the world is a stage

All Hail Queen Seon Deok! (A belated review on QSD)

I know…I know, this review is already really late, but there’s something so addicting in this Korean saeguk (historical) drama that I just feel like I can’t get enough of it. As I mentioned in my previous blog, my interest in watching Korean dramas started with QSD. When this drama started airing on GMA-7 (Philippine TV) in 2009 on a late night slot I opted to finish watching it over YouTube. I finished the entire 62 episodes of QSD about the time the Tagalog-subbed version was already halfway through the ending. After that, I watched it again, no twice… the entire episodes, thrice…oh I have forgotten how many times I’ve run through this drama. The lengthy episodes didn’t even daunt me. I remember doing a DVD marathon for three straight days with my mom. Good thing because at that  time it was Holy Week so I had more time in my hands for a movie marathon. Honestly, I’ve never been so engrossed with a K-drama before like what I experienced with QSD. We watched the episodes in the morning and ended around 1 a.m., slept a little then resumed watching the next day, stopping only to eat for lunch, and dinner. And when I reached the last, tragic episode?? What a depressing mood I had that I felt lasted for almost a month! Couldn’t believe I even had this urge to write the directors and writers of the drama and rant over why they chose a tragic ending for the Queen! And, the feeling is mutual, that is with other viewers, who I found out were also unexpectedly hooked to this drama. Netizens and friends who went gaga over it, shared the same experience. I even had new friends, acquaintances I “accidentally met” over the internet just because of QSD. We have this weekly forum discussing the pros and cons, ups and downs on the life of Silla’s first female ruler, Korea’s history and the rebellions that occurred during that time. It’s like watching Red Cliff or 300 only that it has a combination of femme fatale, martial arts, political machinations attached to it.

QSD and Mishil

According to Febrie, the Indonesian blogger I “met” over Hubpages.com, the popularity of QSD was so prevalent in Indonesia that their national TV had to replay it due to the request of the viewers. It’s popularity was already phenomenal in many other countries in the Southeast Asian region such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. And from reading her blog, it seemed even those from the US, New Zealand, Romania and other Asian countries have been mesmerized by the drama themselves. Indeed, this drama is so thrilling I was always on the verge of my seat every episode ending. The plot was so unpredictable and set in amazing locations, the drama itself is played very convincingly by the actors and actresses casted in this play. Indeed, much of its popularity and its success is attributed to the excellent portrayal of the major characters in the drama.

So what is QSD all about? For those who haven’t watched this K-drama, the setting of the story is in Silla, one of the kingdoms that emerged during Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period (Baekje and Goguryeo are the others). According to Wikipedia, QSD reigned from 632 to 647 A.D. and is Silla’s 27th ruler and first reigning queen. At that time, women retain a certain degree of influence but are not relegated to do duties that are considered “unwomanly” and the notion of female rulers are not entertained. During QSD’s reign, she encouraged a renaissance in thought, literature, and the arts in Silla. The drama opens with King Jinheung’s entrance as he ushers the entry of a new Silla under the leadership of three great warriors: Mishil, Munno, and Seolwon.

the warrior Mishil
master Munno

However, King Jinheung’s health is deteriorating rapidly and his plan to abdicate the throne to his grandson, Jinpyeong was intercepted by Mishil and her allies in the court. Mishil (played by Go Hyun Jung)  is a beautiful, influential and powerful court lady and woman general who earned her way to a high political position due to her relations with kings and pungweolju (generals) of Silla. She served as part of the major royal harem of three kings including King Jinheung, Jinji and Jinpyeong. She is a complicated character, very shrewd and knows so much military strategy. If not for being a corrupt politician, I could say her legacy was to provide a backbone to Silla’s military called the Hwarang. Her one aim is to be a queen so she could be ruler of Silla.

Before King Jinheung died, he made a decree appointing his young grandson Jinpyeong to be his successor. But when he died, Mishil forged the decree and made his son Jinji to be the king. In exchange for helping him gain the throne, Mishil is to be made his queen. However, after giving birth to a son with the king, the king refused to accept her as the queen. Because of her vast influence especially with the Hwarangs (soldiers) she was able to launch a successful coup against Jinji and have him ousted. She installed the grandson, Jinpyeong (Deokman’s father) to the throne using the late king’s real decree. About this time, Jinpyeong’s wife, Lady Maya is already pregnant. Mishil conspired to have her terminated so she could gain the throne as queen. However, failed to do so as the queen, with the help of the righteous warrior  and the strongest hwarang in Silla, Munno, she was brought back to the side of the king weeks before she is scheduled to give birth.

A bitter Mishil came up with a grand plan of dethroning the queen. She then conspired with the head priestess and midwives after learning that the queen’s pulse is beating two “heartbeats”, thus, bolstering their belief that the queen is about to give birth to twins. There’s a prophecy that if the king produces twin girls, all the male seeds in the royal bloodline of seongol (sacred bone) will dry up, meaning no proper royal male heir. Mishil, hoping that the queen would give birth to twin female started to take her plan into action.  When Lady Maya gave birth first to Princess Chunmyeong, the King presented her immediately to the congregation where Mishil and her cohorts were anticipating the baby twins. Unknown to them, right after giving birth to the elder twin, the queen’s nanny, Sohwa escaped with the younger twin upon the instruction of the king to save his wife from dethronement.

Fifteen years later, the younger twin, Deokman is living in a merchant town in the Taklaman dessert in China where she and her “mother” ended up. This is where she learned the art of trade, grew up a tomboy as she is surrounded by good male friends. Here, she meets Chilsuk, one of Mishil’s men who was tasked to find the younger twin. When he later realized that Deokman is the missing twin, he set about to capture her but fails when a sandstorm strikes. Deokman at this time, grieved for her “dead” mother. Resolute, Deokman set out to understand the reason why she is being pursued. She went to Silla where she accidentally meet her other twin, Cheonmyeong.  This started her path towards achieving “the grandiose” dream of leading a nation.

The casts:

Lee Yo Won as Queen Seon Deok/Deokman

LYW’s performance as Princess Deokman, who later became the great Queen, was really stellar.  The way LYW, one of my favorite Korean actress, portrayed herself as a nangdo (a soldier trainee), to princess, to ruler was a compelling act. Deokman’s transition, as a young teenager (played by Nam Ji Hyun), to her nangdo days when she tried to pass off as a male, and eventually to being recognized the long lost princess, to gaining the throne was played convincingly by LYW that I find myself “congratulating” her for overcoming every impossible feat that stood her way.

Go Hyung Jung – Mishil

GHJ is a brilliant actress who made the Mishil character stand out in this drama. She had the most audience attention actually in QSD. She is a cunning, downright frightening and complicated character. She came to power due to her relations with kings and with the nation’s generals. Her vast influence and political control was evident when she ousted King Jinji from the throne. She knows what she wants and goes for it and eliminates those who stand in her way, even using the heavens and science to sway the royal family and the people. I’ve always hated roles of antagonists in dramas but Mishil was an exception. You would admire, love, hate, respect and fear her character all at the same time. GHJ was exceptionally brilliant as she shows Mishil’s passion to be a leader of Silla, her bold attempts to overthrow dynasty. She carried the drama and her role was pivotal to the development of other characters especially Deokman. All through the end, Mishil showed that her passion was to rule Shilla for she loved it more than anyone else.

Uhm Tae Wong—Kim Yushin

UTW plays here the Great General Kim Yushin who was instrumental in the unification of the Three Han (kingdoms) in the latter part of QSD’s reign. Yushin is in love with Deokman, but as an upright and honest soldier, he chose to serve the queen instead and sacrificed his love just to save his tribe, the Gaya. He married into Mishil’s clan to save his people from destruction. UTW’s played his role as a serious, stiff and sincere soldier very convincingly.

 

 

 

 

Park Ye Jin—Princess Cheonmyeong

PYJ plays as Deokman’s twin sister. Raised up in the Palace, she was constantly trying to ward off Mishil and her minion’s tactics against her family. At a young age, she married and became a widow due to Mishil’s scheme to ensure that no crown prince would rule in place of the king. In a bizarre twist of fate, she and Deokman was reunited. She employed Deokman to be part of the Hwarang corps under the leadership of Kim Yushin which brought her sister closer to the then promising soldier. Even though she herself was falling in love with Yushin she chose to sacrifice her feelings in consideration of her sister. Sadly, however, she ended up slain by one of Mishil’s men (though it wasn’t entirely Mishil’s fault) when she secretly accompanied her sister and Yushin to escape from Shilla away from Mishil.

Kim Nam Gil—Bidam

KNG’s entrance in episode 21 was a real “wow! Where the hell did this actor come from?” KNG really played the role of Bidam perfectly. I couldn’t imagine another actor playing his part very effectively. As Bidam, KNG was able to portray different emotions one after another that you would find him the charming, egoistic, and suddenly frightening individual who is out to prove he is the son of Mishil. Bidam is actually the son of deposed King Jinji and Mishil. After failing to get King Jinji on her side, Mishil stages a coup and in the process discarded baby Bidam since she no longer has any use for him. Raised by Munno who took pity on him, he inherited Munno’s warrior-fighting skills and a bit of his good side. Bidam became, thus, a hybrid of Mishil’s cunning and Munno’s righteousness. His character is a thin line between evil and good. In the course of the story, he helped Deokman gain the throne and protected her from his mother’s threat.  However, he grew to envy Yushin’s closeness to the queen as he himself is in love with QSD. Though he and the Queen really loved each other, their minions opposed their relationship. Later, his insecurities surfaced and this became his downfall as he launched a rebellion against the ruler in an attempt to gain her. In the end it was a tragic love affair.

Bidam and Deokman

Apart from garnering the most number of recognition at the MBC Drama Awards (all in all 14 awards including in the Baeksang Arts Awards), QSD’s official sound track was also a hit among its viewers. The most popular is the Come People of God, Mishil’s theme, Crystal Glass (instrumental), Wind Flower (Deokman’s song) and Bidam’s heartbreaking song Can’t I Love You.

 

Come, People Of God Lyric – The Great Queen Seon Deok OST

Artist : Lee Soo Jeong

Come, people of God

We are here for the love of truth

Winter may conquer us, but we stand still

Until the spring comes to this land

Come, children of God

We believe in the love of truth

Darkness may rule of night but we stand tall

Until the sunrise is high

Silence may be our voices within our hearts

But we know God is on our side

This is the land God promised for us

So we must be the light of this world

We know this is our destiny

Children of god follow our star

Silence may be our voices within our hearts

But we know God is on our side

This is the land God promised for us

So we must be the light of this world

Click here to listen to the song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUx4gtpCiEs

Click here to listen to Wind Flower at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1SfwEx4FIw

Click here to listen to Can’t I Love You at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zh-4C5_lJs

 

Click here to listen to Mishil’s theme at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAaPHSjZlmo

Click here to listen to Crystal Glass at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTL6H31X06E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “All Hail Queen Seon Deok! (A belated review on QSD)

  1. i am also very fond of LYW in 49days.

    her a brilliant actress whereby so versatile. just feeling not enough
    i hope to see her in other role soon.

    🙂

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