Type: Korean Drama
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A 62 episode-long saguek (Korean period drama) detailing the life of a princess who fought to rule ancient Korea. Princess Deokman was separated at birth from her twin sister and family after a prophecy forewarned the birth of royal twins would destroy the royal family. She returns years later to find the court under the powerful thumb of a court lady, Lady Mishil, who was the concubine of several kings. An epic political battle of wits ensues, as Deokman uses her cunning and intellect to reinstate her birthright as a royal princess. But the journey’s only beginning as Deokman makes a vow to become the first woman to inherit a throne.
|Princess Deokman who becomes Queen Seondeok|
I love, love this drama! This was the first Korean drama I watched and I was hooked from that moment. When I stumbled onto this show on Hulu, almost immediately I fell in love with the gorgeous costumes (the Shilla period is just beautiful), impressive soundtrack, epic royal court politics, and story brimming with strong female characters and awesome warriors.
|Just some of her many fabulous dresses|
I loved watching Princess Deokman’s journey. She began as a happy, naive child before transitioning into a disillusioned girl who realized she’s been abandoned by her own family. Eventually the girl became a woman seeking vengeance against Lady Mishil and finally a leader with strength and dignity. My favorite episode arc in the show was Deokman taking back her royal title as a princess. Watching her begin to take cues from her wily arch-nemesis, Lady Mishil, and turn the tables on her was so thrilling and satisfying. And her royal dresses! There’s something magical about a period drama with a huge wardrobe (I’m a huge Star Wars fan and love ogling Queen Amidala and Princess Leia’s many gowns).
|The beautiful and conniving Lady Mishil|
What a superb choice having Lady Mishil as our villainess - a seductress with an all-consuming dream: to be queen of Shilla. She started out as a loyal female Hwarang soldier who served King Jinjeung and then became one of his many concubines. Sadly, the taste of power ignited a hunger that couldn’t be satiated in Mishil. She became the lover of several kings, poisoning one and dethroning another when neither gave her the title of queen. Her ruthlessness led her to even abandon the son she had with the deposed King Jinji. She started a powerful inner circle, with her husband and brother, both politicians, and her lover, a general, and became the de facto ruler of Shilla. Only one person threatened her rise to power – a princess who should’ve never been born.
A good deal of the story revolves around the Hwarang – the royal soldiers of Shilla. Though most of the Hwarang are loyal to their female champion, Lady Mishil, Deokman secretly joined a group of Hwarang disguised as a boy and made bonds with these warriors that would help take her to the throne.
|Kim Yushin who is remembered as one of the greatest generals of Korea|
Kim Yushin is present throughout almost the whole show. He led the Hwarang group that Deokman joined. An overly dead-serious soldier, Yushin is entirely devoted to doing what’s right – and protecting the girl who turned out to be his princess. Though at times Yushin’s character drove me up the wall with his aggravating emotionless, silent personality (stop brooding and tell her how you feel, dude!), watching him grow from eager boy to renowned warrior was so exciting.
|Bidam, arguably the most powerful warrior in Shilla|
Bidam. Kim Nam-Gil, you were born to play this part. Though his character isn’t introduced until 20 something episodes in, when Bidam walked on the screen, he owned it. Everything about this drama went from enjoyable and fun, to riveting and I just CAN’T wait for the next episode!! Bidam is a fascinating symphony of contradictions – he plays the easily distracted fool while hiding the intensity and malice that burns within the deadliest warrior in Shilla. An orphan that was trained by a cold, unloving martial arts master, Bidam has a toxic longing for acceptance and prestige. When he first meets Deokman, he almost gets her killed - but when she shows him inexplicable compassion, his heart bursts. He’d follow this princess to the ends of the earth. As long as his dangerous lust for power doesn’t get in the way, that is.
|Will Yushin and Bidam both remain loyal to their princess?|
Alcheon. I love the character arc of this quieter Hwarang soldier. Alcheon starts out as an almost cruel Hwarang leader who picks on Deokman when she joins the royal soldiers. By the end of the show, Alcheon is probably Deokman’s most stalwart follower, whose undying loyalty to his queen brings tears to my eyes. Sniffle. We love you Alcheon.
|Hwarang leaders (from left to right) Bidam, Yushin, Alcheon, Bojong|
Bojong: A strong warrior, Bojong leads the Hwarang and serves Lady Mishil, who is also his mother. No need to question this boy’s loyalties – he’s a mama’s boy to the death.
|Is there a chance for a princess and a troubled orphan?|
While I’ve ranted on about the glories of Queen Seondeok, admittedly, this show is far from perfect. Though it was filmed in 2009, it feels dated at times. As the drama nears the end, the production value seems to go down (you can occasionally see the glue on all the male’s faces holding their facial hair on, lol). The story is based on the real historical Queen Seondeok, but it’s mostly fictionalized, though almost all of these characters did exist (their back-stories were vastly different in real life). Probably the biggest con of QSD is its lengthiness and how that affects the story-telling. Though we get a chance to learn more about the characters, resolutions that should’ve happened in one episode can be dragged painfully over 5 or more episodes. There is a lot of filler with lesser characters and endless political debate with all the politicians. This drama wanders into melodrama territory many times. While I love the show, the last 10 episodes (which were extended) felt rather disjointed and frustratingly angst-filled to me. If you want a happy ending, I suggest ending at 52 where most of the major story-line concludes. Though I figured the drama would end tragically, it still ripped my heart up watching it.
|Deokman as a Hwarang warrior|
All in all, a great work of semi-fictional entertainment that I have visited again and again. It still manages to catch me up in its soaring tale of an unlikely girl who finds the courage to not only save herself but her nation.