Funny story, you guys.
When I first decided to dip my toes in Jang Ok Jung, I happened to tweet about the terrible Mandarin that the Qing characters spoke in episode 1, and was quickly greeted by a flurry of concern from my dramaland friends.
Consistently, pretty much every single one of them advised me – strongly – to drop the show while I could, assuring me that it was for the better, since I’d only get frustrated with the show in its later episodes.
I gladly complied, and congratulated myself on having dodged a dud drama. I quickly poured myself into some other drama, and promptly forgot all about Jang Ok Jung.
That is, until many months later, when I was doing some spring-cleaning on the hard disk where I’d saved this drama, and decided to randomly click through an early-ish episode (I think it was episode 5), just to be extra sure that I wanted to delete the drama from my collection.
Well. Imagine my complete and utter surprise, when I happened on a scene that actually piqued my interest. I soon found myself devouring the drama with the help of my Fast Forward button, and I was hooked.
Hook, line and sinker hooked, I tell ya.
The Fast Forward Technique
To be sure, I don’t always consume my dramas using the Fast Forward button. I only use it if there’s a lot of stuff in the drama that I’m not interested in. Like excessive histrionics or melodrama, or a whole lot of politics.
In this case, I basically used the FF button for all the political stuff, coz I personally don’t care so much for politics, and I wasn’t too interested in all the court politics that were necessary in this show.
I zoomed in on the OTP, both individually and together, and added a sprinkling of other stuff that I found interesting, and that worked really, really well for me.
Essentially, this approach created just enough context for me, to allow the emotions and the romance to land with weight. Coz context is so important, really. An absence of context would have basically equalled an absence of feels. And I was definitely in this for the feels.
Using this approach, I fell oh-so-hard for the OTP, and inhaled the entire 24-episode show in just a few days. Which, really, isn’t that hard to do, when you’re employing the judicious use of your FF button. 😉
In order to enjoy this show, any expectation of historical accuracy kind of has to be thrown out the window.
I mean, the entire premise of this show is to re-imagine the story of Jang Hee Bin (Jang Ok Jung), and what “truth” might’ve been buried in the pages of history, right? Which is why an open mind and a loose hold on history is so important to enjoy this show.
With this particular lens on, I actually really enjoyed the questions the show raises:
1. What if Jang Hee Bin hadn’t been the evil woman history paints her to be, but a victim of political machinations?
2. What if Jang Hee Bin had simply been a woman ahead of her time, with strong, modern, independent sensibilities, and a strong drive for personal agency?
3. What if Jang Hee Bin’s entry into the palace had not been for power, but for love?
4. What if Jang Hee Bin had fallen for King Sook Jong, without realizing that he was king?
5. What if Jang Hee Bin and King Sook Jong had been sincerely, deeply, profoundly in love?
6. What if Jang Hee Bin had died, not for her crimes, but for love?
I found the show’s treatment of these possibilities fascinating, and more than that, I loved the kind of OTP this treatment gave us.
This scene here (above), is the exact scene that hooked me into checking out this show.
I wondered why Yoo Ah In‘s king wasn’t in his royal robes; why he looked so pale; how Jang Ok Jung (Kim Tae Hee) came to be in his orbit; why they were out in the mountains; and exactly what sort of relationship they had, that he’d be reaching for her and asking her not to leave.
I settled in with my trusty FF button, and let this OTP sweep me away.
I loved how swoony Yoo Ah In was, as an in-love king. Yoo Ah In’s delivery is outstanding, and he really sold me on how smitten his king was, over Jang Ok Jung.
And despite not being what I would consider an extremely strong actress, I thought Kim Tae Hee did very decently as Jang Ok Jung.
Together, this OTP had a pretty fantastic chemistry that I really enjoyed. Combined with the show’s gorgeous color palette and high production values, sighing over this OTP was a very pleasurable experience indeed.
Here’s a small screenshot spasm of the OTP, just to give you a flavor:
And you know what, this OTP lingered with me, days after I’d finished my watch. Considering how I’d fast forwarded my way through large chunks of the drama, that’s saying A Lot.
[MAJOR SPOILER ALERT]
Much as I adored the sweet and swoony OTP moments, it was this couple’s profound love for each other, that lingered with me.
In the end, he was willing to give up the throne for her, in order to save her. And yet she loved him too much to let him be dethroned for her sake. Which is why she chose to die; for love.
It was only at this point, that I finally understood the show’s title. Jang Ok Jung, which was her name as a woman, and not her royal title of Hee Bin, chose to live in love – and die, for love.
Augh. So very moving that thinking about it still gives me chills.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Worth checking out for the moving, epic OTP alone.
FINAL GRADE: B++