THE SHORT VERDICT:
At its heart, My Country is a polished, beautifully-shot tale of star-crossed brotherhood, and the search for acceptance, meaning, and self.
Granted, Show has its flaws. Sometimes the logic stretches require more suspension of disbelief than I would like; sometimes the emotional tension feels like it’s stretched out for too long and gets tiring; sometimes Show feels like it’s cycling in place, just a little bit.
On the upside, though, Show is filled with strong performances from its cast, knows how to take us on our characters’ emotional journeys, and is scored with a consistently evocative soundtrack that is by turn gloriously epic and plaintively poignant.
If you’re able to roll with Show’s shortcomings, it’s not hard to get sucked into this one.
THE LONG VERDICT:
To me, My Country, in style and execution, reminds me of Warrior Baek Dong Soo, with generous lashings of Chuno.
Show reminds me of Warrior Baek Dong Soo, because both dramas have a star-crossed bromance at their center with a mild love triangle on the side, almost as an afterthought. In both shows, the star-crossed bromance is much more interesting and compelling than the love triangle.
Show also gives me some Chuno vibes, because like Chuno, My Country also has a strong soundtrack that favors epic choral pieces.
Once you are able to let go of the thought that the music itself is from a completely different time and genre (I know, this is harder to overlook for some more than others), the music becomes a partner rather than a distraction, helping to lift the watch experience, sometimes to dizzying heights.
Additionally, My Country aims for a sweeping, immersive experience, and sometimes stretches logic in order to accommodate the emotional spotlight and stylistic vibe that it’s going for.
That also reminds me of Chuno and Warrior Baek Dong Soo, which both stretched logic in varying degrees, but managed to serve up pretty epic watches that were stirring at a visceral level.
I think if you arm yourself with a viewing lens that favors emotional engagement and keeps a loose grip on the need for logic, you’d be in a pretty good position to enjoy this one.
Personally, I came purely for Jang Hyuk (because I love me some Jang Hyuk, and I was feeling a touch of sageuk fatigue and wasn’t truly in the mood for yet another sageuk), but I stayed for the way Show kept me glued to my screen.
I didn’t even feel the length of Show’s 1 hour and 23 minute premiere, which I’d initially found intimidating, but which I hardly noticed in the end, for what an immersive, stirring opening episode it was.
I have a few quibbles with Show’s flaws, which I’ll get to later in this review, but first, let’s start with all the stuff that I thought Show did well.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
STUFF I LIKED – A MACRO LOOK
Show looks and feels polished
Show achieves a level of polish and refinement in its execution, that causes it to stand out from the average sageuk.
It doesn’t strike as being on the same artistic level as Chuno, which I personally consider a masterpiece, but it definitely boasts a sense of elegance and sophistication that makes me feel like a lot of thought and care went into crafting this show and its world.
In sweeter moments, scenes are framed with pretty colors and mood lighting, lending a surreal quality to the scene.
And then in battle scenes, everything is chaotic, messy, bloody and guttural; people get killed left and right, and you’re constantly having to dodge getting killed, even as the roar of war is in your ears, and your eyes are blinded with the dust kicked up from the battle.
Nicely done indeed.
Additionally, I was, at least in Show’s earlier stretch, very pleased with the pacing. The story moves quickly, but in a way that still enables me to immerse myself in our characters’ journeys.
For at least the first half of my watch, I felt that the long episodes packed a punch, and I didn’t actually have any inclination to pause my watch halfway or come back later, despite the length of the episodes. I liked the pacing less later in my watch, but I’ll talk about that later.
The music is immersive
Personally, I really enjoyed the music in this show. I found it evocative and immersive, though, I will say that it might not appeal to everyone.
To my ears, the music adds a fair bit, to Show’s strong theatrical bent.
More than an average sageuk, I feel like I’m watching an opera infused with Shakespearean tragedy, with musical scores that are employed more for mood than for historical accuracy. It’s emotional and stirring and speaks to the gut.
Sometimes my brain isn’t so cognizant of the details of the elaborate story, but I feel the feels, viscerally. Very well-handled and astutely applied, I thought.
Show emphasizes emotional engagement
It’s important to me, that I’m able to feel for the characters in a show that I’m watching. Sometimes, sageuks invest so much time in portraying court politics that they neglect the emotional engagement aspect of the watch, which is when they tend to lose me.
With My Country, there’s never any doubt that emotional engagement is Show’s main focus. There’s just something deeply emotional about it, that makes it feel epic and stirring.
Show is savvy about how to draw one into the emotional landscapes of its characters, and it exerts its energies in that direction, almost relentlessly. I ended up caring enough about our characters, that I was able to look past Show’s shortcomings in other areas.
SPOTLIGHT ON KEY CHARACTERS
Yang Se Jong as Seo Hwi
Is there a male equivalent of a Candy? Because, and I mean this in the nicest way, I feel like Hwi is that. He’s good-hearted, pure, fiercely loyal, and long-suffering to the extreme, with nary an evil bone in his body.
Over the course of our story, we see Hwi suffer a great deal, both in variety of circumstance and in depth, and yet, through it all, Hwi doesn’t ever truly lose his moral compass. In fact, he kind of is Show’s moral compass.
Now, that might seem a little too goody-two-shoes to feel true or be engaging, but Yang Se Jong is pitch perfect as Hwi.
He makes Hwi come to life with so much open-hearted, vulnerable warmth, that I can’t help caring about his well-being, mental and emotional health, and general survival, even as I gasp and moan at the curve balls that life throws at him.
I liked Hwi and believed in his humanity from beginning to end, and a lot of that credit goes to Yang Se Jong’s wonderfully faceted delivery of Hwi. So impressive, truly.
Here’s a collection of my thoughts about Hwi during my watch.
E2. It was hard to watch Hwi getting beaten so much, and so bloodied up, especially at the scene where he’s being dragged off to the military. I’m so impressed with Yang Se Jong; that scene was delivered with such a strong all-in sort of vibe.
I felt like he was literally throwing every fiber of his being into Hwi’s torment, and I winced, when he repeatedly bashed his head in frustration and agony. Augh. Really well done.
Now all I want is for Hwi to live a peaceful and happy life, and that has been stolen from him, in the worst way, by his closest friend. Ack. How awful.
E3. Hwi really is a natural leader. When everyone around him is scrambling with no real knowledge of what they’re doing, he barks swift instructions and teaches the men what to do, even as he proves to be a true MVP, taking out enemy soldier after enemy soldier with his bow and arrow.
It’s no wonder that the men treat him as their de facto leader, listening to his instructions, rather than taking them directly from their commander.
E3. Hwi’s split-second decision to save his friend, even though it meant injury or even possible death for himself, says a great deal about the way he treats relationships.
E4. The scene where Hwi realized it was Sun Ho (Woo Do Hwan) before him in battle; the scene where Sun Ho told Hwi that Yeon (Jo Yi Hyun) is dead; the disbelief and grief in Hwi’s eyes is painfully palpable, and I feel for him, so much.
E7. Hwi is fast-thinking and shrewd. The way he chose to dispose of the weapons from Bang Won’s (Jang Hyuk) arsenal, by offering them up to the Office of the Inspector General in Bang Won’s name, is pretty brilliant. I’d be impressed, in Bang Won’s place.
E9. It’s awful that Yeon had to die, but I’m thankful that Hwi and Yeon at least had a brief reunion before Show killed her off. It’s not ideal, but I feel like there’s at least some form of closure for them, to be able to reunited as siblings.
E10. Hwi’s grief at Yeon’s death is so deep and guttural, I felt so bad for him, as he sank into despair and shock. Hwi feels like a completely lost soul at this point, almost like an injured puppy who got kicked in the gut while it was down.
I’m not surprised that he considered death as a next step for himself; neither am I surprised that he’s made revenge his sole purpose for living. There’s a hardness to Hwi’s gaze after the time-skip which says a lot about what he’s about now, even though he hasn’t said anything much.
E11. Hwi, originally so good and sunny, has been provoked to the point where he lives only for revenge.
While Sun Ho seems to have left his heart for dead, Hwi still seems to live with heart, for the people around him. Perhaps Hwi seems purer, because he literally only desires to see Nam Jeon (Ahn Nae Sang) dead. He doesn’t even seem to plan to keep on living, once Nam Jeon dies.
E12. Hwi gaining his revenge on Nam Jeon felt rather empty and underwhelming, which I think is Show’s intention, since Hwi shows no signs of obtaining any satisfaction or relief, from Nam Jeon’s death.
E13. I appreciate the moments of regret that we witness in Hwi, who’s disillusioned and regretful because of the number of people who had to die, in order for him to get his revenge.
It seems that Hwi is realizing that revenge isn’t as sweet as he’d imagined, and his heart for the people who died, shows us how humane and compassionate he is.
Woo Do Hwan as Nam Sun Ho
Between our two male leads, Sun Ho is the one painted in shades of gray, rather than a single shade of white, like Hwi, and is therefore more interesting.
Through most of our watch, Show keeps us guessing in terms of what’s really going on in Sun Ho’s mind and heart, and therefore, I found myself feeling quite conflicted about Sun Ho, a lot of the time.
Because this is Show’s intention, I consider it a job well done, even though there were times during my watch when I felt aggravated and aggrieved at some of Sun Ho’s actions.
In terms of delivery, I thought Woo Do Hwan did a very solid job overall. I found his delivery of Sun Ho in Show’s earlier episodes less nuanced than in the later episodes, which I thought a pity.
I personally wanted Woo Do Hwan to have injected more layers into his delivery of Sun Ho even in the earlier episodes, so that Sun Ho would pop onscreen more.
On the upside, Woo Do Hwan’s delivery of Sun Ho deepens over the course of the show, and I felt like we saw a lot more in terms of shades of nuance, and effective use of micro-expressions. I appreciated that a lot, and felt that Woo Do Hwan really grew into the character of Sun Ho.
Here’s a look at some of my thoughts around Sun Ho, during my watch.
E2. In that moment when Yi Seong Gye (Kim Young Chul) gives Sun Ho the choice to kill the examiner or lose his own life, it feels like Sun Ho makes a key decision to be a bad person. After this, when prodded by his father, he decides to send Hwi to the military.
Credit to Show, I’m glad that at least I can see that he’s struggling with his decision, on the inside.
When he stands nearby and sees Hwi being dragged off to the military, all beaten and bloodied and begging so ardently for help for his sister, Sun Ho sobs, engulfed in his own torment. This is the only way he knows to keep Hwi alive, while still obeying his father.
E3. It’s interesting to me that Sun Ho owns the decision to send Hwi off to the army, even though Hee Jae (Seolhyun) asks him pointblank if it’s his father’s doing.
He could have easily rationalized that it was all because of his father, but he not only claims full ownership of that decision, he even claims that it was he who asked his father to bribe the examiner.
Why? Has Sun Ho decided that he only deserves to be labeled as the Bad Guy, because of what he’s done?
E4. Sometimes I feel like Sun Ho is making himself out to be the baddest guy possible, because he’s punishing himself.
In those moments, I feel like he hates himself so much, that he smears his own reputation as thoroughly as possible, to match his own disdain for himself. In these moments, I feel something akin to sorry for him.
But then at other times, I want to hate him, because his actions really are that hateful. He has me quite effectively conflicted.
E5. Ugh. I hate that Sun Ho killed the horse, that’s just so cruel. And he talks about it so glibly too. In moments like these, I really dislike him. But in other moments, when he shows a sad gaze despite smiling lips, I feel a little more sympathy for him.
I must say, Woo Do Hwan’s delivery has gone up a notch, this episode. I’m finally seeing more layers in his delivery, via micro-expressions. That does make Sun Ho more interesting, and offers glimpses into what lies beneath the glib surface. This is good.
E5. It’s only when Sun Ho is by himself, practicing archery, that he lets loose, momentarily, the frustration he has on the inside; this time, specifically for having stepped in to split Hwi from Yeon, for good. That does say something, if he feels angry that he had to do that.
E6. Sun Ho being so daring as to approach the king directly and claim to know his mind, and offer to take care of things for him; it feels like a huge risk. Is he really risking his life to gamble on the possibility that the king will take to him and appreciate his audacity?
E6. When Sun Ho drinks himself to oblivion, that sadness and defeat in his eyes as he thinks back on his attempt to confess his love for Hee Jae, is quite vivid.
And the way he resolutely drinks that last drink himself this time, makes me think that he’s resolving to love only himself now.
E7. The flashback to Sun Ho’s conversation with his mother, where she urged him to become important and make the world a better place for lowlifes like her, tells us a lot about why Sun Ho would want to throw himself into climbing that court ladder.
Still, I don’t know if Mom would approve of anything he’s doing right now, honestly.
E8. Sometimes, Sun Ho really appears very ballsy. The way he sneaks into the palace and basically demands to see the king, is so rogue. I almost want to say that he’s cool, but he’s so many shades of gray and he also seems so self-serving, that I just can’t do it.
E10. Sun Ho’s grief at Yeon’s death is deep and heartrending; he looks like he’s lost the only reason he ever had, for living.
Therefore I’m not surprised that he chooses to abandon himself to being a killing machine, biding his time until he can lord it over his father, who’s been the source of all his torment.
He’s almost like a dead man walking; alive only to ensure that his father receives his retribution. How sad, really.
Seolhyun as Han Hee Jae
To be brutally honest, I did not feel that engaged by, nor invested, in Hee Jae, as a character. Here’s why.
The structure of the story
Part of it has to do with how this story is structured; this is a story that’s pretty much all about the male characters, after all. If it’s not about the star-crossed bromance, it’s about survival at war, or it’s about the princes’ fight for the throne.
It’s just not a story where the female characters are given very important things to do, and that’s just how this cookie crumbles.
How Hee Jae is written
Part of it has to do with how Hee Jae is written. Even though Hee Jae is written to have a sense of purpose and agency, she’s often shown more as a helpless bystander than an active participant in the goings-on.
For example, in episode 13, when Hee Jae insists that she’s taking responsibility for her actions, she mostly just stands and watches, while other people fight &/or are cut down by the invading guards at Ihwaru.
Her softly spoken words, “It was me. It’s me you want. Slay me instead!” sound weak and ineffectual, and far from commanding.
She eventually throws herself in the way of a blade and collapses, but it honestly feels like quite little, in a sea of swords and blood. And, again, she ends up being the damsel in distress who’s rescued by Hwi, who arrives to slaughter all the remaining guards.
This is fairly typical of a Hee Jae scene, and so, unfortunately, all the times that Hee Jae is written to speak words that are sharp, shrewd and wise, it all looked like more bluster than substance, to my eyes.
To be fair, Hee Jae is written to be an intelligent woman, and she does demonstrate a sharp ability to analyze the thinking, motives and actions of people.
Although Seolhyun’s delivery isn’t terrible, I did feel like hers was the weak link in our strong cast.
I found myself slightly distracted by Seolhyun’s delivery, mostly because of the glossy-lipped, open-mouthed sort of mien that we seem to consistently see from her.
Additionally, she doesn’t manage to impart much in the way of layers to Hee Jae’s character, particularly in Show’s very early stretch.
However, credit to Seolhyun, I felt that her delivery improved quite nicely, particularly in Show’s mid-to-late stretch.
As early as episode 5, I felt that I noticed more nuance in Seolhyun’s delivery of Hee Jae, particularly during the scene where Hee Jae realizes that Hwi is alive, standing in front of her, with his sword through the awful general who’d threatened her the night before.
The way that she holds it in, even though the emotions are leaking out via the tears in her eyes, is nicely played.
By the time we hit Show’s late stretch, I didn’t find myself distracted by Seolhyun’s delivery, and I’d accepted Hee Jae’s secondary role in the story by then, and so, I ended the show with a more positive impression of Seolhyun as Hee Jae, than when I started.
That’s.. not bad, right?
Jang Hyuk as Yi Bang Won
To be honest, when I first read that Jang Hyuk would join this cast, not as one of the leads, but as a supporting character, I’d felt disappointed, and even a little indignant.
The idea of Jang Hyuk playing second fiddle to younger, less experienced actors with less screen presence and charisma, just didn’t sit well with me.
Ha. I needn’t have worried, because Jang Hyuk turned out to be such a scene stealer that he practically stole the entire show.
Every time he showed up on my screen, I felt like I couldn’t look anywhere else but at him; he was that magnetic and arresting. Admittedly, I have a very large soft spot for Jang Hyuk, so your reaction might not be as intense as mine, heh.
Objectively speaking, though, Jang Hyuk does a fantastic job of portraying Bang Won.
Whether Bang Won is speaking or not, whether he’s on foot or on horseback (he’s quite glorious on horseback, I say), and whether he’s wielding a sword, or that fan that he handles with so much flash and flourish, Jang Hyuk as Bang Won is commanding, impactful, and quite breathtaking.
Generally speaking, Jang Hyuk plays Bang Won with a languid, restrained sort of power that often hints at a touch of unhinged boldness.
There’s a fearless, almost daredevil-like quality about him, that makes him feel as unpredictable as he is powerful. Which, to me, is quite a perfect interpretation of the complex, complicated, morally ambivalent character of Bang Won.
Thanks in large part to Jang Hyuk’s intricate portrayal of Bang Won, I found it impossible to hate Bang Won, even when Bang Won is shown being cruel and ruthless. That’s skillz.
Here’s a collection of my Bang Won thoughts and observations, over the course of my watch.
E4. Jang Hyuk is so mesmerizing as Bang Won, whether he’s riding a horse, or wielding his sword, or having a smirky, languid conversation with his “Mother” (Park Ye Jin), or sardonically standing up to his father.
He’s a complete scene stealer, and whenever he’s onscreen, I can’t help but look at him and him alone; he’s that magnetic. The scene where he’s slicing down attackers, with his hair completely undone, is offhandedly magnificent.
He looks effortlessly, ruggedly amazing in that mane of glory. Wow.
E8. Jang Hyuk is THE scene stealer in this show. When he turns on his prowling panther gaze, I literally can’t look at anyone but him on my screen. His way of delivering Bang Won’s lines is also very interesting.
Sometimes, he plays Bang Won languid and laidback, and other times, he makes it seem like Bang Won is one outburst away from losing his patience, and any restraint he might have towards killing the people in front of him.
I find the way he shouts part of his lines, only to then lower his voice to deliver the rest of them, quite arresting, especially when it’s combined with his killer screen presence and charisma. Oof.
And then in quiet scenes where Bang Won doesn’t even say a word, like when the Crown Prince is announced, the studiously still way he holds himself, deliberately not moving a single muscle, says how much he’s holding back, and how carefully. So good.
E11. Bang Won’s last attempt to clarify things with his father, even though the stage is set, says a lot about how desperate he is, to hear something different from his father.
He’s grasping at straws to go to the temple to speak with the king, and it’s clear that during their conversation, he’s hoping against hope that the king will say something affirming.
How crushing, that the king essentially brushes him off, and he hears the words he’d always wanted to hear – “you did well” – from Hwi instead. The bitterness in his gaze, and the mirthlessness in his laughter, as he orders the destruction of the bridge, is so full of pathos.
E12. Jang Hyuk is quietly magnificent, as always. I appreciate that through this entire starting of a revolution, there’s no actual bloodthirstiness in Bang Won’s gaze.
In fact, quite the opposite. It always looks like his gaze is mostly empty and dead, like his heart had died when he realized that his father would never acknowledge him, no matter how hard he tried.
At the same time, whenever any emotion flickered in his eyes, it always seemed to lean more towards sadness, and perhaps a touch of wistfulness, like he didn’t prefer that things would come to this.
E12. That moment, when Bang Won answers King Taejo’s query of whether the crown prince’s death is Bang Won’s doing, there’s a quiet anguish that flickers in Bang Won’s gaze, amidst the even emptiness in his eyes, as he gives his father his unruffled response, that King Taejo himself is responsible for the crown prince’s death, by setting up his sons to fight one another.
E13. It’s clear that King Taejo and Bang Won have very complicated feelings towards each other.
In the confrontation scene in the throne room, when Bang Won admits that he will continue to kill his brothers, King Taejo threatens to shoot Bang Won with an arrow, and Bang Won invites him to do so by opening his arms wide, but King Taejo can’t bring himself to do it.
Despite what King Taejo says, that Bang Won is a monster, it does seem like he has more regard and respect for Bang Won than he would like to admit.
E13. The moment when King Taejo states that the blood shed should have been Bang Won’s, all the fire and life drains from Bang Won’s eyes, and you can literally see tears replace the fire, in that split second. Amazing.
E13. Even though Bang Won does a lot of things that are ruthless and cruel, we also see him display humanity, and that, on a fairly regular basis.
I think that’s why it’s hard to hate Bang Won. He could’ve just had Sun Ho killed, but he takes into account how Sun Ho’s actions ended up aiding his cause, and spares his life.
Of course, he couches it as Sun Ho not being worthy of being killed, but the fact is, he showed Sun Ho mercy when he could have instead shown him death.
Additionally, Bang Won presents Jang Beom with his slave ownership contract and invites him to burn it, telling him that he is free to leave whenever he wants. Again, Bang Won didn’t have to do that, but chose to do so, and I see it as an act of kindness and mercy.
E16. Despite all the death and destruction that Bang Won is responsible for, it’s hard to hate him, and partly, that’s because he has a set of principles that he abides by, and quite often, those principles are humane.
Like how he reminds Tae Ryeong (Kim Jae Young) that it’s not right to slay someone who is unarmed and whose back is to him.
Ahn Nae Sang as Nam Jeon
I just wanted to say that Ahn Nae Sang is pretty darn excellent as Nam Jeon, the villain that I wanted to hate, but eventually, couldn’t quite.
I hated Nam Jeon for his heartless treatment of his son Sun Ho, and I hated him for the cruel measures he used against Hwi and Yeon, and I also hated his scheming manipulative behavior that was driven by personal greed and ambition.
At the same time, Nam Jeon’s description of a country run by subjects is not wrong; it’s an ideal that we embrace today, in our modern world.
Also, even in the face of death, Nam Jeon carries himself with calm acceptance, like he’s played all his cards and is prepared to face the consequences of those cards not being as strong a hand as he had hoped.
Say what you might about Nam Jeon, he didn’t die a coward, and I have to respect him for that.
Have I mentioned that Ahn Nae Sang is excellent?
SPOTLIGHT ON KEY RELATIONSHIPS
Hwi and Sun Ho
I think I might be a sucker for star-crossed bromances.
I was always more interested in the broken brotherhood between Hwi and Sun Ho, than I was in the romance between Hwi and Hee Jae. To me, Hwi and Sun Ho are the true OTP of this story.
With circumstances, personal backgrounds, and individual dilemmas stacked between them, Hwi and Sun Ho, who start our story as the best of besties, soon end up fighting on opposite sides of the political divide.
With this chasm between them, and a lifetime of emotional baggage and years of brotherhood and loyalty swirled into the mix, our BroTP is deeply challenged to ever restore their brotherhood, which is one of the big hooks of our story.
Because Hwi is our emotional center and moral compass, and continues to demonstrate care for Sun Ho no matter what has transpired, it’s Sun Ho’s wavering behavior that consistently comes into question.
Does Sun Ho still care? Or does he just not care more than he cares about himself? Is this friendship truly dead, or is there hope of a resurrection?
These were questions that I grappled with during my watch, and even though there were times when I felt genuinely frustrated by the state of this BroTP, I must admit that Show did make it worth my while, overall.
Here’s a bit of a sprawling map of my thoughts and reactions to this pair of star-crossed brothers, during my watch.
E1. This was a very effective set-up, particularly for a first episode. Not only do I see the opposing sides that Hwi and Sun Ho end up on, and how much it affects each of them, I also get to feel the strength of their brotherhood in the days prior to the military exam.
From training and sparring together, to getting out of scrapes together, to grasping opportunities together, to taking down a whole group of guards together.
That underscoring all of this, is a combination of their familial emotional baggage, and a desire to make their mark in the world despite the odds stacked against each of them, just takes it to another level.
I am almost always drawn to an underdog story, and this is double that. Hwi is an underdog for being a so-called low-born, looked down upon for how his father died a criminal, while Sun Ho is looked down on for being born of a concubine.
There’s an odd sense of solidarity between them because of this, despite Sun Ho technically being nobility, and this brotherly bond across social mores appeals to me, so much.
E1. Already, we see hints that Hwi is more talented than Sun Ho, and that he’s also more selfless and less calculating than Sun Ho.
When Sun Ho tries to stand up for Hwi at the exam registration at the risk of losing his own right to apply, Hwi is quick to tell him to stand down; that it’s right that Sun Ho should go ahead to do what he needs to do, regardless of Hwi himself.
But, by and large, Sun Ho is still a good guy, and he tells Hwi to apply, so that they can compete against each other, fair and square. That’s more upstanding than his father, who would rather attempt to intimidate Hwi into giving up his chance to apply.
E2. Here’s the thing; Sun Ho says it himself: he would not die for Hwi.
And so, rather than give it all up and denounce his exam honor to protect Hwi, he accepts the path and benefits that the bribe has afforded him, and chooses the next best thing he can do for Hwi, even though he knows that it’s a choice that will cause Hwi to suffer.
Sun Ho is the first to denounce his friendship, and even though I know that he did that under pressure from his father, and he’s struggling on the inside, it’s still true that he would sooner put his own life over Hwi’s.
On the other hand, I feel like Hwi would have believed Sun Ho to the death.
Even after Sun Ho had benefited from the rigged exam, and had aimed for Hwi’s head, in that final blow, Hwi still thinks of Sun Ho as his friend, and implores the officers to send a message to Sun Ho his friend. When the officer informs him that it’s Sun Ho w
ho put Hwi in this position, the shock is just so great, for Hwi, I almost feel like it might break him.
How far gone this brotherhood has become, in the space of a single episode. From walking out stride for stride, victorious and gleeful at having together secured Hwi a place in the military exam, to now becoming enemies, for all intents and purposes. It hurts, but it hurts so good.
E4. With the flashback to how Sun Ho had helped Hwi bury his father, when the whole world had turned its back on him, I can better understand why Hwi is so doggedly loyal to Sun Ho, and why Hwi continues to trust Sun Ho for as long as he does.
E6. Since I know that Hwi and Sun Ho are actually on opposite sides, it gives me a bit of dissonance, each time I see Sun Ho giving Hwi instructions for his next task. I always have to remember that Sun Ho is basically holding Yeon hostage, in order to have Hwi working for him.
Yet, underneath that animosity, there are often traces of lingering brotherhood. When it’s reported to Sun Ho that Hwi’s been dragged off by Bang Won’s men, he insists on going there to see for himself.
And when one of his more senior men tells him to cut Hwi off, Sun Ho practically snarls at him, that he will be the one to decide when and whether Hwi will die. It all looks like a messed up expression of care to my eyes.
E7. That moment when Sun Ho gets angry with Hwi for deviating from the plan, saying that it will cost him dearly, I don’t find it in me to feel sorry for him. Hwi informs him that Sun Ho’s survival is his own business, just like it was on him alone, to survive as part of the advance party to Liaodong.
Sun Ho retaliates, saying that every day was hell for him, and that he had to endure mockery and contempt to get to where he is today.
Honestly, that earned him no sympathy at all from me, because he put Hwi through so much more, and left him to die – no, went out to kill him, even, with the clean-up party – and now he’s complaining that he has to fight for his own survival just like Hwi did?
That is such a privileged double standard; he can send Hwi to fight for his life, but he himself shouldn’t have to? That’s quite contemptible, to my eyes.
Sun Ho bites out that he truly regrets trying to save Hwi, as he leaves. And yet, Hwi murmurs that he sincerely hopes that Sun Ho will survive. Sigh. The inequality in this messed up bromance really bugs me.
E9. This episode is where we see Sun Ho’s most overt demonstrations of care and concern for Hwi and Yeon, since they fell out.
When Sun Ho realizes Hwi’s life is in danger, he literally crashes his way into Bang Won’s residence, and the look of horror and concern, when he sees Hwi captured and unconscious, is quite stark. And when he thinks that Hwi is dead, the grief and sorrow are unmistakable as well.
Not only that, when he realizes that Hwi is alive, he does everything he can to help Hwi and Yeon flee safely, even fighting off the royal guards on his own, so that Hwi can run to Yeon. He does care a lot for Hwi and Yeon. It’s just that for him, there are a lot of other mitigating pressures that he feels that he has to bow to.
E13. In the end, the connection between Sun Ho and Hwi is not easily broken. Even with so much death, destruction and betrayal between them, Hwi still cares enough about Sun Ho to seek him out.
He blocks Sun Ho’s sword with his own hand when Sun Ho tries to kill himself, and requests that Sun Ho live. And after Hwi leaves, Sun Ho, despite not having anything to live for, chooses to honor that request by dropping his sword.
These boys. They do love each other, underneath it all.
Hwi and Hee Jae
Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t really invested in the romantic loveline between Hwi and Hee Jae, nor the love triangle involving Sun Ho. I just felt like the loveline was shoehorned in when it didn’t have to be.
I feel like this story would have been strong enough to stand on its own, without the need for a main romance. Plus, this romance wasn’t even at the center of our story. It often felt like a secondary arc, tacked on because it might be too weird for a Korean drama to not have a main loveline.
To be honest, I felt like the developments around this loveline were more jerky and awkward than organic and believable, and I also didn’t feel like there was a great deal of romantic chemistry between Yang Se Jong and Seolhyun.
On the upside, Show doesn’t spend too much time on the loveline, and neither does it drag out the love triangle either; both good things.
Additionally, even though I found the loveline awkward in its introduction, I must admit that by the end of our story, I had come around enough to appreciate this couple. Not bad at all.
Here are just a few observations and thoughts around this couple.
E2. The kiss between Hwi and Hee Jae feels a little sudden, since they’ve technically only known each other for only a short time. And he’s badly injured and probably shouldn’t be feeling too romantic.
But, I can rationalize that when you have a close brush with death, skinship becomes particularly life-affirming.
Plus, Hee Jae does create the moment, with her words defending him. I originally didn’t think Show meant this as a relationship-defining sort of moment, but I was wrong. It was.
E3. It takes some rationalizing for me to buy into the big love between Hwi and Hee Jae that is being portrayed now, with her refusing to forget him and telling Sun Ho that she’s already given her heart to Hwi, and him ready to burn his own hand to retrieve the head scarf that she’d given him.
I need to remind myself that she knows who he is, and that amplifies his significance to her manifold, and that in times of turmoil and death, that people hold onto hope and love more fiercely.
I have to remind myself that back in the day, women got married to soldiers going off to war, with just as much (or as little) relationship foundation as Hwi and Hee Jae.
E3. I do find it poetic that it’s Hee Jae’s borrowed words from Hwi’s father (a suitably commanding cameo by Yoo Oh Sung) that spurs him on, in a time of despair. But I also can’t help wishing that he knew those words were from his father.
E6. I’m reasonably happy with the way Show is balancing the romance with the rest of the story. Until now, the romance has showed up as a supporting arc rather than a Main Event, and I am pleased with that.
And yet, in its minor appearances, I do find the interactions between Hwi and Hee Jae relatively affecting.
The way Hee Jae thanks Hwi for being alive; the way a single tear escapes down his cheek as he resolutely walks away; the way Hee Jae agonizes over how much pain and hurt she senses from him; the way Hee Jae pledges to do everything she can, to protect him. I liked it.
E7. The scene where Hee Jae tends to Hwi’s wounds, and they murmur their true feelings to each other while Hee Jae is half asleep is quite touching, though I struggle to believe that Hee Jae would continue in her state of semi-awakeness, the moment Hwi started admitting that he’d missed her deeply and couldn’t forget her.
Given that she so dearly wanted to hear this from Hwi, I would’ve thought that she would’ve bolted right awake, to hear that, instead of falling back to sleep.
(We get hints in the finale that Hee Jae wasn’t asleep after all, which.. still makes no sense to me, but I rationalize that she was afraid he would clam up if he knew she could hear him.)
E8. While the romance is not a top priority of mine with this story, I appreciate that the care between Hwi and Hee Jae is becoming more overt this episode. They are both allowing themselves to care for the other person, and they’re showing it increasingly, in stages.
When Hee Jae comes face to face with the man who killed her mother, Hwi, who’s been evading Hee Jae in every way possible, reaches for her hand, twice, and keeps his gaze trained on her, his worry for her evident. And Hee Jae is doing everything she can to protect him.
The way that Hee Jae, who dearly wants revenge for her mother, refrains from killing Gang Gae (Kim Dae Gon) because she recognizes that Hwi needs him in order to save Yeon, is sacrificial and selfless.
Her earnest request, that Hwi not carry his burdens alone, is also spoken from a deep place of love.
The embrace they share is significant; this is the first time that Hwi allows himself to hold her back. I feel like this is a big turning point for their relationship.
Hwi and Bang Won
A relationship that I found surprisingly interesting, was the one between Hwi and Bang Won.
From strangers, to eventual allies and beyond, I found the development of the connection between Hwi and Bang Won quite compelling.
Show kept me guessing in terms of the actual level of trust between Hwi and Bang Won, for a good long stretch of my watch, and in the meantime, I found that Hwi’s and Bang Won’s very disparate personalities and values created a riveting dissonance on my screen.
Here are a handful of observations about this unlikely pair.
E4. Hwi being sent to be a double agent, to gain Bang Won’s trust and then kill him?
OMG, that’s a dangerous mission indeed. Bang Won has already proven himself to be very shrewd, very sharp, and very lethal. It won’t be easy to gain his trust, and it would be even harder to kill him.
Plus, there’s that thing where Bang Won is recorded in history to have ascended the throne.
E6. When Bang Won is considering Hwi before him in the wake of the wolf being taken down, it almost seems like a cat playing with a mouse.
One moment, he’s all niceties and smiles, and the next, he’s having Hwi clubbed and bound, and dragged back to his residence. Dangerous with a capital D.
Also, dangerously sharp. Bang Won analyzed everything correctly, and his suspicions that Hwi was sent by someone, are spot-on. They shouldn’t have tried to do the fake ambush. Not with Bang Won.
E10. Although Bang Won is a character that is portrayed as ruthless in history, that moment when he saves Hwi from Nam Jeon makes me feel like, ah, it must be good to have Bang Won on your side.
There was no pressing reason for Bang Won to do so, since their deal was officially over. But Bang Won steps in and saves him anyway, stating that Hwi is his man, and he threatens Nam Jeon with a terrible death, if he lays a finger on Hwi.
That warms me to Bang Won. Certainly, one could say that Bang Won did it because of the fact that Hwi’s saved his life, and likely because of the fact that he feels connected to him because he learned under Hwi’s father, but.. that just humanizes Bang Won to me even more, that these things matter to him.
E12. I did appreciate Bang Won’s heart behind the gesture, of dealing Nam Jeon the fatal blow. That felt like a moment of genuine consideration for Hwi, and his words are spoken with a matter-of-fact gentleness which I appreciate.
E13. It’s interesting to me that Bang Won seems to value Hwi’s opinion.
When they drink together, Bang Won asks Hwi if Hwi thinks he’s taking the right path, and when Bang Won remarks that he is afraid of whether the path he’s taking is the right one, Hwi tells him to hold onto that fear, because it will help him to keep going.
It strikes me Bang Won allows himself to be vulnerable before Hwi, admitting his fear to Hwi so candidly. And Hwi answers him with words of wisdom like an equal, rather than a subordinate. There’s a mutual respect between them that I like.
Sun Ho and Nam Jeon
For the record, I did not enjoy Sun Ho’s relationship with his father, but I did find it interesting.
Sun Ho has always longed for his father’s acceptance and approval, but Nam Jeon has never been forthcoming with any indication of either.
To my eyes, it is Sun Ho’s desperation to gain his father’s favor, that basically messes up his life, and causes him to go down a path of destruction.
I found this relationship a rather fascinating study, for how its dysfunction affects Sun Ho, and here’s a small collection of thoughts around that.
E2. It really seems like Nam Jeon is raising a snake. I mean, to tell your son that he should learn to threaten instead of shout?
It’s little wonder that Sun Ho is turning out to be so messed up. But, he turns around and does exactly what his father instructs; he threatens his father with his knowledge of the exam bribe, and forces his father to allow him to take care of Yeon. I guess he learns fast?
E4. Does Nam Jeon really care about Sun Ho? I’m guessing that he does care, but only to the extent that it serves him. When Yi Seong Gye makes him choose between country and son, he doesn’t hesitate to choose country. But when Sun Ho makes it back alive, he even goes so far as to hug him.
It’s a cold, distant hug, but still. From a father who’s always been cold and harsh, this seems like a big deal.
E4. I feel like because Sun Ho is born of a slave, Nam Jeon probably finds him more dispensable.
E11. Sun Ho is driven at first by the desire for approval by his father, and, faced by scorn and disappointment, he chooses to go his own way.
Sun Ho says that he is determined to kill his father, who’s been the source of his torment, but I do wonder if he has it in him, to actually do something so depraved.
E12. What is Show’s intention of having Nam Jeon’s dying words to Sun Ho be words of approval?
At first glance, I feel like possibly this is the very amped up version of Asian parents being harsh with their offspring in order to push them to pursue excellence, but.. I don’t buy it, because even though an Asian parent might do that, it’s typically out of care.
And we don’t see a flicker of genuine care for his son, in all the time that we’ve spent with Nam Jeon.
Was it supposed to be a change of heart, brought on by the fresh perspective of a dying man? Like, now that he’s about to die, his ambition is meaningless now, and he finally sees that Sun Ho isn’t such a bad son after all.
Hm. That would be more plausible than my first theory. Except that to the very end, Nam Jeon never expressed any regret for his ambition. So this is still a bit half-baked, for me.
Hwi and his found family of brothers
I love the friendship between Hwi and Chi Do, Jung Beom and Moon Bok (Ji Seung Hyun, Lee Yoo Joon, and In Gyo Jin).
They’re such a ragtag bunch, and Jung Beom and Moon Bok are always squabbling, but the warmth and care that flows among them is unmistakable.
I just love how fiercely loyal they are to one another, and how they would literally pledge their lives to supporting and protecting one another.
In a story landscape where Hwi often is faced with obstacle after obstacle, I was just so comforted and glad that he had his found family of brothers to support him and make him smile.
They just warmed my heart, so much. ❤️
E3. Chi Do turns out to be an old ally / student / officer under Hwi’s father’s command. How unexpected, and also, how intriguing. It makes me want to go back and rewatch earlier scenes, to see if there were clues that he was looking out for Hwi.
It does make his purposeful oversight of Hwi and Sun Ho’s presence at the marketplace, and his subsequent saving of Sun Ho with his enigmatic words that he’s not on Sun Ho’s side, much more understandable.
He was always on Hwi’s side. It boggles my mind a bit, that he’s asked to be part of the advance party, for the sole purpose of protecting Hwi, all because of loyalty to Hwi’s father. Wow.
E5. Hwi and his three musketeers make a great team, and I’m so pleased to see Chi Do smile and say that he likes living with them.
Aw. If only the court machinations wouldn’t get in the way of these boys living together always.
E6. I do love that Hwi’s three musketeers simply will not allow him to keep things from them, and insist first that he tells them everything, and then insist that they will help him through it all. I love how Chi Do puts it:
“It doesn’t matter if we die alone, but we will survive together.” Aw. The brotherhood. I love it.
Bang Won and Nam Jeon
I came to realize that in a sageuk of this weighty nature, screen presence is more critical than ever, and it’s really the veteran, seasoned actors who are bringing the sizzle to the screen.
It’s clear that the younger actors are doing their very best, and their deliveries are all very decent and solid, but there just isn’t the same sense of gravitas, which burns up my screen.
And so, some of my favorite moments during my watch, were of Bang Won and Nam Jeon sharing the screen.
In this scene from episode 7 (above), when Bang Won and Nam Jeon have that cloak-and-dagger confrontation in front of the court, their words are even, and their animosity kept to a simmer, but the tension between them practically crackles, because of how much weight Jang Hyuk and Ahn Nae Sang are each pulling, as they say their lines.
It’s like watching two heavyweight boxers circle each other in the ring, ready and able to duke it out.
Moon Bok and Hwa Wol
In a tension-filled narrative where we are often kept on the edge of our seats for long stretches at a time, I found Moon Bok’s enduring crush on Hwa Wol (Hong Ji Yoon) amusing, and a much-needed spot of levity.
For me, I found it even cuter when Hwa Wol eventually comes around, and she can’t help swooning a little at him too. Hee.
My favorite moment for this couple, though, has to be the scene in episode 13, when Moon Bok takes all his precious items and money out of his safe, to ask for Hwa Wol’s freedom from Ihwaru.
It’s such a deep gesture, given how he’s constantly obsessed with saving money. Valuing her freedom over his money, is love indeed.
And how cute, that Hwa Wol is the one who puts the ring on his finger, asking that they live together. Aw!
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Like I alluded to earlier in this review, there are a number of things I didn’t appreciate so much, in this show.
Show’s list of shortcomings is relatively short, but I have to admit that it did affect my overall ability to enjoy my watch, and resulted in Show’s final grade being bumped down, in the end.
Show assumes viewer familiarity with the historical context
Show does this thing where it assumes that you as the viewer have sufficient knowledge of this portion of Korean history, and therefore doesn’t bother to explain some things.
For example, key historical figures Poeun and Sambong are regularly mentioned during our story, but we never see them. Viewers new to sageuk would be confused, I think, because these people and their significance are never explained in the drama.
Additionally, I found Show’s general handling of Sambong’s existence decidedly odd. Poeun’s death happens offscreen, which is fine, but I thought it was decidedly weird that Sambong, who’s supposed to be alive and kicking through our entire story, and who is a key figure in this portion of Korean history, is never shown onscreen.
I’m no expert in Korean history, but I know at least, that in Six Flying Dragons, which focuses on the same period of history, Sambong is important enough, to be listed as the character next in importance only to Bang Won.
Now mind you, it’s not that Sambong doesn’t feature in our story. He’s mentioned on a regular basis, and is even supposed to share a drink with Nam Jeon in episode 12. We just never see his face.
I just found it all quite bizarre.
Show can feel tiring to watch
As much as I loved the dramatic tension that Show keeps up, I have to confess that at points, I found the High Melodrama tone of this show wearing on me, just a smidge.
I conclude that there’s a certain amount of resilience and stamina needed to enjoy this drama. The tension is kept up fairly consistently, and there are threats, schemes and angst on every side.
Occasionally, I did feel like Show was pulling the tension so tight that at moments, I felt like I’d reached the end of my capacity for dramatic tension in a single serve, and had to pause the episode to let my mind wander elsewhere.
Maybe your appetite for dramatic tension is greater than mine, so it might not be a problem for you?
Show feels repetitive in the final stretch
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I did feel like Show was repeating itself a little bit, in the final stretch.
By the episode 14 mark, we’ve covered a fair amount of ground, and have caught up to where we find our characters in the opening flash forward scene of episode 1, and then some.
There’s a measure of resolution achieved in episode 14, and subsequently, it felt to me like Show then rehashed the whole revenge theme, to keep things going till episode 16.
I didn’t like that so much, and felt that maybe Show might have benefited from having fewer episodes, if that would have tightened up the story.
After Nam Jeon’s death, there’s nothing to keep Sun Ho going anymore, and so Show introduces a fresh revenge arc for Sun Ho, on Bang Won.
I guess I just find it all kind of repetitive.. all the veiled threats, with princes circling each other like Cheshire cats, people getting impaled and then surviving, revenge getting accomplished, and counter-revenge therefore getting kicked into motion.
It just didn’t feel very fresh anymore, to my eyes.
Add on the fact that I find it unbelievable that Sun Ho is still even alive at this point (more on that next) – I find all the machinations in episode 14, with people pretending to have gone soft and dull in their fight skills in order to bait one another, quite pointless.
There are logic stretches – and they increase in the final stretch
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, Show takes some, uh, artistic liberties with logic. It shows up less in the earlier episodes, but becomes an increasing presence in later episodes.
I found that I needed to suspend disbelief a lot more than I’d originally bargained for, and unfortunately, this eroded my opinion of the quality of Show’s writing.
Here’s a quick rundown of the logic stretches that I noticed during my watch.
E4. I couldn’t help but notice small things, like how Sung Rok wakes up from blacking out, but doesn’t seem too badly injured, with no visible serious wounds, even after being badly slashed to the point of blacking out; Sung Rok suddenly having use of a homing pigeon, in the middle of nowhere, where his entire troop had been killed.
How Hwi and Sun Ho can have an extended confrontational conversation while standing in a burning hut (seriously!); how Hwi’s companions didn’t interrupt said conversation, even though they, too, were standing in the midst of the fire; how Sun Ho then had another extended conversation with Sung Rok, in the same burning building.
It all adds up and my brain starts to niggle at me about why this show is stretching logic as much as it does. It also messes with my ability to appreciate the artistic merits of those storytelling decisions.
As in, I can’t quite appreciate the poetry of extended fiery conversations, when my brain is screaming, “Surely they should speed this up, they’re standing in the middle of a fire?“
Also, how would Hwi know which chamber is Yeon’s, in Nam Jeon’s house, that he can leave her flower shoes outside her room?
E5. The time-skip is 4 years, so it seems that Hwi’s done nothing with the mission that Sun Ho gave him at the end of episode 3. That really is kind of odd.
E7. Why were the weapons in Bang Won’s arsenal of such poor quality? Will we ever get an answer?
E10. Why couldn’t the guard guy Gyeol (Jang Do Ha), who’s supposed to be in possession of really good fight skills, and is standing right there with Hee Jae when Yeon is attacked, have done something to at least attempt to help save Yeon?
This way, it just seems like he and Hee Jae stood there without making any move to help. Which is just really hard to believe.
E12. I also find it implausible that Sun Ho survives being impaled by Hwi’s sword. Everyone else in this battle is killed by so much less; Nam Jeon himself dies from a mere slash wound. But Sun Ho, who was literally impaled by a sword, survives? That’s a stretch.
E13. Sun Ho and Sung Rok riding off to take over the Jurchen army by slaying their leaders, is just quite far-fetched. I mean, Sun Ho is in pain just from riding the horse, so he’s clearly not healed from his very serious wound.
And he’s running around, infiltrating an army famous for being brutal and sharp? It’s quite unbelievable that 1, Sun Ho and Sung Rok are able to speak the language of the Jurchen army, and that 2, the Jurchen army was so easily overpowered.
E13. The whole idea of Sun Ho taking revenge on Bang Won for killing his father is kind of weak, to me. For most of our story, Sun Ho has vowed to kill Nam Jeon himself, and after completely humiliating him, at that.
And now, just because of one sentence of approval spoken with Nam Jeon’s dying breath, and a suggestion by Bang Gan that he ought to pay back this blood debt to Bang Won, he’s literally rising above what should’ve been a fatal wound, to raise an army to kill Bang Won?
I’m finding this quite a stretch, honestly.
E14. It makes no sense that Hwi’s supposedly rotting on the inside because of the very strong poison that he’s been exposed to, and the even stronger medicine that he’s taking, to handle the pain.
How then can he survive a two-year time skip, and still be in good fighting form? That makes no sense whatsoever.
Show keeps flip-flopping over this. One moment, Hwi’s a dead man walking, and the next, he’s a practically invincible fighting machine. I find this really hard to swallow.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Hm. Ok, so Sun Ho runs his sword through Hwi not to kill him, but to stop him from interfering, and in a sense, to keep him out of harm’s way. Well, more harm’s way.
And his words make sense, in that he hates the world that he lives in because it tramples on people like him, and since he can’t change it, he’s set on destroying it. I can buy that. Hwi still cares for Sun Ho, though. Even after being badly injured by Sun Ho, he still vows to save him.
I must say, though, Show takes the suspension of disbelief one step further this episode. Last episode, I was smirking at how Sun Ho would survive being impaled by a sword. But this episode, Show goes one step further.
Not only does Hwi survive the same injury, he’s able to stay on his feet, and ride a horse, and fight in a coup, and seek Hee Jae out and talk with her and encourage her and hug her, and then seek Sun Ho out and bring him medicine to treat him.
This, not forgetting the poison that’s still in Hwi, that’s supposedly rotting his insides. Hwi later reveals that he’s taking numbing medicine that’s so strong that Sun Ho’s blade would have only felt like a tickle.
Whatever. Even if you can’t feel anything, your body can’t function like normal for so long after you’ve been impaled by a sword. Seriously.
However. Looking past the unreasonable amount of suspension of disbelief required, this episode does deliver some powerful moments.
Hwi and Sun Ho finally have some moments of truce, and I felt moved by the moment when Hwi apologizes to Sun Ho for being so absorbed his own anger that he hadn’t been able to see Sun Ho’s pain.
That’s a selfless and gracious thing to say, especially since Sun Ho had been the same to Hwi.
I also liked seeing them work together in the library together, looking for information on Hwi’s father’s death.
Since it’s mostly been Hwi reaching out to Sun Ho all this time, it feels like a milestone, to see Sun Ho insisting on getting involved, even though he says that it’s only for Yeon’s sake.
Later, the way Sun Ho chooses to barge into Bang Won’s residence to kill him for framing Hwi’s father is so moving, because he clearly sees it as a suicide mission, when he asks Chi Do to take care of Hwi.
And when Sun Ho is about to be killed by Bang Won, Hwi intervenes, saying that he will forget everything, and begs Bang Won for Sun Ho’s life. We may have seen a lot of mixed messages between these two throughout the show, but this cements just how much each of them treasures the other.
I couldn’t help but be moved by this demonstration of selfless brotherhood.
Also, to my mind, Yi Seong Gye is not to be trusted. Bang Gan may have been the one to execute the coup, but it was Yi Seong Gye who urged him to do so, albeit obliquely.
And Bang Won may have been the one to handle Seo Geom’s framing and death, but at that time, Bang Won was acting in service of his father’s revolution, and Seo Geom knew it. Seo Geom said it himself, that Yi Seong Gye was using his son to kill him.
And yet, Yi Seong Gye points at Bang Won as the one behind Seo Geom’s death, and wants to position himself as the righteous one to bring him to justice. How scheming and coldblooded and manipulative, and against his own sons.
Sung Rok finally dies, despite formerly seeming like a cat with nine lives, the way he kept surviving multiple serious wounds.
What I found poignant, was how he went with Sun Ho despite knowing how dangerous it was, and how he made it a point to tell Sun Ho that it hadn’t been that bad, being by his side.
Sung Rok also says that he’s telling Sun Ho this, because he feels like it might be his only chance to say it. Which means that he knew there was a good chance he would die. That’s so loyal.
The way Sun Ho cannot help but stop to weep for a while, over his body, even as Hwi struggles to help him leave, is quite heartbreaking. It feels like Sun Ho is mourning not only the loss of a right hand man, but the loss of the only friend in the world that he’d allowed to be at his side.
In terms of Bang Won being the one to cause Seo Geom’s death, I’d been accidentally spoiled of this twist, so I wasn’t shocked by it, when I saw it unfold on my screen.
At the same time, I can see Bang Won’s logic in how he handled Seo Geom. He and Yi Seong Gye had wanted Seo Geom on their side for the uprising that they were planning, and Seo Geom had refused.
And in this context, practically speaking, if Seo Geom was not with them, he was against them, and thus they needed to get rid of him. So it wasn’t personal; it was coldly calculated, just like Bang Won’s systematic killing off of his brothers.
It’s tragic, but I can believe that Bang Won would have acted as such.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Coming into this show, I had every expectation that Hwi and Sun Ho would not survive the finale.
I was less concerned with whether or not they would survive (coz I knew they wouldn’t), and more concerned with whether or not Show would deliver a wrap-up that was narratively sound and emotionally satisfying.
All in all, I would say that Show delivered.
With Hwi’s rescue of Sun Ho and ending his alliance with Bang Won, we get a bit of narrative breathing space before the final showdown, and I’m satisfied with how Show uses this pocket of time.
Hwi and Hee Jae have a simple date in the marketplace; Sun Ho visits Sung Rok’s grave and quietly thanks him for everything; Hwi and Sun Ho reconcile, and embrace their friendship again.
However, it isn’t long before Bang Won breaks the temporary truce that Hwi extracts from him, and sends men after Hwi and his friends.
They manage to fend off the attackers, but there’s a sense of unease running undercurrent, even as our gang of friends smile at one another and promise to feast together again, in a year’s time.
Still, it’s gratifying to see Hwi and Sun Ho share something as simple as eating at the same dinner table together, no longer brandishing their swords at each other.
We even get to see them share a quiet conversation after dinner, where Sun Ho muses that he’d never realized that he had any other option than the worst and second worst ones, and Hwi tells him that he can live an easier life from now on, and even ribs Sun Ho about smiling more. Aw.
With an almost-certain suicide mission ahead of him, Hwi has a final moment with Hee Jae, and I can honestly say that I found this the most affecting scene of this couple, of all the moments they’ve shared over the course of our story.
How overwhelming it must be, to know that this is very likely the very last time you will see each other; how precious those few moments are, and how inadequate those few words are, that they are able to share.
Hwi and Hee Jae both know that this is more than likely goodbye forever, and they fight back the tears in their eyes, as they pledge their futures to each other anyway.
He promises to come back to her, and she promises to wait for him.. words that feel full of sorrow, and yet still with a valiant sliver of hope against hope, that they might be able to fulfill this promise to each other. Gulp.
Sun Ho refuses to allow Hwi to go alone, and in a pretty fantastic and fitting callback to episode 1, they end up storming the palace gates together.
I do very much appreciate that before they do, they each admit to being at least a little bit scared, as they should be, because this is almost guaranteed to be a suicide mission, and they know it.
This underscores the entire storming of the palace gates with a great deal of poignance, and the appearance of Chi Do, Jung Beom and Moon Bok to back them up and help pave the way, just amplifies the pathos even further.
When Chi Do yells after the closed gates for Hwi to come back alive, it feels almost exactly like the moment when Hwi and Hee Jae promise to see each other again.
There’s so little possibility of the words coming true, but the words are spoken anyway, and with an almost feverish fervor, like if they wish it hard enough, and believe it fiercely enough, it will come true.
The tears in the friends’ eyes, as they look upon the closed palace gates, speak of so much love, mixed with fear and hope. My heart.
Hwi and Sun Ho fight their way through the courtyard, before Sun Ho urges Hwi to go ahead without him.
The friends exchange a long, charged look, and they both seem to understand that this is likely goodbye as well; that Sun Ho will be unlikely to survive while fighting off the guards alone, but it’s also the only way for Hwi to gain the audience that he needs, with Bang Won. Augh.
Hwi turns to go to Bang Won, and as expected, it isn’t long before Sun Ho gets mortally wounded by multiple spears thrust into his body. Meanwhile, Hwi confronts Bang Won, and asks him why he broke his promise.
Bang Won answers that to achieve a country for the abandoned, he needs the throne, and any sacrifice that leads him to the throne, is his to endure. Hwi puts his sword to Bang Won’s throat and demands that Bang Won revoke his kill order.
Bang Won warns him that even so, Hwi will have to die. Hwi accepts, and Bang Won announces his order revoked.
Hwi drops his sword and returns to a dying Sun Ho’s side, with Bang Won’s men close behind him, poised to attack.
Our friends share an extended moment of farewell, which I like to think was afforded them by Bang Won’s mercy, rather than by spotty writing involving suspended long drawn-out moments in time.
After a droll quip about the worth of his life, Sun Ho tells Hwi that he owes Hwi his life, and this is him paying Hwi back the debt, and then he adds through ragged breaths,
“I.. only looked too far ahead and too high up. When I finally I looked back behind me, I saw you and Yeon. My country… was just one step behind me. If only I had known that sooner.”
Oof. So much futility in that last sentence.
Sun Ho tells Hwi that he’s exhausted, and for all the sleepless nights he’s suffered, he’s going to sleep like a baby now. Hwi tells him to rest, and that he will join him soon. With his last breath, Sun Ho ekes out, “I missed you.. so.. much.” Ack.
In the throne room, we see Bang Won in what appears to be a moment of meditation.
He lets out a muted sigh, and then, with tears gathering in degrees in his eyes, he laughs, mirthlessly and bitterly, and murmurs to himself the words that he’d always yearned to hear from his father, “You did well.”
As the final tears fall, we can see him visibly steeling himself, to rule as king. What a fittingly complicated, lonely moment of victory, for a complicated, conflicted man.
As the palace gates open for more guards to enter, Hee Jae, who’s made her way there, catches sight of Hwi through the open gates, holding Sun Ho’s lifeless body, and himself the target of multiple archers, poised to shoot.
They gaze at each other, their eyes full of tears, and full of love, like they’re trying to drink in the sight of each other as deeply as possible, to fuel them for the forever that’s ahead of them.
Hwi smiles a smile that’s full of gratitude, and it feels like he’s saying to Hee Jae, “Thank you for everything; thank you for loving me; I’m so glad that I got to see you again.”
Augh. We don’t see the arrows make contact, but we hear the snap of the bows.
Finally, we see Hwi’s lifeless body riddled with arrows, his arm still on Sun Ho’s, as Sun Ho’s head lies cradled on his chest.
How tragic and how fittingly bittersweet, that these two soulmates, are finally at rest, with and in each other, having fought side by side for what they believed was truly important, and defended each other with everything they had, until their last breaths.
Augh. How heartrending and beautiful and moving and tragic, in one.
One year time skip later, we see Hee Jae, Chi Do, Jung Beom, Moon Bok, Hwa Wol and their baby girl together at an idyllic waterfall, having a meal together, just as they’d promised. Amid the bickering, Hwi’s name comes up, and Hee Jae, with tears in her eyes, muses in voiceover:
“We all have a country we wish to protect. Even though we break, snap, and crumble, we can’t give up on our nation. It is because that nation is equal to our lives.”
Although Hee Jae’s country remark feels kind of shoehorned in to wrap up the drama, I appreciate that Show has by this point, made it clear that the “country” that Hee Jae speaks of, refers to friends and family, rather than a nation with a government.
It’s taken some of our characters their whole lives to come to this realization, but it’s moving and poetic, that upon this realization, they did not at all hesitate to give their lives to protect the “country” that they’d chosen.
And I’d like to think that in the afterlife, Hwi and Sun Ho are together and happy, and at peace at last, even as they continue to watch over the friends whom they’ve left behind.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A stirring, emotional and poignant watch, if you can look past the logic stretches.
FINAL GRADE: B++
Someone made an absolutely fantastic MV in honor of Bang Won and his magnificence, and I just had to add it to this review, because it’s too good not to share. He’s just so mesmerizing in this, I felt hypnotized the whole way through! ❤️ Enjoy:
Ah, fan girl, I have just spent a happy hour reading your lovely Jang Hyuk posts = bliss! I saw him first in My Country as Bang Won and so I say this with no bias: he absolutely stole the show. What a fantastic actor he is. Have since watched him in Money Flower (oh my God – incredible!) And Chuno (jaw dropping) I can’t believe he’s not won a Beaksang. How is it so?! I think he’s by a mile one of the best actors around. LOVE him – and you for your shared enthusiasm!!
I thought for sure he won??? And for Chuno. Now i gotta go look it up.
@Ele Nash – Wikipedia says “He won several acting awards, most significantly the Grand Prize (“Daesang”)” . But it doesn’t say for which project.
Ahhhh. I see. The Baeksang tops even the Daesang. Got it. 👍
I found it! I knew Hyukie had received whatever the highest acting award for best actor is for Chuno. I don’t know why it’s like the info was hidden
Scroll down to 2010
He was nominated for best actor for Chuno and Money Flower but didn’t go on to win for either. Outrageous! Though I admit I haven’t seen who beat him. But, I mean, he was so brilliant in both that he really should have won one.
I agree! I see. Once you said this, I went back and looked at the chart to see he doesn’t have the symbol next to his name to show the winners, just a nominee. Outrageous! I also didn’t realize that the Baeksang includes television and movie roles across the board. Interesting. (And that seems unfair as well when you consider the differences in acting in film versus tv (from what I’ve heard actors say).
Reading more on this, so it’s not a combined award for film and television. I was so upset to realize that Jang Hyuk didn’t win, I went off half cocked. I just saw that Lee Byung hun won for 2010 (and the word “film” over the category) and lost my sh**. Lee Byung hun is a very good actor, imo, but I couldn’t imagine he won for Iris (good show) over Jang Hyuk in Chuno (masterpiece).
Lee Byung has won best actor quite a few times. He is fantastic but still, Daegil!! That heart. Also Pilju! I haven’t seen Stranger so reserve judgement but thought Jang Hyuk was masterful in Money Flower, even more so than Chuno – which is saying something.
Also, as this comment is under My Country review, his seamless delivery of Bang Won, at times ruthless, determined, single minded, at others pained, melancholic, lonely, and always (incredibly given some of Bang Won’s actions) sympathetic shows Jang Hyuk at his best. He’s so good at portraying a range of passing emotions with the flicker of an eyebrow, an inhalation, a stillness. He is a master of understatement. I could go on but Fan Girl’s already said everything that needs saying! I’m now watching Bad Papa which is interesting.
@Ele Nash – not to take away from Jang Hyuj’s portrayal of Bang won (because I love it and also watched his portrayal of a more evil version of him in Empire of Lust) – but have you watched Six Flying Dragons? Because Yoo Ah in is amazing in it, portraying Bang Won’s younger years. I swear as much as I loved Jang Hyuk, I cannot pick who did it better. I can only divide their performances into younger more naive (somewhat) Bang won and older Bang Won in My Country.
I’m a huge martial arts fan and Yoo Ah in’s Bang won should’ve turned me off because he never draws his sword but, instead, gives his sword to his trusted bodyguard and runs away (but in running away, it did not seem cowardly). And yet, he’s always intimidating, always stimulating because you can see his cunning mind working. Honestly, I don’t have the words.
I haven’t watched Six Flying Dragons yet but I plan to. I see Yoo Ah won the Baeksang for it so will look forward to watching! Bang Won seems like a really disturbing/ interesting character – a bit like our Henry VIII here in England was. I wonder if he was really like any of the TV / film versions. I’m sure he wasn’t as beautiful as Jang Hyuk!
@Ele Nash – I wonder too! He’s such a complex character – ruthless and yet he did many great things for the country and its citizens.
What I like about Six Flying Dragons is the way they came up with a story to try to explain what created the character of the man.
“I’m sure he wasn’t as beautiful as Jang Hyuk!” quoting Ele Nash
I should’ve added “Who is?” 😉
Ah, thanks for enjoying my various Jang Hyuk posts, Ele!! 😀 Yes, he did steal the show in My Country – he’s the main reason I decided to check out the show, and I was not disappointed! So mesmerizing! 🤩🤩
Thank you for the Jang Hyuk/Bang Won video, Kfangurl! It really made my day! The editor has done such an excellent job. The video truly showcases JH’s brilliance in this role, and he does not even speak!
Me 2 Snow Flower. Fangurl is fabulous. I have watched it numerous times since she posted it. Jang Hyuk is such a brilliant actor that I was actually able to make it through all 16 episodes of ‘Tell Me What You Saw’ – imho the absolute worst writing in a drama ever – just because of him. That shows you how powerful an actor he is. That drama literally made me yell at my TV “What the heck are you people actually doing right now!?!” and then Jang Hyuk would appear and I would breathe a sigh of relief and focus on his performance.
Eep. I was planning to check out Tell Me What You Saw, for Jang Hyuk, and now I’m having second thoughts! 😝😝 The writing sounds quite bad. Maybe I should do a FF sort of watch, and only watch his scenes. 🤪
PS: I’ve watched the MV numerous times too! I’ve been keeping the tab open on my browser since I posted it, so that I have easy access and can revel in the awesome anytime I want! 😆🤩
Ah, you’re very welcome, Snow Flower!!! <3 The editor really did an amazing job, I agree!! So perfectly put together, everything so well timed, and altogether so compelling. 😍😍😍 I've watched it multiple times now, and still can't get enough! 🤩🤩🤩
I do agree that Jang Hyuk was mesmerizing in his role of Bang Won. I never expected that either Hwi or Sunho would survive once they took a stand against Bang Won. We all know that history is on the side of the conquerors. My personal opinion is: I watched all the episodes, but found the drama too bloody for my taste and wished that they could’ve toned down the killing. Solid performances by the seasoned actors, but you can tell that the performances by our young trio – Yang Se Yong, Woo Do Hwan and Seolhyun – was pretty shaky especially in the beginning. They grew into their roles, but it was quite obvious that they put a lot of effort into being believable and are not yet comfortable in saguek roles. Woo Do Hwan did a lot of strutting around in his character as Sun ho, which I felt he could’ve done less of. Sun ho comes across as a very inconsistent character, his words often in contradiction to his actions, nor was the bromance between Hwi and Sun ho quite convincing. Will I watch this drama again? Probably not. The crossover period from Goryeo into Joseon is one of the turbulent times in history, but I think this content was handled better in the drama Six Flying Dragons.
Hi there Adal, you hit the nail on the head. I did feel like our younger main cast grew into their roles, but it was also clear to see that they were struggling to match the screen presence and gravitas of the seasoned veteran actors with whom they shared the screen. It’s still the best I’ve seen from any of the young actors, though, so I’m inclined to cut them some slack. 😉 And although I didn’t mention it in my review, Sun Ho’s strut was not one of my favorite things, admittedly. It somehow looked like improper posture for a sageuk, to my non-expert eyes. I also did have to rationalize Sun Ho’s behavior more than I would’ve preferred to. But because everyone did a decent job of the acting, and because the show overall was a stirring, emotional ride, and because Jang Hyuk was so amazing in this, I was inclined to go easy on Show, in its final grading. 😉
I’m actually currently reading your 2019 in review post but that brought me back to your review of My Country. I realize that my earlier comments were based on my enthrallment of Jang hyuk’s performances that I didn’t pay enough attention to what you wrote about the other characters.
Your description of Sun ho in ep. 7 and the flashback with his mom gives me a whole entire shift in my view of Sun ho.
Now I see why Bang won said Sun ho reminds him of himself. As a prince, Bang won had the power and prestige to get away with his actions to mold the world into the place he wanted it to become whereas Sun ho never had the protection to go unscathed by his actions. His betrayal of a friend in order to reach his goals is very Bang won-like. I’ve often wondered of Bang won qualifies as a psychopath (not that I’m well versed in the exact definition). But to be able to kill off people, and people you love, and people you have no grudge against (Poon and Sambong) but they’re simply in the way of your goal…
It’s almost as if when Bang won does good deeds, that’s calculated also. As of he made up his mind that he’s going to have a certain type of kingdom where his reign brings about good things for the people and if he has to cause carnage to create his vision – so be it. (I must admit, I can’t seem to stop using Six Flying Dragons to fill in my opinions about Bang won.)
Sun ho has neither the station in life nor the charisma that comes from being loved growing up to do these horrendous deeds and still be likeable. imo
Sun ho doesn’t know how to be a true friend through thick and thin with his one bestie, contrasted with Hwi’s ability to be loyal and inspire loyalty in his brothers-at-arms who become his “band of merry men” for lack of being able to express myself better.
I agree with you about the jumps in the story but the entire show was enjoyable for me because of the really good performances.
Hi there beez! <3 Yes, I can see why Bang Won would see parts of himself in Sun Ho.. both of them are rejected by their fathers, and yet, they both spend their lives working to receive the approval of the very fathers who rejected them. And yes, they both display ruthless, heartless behaviors when it comes to achieving the goals that they've set for themselves. I'm not an expert on the term myself, but I'm wondering whether sociopath is the word we're looking for, since that is usually characterized by lack of remorse or guilt, along with glibness and superficial charm, and a grandiose sense of self. 🤔
I agree, Sun Ho demonstrates less loyalty and true friendship when compared to Hwi, who continues to care for Sun Ho even after several betrayals by Sun Ho. I think that's why I gravitated more towards Hwi as well, even though I knew in my head that Sun Ho is a conflicted character who is suffering in a hell of his own making.
Oh yes, the performances really helped to lift the show.. It's a big reason why I opted to bump up Show's final grade slightly, even though I was totally rolling my eyes at how everyone was getting repeatedly impaled with swords – and surviving! 😆
As polished as this is, and it is very polished, compared to other sageuks fashioned around the origins of the Josean Empire, I found My Country, with one gigantic exception, disappointing. The core story, the bromantic and deadly rivalry between the two young leads I found impossible to believe, maybe that is cultural, but really, I am a pretty forgiving guy, but somebody who sends me to my death, especially if I had thought he was my friend, really, and I felt especially given the finale, the way the writers tried to elevate it by patching it on to the Josean Dynasty’s beginnings. I would really have rather this story, albeit a bit more plausible, existed in a more fictional past and spent more time developing story rather than jumping so quickly through time.
Actually, the far more interesting relationship, because of the actors, not to mention historical stake, was that of Yi Bang Won and Yi Seung Gye, because the stakes were both personal, oedipal, and political/historical. That is, there was more real motivation going on than in the conflict between the drama’s two leads. Of course too, both Jang Hyuk (more on him later) and Kim Yeung Cheol, who played Yi Seung Gye, were superior character actors than the leads, but Kim held up next to Jang Hyuk and made the interplay interesting, at least for me.
In the first episode, we got a picture of Kim Seol-hyun’s character that displayed spunk and potential. The fact that after that her character became such a one note repeating itself over and over, just as the killing off of Jang Young Nam who simply owned the screen every time she was on it as Seo Seol, has to be laid at the feet of the show writers and director. Indeed, some of the best acting in My Country could be placed at the feet of the supporting characters, particularly Hwi’s crew, especially Ji Seung-Hyun performing the role of master warrior/devoted servant to Hwi, and In Gyo-Jin, who provided this endlessly somber series with a measure of levity and rude charm.
I do have one really serious quibble with what seemed to me to be a time anomaly that utterly destroyed my ability to suspend disbelief. In the end, spoiler, we are led to believe that Bang Won caused the execution Hwi’s father with part of his motivation the overthrow of the previous empire. But if this happened when Hwi was but a boy, and we know the battle he was consigned to fight was the real first turning point in the establishment of that dynasty, then the execution of Hwi’s father took place well before the idea of overthrowing the old dynasty was yet in play.
Finally, Jang Hyuk. So effing sensational that along with the drama’s polish, by himself he made this into something worth watching. Really he is as good as any actor I have ever seen, and great in this. I do not know about the rest of you, but for me, I could have watched twenty more episodes of this even with all its flaws, to watch Jang Hyuk do his thing. I really hope sometime soon, he gets a vehicle filled with other great actors and a script that deserves his talent.
Jang Hyuk: Even if he sleeps on screen, he is still compelling to watch…I can think of no other actor with such magnetic presence.
I do agree on your observation about chronology. Bang Won was born in 1367, while our fictional friends were born in 1368 (it was mentioned that 1368 was when Seon Ho was born, and it makes sense to assume that Hwi is the same age as his friend). I find it hard to believe that 10 year old Bang Won would frame his own sword master to further his political ambitions. But since Jang Hyuk is older, it makes it easier to imagine 20 year old BW betraying his teacher.
Sorry to beat a dead horse, and this takes nothing away from My Country because I really enjoyed it, but in Six Flying Dragons we see a SPOILER very young Yi Bang won mete out justice by way of killing fellow classmates who were “bullying” lower classmates. I used quotes because “bullying” is not adequate a word for what was going on but it’s too complex to route out here. Just know that their behavior was bad enough that you don’t feel like young Bang won is a psychopath for killing those young men but you do realize that he’s capable of anything.
I thought about that scene too!
For some reason, the chronology discrepancies in My Country did not bother me so much. I have seen similar discrepancies in other sageuks (Queen Seondeok) and I just accept them and go with the flow.
Korean dramas remind me of operas. There are flawed masterpieces in both genres.
I would not have had as much of a problem with it, but the whole climax of the series hinged upon Yi Bang Won not only engineered the execution of Hwi’s father, but did so in service of establishing the new dynasty. All this taking place at least 12 years before the crucial battle in the north from which Yi Seung Gye retreats and the tide turns toward revolution for the first time as was presented in My Country.
It was part of the problem for me of attaching this exceedingly complicated and somewhat hard to understand mortal rivalry between the two leads to the actual historical circumstance or even the legend of that circumstance.
I agree with your idea that these sageuks have an operatic quality; they also remind me quite often of Shakespearean plays, either histories or tragedies or as with Nodku to some degree, comedy on an epic scale.
For me, I suppose part of all this is simply a hankering for a Jang Hyuk vehicle that, as I said before, is equal in every way to his talent.
@BE – which Nokdu are you referring to? There were two this year. The rom-com was enjoyable but the serious one was an understated, underrated masterpiece in my opinion. I think their respective titles were Tale of Nokdu and Nokdu Flower.
I was thinking of Tale. Rom-coms are the stuff of comedy in Shakespeare, which have the good sense to also throw in drama and serious reflection. I will try to find Nokdu Flower, thanks.
@BE I don’t really know how to work my WordPress account. WordPress kind of forced me to open one, but I’m guessing there’s some type of way to message me through it if you click on my icon? If you contact me, I’ll let you know the site where you can watch everything. (FYI – It is illegit)
I have seen reply 1997 and reply 1994 but I can only find 1988 on viki.com which is like a punishment to watch. Can anyone e-mail me at my cooldown3.yahoo.com address with a real streaming site?? Please?? Loved the first 2 series.
@lionel P Belanger – I tried to send you an email but the address you provided isn’t working. I tried replacing the . with @ but no success.
Nokdu Flower is indeed a masterpiece.
Just started Nokdu Flower. Thanks. It is great and I hope KFangirl gets to it. Same director as Deep Rooted Tree and Six Flying Dragons. First two episodes, the same high level of cinematic drama and story telling. Great era for historical drama from Korea, and one I suspect will be developed more and more as time goes on. Choi Moo Sung! Wow. Loved him in Mr. Sunshine, glad to see he is getting an even meatier role here. The superbly subtle actor, Park Hyuk-Kuon, for me is like an alcohol one acquires a taste for, always himself, but always someone who also completely disappears into his role, and Han Ye-Ri–all of these actors superb character actors. 30 seconds in, we’re in. So, thanks again.
@BE You’ve welcome. And please let me know of any gems I might’ve missed. Now that Dramabeans isn’t hitting the mark any longer it’s harder for me to decide what to watch. The good thing is I’m no longer stuck to my tv for hours on end trying to watch so much content but I’m also not yet a fan of a lot of the up and coming stars. Without knowing the actors, then I won’t even start a show. For instance I only watched Nokdu because of Cho Jung seok and it was just a blessing that it was so good. When I start a show with actors that I really like, at least I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it even if the script falls short.
As to Nokdu, thanks for the info that it’s the same team behind Tree and Six Flying Dragons. No wonder…
I think the biggest missed opportunity for those who have not seen Six Flying Dragons is that Jang Hyuks heart rending response to Yi Seung Gye about the killing of Poeun on the bridge makes no sense if you have no idea of what he is saying. It is brilliantly delivered, but to really get it, one has to have the context of the situation Yi Bang Won was in at that time, and what the upshot of the deed for him was to be.
Thanks Bezrtp. I did make a typo there. firstname.lastname@example.org is correct.
I finally got it to go through! I don’t know what the problem was, but it was very strange. I had saved the first email explaining how to navigate and avoid pop ups but that email suddenly vanished from my drafts as I tried to resend it. Outs nowhere to be found in any drafts, sent, nor trash folder. It’s got me thinking conspiracies – that TPTB (the powers that be) didn’t like me passing along the illegit sites and sabotaged my email. Oh well, I hope you get it okay.
Thanks for sharing your insights, BE! 😀 Yes, you are very right to say that this show required more than a little bit of suspension of disbelief. I confess I found it rather unbelievable that Hwi would continue to be so loyal to Sun Ho, despite Sun Ho sabotaging him time and again. I suppose, though, that this is the intended fairytale of Hwi, that he’s such a good person that he’s practically an angel. And therefore, we should want to root for him all the more, as he exceeds our expectations and continues to be fiercely loyal to Sun Ho, even though Sun Ho harms Hwi on more than one occasion. Also, yes, that timeline issue with Yi Bang Won’s age and what he was supposed to have had a hand in, is a glaring mismatch.
I agree with you that the relationship between Yi Seung Gye and Yi Bang Won is very intriguing, and Show could have mined this for a lot more drama and character development. Given the strong actors playing both characters, this would have been a treat to watch, I’m sure. And I heartily agree with you, that Jang Hyuk singlehandedly made this show worth the watch, with his amazing performance alone. So good. 😍🤩😍🤩😍
Hwi’s epic slo-mo with awesome music rescue of Hee jae.
Ditto to EVERYTHING about Jang hyuk *swoon & admiration* But I wonder if my view of historical Bang won would change if most of my knowledge about him didn’t come from my two favorite actors’ portrayals?
I must defend show’s lack of explanation of historical context. Ultimately shows are made for their homegrown audience. Would we (USA) want to watch a Civil War (War Between the States north vs. south) movie that explains in detail the issue of slavery and succession from the Union? (As an African American, I’m not saying a lot of us don’t NEED a lesson on the deeper meanings behind these events, but most folks would feel like “why are we wasting valuable entertainment screen time on something we all [think we know] know about already as its drummed into our elementary school training.” We can leave the intricate deeper details to documentaries to handle. (But agreed, the handling of Sambong was most weird.)
Ditto on the repetitiveness – is it just me or did every character get stabbed in the exact same spot – left side of their abdomen? Some multiple times (on different occasions, but same side).
As my Kdrama palate has become more refined over the years, I can say I’m very satisfied with this one.
That’s a great point beez, about the lack of explanation regarding the historical context. I guess I’d expected a little more explanation, given that the production team knew that the show would not be viewed only be the domestic audience, since there’s a large international audience out there, and dramas are officially exported to reach those audiences. Still, as you pointed out, they don’t owe it to us; it just would’ve been nice to have a little of it. 😉
My Country was such an enjoyable drama. I was in the mood for a more angsy historical, and it really checked that box 🙂 Loved the complex bromance, action, and intrigue as well as the side of romance. Definitely a few logic stretches, but the pacing was great all the way through, and I enjoyed all of the plot developments. Yang Se Jong, Woo Do Hwan, and Jang Hyuk all gave seriously great performances too 🙂
Glad you enjoyed My Country as well, Kay! 🙂 I agree it was enjoyable, in a it-hurts-so-good kind of way – as long as you didn’t think too hard about the logic stretches! 😆 Jang Hyuk was the absolutely star of this show for me, but I must admit that this is truly the best I’ve seen thus far, from both Yang Se Jong and Woo Do Hwan. I hope we get to see them flex their acting chops even more this year! 🙂
The leading men really do shine in My Country. Jang Hyuk is always bringing something new and amazing. A great outing for Woo Do Hwan too.
I’m not sure what is my favorite performance from Yang Se Jang though. I’m still leaning towards the first role I saw him in in Duel. He blew me away in that. I know you’ve been recommended that drama by me and some others before. Not sure if it’s you’re kind of show (and it definitely has some logic stretches), but he is something else in that. Two excellent performances for both of his characters. And he was quite endearing in Thirty But Seventeen too. He’s racked up so many good performances in a short amount of time 🙂
Ah yes, Duel! I do have that on my list, thanks to your recommendation. Logic stretches often make me roll my eyes, especially if they are ridiculous (all the non-fatal impaling in this show is an example! 😆), but an excellent performance definitely is something that I like, so I just might like Duel after all. 😉 I’ll have to give it a try sometime, when I’m in the mood for something a little older. Plus, the premise does sound intriguing. Cloning! 😱
I loved watching
“My Country …”, until the end; which made me feel I wasted watching it. I am still trying to erase having wasted my time. Totally and I mean totally hated that ending. I should know better and should have asked you before watching it. Man was that an awful ending!
Aw, I’m sorry you feel you wasted your time, Andy! 😝 That’s the risk we take, with watching a show early, because we don’t know how it ends – until it ends. I hope you’ll feel better about the time invested, considering the excellent performances that our key cast members delivered. I feel like Jang Hyuk’s tour de force performance alone, made this worth the while, for me. For something with a happier ending, have you considered The Tale of Nokdu? 🙂
i want to see your review on doctor john. try watching it!
Hi there watermelly! I’m not generally into medical shows, but I just might check it out one day, for Ji Sung, who is always so excellent. 🤩
I’m still having a withdrawal syndrome , so I needed this!
For me My Country was the best saeguk made in last 3 years among with Moon Lovers and Mr Sunshine!
I started watching it because I was hungry for a good drama, and especially for good saeguk, witch becomes harder to find with each year..😔 I was hooked from the 1st episode, but what I didn’t expect, is somewhere in the middle of the drama, I found myself completely in love with Bang Won😂 I wasn’t Jang Hyuk’s fan before ( I think, I am now!) , so it was really unexpectedly.. And also I think I was the only watcher of this drama who wasn’t fan of Seon Ho- Hwi bromance, but instead of Hwi and Bang Won (😄), because just like you said, it was the most unpredictable and interesting relationship in this drama! That was also mayor point to Bang Won’s humanity, because based on this show, his sincere affection to Hwi was his most real and human feeling, apart from his love and admiration of his father, but it’s kind of given… Like mayority twitter users, I was also spoiled by ep14 twist, and I was shocked, and yes, kind of dissapointed, but the way they wrapped it up and gave closure to Hwi- BW rs, was really well made! I liked that unlike usual kdrama clishe characters, Hwi wasn’t blinded by hate towards BW ( like Seon Ho did), he let the past go, and he still aknowledged BW’s good sides ( even at that moment when he pointed his sword to his neck), and BW on other side, him, revoking his order, was his last attemt to do something for Hwi, because he knew him very well, and knew that it’s what Hwi wanted the most, even if it will lead to his death…
I am not blind,and I also noticed those things that you mentioned, that didn’t make sense, like multiply sword survivals etc, but it didn’t bother me much, because despite all this, drama was beautifully written, especially main characters ( exp for Hye Jae 👀), and that’s what matters the most for me!
It’s been really a long time since I left with feelings and wanting for more after finishing drama, and didn’t forget it right away… Yes, I want more of Bang Won..😂 No cure for that, I know..😄
I give it 9,5 out of 10!
@Scarlet _ did you know Jang Hyuk portrayed Yi Bang won in a movie? Empire of Lust aka Age of Innocence. It’s available right now on Amazon Prime. Be aware that if it had an American rating, it would be “R”.
Hi there Scarlet, thanks for enjoying the review! 😀 I agree that My Country has the ability to suck you in, especially if you’re in the mood for some good ol’ fashioned angst. I found myself very nicely engaged, despite my gripes with Show’s logic stretches. And of course, there’s Jang Hyuk. 😍🤩😍🤩😍 I don’t blame you at all, for falling in love with Bang Won. Jang Hyuk did such a magnificent job of making Bang Won interesting and arresting. Every time he came onscreen, I couldn’t look anywhere else but at him. 😍🤩 (If you’d like to see more wonderful Jang Hyuk, I recommend Chuno and Money Flower. Both very good watches, imo).
So there I was fully immersed in My Country until episode 13. Then it unravelled for me from there. That little thing of the various sword thrusts each character received time and again, and then running or riding around like nothing happened was a big issue for me. I mean, as I commented elsewhere, poor little Yeon (she was delightful by the way) receives one sword thrust and it’s all over for her. Anyway, I then found myself reading up on a range of medical journals and articles about sword wounds including information about the era in question. Corpus dilecti I’m afraid. Okay, it’s a Sageuk etc, but…
Jang Hyuk, the master until the very end. What more can I say – I totally agree: whether he spoke, raised his voice (okay, shouted) produced a maniacal laugh or said nothing, he emoted the whole shooting match. However, it didn’t surprise me when Bang Won was revealed as the culprit behind the death of Hwi’s father – in fact I felt disappointed when the writers rolled it out. I also thought Ahn Nae Sang was superb. Only he could play that heartless father(less) role 🤩
Then there was Hwi’s amazing archery ability. What happened to that? His ability to shoot accurately over a long distance puts him right up there with a medieval long bow superstar or a galloping Mongolian archer. It’s a little thing, but I would have been peppering Sun Ho with a few more arrows well before getting within sword thrusting range 😂
The last few minutes of My Country was very touching and I enjoyed its sentiment immensely along with my favourite couple sharing their baby with their extended family. It was a great contrast of showing how the simple things in life far outweigh the complexities of those who think they are born to rule with the weight of the world on their shoulders as justification to do what they do.
Kfangurl, another amazing, informative and immersive review. And I did have to laugh my way through, yet again, the comments about Jang Hyuk 🤣
Someone actually counted how many times our heroes got stabbed!
I still liked the drama and will probably rewatch it. On my rewatch I’ll just think that our heroes have magic armors…
Snow Flower, I’m still laughing at this video. I’m up for the Bang Wongest Game T-Shirt too 🤣
Yes, it is worth a rewatch and thinking of them wearing very magical armour is a good way to go!
No magical armor for poor Yeon, alas!
Wow! That’s a lot of stabs. Not surprised one bit, lol
Tee hee! Thank you for indulging my Jang Hyuk fangirling, Sean! 😆🤩 Yes, the logic stretches became more and more audacious as Show went on, and my ability to look past it became, uh, quite challenged. I rolled my eyes quite a bit in the final stretch, I have to admit. Just, how many times are these characters going to blatantly cheat death and come back from the dead?! 😆 And yes, I would’ve liked to have seen Hwi demonstrate his amazing archery skills later in the show as well; after a while, it became all about the swords and the impaling, which got old pretty fast. :/ Still, there was enough to make this feel like a worthwhile watch, Jang Hyuk’s performance being top of the list, for me! 😉 Also, it did help that Show managed to end on an emotionally satisfying note, despite the tragic ends of Hwi and Sun Ho. I do wish this could’ve been better, but as it was, it was still a stirring watch, all in all. 🙂
Lol. Speaking of fangirling, there we are at my sister-in-laws for Christmas lunch and not only did the subject of Aquaman come up yet again, but the Witcher as well. My eye rolling was quite impressive 😂🤣😂
HAHA. You are nicely indulgent of the fangirls around you, despite the eye rolling! 😉 I have yet to watch Aquaman yet, even though it was available in-flight. When I saw it as one of the options, I did think of your experience with the movie and chuckled to myself a little bit, before picking a different movie for my flight. 🤣
Thank you for the excellent review, Kfangurl! I agree with you on pretty much everything about this show. From the beginning I thought that this show was a companion to Six Flying Dragons. While 6 FD chose to treat the historical period in an epic way, My Country had a chamber drama vibe to it, almost like a stage play. I mentioned on another blog that Six Flying Dragons was like a symphony, while My Country was like a string quartet. The strength of the show was the character driven story line and the excellent acting. I was also impressed by the music.
You remind me of Sun ho saying to Hwi after being stabbed by him (again?) “your blade still bears much affection”. Which I took to mean that he knew the wound was purposely not fatal. But the line felt so Shakespearean to me (not that I’m an expert other than high school reading).
I have only read Shakespeare in translation (English is not my native language), but I do agree with your comment. The whole drama felt like a stage play, and I found that very refreshing. I liked the drama’s exploration of the relationships between fathers and sons, brothers, and friends, and how these relationships shaped major historical events.
Hi there Snow Flower! Thanks for enjoying the review! <3 Now that you mention it, I can see why you'd compared SFD to a symphony, and My Country to a stage play. Which is odd, given that during my watch, I'd felt that Show was often gunning for an epic flavor, and achieving it, for the most part. How interesting! 🙂 And yes, the music did add a very nice touch to the show. I personally didn't have an issue with the music not being reflective of the era, and that definitely helped me to enjoy the music, and therefore my watch, all the more. 🙂
The instrumental music for the show featured music in classical and in heavy metal/rock style. Neither style was very reflective of the era (late 14th century), but somehow they both worked for me. The presence of music in movies, dramas, and stage plays is a very unrealistic element that requires suspension of disbelief, and yet it is difficult to imagine dramas and movies without it. The instrumental tracks were great! I wish I knew the name of the composer.
I agree, the instrumentals were very well done indeed! Unfortunately they are only listed as being done by “Various Artists” :/
Thanks for the review, I really enjoyed reading it! I read it just before watching the last episode, so I carefully avoided any potential spoilers… but ha! What did I expect? After 15 years of watching K-dramas, I can’t believe a part of me still hopes for a happy ending in a sageuk… silly! (I’m crying now aaaaah) ANYWAYS. Like you said, Yang Se-jong is truly impressive in this. I only saw him playing (too) soft and nice characters, and although Hwi is also soft and nice, he was still a strong and well-balanced character. OF COURSE nothing compares to Jang Hyuk but still, I was surprised and delighted by Yang Se-jong in this. Also, I have to say the “weird friends group” strongly reminded me of the “weird friends group” in Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People although I would say the latter was even more interesting in my opinion. But still, I enjoyed this drama very much! I’m already eagerly waiting for another epic sageuk… although I don’t think anything can replace Chuno and Six Flying Dragons in my heart…
Hi there akagenomusume, thanks for enjoying this review! <3 I hope the ending didn't break your heart too much.. I’d expected it to end with both leads’ deaths, so I guess I was more or less prepared, when it finally happened. 😛 I agree, this was a fantastic performance by Yang Se Jong, and I do think this is the most rugged role I’ve seen him in so far. Given the “softer” types of characters I’ve seen him play, I was very pleasantly surprised by how well he pulled this off. Really nicely done! And then there’s Jang Hyuk, of course. So magnificent. 😍🤩
Oh, I’ve been told that The Nokdu Flower is an excellent sageuk, if you’re in the mood for something heavier and meatier. I’ve got it on my list, but haven’t checked it out yet. It’s been called a masterpiece by quite a few readers on this blog, so I’m suitably intrigued. You might want to consider giving it a try, if you’re still looking for another sageuk. 🙂
kfangurl! I just looked through your list and realized that you still haven’t seen Six Flying Dragons! I know how these “to be watched” lists can be out of control monsters (mine certainly is). But I need to urge you to watch it because it’s getting older now and i want you to see it before other shows come along that could cause SFD to begin to feel outdated. You know how things build on what’s come before it so I’m sure eventually more saeguks will come along that use what is learned from SFD’s storytelling and then by the time you finally do see SFD it might not have the same impact. I loved Nokdu Flower and I am one who also called it a masterpiece but I hear it was made by the same people who made SFD (no wonder). My last bit of urging is this: You know how much I love love love Chuno? It hurts my heart but because of SFD I can no longer say that, flat out, Chuno is my all time favorite saeguk. I can’t choose between them but I think the only reason Chuno is hanging on at my top with SFD is Jang Hyuk alone whereas everything about SFD as a whole is what makes it The Masterpiece.
Six Flying Dragons is VERY difficult to watch – I still clearly remember how I felt when I watched it. It’s long, complex and quite painful at times, so I totally understand why many people would drop it. But although I got frustrated many times while watching it, in the end, I still can only say it’s a masterpiece. I’m not good enough at writing to clearly explain why, but it seems many viewers felt the same way… please someone explain, lol. @beezrtp: I loved this “I think the only reason Chuno is hanging on at my top with SFD is Jang Hyuk alone whereas everything about SFD as a whole is what makes it The Masterpiece.” AGREED!
Thank you so much for replying! I’ve put The Nokdu Flower on my list and will check it out for sure – thanks for the info! At some point last year I felt there was nothing interesting to watch, but recently my to-watch list is becoming quite long… I won’t complain though!
A long list of dramas to choose from is always a good thing, I say! 😀 Better lots to choose from, than feeling like you’re in a drama desert! 😅😆 I haven’t yet tried The Nokdu Flower myself, but I’ve heard good things, so I hope you’ll enjoy it! <3
Great wrapup. I was able to finish this, unlike “Six Flying Dragons” where I had to stop about 6 eps. before end, couldn’t take any more carnage. Really enjoyed this drama and the comradery of Hwi and his Three Buds. The being impaled and living through it was a bit of a stretch, though.
@Islander_58North I would recommend revisiting Six Flying Dragons as you’ve past most of the gore and bloodshed. The majority of the remaining series is about incredible swordplay choreography among two swordsman at at time, political shenanigans (less boring than most saeguk, imo), and amazing acting by Yoo Ah in. As Bang won, I don’t think he ever drew his sword and yet he comes off as no coward despite leaving the fighting to his (awesome) young idealistic bodyguard.
In fact, Yoo Ah in was so amazing as Yi Bang won that I dreaded the announcement of Jang Hyuk being cast as the same character (again, but in more depth from JH’s previous movie turn as this character) because I THOUGHT I’d be torn with having to choose who did it better. But they’re both just as intense, YAI a more quiet intensity but I feel satisfied with both portrayals as it feels as if I got to see Yi Bang won at different stages in his journey and maturity from both actors.
Hi there Islander! Great to see you 🙂 Glad you enjoyed this one. I personally lost interest in SFD at around the E30 mark (I know, so offensive, to SFD fans! 😝), so I don’t blame you for stopping near the end. You made it much farther than I did! 😅 Yes, Hwi and his little family of buds was a great highlight. I loved watching them together; so much love and loyalty. 😍 And I’m so glad that they survived in the end, even if it was minus Hwi.
oops! Just reading that you went in 30 eps on SFD. Sorry for my previous post nagging you to watch it. 😢
Aw, it’s ok! I know SFD is widely loved, so it’s perfectly understandable that you guys hope I’ll give it the love and respect it’s due. I don’t know.. I couldn’t get into it, even 30 eps in.. but then again, I wonder if my palate has evolved enough since then to now be able to appreciate it? 🤔 One of these days, I might just decide to give it another go, but I can’t make any promises at the moment! 🙂
I will likely not watch this drama as I liker an ending which resolves things more neatly than this one was reported to do. I have learned the great value of Kfangirl’s observations and rescheduled my personal viewing list accordingly.
Just some general thoughts on drama.
Many of the dramas I love were written with the end already mapped out and the beginning written to arrive at that point in time where they join. A drama needs a great and unified ending for me to feel deeply satisfied.
Someone once told me that the character Sherlock Holmes was written that way because there needed to be a destination for all of those breadcrumb like clues which “the baker street irregulars” love so well.
I am also fan of Bertold Brecht, ( read his very short tale of Die Teppichweber von Kujan-Bulak or in English the carpet-weavers of Kujan-Bulak] a fellow who felt entertainment should be didactic, I.E. teach something. If nothing else it should each moral rectitude. it should help us to become righteous people. In the US film industry there has been an explosion of the anti-hero. K-drama still gives me the hero fix The good guy wins, the bad guy dies or is at least driven out. High marks for the chaste attitude of the heroine. Who really wants a “sleep around” heroine? Then karma sutra says “beware of the woman who peaks about sex in public, she does not respect herself and will not respect you.
@lionel P Belanger- I too have old fashioned tastes in heroes and heroines; however, it’s doubtful the heroine in My Country was very chaste (although we never see her involved with any man other than Hwi). But she is raised in, and eventually takes over, the gisaeng house. My personal belief is that’s just for the very purpose to serve audiences like us who like the old fashioned trope but I doubt her chastity would’ve been realistic or even possible.
My point was not that the lady you mention should be chaste. The point is, for me, I prefer more clearly defined characters which possess these qualities. I like a morality play, one which pitches absolute good against absolute evil. For me, this series would qualify as ” a soft-core immortality play” , and it requires such suspension of disbelief and such an ignorance of commonly known historical facts that it would be an agony to sit through. For the same reason Martin Luther King should not be depicted as an axe murderer nor Mohandas Gandhi as a warmonger, choose an anonymous villain. This only smacks of author laziness, the failure to do any background research. I am convinced that Berthold Brecht had it right, as to the didactic obligation of entertainment. It might not be necessary to break new ground on a subject but one should not employ falsehoods in a historical drama to further the story.
Certainly I only hold forth that this is my choice. I have no desire to press my choices on anyone else.
P.S. I also do not swoon over the lead’s bare chest. LOL
@lionel P Belanger – ” Certainly I only hold forth that this is my choice. I have no desire to press my choices on anyone else.” I certainly did not feel that you were pressing your opinions onto anyone else and I’m sorry if I made you feel like you had to defend your thoughts. I enjoy reading what other people think and discussing all our thoughts and opinions whether we agree or disagree. With one judgemental exception – how could you NOT swoon at the lead’s bare chest???!!! 😄
people think and discussing all our thoughts and opinions whether we agree or disagree. With one judgemental exception – how could you NOT swoon at the lead’s bare chest???!!!
perhaps in my next incarnation, only Buddha knows
Aw, thanks for rescheduling your viewing around my reviews, lionel! That’s a big compliment, thank you! <3
For an excellent show that's well-written and where multiple small details are well tied up, might I suggest Chinese drama Nirvana In Fire? It's at the top of my all-time favorites list, it's just so carefully written and executed, and so well acted too. <3
Yet another wonderfully detailed review of a drama I did not watch. 😀 Sadly, this one is too bloody and too emo for my taste these days.
Tee hee. Yes, this one definitely falls on the emo side of the scale. And it’s bloodier than I expected too. But I must’ve been in the mood for angst, coz I enjoyed this one quite well! Thanks for enjoying the review, despite not having watched the show! <3