when does it happen? In order to gain power, are there things one cannot help? How does that make power any different from oppression? Or is it about small sacrifices to prevent bigger injustice? Can it be calculated that way? How strong is people’s will? Stronger than Heaven’s will? Can everyone tolerate the burden of the truth? Can emotions drive us to win?