Ah! What a relief – an historical saga that feels like an historical saga! After the foamy travesty that was Kim Soo Ro and the less-than-solid despite its beauty Ja Myung Go, it is refreshing to once again happen upon a Goguryeo-era sageuk drama that has some of the appealing traits of Jumong.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me as I watch this that among the elements that makes Jumong so engaging is the spot on mix of political intrigue, military strategy and execution, humor, pathos and drama. While the principal actors are attractive and acquit themselves admirably (although there is the occasional ham) in Jumong, it is not entirely a showcase of thespian brilliance. Yet it works very well because the story is told very well: its internal rhythms flow naturally, sometimes languidly so (without grinding to a halt as Kim Soo Ro often and, yes even Ja Myung Go occasionally did), and sometimes hurtling through crisis without ever feeling rushed. So far, the political maneuvering in King Geunchogo is quite engaging, the battles and skirmishes rather brilliantly brutal and the prime female characters quite well drawn — all which gives me much to look forward to.
Since King Geunchogo wants to tell a story born of the Jumong-Seosuno alliance dramatized in Jumong, the historical context can feel a bit cryptic at first since knowledge of the founders of Goguryeo and Baekje is taken for granted. But since they also want to lay the foundation for the conflict between these two realms some four centuries after their respective founders went their separate ways, King Geunchogo makes Jumong and Seosuno’s parting rather acrimoniuos — in stark contrast to the bittersweet parting of soul mates we saw in Jumong.
And as this is the story of a Baekje monarch’s travails and triumphs, Goguryeo is the primary antagonist – just as it was in Ja Myung Go. I remember thinking when I first started watching Ja Myung Go how strangely dissonant it was for the beloved Jumong’s kingdom to be the home of the big bad. I am not so averse to the idea anymore, mostly because Ja Myung Go weaned me well on the idea.
What I find fascinating now in this South Korean television drama is the idea that the antagonistic role of Goguryeo (in the northern part of the peninsula) vis-à-vis Beakje (in the southern part of the peninsula) may reflect modern geopolitical dynamics between North and South Korea. As it so happens, both Pyeonyang and Hanseong (Seoul) figure prominently in both ancient realms…
Things that make you go hmm…
Anyway, King Geunchogo is an ambitious 60 episodes long and I found myself really liking it halfway through the first chapter so it looks like I won’t have to do very much work to see this one through. I will, however, only be able to see a chapter or two at a time since I have other work that requires my attention. But it’s all good; those viewings will be like small rewards after a hard day’s labor… Looking forward to it.