Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Legend 太王四神記 [태왕사신기]

I don't really do drama reviews in general but somehow after blitz-watching Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi, I can't help but have this need to try and make some sense of all the thoughts floating around in my head at the moment (or maybe it's all part-n-parcel of sleep deprivation...)


WARNING: Plenty of spoilers and psycho-analysis ahead, mixed in innocently amidst the rambles.... Read at your own risk though I will try to organise the mess of thoughts as best I can.

(1) Mixing fantasy with history....
Tae Wang is loosely based on the reign of the 19th monarch of Goguryeo (ancient Korea), Gwanggaeto aka Go Damdeok, with elements of the four guardian beasts gods (Baek-Ho 白虎, Jujak 朱雀, Hyeon Mu 玄武, and Cheong Ryong 清龍) brought in as well. (The wikipedia entry on this MBC 2007 series states that this "addition of fantasy to a Korean historical drama (사극) makes this series unique and distinguishes itself from its predecessors in Korean television series".) Well, it's actually the mention of these 4 guardians that pipped my interest, especially reading about them in Chinese and Japanese manga and books. (Respective Chinese and Japanese names corresponding to the Korean ones - Bai Hu/Byakko, Zhu Que/Suzaku, Xuan Wu/Genbu, Qing Long/Seiryuu). Not sure about the Korean 4 guardians but the Japanese and Chinese ones are definitely referring to the same 4 celestial guardians (having Chinese origins) that rule/protect the 4 compass directions.

The ending in the drama series really diverts from the actually demise of Damdeok where he "dies" around his mid-20s after he breaks the Heavenly Bow. The real life benevolent ruler died of an illness in his 40s. Was a kinda abrupt ending, when he kinda just left in that white light. I was expecting some slightly more reluctant expression since he's yet again separated from his beloved Sujini soon after their reunion...

(2) main characters...
I must say, Bae Yong Joon did a good job on acting out Damdeok. Wasn't impressed by his acting in Winter Sonata but at least Tae Wang here left me with a good impression. He acted Hwanoong in the earlier episodes as well but I guess portraying a god means that you just need to look cool and majesty (and tear on demand too) but Damdeok really demonstrated a number of dimensions, making the character even more believable. This wise, merciful, peace-loving ruler actually CAN make mistakes (and also spends a hell lot of time grieving on his mistakes), yet still does his bestest to keep true to his naively idealistic beliefs. Unlike the two semi-villains (Kiha and Hogae, will talk about the good guys first ^_^). He actually made my heart melt in a few of the scenes, so NOW I finally understand why he's so popular with ladies.... Slow, aren't I? But yar, the way he treats every single of his subjects lives as important, and some of the really wise decisions makes me think of Juuni Kokuki. Such a brilliant ruler should be allowed to live and maintain peace and prosperity for like a few centuries if possible! What I like is how Damdeok judges tense situations and relieves the tension by saying something playful and light-hearted, putting his followers at ease. Really charismatic leader,and from the drama it is easy to see how and why history remembers him as one of the great rulers.

Next, we have the 4 guardians of the 4 symbols - Hyeongo (Hyeonmu), Chero (Cheong Ryong), Jumuchi (Baek-Ho) and Kiha (Jujak). Each of them is endearing and loveable in their own way (yes, even Kiha, though I only liked her before she went batsy after Damdeok's dad's death...). Oh Kwang Rok's portrayal of the blurblur-cannot-really-fight-but-real-good-at-strategising Hyeongo is just perfect! Him as the slightly-out-of-it fatherly village elder, as well as Sujini's guardian just reminds me of a gruff teddy bear, really nice grandfatherly figure. A tad bit too insightful at times, he also comes across as clumsy Gandalf, especially when his Hyeonmu symbol (in it's staff form) reacted to Damdeok's "dark rage" and bright light shined forth (in LOTR2 fashion, just that Hyeongo had no white horse to charge forth on!) Easily my favorite of the lot!

Chero (played by Lee Phillip) is the brooder of the guardian quartet. Guess that's what being behind a mask for 17-18 years can do to one. Looks great in his blue aura and blue-themed armor. ^_^ But still think he lacks expression, even when he recalls Cheong Ryong's memories of Sae-Oh and looks like he's at least half in love with Sujini.... *resists urge to give Chero a nice big hug* How to describe this character? Would appear to me that his heart was frozen since that fateful day his father plunged the Cheong Ryong symbol into his heart in a desperate bid to protect it from the clutches of the Hwacheon. And after Damdeok came and broke his "curse" by retrieving the symbol, his heart slowly thawed (with the help of the ever lively Sujini)....

Park Sung Woong acting as Jumuchi some how just reminds me of Abe Hiroshi in
TRICK. They don't look anything alike but... Could it be the facial hair and the "I'm tall big and kinda stupid" look on their faces? ^_^ Still, to see such a big, strong, courageous fighter be reduced to a blubbering idiot in front of his lady love is kinda cute, yar? And to see all his friends rally around him and creating opportunities for the couple is just as sweet~~

Which brings me to Kiha (played by Moon So-ri). Really didn't like her as the war-crazed Kajin but her Kiha is really complex. I place her in the semi-villain category because you can see her constantly wavering between good and evil, much like many of us in our daily lives. Of course, we don't have such a heavy burden or curse or power resting on our shoulders but still. Am pretty amazed that she didn't turn completely insane after she recalled her childhood memories that were sealed by the Hwacheon. Betcha she would have turned entirely evil by the end of the series if not for her recalling her sister and her mother's last words. Am also pretty amazed that she wanted a chance to fall in love with Hogae in her next life. Would say that the two of them are perfect for each other, as two people played out by fate/destiny, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and slipping down the slope of darkness.

And since I've brought up Hogae, the other semi-villain, let's discuss him next. Just to get this off my chest. Yoon Tae Young looks so hot in the last few episodes in his beard and shorter wavy hair, just like some Spanish pirate of sorts! Too bad it was just for a couple of episodes *dang* With that fangirl moment outta the way, yes, I would say that Hogae deserved better. He was so endearing and cute as a kid (before his mum died. stupid woman, so power hungry and desperate for her son to be king....). Pity he let his vengence drive his life from that point in his life. Personally, I think either Damdeok or Hogae could have been the next Juushin king. Look at their inherent characters and qualities as little boys at eleven. Just that Damdeok had a more "normal" upbringing prior to his dad being crowned king, whilst Hogae was basically THE prince in everybody's eyes. Too cosseted for the blow that was dealt when his mother's death. Must have felt like a double betrayal since he's cousin and close friend Damdeok was actually playing the fool in front of everybody at that point in time. Since then the bitterness, in addition to his reckless hotheaded nature..... Poor kid. If he and Damdeok were on the same side Koguryeo would truly be a prosperous country.

Last but not the least, there Sujini (Lee Ji-Ah), the incarnation of Hwanoong's love, Sae-oh, and Damdeok's second love. Also, the sister of Kiha, which is probably what brought some balance to Kiha's unstable existence with/against the Hwacheon. Sassy, brave, outspoken, streetsmart, forgiving, loving, charming. The kinda heroine I like! Can't stand those porcelain "princesses" who just know how to look pretty and be bitchy. Sujini is truly a real beauty, and it certainly was fun seeing the love blossom between her and Damdeok. Especially when (they reunite years later and) Damdeok finally admits that she is where his palace is. *melts* She's just one of those characters that brings the sunshine and cheer into a scene. Kinda difficult to believe that Tae Wang is LJA's debut drama. Looking forward to see how she fares in Beethoven Virus when it starts airing next month. Pity she spent most of the series with short hair. She looks way better with her long locks!

(3)some bloopers caught on screen...
Despite the general praise I have for the series, there were also a number of bloopers that made it on air. What's the editing and post-production team doing?! Pretty sure that these aren't the only ones present, especially since I tend to fastforward during the slower moving scenes....

First one that got me cringing, the scene where Hwanoong's teaching Sae-oh how to control the power of the "Eye of the Pheonix". He asks her to hold the pendant in onw hand (she uses her left), while he raises her right hand to direct the fire power. The wide angle shots shows her left hand constantly on the pendant BUT the close-ups of Hwanoong lifting her right hand show that her left hand's actually still hanging by the side of her torso! Obviously taken in a few different takes but must the editing and checking be so sloppy?

Still in the time-frame of 2000 years ago, when we see Kajin pouting over the loss of her power, her shoulder tattoo and single strap on her dress seem to change sides as they like when the camera shows her front and back views......

Fastforward to the scene when Damdeok and his followers are confronting Hogae in the streets of Khitan, Chero launches an attack and and in the closeup of him on the ground, you see him wearing black woollen gloves(?!) when the scene started with everybody in their bare hands..... Hmmm.....

The last blooper that I noticed was in the scene taking place at the Hoyeon minister's place. Where it's like 8-9 years later and Sujini is basically doing some hiding from Damdeok and co. You see her at a doorway observing Damdeok, and the next thing you know, there's one of those big grey woolly microphones doing a little peek-a-boo behind her.

Pretty sure that there are even more slips as I only notice these "mis-adventures" upon re-watching, so it's either this were just too obvious, or those parts of the story made me bored that I started to notice all these random things. Seeing how much I like the show, think it's more of the former than the latter.......

Pictures taken from http://wiki.d-addicts.com/

2 comments:

marine maiden said...

I know this drama. It's the one called 'Legend'. I underestimate it in first glance, LOL, thinking that Bae Yong Jun image didn't fit at all with a fighting character.
I've heard more or less about the story but this is the first time I read the complete review. ;D
Guess it's pretty good for a watch - judging that you even re-watch it. And surprisingly, I know all the drama titles you've said above! *bwahahaha*
Does this mean we have the same taste of drama??? LOL

yanskie said...

like sri-chan has pointed it's called the Legend here as well.. And your review is the most in-depth review of this series that I've read.. >.<
i liked this series as well.. Not only was I a huge BYJ fan but I like historic era dramas.. ^^