THE SHORT VERDICT:
Despite being dressed in regular sageuk robes, and possessing a political context that is key to its narrative, King’s Daughter manages to remain engaging and accessible to the average viewer.
On the downside, production values are on the lower side, the writing is slow at times, and the acting prowess across the ensemble cast is patchy in spots. Look past those flaws, however, and there are some pretty wonderful characters and relationships, delivered with so much heart and finesse, that it really does make it all worthwhile.
An engaging and pretty easy watch, despite its length.
THE LONG VERDICT:
To be honest, King’s Daughter isn’t my usual type of show.
I usually prefer sageuks of the more prime-time, more expensively-produced, shorter variety, and King’s Daughter is, well, none of those things. Not only does it feature a pre-Joseon period, of which I’m much less familiar, it aired as a daily, doesn’t have the best production values, and it’s really long. At 108 half-hour episodes, this is, to date, the longest sageuk I’ve watched.
So why did I pick it up at all? It was all for Seo Hyun Jin, who stole my heart in so many ways, in the limited screentime that she’d enjoyed as the Crown Princess in The Three Musketeers. I’d heard that she was wonderful in King’s Daughter, and I just couldn’t pass up more awesome from my favorite Crown Princess.
54 hours later, I can say that in spite of this show’s flaws, I am definitely pleased to have taken the time to visit this show’s world and get to know its characters. Not only that, I’m a little reluctant to say goodbye, even.
As you’ve already gathered, this show isn’t perfect. For the record, here are the main flaws that I felt I had to overlook (or at least accept), in order to enjoy this drama.
1. The production values aren’t the best, and it shows.
From everyone (including royals) wearing the same clothes almost all the time, to sets that didn’t reflect the opulence of royalty, to the same song on the OST being played over and over, it’s clear that this was not a big budget production.
Not in and of themselves bad things, but I do like my sageuks to feel luxurious and beautiful, and had to dial down my expectations when it came to those things in this show.
2. Not all the acting’s great.
While I had my favorites among the acting performances, I was also underwhelmed by certain deliveries.
Among the main cast, the weaker links, for me, were Seo Woo as Seol Hee,
And Jun Tae Soo as Jin Moo.
I wouldn’t say they were terrible in their roles, in that they both did decent jobs of getting me to feel a certain way about their characters.
Seo Woo made Seol Hee easy to dislike, and there were genuinely times I wanted to reach into my screen and slap her silly. Well. Or stab her. *Ahem* I’d say that’s being pretty effective in the role. Similarly, Jun Tae Soo was effective at getting me to feel frustrated with Jin Moo too, as a character.
What I felt was lacking, was them inhabiting their characters to a point where I could forget they were actually acting. With both of their deliveries, though, I was always aware that they were trying hard, with the acting. Even in the moments when their characters were expressing their inner conflict with minor twitches in their expressions, I couldn’t help but notice the effort that went into delivering those minor twitches, if you know what I mean.
Contrasted with some of the pretty fantastic performances around them, their effortful deliveries stood out to me for all the wrong reasons.
3. The writing can be jerky &/or draggy in spots.
At 108 episodes, this show is not an easy beast to write. On the whole, I appreciated that the writers seemed to know where they were going, and paced themselves accordingly, and even managed to deliver quite a great deal of cohesion in the overall narrative.
At the same time, there was some drag in spots. Certain plot points could have been wrapped up earlier, but instead were stretched out an episode or two more than necessary.
A bigger offender in my books, though, is the characterization around Seol Hee, and particularly, Jin Moo. The writing around these two characters felt particularly jerky, as the writers tried to show us different facets to their characters in order to present them in a more sympathetic light.
In principle, I like that idea. In execution, however, without sufficient context and build-up, this often came off as unnatural and odd.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
Jin Moo essentially has 3 different personalities in the course of the show, and changes into those different personas quite abruptly, with no explanation given to viewers for the switch, save for an accompanying hairstyle change for each persona.
From the beginning of the show, we know Jin Moo as sardonic and distant (with hair styled away from his face). One day, however, he suddenly becomes much more overtly vulnerable and sentimental, with no explanation given. All we get is new side-swept bangs to signal the change.
I found this distracting, to say the least, and had to very grudgingly suspend disbelief around these sudden changes in persona.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
1. Seo Hyun Jin as Seol Nan
The Three Musketeers had left me hungry for more Seo Hyun Jin, and King’s Daughter filled that need very nicely indeed.
As Seol Nan, Seo Hyun Jin gets to display a seriously wide acting range. From innocent and carefree, to scared and desperate, to confused, to determined, to being deeply in love, to sorrowful, to steely and strong, to being positively regal, she does it all. And she owns it all.
Not for a second did I stop to even think of her as Seo Hyun Jin in character. She inhabited the character of Seol Nan with such profound depth and ease, that I always felt that it was Seol Nan on my screen, living her life, feeling her emotions, and doing what she needed to do.
There were many difficult scenes for Seol Nan over the course of the show, and Seo Hyun Jin delivered them all with ease, finesse, and an effortless nuance that I really loved.
I didn’t think it was possible to love her more than as I did when I knew her as the Crown Princess in The Three Musketeers, but I do. She is wonderful and amazing and inspiring, as Seol Nan. What a great character, and what a great interpretation and delivery of that character.
2. Seo Hyun Jin & Jo Hyun Jae as our OTP
One of the things I’d heard about King’s Daughter, is that the romance is “juicy.”
While I wouldn’t quite call it juicy myself, I must admit that the love story between Seol Nan and Crown Prince Myung Nong (Jo Hyun Jae) was definitely a highlight of the show for me.
For a long sageuk that centers on court intrigue a lot of the time, I must say that we get quite a bit of couple screentime, and more skinship than one might expect in a typical sageuk romance.
With both lead characters being headstrong and opinionated, we do get nice spots of bickering romance. More than that, though, we get a deep sense that for these two, it’s not just about the romance.
Beyond the heart-racing and the spots of humor, there is a profound love that they carry each for the other, that expresses itself in selfless ways numerous times over the course of the show. Despite minor bouts of what some might term noble idiocy, we always have the certainty of this couple’s love for each other.
With heartfelt deliveries by both Seo Hyun Jin and Jo Hyun Jae, and a lovely warm chemistry between them, this couple was quite the joy the watch.
[For some couple highlight moments, you can find a couple of quick vids at the end of the review!]
3. So much love.
Expressed in so many characters and over many different relationships, this show features a whole lotta love, really.
Despite having court politics as its context, this show really is about love in all its forms. Beyond the love between lovers, we also see love between parents and their children, love between siblings, love among family, love among friends, love between a royal and his subject/s, a man’s love for his king and master.
In all of their forms, we get to witness and explore this love and all the ways in which that love is expressed, whether in happy times, or in the face of bitterness and pain.
In that vein, I’d like to give a couple of quick shout-outs, to some of my favorite characters &/or relationships in the show.
QUICK SHOUT-OUTS [MILD SPOILERS]
1. Lee Jae Ryong as King Moo Ryung
Yes, he often wasn’t an effective father, husband or lover, but King Moo Ryung loved his people like a father.
Lee Jae Ryong’s kind eyes and warm smile made me believe that King Moo Ryung truly cared for the well-being of his people, and that every decision that he made, was with that foremost in his mind.
2. Myung Nong and Kang Bok
Although not a very overt arc in the show, I really enjoyed all the little moments between Myung Nong and his personal guard Kang Bok (Yeo Eui Joo).
Not only did their interactions give us some amusing moments, the respect, love and care that Kang Bok had for Myung Nong was lovely to behold as well.
3. The Hodge-Podge Family
The three random stooges (from left: Kim Min Kyo, Kim Roe Ha and Park Hee Jin) that eventually become a hodge-podge family of sorts for Seol Nan brought much of the show’s humor. Beyond the humor, though, I loved that they came to truly care for one another, and for Seol Nan too.
Well, make that three and a half random stooges, actually, since there’s also resident cherub Choi Ro Woon to complete the motley crew.
4. Yoon Tae Young as Ku Chon
Oh, Ku Chon. I saved him for last, coz I think aside from Seol Nan herself, he might be my favorite character in the show.
For a character who basically had no lines, thanks to being deaf and mute, Ku Chon left a deep impression on me. I loved his character, who was so strong, so loyal, and so loving to his family. I loved his gentle gaze and his warm smile, that he flashed at the very sight of his loved ones.
At the same time, what a fierce and dangerous man he could become, when his loved ones were under threat. The way he loved his wife and daughters, and the way he would throw himself in harm’s way without hesitation, to protect them, moved me deeply all series long.
Yoon Tae Young is simply wonderful as Ku Chon, and completely became Ku Chon for me.
Love him. So much.
In the end, I find King’s Daughter somewhat akin to a family drama, except that it’s clothed in Baekje era robes, and the usual familial issues and politics are amped up to royal proportions. The reason I say this, is because at its heart, this show is less about politics, and more about love and personal journeys – the same kinds of themes that are family drama staples.
While sometimes clumsy in the writing and execution, I appreciated that this show made all the politics and conflict simple to digest and easily accessible to the average viewer.
I also appreciated that our narrative had layers of conflict built into it, and no one in the story was evil for evil’s sake; every single character had his or her own perspective and motivations.
Which, in the end, makes for a thought-provoking sort of watch as well, coz the show makes it easy to put ourselves into each character’s shoes and ask the question, “Would I have done the same, in that situation?”
Not a bad accomplishment at all for any drama, I’d say.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Engaging, mildly cracky, and possesses oodles of heart.
FINAL GRADE: B
For those who’ve seen the show and just want to relive a little of the OTP warm fuzzies, and for those who don’t mind spoilers, here’re a couple of highlights.
1. The adorable meet-cute, where Seol Nan pretends to be a husband-infatuated, chicken-craving loon to get out of an apparently risky situation:
2. A gleefully stolen series of kisses by a smitten prince:
3. And all the reasons he loves Seol Nan, including her “chubby waist” – to which she protests that her waist is not chubby, thank you very much. Adorbs.