A drama that ventures through a solid plot and a diverse, enjoyable range of characters. Though at times the plot is slightly unclear, the incredible cast pulls it through and definitely saves the day.
Hey guys, and welcome back to another Kdrama review! This perhaps will be one of my most memorable Kdramas in my life as it is a drama that I have committed so much time, effort, emotion and love into.
Empress Ki had finished ages ago and yes, I feel absolutely guilty that I’m posting this review now but, it’s never too late, right? Hopefully, you guys won’t kill me for posting this so so late…However, despite how late I am, I just had to post up this review! Unlike others who tend to avoid the whole idea that they had finished it, I tend to deal with it head-on – write a review, and properly say farewell to it! I have previously written a post that discusses some broad aspects of the drama, and how my initial impression of the drama went down. Since I want to avoid repetition here, just check out the post for yourself 😉
As per usual, this is a SPOILER-FREE post (as much as it possibly can) and let’s get started!
Name: Empress Ki (also known as Empress Qi)
Broadcast time: 28th October 2013 to 29th April 2014
Total number of episodes: 51
Note: Did not start watching when it first started broadcasting; joined after the halfway point
Opinions about the drama:
Wow, what a ride. It has been so long since I have dedicated myself solidly to a drama (of such a length) and kept with it every week.
And when I mean long, I mean LONG. The last one must have been “Dong Yi” I believe. But definitely, there has been no regrets from this girl whatsoever! From the moment I watched the first episode, I just knew that this drama would become a pivotal drama in my life so far. And now that it is over, I am even more definite that this is true! However, this drama will be remembered for not only it’s positives, but for also its negatives. Yes, quite surprising that I would judge this drama in a less positive manner, but this drama had flaws, no matter how you looked at it. So, this post will deal with both sides of the coin.
Based on the story, many may have assumed that the drama seemed straightforward enough – Seung-Nyang wanted to become the Empress of Yuan and we will see how she embarks on this journey.
However, it didn’t exactly go as planned.
As we eventually realised, her goals altered based on her circumstances, morphing into more complex, dangerous and determined ambitions as the drama gradually unfolded itself. I won’t go into much detail (as to avoid spoilers) but I must discuss and explain that it simply wasn’t because she wanted to become the Empress of Yuan – it was much more complex. And that definitely set a certain pacing for the drama.
The characters (to a certain extent) were fantastic as well. What I had failed to notice initially, was the true importance of numerous characters who appeared. What I had naively assumed was that ‘minor’ characters would stay as ‘minor’ characters, and not play any pivotal part in a major portion of the plot.
Oh, how wrong I was about that.
The writers didn’t even give me a chance to think it through, and just said “Screw your thoughts, here’s some more stuff for you to chew on”. Eventually, when you least expect them, these ‘minor’ characters end up lasting right to the end of the drama, even longer than some main characters. That alone caught me offguard, and never failed to surprise me however, never left me disappointed. So, I just have to give an immense amount of credit to the actors and actresses in the drama; without them, this drama definitely would not have been as enjoyable as it was (Jin Yi Han…possibly my new man crush >///<)
I’ve also mentioned this before (but I won’t neglect to mention it again), that “Empress Ki” is beautiful. Costuming, makeup, cinematography, set pieces; everything about this drama is visually stunning. As I had mentioned in my previous post about this drama, the costuming of Seung-Nyang, no matter which occasion, is truly stunning to see her walk in. This probably is not a major point, but definitely a visually-captivating drama kinda adds a couple of points to the score, right?
Following that, the OST of this drama is stunning. My favourite has got to be Xia’s 사랑합니다 (I Love You). It is an absolutely beautiful track, that even if it weren’t for the drama, I would still have bought the song just because it is a beautiful ballad filled with heartache and just pure, Xia-awesomeness. Other tracks like Soyu’s 한번만 (Just Once) and Park Wan Kyu’s 바람결 (The Wind) are just as great as standalone tracks. The only thing that I may complain about, which isn’t about songs themselves, is perhaps their purpose in the drama or at least, when they pop up in that drama. Especially with “The Wind”…they play that song at some really awkward places…All in all, the OST overall is pretty brilliant!
The drama is also a very fast-paced drama, a fact which seemed to surprise numerous viewers. Clearly, the 51 episode drama (initially 50 eps) threw most people off the idea of even starting the drama, not to mention following it week-by-week for months on end. And to most, I say, I don’t blame you. Eventually, a lengthy drama such as this one is bound to meet numerous bumps and roundabouts during its journey (which it did find numerous times)and end up going around in circles trying to find its way out again.
And that is why, my friends, I was absolutely disappointed once it went past that halfway mark. Here’s why.
I did mention before (in this post and my previous one) that the characters were portrayed by the actors and actresses wonderfully, but never did the development of these characters truly satisfied me. I do understand that perhaps the characters with smaller roles would not have much of a chance to develop their characters as much, especially with such a large cast of people and production however, at least let your lead characters develop well enough for the rest of the viewers, right? It was during this character development that was truly frustrating the crap out of me, especially during the later half of the drama.
With Seung-Nyang, I believe that the initial set-up of the drama portraying her as this ‘iron lady’ was an image that the drama never answered and lived up to. With so much purpose and ambition to pursue her revenge for her fallen sisters and family, she does not end up answering such a call, and instead floated on to end up babysitting the Emperor. Not only that, her expressions gradually became less emotive, fuelling that frustration further. She ends up not a character fighting for her people, but a cryptic individual who refrained from expressing herself to the audience, allowing all of us as the viewers to begin doubting the legitimacy in her actions. I don’t want to comment further about her character in too much detail (in order to avoid spoilers of course) but…urghhhhhhh at some moments, really!
Likewise with Ta-Hwan…I’m just gonna come out and say it – I never liked him as a character. Whether it was as a ruler of his country, or a love rival against Wang Yoo for Seung-Nyang, I just never seemed to root for him in some way or another. I knew from the start which ship I was going to sail with (Wang Yoo and Seung-Nyang FTW!) but I had always assumed that some day, some day that I would eventually root for the other OTP. It never came, ever. I can only assume that it was due to the lack of character development and purpose for me to love him more that Wang Yoo.
One more thing was definitely about Wang Yoo’s character, and maybe my fav OTP overall. From the start, I had unconsciously rooted for the Seung-Nyang/Wang Yoo pairing not just because of the actor and actress, but rather that their love seemed real and pure. But gradually, the writers attempted to push the other relationship, even though I never sensed that Seung-Nyang ever had such strong feelings for the Emperor during the first half of the drama. With that, Jo Jin Mo’s character gradually became less significant, and not much character building occurred. Usually, love triangles were concepts to allow the audience to become indecisive of their decision as to “who should the girl end up with?” But, it seemed so clear by the midway point which side the writers wanted to push for, leaving Wang Yoo on the side of the road with pretty much nothing. It was quite sad that I couldn’t see more of him grow within the drama but then again, he was a solid character right from the start – a righteous and heroic man who would always put the wellbeing of his men, his people and his love before his own. That was probably why I was so drawn to him, and always lightened up when I saw him on the screen. Eventually, it seemed too obvious that the writers kept adding Wang Yoo in just for the purpose of the love triangle, since most conflicts were within Yuan; Goryeo become a very insignificant piece of land to fight over.
The final thing I’d like to possibly rant about (sorry readers, it’s another rant!) is perhaps the lack of logical plot points during the drama, especially towards the end of the El Temur clan’s reign. These villains honestly…they won’t die! Wow, they seemed almost invincible (especially Yeon Chul…damn, that guy kept coming back from the dead! Talk about not being able to let go…) But, rather than the absolute unrealistic circumstances for these villains, it rather caused more trouble for the later development of the plot. Eventually, the remaining ten episodes or so were a race to the finish line, while trying to make ends meet for everyone, which at times seemed way too rushed to my liking.
Although the near end was not like what I was introduced to during the beginning of this drama, “Empress Ki” was still a show worth watching, and a joy to watch. If it weren’t, no way would I have maintained the persistence to follow the drama for so long, as with most people. Definitely, this drama is perhaps not suitable for anyone, but I highly, highly recommend this to all of those Sageuk lovers out there, or anyone who really wants to watch something that they can simply get lost in for hours.
Borrowing the rating system from the lovely goddesses of Kdrama reviews themselves Javabeans and Girlfriday, I would rate “Empress Ki” as:
How much I liked it: 8/10
How good was it objectively: 7/10
So, I hope you all enjoyed this uber long review (sorry about the length…the drama was 50+ episodes after all!) and I do apologise once again about the delay in posting the review! I will be posting up much more regularly now (with the holidays becoming a thing!) so, stay tuned for more content!
Love you guys, and thank you so much for sticking around – it really means so much to me, you wouldn’t believe! Take care guys, and have a wonderful day~
❤ Yami Hyunnie ^^~
December 14, 2014 at 4:17 pm
Hello. This is A.K.I.A. Talking…
Thanks for the great review of Empress Ki! I enjoyed it a lot.
I added it to my collection of reviews for the show. The show has now an average score of 82%.
Here is a link to the page if you would like to give it a look:
Thanks again for the review.
February 22, 2017 at 1:07 pm
*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT*
I definitely agree on the positives. The actors were just PHENOMENAL. My favorite characters were Wang Yu and Tal Tal and the costumes… oh my gosh, it was moving art. It made me wish people still dressed like this today.
I have to really applaud the villains. They did a great job of El Temur and his family. El Temur was the root of the tree and his kids ended up being some destructive little demons but you could understand why. They were rightfully called brats in the show and even when they got their just desserts, I found myself lamenting, if only they would have just quit while they were ahead, particularly Tanasiri and Tanquishi. Yom was a total rat but he was a survivor, a practical sub-villain with a tragic past. He was a sleaze but I did enjoy him as a villain especially when he fell for a court lady. I found myself going “awww” despite myself.
Nyang was a strong woman of course but they allowed her displays of femininity and vulnerability all the same. She was fiercely loyal to her king and country and was a Robin-Hood of sorts acting as the Jackal to thwart the slave tribute of her people to Yuan. I never quite saw this resolved though. Was it never abolished? This cursed system is what made her lose her mother and shoved her into a terrible life in the first place. I guess that is the challenge of writing such a long series.. It was sad to essentially see her declawed and become just another piece in a game of political chess. She was a warrior! But she got obsessed with personal revenge and the SYSTEMS were never addressed effectively. She just…. continued to lose those she held dear…. how did she stay SANE?
Wang Yu’s character is just rugged and MANLY. The kind you take home to mom. He was a balance of compassion, firm justice and a warmth that came out around his loved ones. For this reason I dubbed him “Tiger-Bear.” He’s not a pretty boy but his overall aura was just amazing because of all these outstanding elements of his character. I liked that he had a reputation of a thug brawler and I wish they had kept a bit more of that. As a prince he was shown brawling in a bar and I took it as him acting out because of all his anger and failure of his Kingdom to protect its own. I would have liked seeing him sucker punch some more people in the face. It would have been a nice variation from all the sword play. Thug king with a heart of gold, but the series sort of lost that aspect of his character as it went on. He was relegated to a flat, heart-broken plot-device who just buried himself in work and missions. Did his country ever get any closer to his dream? He stood firmly as Nyang’s equal in terms of fire and heart which is why they were such a power couple. She friend-zoned him unnecessarily–this man would have died for her. What stands out the most is Wang Yu had a BIG heart.
Togon… I WANTED to like Togon’s character, I knew he had potential in him but he just… fizzled and never had his full potential drawn out. I kept watching because I was WAITING for him to man up. He had his moments but it just never culminated. He himself was sick of the corruption of his empire and felt so trapped. He valued the people who stood up to him with a spine instead of the weak willies that always groveled before him. THAT is why he became obsessed (sorry, I won’t call that love) with Nyang. He saw in her strength that he wanted and there were a few moments where she seemed to provoke him to courage like when he jumped off the cliff. However, it was not a good basis for a relationship because he had a DEPENDENCY on her that persisted to the end. Nyang only enabled it after she herself became declawed. That wasn’t a real relationship, that was baby-sitting because Nyang was essentially Togon’s mom. Togon grew up a puppet and remained a puppet. He never really healed from the abuse he grew up under and became a man with his own deep conviction.
Tal Tal was just wonderful. An absolute cutie, I think it was the hair and that deep, articulate tone he spoke in. For such a quiet, stoic guy he only revealed more of his depth and heart as the show went on. He was an (insanely) intelligent, strong, loyal man and boy did he love his uncle but he loves what is right more. He had an inner righteousness that was constantly suppressed by the corrupt empire he grew up under. As stoic as he was you can tell by his decisions and actions he was desperately HUNGRY for what is right. That is why he grabbed the opportunity to work with Nyang–he didn’t even care she was Korean–he liked the song she sang. He was like a quiet inferno. Why couldn’t men like HIM be the emperor?
For me it was a 10/10 up until the middle, became 8/10 then plummeted to a 0 in the last two episodes. I actually felt kind of betrayed by the end and it left me asking if there was any justice in the world. I asked myself “Was the writer of this script depressed?!”
The biggest problem being the show’s treatment of Wang Yu. The show really did him dirty along with those he held dear. It just seemed to me like they are championing an abusive and imbalanced relationship (Togon/Nyang) while a strong, healthy one (Wang Yu/Nyang) is tossed like so much garbage.
It’s like everyone tried so far for so long, fought, cheated death and survived…. for it all to amount to nothing. I understand it’s historical fiction but to try and cram in historical dogma to bail out your bad ending made me angry. There was so much sacrifice, so many tears and fear yet it still felt overwhelmingly like the good guys lost more than it was worth. Korea was left hanging, Yuan continued to have its political trouble. It made me wish the Yuan Empire would just do everyone a favor, including the Emperor, and just collapse because all the corruption was forcing everyone to be anything but themselves… human. Such a system deserves to fall. A nation only survives if people’s hearts, faith and virtues are strong.
The moral of the story I get is:
-Women like abusive, hyper-dependent men
-Righteous, strong, sacrificial men lose out (along with their loyal friends)
-Abandon your nation and serve an Empire that continues to exploit it
February 23, 2017 at 11:30 am
Wow TZ, forgive me if I’m unable to comment on all the points you’ve made, but certainly overall I completely agree with all you’ve stated (very well articulated I must say :D). By far my biggest disappointment with the drama was with Wang Yu and how the writer treated him. At the end of the day, he was the hero of the story and yet, he gained nothing out of it even though he was righteous, loyal to both country and his woman, and was an amazing ruler, respected by all. That ending was indeed quite a shame; it could have ended differently very easily. And lolol regarding the morals of this story…at the end of the day, we do need to question what this drama was trying to educate us about >.<
Thank you again for your extensive and amazing mini(?) review on the drama. Hoping to hear from you very soon, and it's been a pleasure talking to you.
❤ Yami Hyunnie
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