Jumong was my gateway drama. Someone might as well have handed me 81 packets of heroin and said “Go for it!”. Epic in all the best ways, it steals shamelessly from adventures stories ranging from the Odyssey to The Three Kingdoms to Robin Hood, traversing decades of time and miles of gorgeous mountain scenery as it crams in battles, family strife, romance, betrayal and the occasional heavenly portent. It has a sweeping, old-school Hollywood feel, but with modern touches that include a smart, independent heroine and a transgender character who actually gets to have an adorable romantic relationship with the most unlikely of partners. 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 . . . .
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