Hellooo, readers of my Fanzine! This fanzine placed SECOND, and I received a nice prize for my effort (in form of an amazon voucher that I had much fun spending). I thank whoever kept up with this fanzine for its winning and those who enjoyed it.
Since writing this fanzine, however, I've been watching >.> I have been watching well. I finished several dramas and started several currently airing dramas. All of which I'll feature in a re-launch of this fanzine (still in this movella) and one in particular I shall feature right now, here!
The drama we're talking about here was an emotional rollercoaster of about 51 episodes (which is why it deserves its own page). Featuring familiar names from previous issues of this fanzine and tops my favourite list, making all other dramas before it seem absolutely rubbish!
Starring: Ha Ji Won, Ji Chang Wook, and Joo Jin Moo
This drama topped charts for obvious reasons. It depicted the real life historical figures of Empress Ki (Ha Ji Won) and Togon Temur (Ji Chang Wook) in dramatized events based on historical fact involving a third fictional character of Wang Yu - the king of Goryeo.
In real life, the story of Empress Ki and her rise to power wasn't as heart wrenching or as emotional as the one the drama depicts. In real life, Empress ki was born into aristocracy and never met the king of Goryeo. She became a concubine to the Yuan emperor, Togon Temur - a product of Mongol rule in China, and you could assume she lived peacefully while having little to do with the coups and affairs of the palace like how the drama depicts her character. She worked her way up the ranks while back in Goryeo, her entire family was slaughtered by the actual King of Goryeo (rather than the fictionalised king of Goryeo this drama uses) in fear the Emperor of Yuan would grant the throne of Goryeo to the family of his empress. She died many years after the emperor - the last of the Yuan Dynasty following many wars and coups by his lords and several southern states. Their son, Ayushiridara, formed the Northern Yuan Dynasty which lasted very few years before the Ming Dynasty and Manchurian Qing Dynasty defeated the last of Mongol rule in China and created a new era, putting an end to the arguably revolutionary rule of Ghengis Khan's descendants.
Okay. Enough of the history. What about the story? Well, it uses a lot of the general history, but the characters take on more interesting roles and personalities than how they were recorded in the history books.
The drama depicts Seung-Nyang (later Empress Ki) as a child. She lives in Goryeo, a country now known as Korea that's under Yuan rule (China). Yuan treat Goryeo people like scum and for many years demand tributes be paid to their country in forms of human lives. Concubines, eunuchs, slaves. Both Seung-Nyang and her mother are captured to be taken as concubines to Yuan. They're imprisoned in Goryeo awaiting their deportation when the innocent crown prince of Goryeo (a young Wang Yu), expressed his frustration and commands they all be let free. His good intentions end in disaster as Yuan soldiers chase the innocent women and children, slaughtering them all without a pause. Seung-Nyang, among these women, runs with her mother as her mum is killed by a man she'll later know and remember as Tang Quishi. Her mother takes the arrow intended for her daughter and Seung-Nyang rolls down a embankment out of sight of the soldiers.
Devastated by the loss of her mother and the hidden identity of her father, she lives as a street child, disguised a boy due to prejudice against women. As a child, she's taken in by a rich lord and raised as his personal guard doing his dirty work. All the while, she's aware as she grows of his corruption against the Goryeo crown and dealings with the very man she knows killed her mother.
She becomes known as Jekyll, a street fighter and head of a gang while working for her lord. She's still known as a man and by this point is a young woman. It's in this period she comes across Wang Yu - now King of Goryeo - disguised with his own men in his own street gang looking to uncover the very corruption Seung-Nyang is committing on behalf of her master. Her lord is eventually taken down by Wang Yu and his identity is revealed. Seung-Nyang is given a second chance and joins the Royal Guard in which she meets her father due to coincidence as he wears the very same jewellery as the piece she was given by her mother. They keep their relationship a secret to keep Seung-Nyang's identity a secret.
Meanwhile in Yuan, the old emperor has died. Power falls to El Temur, his prime minister and father of the man who killed Seung-Nyang's mother, to appoint a new emperor. He has to choose between the oldest son or the youngest son, and with his own sinister intentions, banishes Togon Temur - the oldest son of the last emperor - to Goryeo and instates the youngest brother as emperor so he can use the young boy as a puppet for power.
Responsibility fall on Goryeo and the royal guard to keep Togon Temur safe or else if harm comes in his way it be seen as a direct threat against Yuan. Togon Temur arrives in Goryeo but acts the part of a quivering fool to make him appear unassuming and useless, as he's aware of El Temurs ploy to kill him and pin it on the people of Goryeo. He delays the entourage as much as he can until a assassination attempt is put against him by a man of El Temur. During which, Seung-Nyang saves him and they both escape harms way.
Meanwhile, a war is raging between the Turks and the Yuan dynasty in a power struggle in which Wang Yu is fighting on command of the Yuan royals.
Many things happen and it's far too much to explain, but Togon Temur and Seung Nyang develop their own special relationship while on the run to escape those who wish to harm the emperor. Seung Nyang only wishes for the safe return of the Yuan royalty (despite her hate for Yuan because they killed her mother and friends) because she knows if he isn't safe and well, Wang Yu will be executed for his failures. .
Togon Temur is finally returned safe and sound and is then installed as emperor. Wang Yu is safe for now but allegations of corruption and many events I can't quite remember lead to Seung-Nyang's father being framed for a crime he is then killed for due to the betrayal of her father's closest man. Wang Yu and Seung-Nyang are sent to Yuan, captured as slaves and Wang Yu as a criminal.
It's on this journey to Yuan that she is uncovered as a female - Wang Yu, the king of Goryeo and closest friend, having never known for the entire time they knew each other. The man who killed her mother is the one to find out first and develops feelings for Seung Nyang that she obviously doesn't return. He develops thoughts of if I can't have her, no one can. Meanwhile, Wang Yu and Seung Nyang begin to admit their feelings to each other.
They aren't to be together as they both go separate ways once in the capital. Wang Yu is imprisoned and Seung Nyang becomes a slave in the palace. Togon Temur - now emperor - spots her but can't quite believe the resemblance between the man who'd saved him in Goryeo and the beautiful slave working in the palace and develops a slight obsession with the girl.
Seung-Nyang doesn't admit to being who the emperor thinks she is and works in the palace as a maid to keep quiet and remain unassuming. She's hell bent on revenge for her father, her mother, her king and lover, and herself. Meanwhile, the emperor is wed to the prime ministers daughter - the power hungry warlord who wants nothing more than Yuan itself. Tanashiri is the emperor's new wife, now empress. She hates Seung Nyang for casting spells over the emperor who is convinced he knows it's the same man from Goryeo.
A lot happens in this drama at around this time, with several plots running at once. Keeping to the main story, Wang Yu and Seung Nyang reunite outside the palace after the emperor allows her to leave. They couple together and operate in Yuan on behalf of Goryeo, now off the royal's radars. A certain scheme comes up that puts Seung-Nyang in the risky position of entering the palace again in a secret operation. At this time she is pregnant to Wang Yu but unaware. The emperor miraculously saves her when the mission goes wrong and when he realises what has happened. He saves her even though she was scheming against the country. Not knowing she is pregnant either, with help of loyal and trustworthy servants, hides her in one of his concubines chambers who so happens to also be pregnant. At this point in time, Wang Yu is now back in Goryeo, ignorant to everything that's unfolding with Seung Nyang. The concubine is due around the same time as Seung-Nyang, and the concubine (who was close to Seung-Nyang as they were both one maids together) sneaks her out the palace in her palanquin together under the pretense that she's going to a temple to give birth.
Unknowingly to either of them, the evil empress Tanashiri is unable to get pregnant due to the scheming of the empress dowager and refuses to consider the birth of a royal baby before the empress herself has had a child. She orders men to slaughter the concubine and her maids on route to the temple. Seung Nyang escapes, but it's a close call. She's spotted by specifically the traitorous guard who killed her father back in goryeo who now works for the evil prime minister and tries to kill her. Seung Nyang escapes to a cave and quickly gives birth there. The babies cries alert the soldiers. In a close and intense fight, she runs for dear life until she's cornered on a cliff edge. It's there where a guard pounces and rips the baby from her arms (which none had guessed to be hers) and he falls off the cliff with the child by accident. Seung Nyang miraculously survives the fall.
She's found helpless by a man who's on Wang Yu's side after hearing word of the slaughter and is shocked to find her. He's even more surprised when he finds out that Wang Yu and Seung Nyang have had a child. Wang Yu doesn't know. They search for the child but only find the guard and the blanket the baby was wrapped it. They both assume it's dead and Seung Nyang develops into a cold, hell bent character who knows how she'll get revenge.
She decides to not contact Wang Yu or tell him about the child. She goes to Bayan and Tal Tal - a man who once was out to kill the emperor while working for the prime minister but now a loyal subject and requests a way to enter the palace again so she can kill the empress herself for killing not only her baby but dozens of her close maid friends. They accept under the impression that she's only hungry for power in becoming a concubine. They both know who she is, having encountered her as a male back in Goryeo. They know the emperor will look on her favourably and submit her as a concubine tribute. She's chosen, and becomes favourable by the dowager who doesn't like the empress.
It's in these episodes that inner palace conflicts happen involving poisons and subtle schemes. The Empress Dowager (adopted mother of the emperor) looks favourably on Seung Nyang and knows she has the will power to help her overthrow Tanashiri. She doesn't want Tanashiri as empress as that provides bigger ties between the evil prime minister (who killed the last emperor) and the royal family. The empress, in a turn of events, gives birth to a child. However, it will reveal itself that she was never pregnant all along an in fact stole a new born baby rescued by nuns in the mountains. She passes the baby as her own, because she can't really get pregnant. It was purely coincidence that she was feigning pregnancy for several months prior. This baby, however, is actually Seung Nyang's - the nuns having rescued it before Seung Nyang could find him.
The empress proves to a tyrant like her father, punishing everyone who dares get in her way. To make this quick, Togon Temur favour Seung Nyang over any other concubine, and even his own empress. She falls pregnant again - the emperor never once knowing about her other child. Wang Yu returns to news that his lover has entered the palace as a concubine to his enemy and begrudgingly accepts it. The emperor learns to read with help from Seung Nyang - having been suppressed his entire life by the prime minister. This allows Togon Temur to rise up again his puppeteer and in huge plot spanning many episodes, a complex plan is devised to destroy the PM's forces and kill him and his family. It is a success, and the empress is then sentenced to death too by hanging.
The drama could have ended here, at around the episode 30 mark with the instalment of Seung Nyang as empress. However, it isn't so easy. The empress dowager pulls her support of Seung Nyang because she doesn't want a woman from Goryeo as empress. Neither does Bayan - the very man who helped her enter the palace. Bayan is promoted to PM this time and the emperor has no choice but to abide by their words. The emperor is married off to Bayan's niece who turns out to be sneakier than Tanashiri - she appears unassuming and ignorant on the outside, but is evil and rotten internally. It is her who is responsible for almost killing Seung Nyang's baby to the emperor, Ayushiridara.
Meanwhile as this plot unfolds, the PM's surviving son Tanquishi - also on empress Ki's hit list - is trying to find his father's treasure so he can raise an army against Yuan.
Another potential Love-Line develops that the writers never make much of but it caused quite a following online. Tal Tal - Bayan's nephew and cousin to the new empress has helped Empress Ki all along and guided her on her way. He's a wise, righteous man. They never admit feelings but you always get the idea that they'd do anything for each other. This is proven when Tal Tal actually kills Bayan (the new PM and his uncle) because Empress Ki needs him to die, but also because Bayan made Tal Tal promise years before that is he became consumed with power, to not let him live. In an emotional scene, this happens. The emperor arrives minutes before to witness it all.
Bayan's neice is put away for her many crimes (including plotting a murder) and Seung Nyang is installed as empress. Officially now known as Empress Ki, she has more to battle against everyone who doesn't want her to remain in her position.
The final plot point begins around here. A trader group is being hunted down by Wang Yu who is trying to uncover their corruption and crimes against Goryeo. Little does he know at the time, their ambitions are more than the money. They want Yuan - and they're targeting the royals. To make this summary quicker, the head of the trader house turns out to be the emperor's main servant - who's slowly been poisoning the emperor, driving him insane. He's past the point of return.
The old empress Tanashiri's son also comes to an end. He's been raised by the dowager to install as the next emperor (to not allow a Empress Ki's son on the throne), but when it's revealed that the boy is not Tanashiri's son by a nun from the hermitage she stole him from, he's outcasted. Empress Ki never reveals to the boy that she's his mother, but he grows to appreciate her despite any hatred drilled into him about her from his mother and grandmother (as they'd now outcasted him)
Wang Yu discovers that he's his son ten years too late, and vows to take the boy back to Goryeo to live with him as prince and king. The boy is recovering from poisoning of an arrow however and dies suddenly despite hopeful recoveries. He'd been hiding his pain.
The emperor also finds out that the boy was Wang Yu and Empress Ki's son and has Wang Yu killed so it doesn't get out about her son. He fears that if people know, Empress Ki could be killed when he's not around to protect her.
The drama comes to a peaceful end. There are no evil PM's to corrupt the government. No war. No potential deadly ties. Her son is well. The old empresses are dead. The dowager has killed her self. Tal Tal has died in battle. Wang Yu is gone. All that's left is the dying emperor. He dies peacefully in her arms in a scene reminiscent of a scene at the beginning of the drama, where she is tickling his ear and stroking his face - only this time she doesn't on her own without a command.
He dies soon after, and then the drama cuts to a flashback. It's a scene from the beginning of the drama when Seung Nyang is a man. Wang Yu is on one side, Togon Temur on another. They both have horses and she has to choose what one to ride back on. She doesn't choose either.
This drama was the most emotional one I'd ever tried. I haven't seen such a powerful drama in all my drama-watching career. Empress Ki was the epitome of strong independent woman who really didn't need no man. She done everything for herself and always fought her own battles. While I didn't do justice for the greatness of this drama, I'm sure you're only reading this summary if you've watched it and know what it's already about. You will be able to agree with me.
She was never the pathetic character who sat and cried until someone fixed it for her. She held it in and got to work. She was hell bent on revenge and she got it. She avenged her mother, father, two lovers, child, friends, and foes. Empress Ki was an unchanging character who knew what she was set out to do from the start. She wasn't loyal to one force, but loyal only to herself. I've never read or watched anything in my life that portrayed a character so beautifully. Most of this is down to the outstanding acting of the actress - Ha Ji Won. She outdid herself with this one and this might be remembered as her best work.
The directors and writers of this drama deserve the highest awards. It never had a boring moment, everything wove perfectly together. Nothing was too sudden or too random. Everything connected into one monster of a story. This is a must watch, regardless of your attention spans. It could take you a year to watch for all I care but you won't be wasting your time. I found myself watching up to five episodes a night with only three hours of sleep. I never got tired, never got bored. It's rare that a drama has this effect.
I like to buy my favourite dramas, but this one is so long, very few places offer it for a good price. I wish I could. I wasn't even a huge fan of the OST but the drama was so good that the OST didn't matter. I'd buy the OST just to support the drama, just to hear the songs that'll send me off on a rollercoaster of emotions again.
There were huge plot points I had to brush over in this. I feel like I downplayed Wang Yu and Seung Nyang's relationship, but trust when I say it was a lot more than how I wrote it. I shipped them even until theday he died. The emperor wasn't who I wanted her to be with. It was Wang Yu or Tal Tal. While Tal Tal was also a really minor character, he had a huge impact.
Pictured in the banner at the very top, left to right, is Togon Temur (emperor), Empress Ki (Seung Nyang), and Wang Yu (King of Goryeo).
Seung Nyang pre-palace as a man working for Wang Yu as a warrior - Ha Ji Won
Seung Nyang (As a woman) while working as a maid - Ha Ji Won
Seung Nyang/Empress Ki while she's a consort to the emperor - Ha Ji Won
Togon Temur before he's emperor - Ji Chang Wook
Togon Temur as Emperor - Ji Chang Wook
Wang Yu - the King of Goryeo - Joo Jin Mo
First empress, Tanashiri who stole Seung Nyang and Wang Yu's baby - Baek Jin Hee
Second evil Empress Bayan - Lee Da Hae
First evil PM, El Temur
Second, considerably nicer PM, Bayan
Bayan's first man and one of Empress Ki's closest allies, Tal Tal
Empress Dowager - Togon Temur's adopted mother/Last emperor's favourite wife