To be honest, I don't follow K-dramas that closely. I didn't even see ratings killer Boys Over Flowers which created a whole new wave of squeeing hallyu fans. I think the last K-drama that I earnestly watched was Something Happened in Bali. That was in 2004, so it's a pretty long time ago.
The reason why I'm not an avid K-drama viewer is mostly because they are so addictive*. Once you start watching you just can't stop and you find yourself stuck to the screen twice a week for an indefinite number of months. (K-dramas broadcast twice a week.) You can't make plans and of course you're not going to catch up later because everyone will be talking about the previous episode already and you'll be spoiled like rotten tofu.
I really don't want to make a commitment to something that can't talk back.
* Why are K-dramas so addictive?
First, the soap-opera aspect. (See first paragraph.) Soap operas are the best cheesy entertainment there is.
Second, the non-soap-opera aspect. No matter how ridiculous the story is, there is always something totally relatable and probable that you find yourself identifying yourself with someone in it.
Third, no commercial breaks. Unless it's a show made directly for cable, the script is written with no commerical breaks in mind (unlike American series) so the flow is a well thought out curve of emotional submersion, with peaks and valleys all coming to a preordained conclusion at the episode's end. With the exception of cable stations, there are no commerical breaks in the middle of TV programs, regardless of genre. Thus a commercial break can last up to 15 minutes and can be more interesting than the actual program at times.
Although I don't go for K-dramas with the passion I do for K-pop, there are times when I start watching extremely late into the series and get completely caught up in it unawares. This happened with Jumong (May 2006 ~ March 2007), which I watched with about four months left in the series and the latest is Queen Seonduk, which I've only started watching about a month ago.
Both are period dramas. Period dramas attract me easily because of their visuals - the costumes, scenery, backdrops and settings are just so beautiful. Whatever the country, most period dramas have lush cinematography to match and it's always a pleasure to see.
The acting in period dramas are another important factor. They never cast mediocre actors in period dramas. You have to know how to convincingly convey emotion and character in the dialect of that era, which calls for veteran or proved actors, which in turn is a blessing for the viewer - no need to cringe at lisps or weird accents, bad enunciation or overacting.**
** Which reminds me of Kevin Costner's Robin Hood and Keanu Reeves trying to do Shakespeare in 'Much Ado About Nothing'.
To the main topic:
Korea is an ancient land with a 4,000 year-plus history of kingdoms, dynasties and empires, but only three queens in the whole mix. Three! That's like one every millenium! It's not even spaced out that way; all the three queens ruled during the Silla dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD), an era when the Confucian female subordinance creed had yet to invade the Korean peninsula and when women were viewed in high regard.
Queen Seonduk was the first ever queen to rule as her father King Jinpyeong had no sons. She went through a tumultous reign but is credited to have set the foundation for later monarchs to establish a unified nation on the Korean peninsula (Unified Silla). Although the drama is based on historical fact, some aspects have been highly exaggerated and fictionalized with dramatic license for TV.
Having been born as twins, which was considered as a bad omen, Princess Deokman (Queen Seonduk's childhood name) is raised by a maid in faraway China, unknowing of her background. Her sister Princess Chunmyeong is raised alone in the palace, also unknowing of her twin's existence. Later on, their lives intertwine in a tragic fate.
Park Ye Jin as Princess Chunmyeong
Ko Hyeon Jeong as Lady Misil & Lee Yowon as Queen Seonduk
Lady Misil is the Catherine de' Medici of Silla, whose ambition to become empress has been thwarted on numerous occasions and Princess Deokman's main opposition in becoming queen. The charisma of Ko Hyeon Jeong is absolutely fascinating to watch as she takes on the 'sweeter than honey' evil role of Lady Misil with relish.
Hwarangs, the 'Flower Knights' of Silla, gather at the round table for serious discussion. Trained in every discipline, they were the top elite group of Silla's youth and were included in major decisions regarding the state.
Kim Yushin, the future general who would be crucial in unifying the nation, as a young Hwarang (left) in serious talk with the Hwarangs' mentor. He is portrayed as a possible love interest for Princess Deokman in the beginning of the series but decides to serves her as his future Queen instead. Honorable decisions in favor of a greater cause are favorite themes in Korean period dramas.
Yoo Seung-Ho as Kim Chunchu
Kim Chunchu is the son of Princess Chunmyeong and future King Taejong Muyeol, who is the king that unified the Korean peninsula. Having been sent away to China as a child, he returns to Silla as an odd teenager with disregard for his aunt Princess Deokman and is the catalyst character that makes things start churning in her bid to become queen.
Kim Nam Gil as Bidam
Bidam is the abandoned child of Lady Misil, a secret which he discovers and does not disclose to anyone. An almost genius in martial arts, he is taught by the Hwarang's mentor during his vagabond days. Originally a close friend and ally of Princess Deokman, his keen ambition for power and his new sense of idendity clouds his character and makes him turn to other paths.
The drama still has a way to go. Queen Seonduk is still Princess Deokman, Bidam is still her ally, Lady Misil still has influential power, Kim Chunchu is still a seemingly clueless teenager. How Lady Misil meets her fall, how and why Bidam revolts, how Kim Chunchu shows his true observant and sharp character and how the princess finally becomes a queen will be extremely interesting to watch.
Hope this drama manages to get exported overseas with subtitles; if anything else it's just worth watching for the costumes alone.
Queen Seonduk airs 10:00 pm Mondays and Tuesdays on MBC.