My opinion on Legend after its first week of broadcasts (a preview special and three episodes) is one of tentative liking. No matter how people may rave about other historical dramas, my eyes tend to glaze over at some point in disinterest. Which is ironic since I love history. And period movies. But somehow just not the sageuk genre.
In any case, for whatever reason, Legend doesn’t provoke that reaction in me. Part of that goes to Legend‘s straddling of multiple genres; part of that goes to its beautiful sets, scenery, and effects; and part of that goes to the strong all-around acting. (Although everyone seems to be holding their own in the acting department, may I say that the ladies are really kicking some ass.)
For me, the greatest appeal is in the political intrigue. More than the fantasy elements, or the special effects, or the big-name star(s), I’m most into the sly political maneuverings, the court espionage, the power plays. I’m a big history buff — I love reading up on royal successions, monarchy turmoil, regime change turmoil and Henry VIII and Elizabethan power grabs and all that good stuff. Legend hints at those issues and I dig.
(Random) SONG OF THE DAY
Wheesung – “어쩌다 보니 비밀.” It must be because of the recent wave of sageuks that I’ve been drawn (more than usual) to traditional instrumentation. [ zShare download ]
Episode 2 solidifies a comparison I’d felt in Episode 1 but was reluctant to buy into because I didn’t necessarily want to go there, and by “there” I mean Christian mythology. (Yes, I called it mythology, but I’ve learned that bringing up religion tends to make people annoying, so I’ll point out that any references to Christianity are purely as literary analogue. I make no discussions of the religion itself.) Also, I’m not saying Legend is a complete Christian allegory, because it’s not a perfect analogy; it’s just something I find interesting to pick out.
I didn’t want to jump to the comparison too early, because there are plenty of other (monotheistic) religions aside from Christianity that make use of a “savior” figure. So, the mere fact that Hwanung is the “son of God” sent to save the people of the world wasn’t that strong a similarity in my book. Plus there’s the fact that a lot of this mythology dates back to pre-Christian times anyway.
Our story mostly takes place in 375 AD, the year that the Star of Jushin finally shines to announce the birth of the future true Jushin King. This is purportedly about two thousand years after Lord Hwanung (silver-haired Bae Yong Joon) returned to heaven and scattered his sacred symbols to be reawakened years later. Like the Star of Bethlehem announcing Christ’s birth, everyone looks up (and who can miss it?) and thus the wheels of action spring into motion.
Furthermore, Damdeok (our future great king, also played by Bae Yong Joon) is born in what appears to be a lowly, out-of-the-way barn… wait, what’s that other word for barn? …something like… manger, is it? His mother is on the run for reasons unknown, and staggers along while in labor. It’s worth noting that Hogae, Damdeok’s rival for the title of Jushin King, is born a little late — still early enough to merit the distinction of being born under the Star of Jushin, but he’s pushing the deadline enough that his father frets that he won’t make it.
The awakening of the four sacred symbols — and the eeeevil Hwacheon clan (former Tiger tribe)’s subsequent pillaging to recover them — gives us some more lovely special effects. The CG from Episode 1 seemed a little too artificial in my eyes, but Episode 2 blends them into the scenes more naturally.
One such village (in the East) is attacked, and the keeper of the Blue Dragon’s symbol takes his boy, Cheoro, and plunges the artifact into his heart. The father is killed by the Hwacheon men, but he’s done what he can to keep them from stealing the symbol, which is absorbed into the boy’s body. Creepy!
In my favorite display of special effects this episode, a blacksmith’s village is assaulted for guarding the White Tiger’s symbol, and a group of blacksmiths run away and are met by Geomul villagers (dressed in white, to tell us they are good!). The Geomul villagers (the eventual home of Sujini, and of her teacher Hyun Go) have come to keep the Hwacheons from stealing the symbol, and protect the runaway blacksmiths with a force field of invisibility. (One of the female blacksmiths will later reappear and become friends with Sujini.)
And in yet another village, the child Kiha is entrusted by her mother to look after her baby sister. Scared and alone, Kiha hides her sister inside a chest while the Hwacheons burn their way through her village, and passes out from the smoke — but her ruby necklace awakens and protects her from the fire.
Kiha is found with the necklace and taken to the Hwacheon high elder, aka Creepy Old Man, and her sister is left behind. The young Kiha is questioned, and the powers of the Phoenix Heart necklace magically restore Creepy Old Man into Just as Creepy But Slightly Less Old Man.
When the Geomul villagers arrive, they find the baby, seeing the mark of the Phoenix on her forehead, and bring her back with them. Their village chief orders the baby killed — the black mark on her forehead signifies she’s the reincarnation of the dangerous Black Phoenix. Young Hyun Go (future village chief) is the first of our very weird, seemingly time-insensitive casting issues in this series, given that he apparently ages twice as fast as normal people over the next ten years. Either that, or living sure was rough back then and everyone just looked twice as old as they do now in adulthood.
But whatever the rate of his physical maturation, Hyun Go stands up to his elder and insists that they can’t kill the baby — he’s sure the black mark was actually red, and just appeared dark from the smoke. If they kill the baby today, and it turns out they actually killed the Red Phoenix instead, what will they do? Hyun Go volunteers to raise the child — and if she ever turns into the Black Phoenix, he will kill her himself.
And so he raises the girl, whom they name Sujini, and it is ALWAYS cute to see a bunch of grown men cooing over a baby. Especially one as cute as this one. I’m not generally what you’d call a “baby person,” but this one at least doesn’t make my ovaries want to claw their way out of my body the way some do (twelve hours on a plane with screaming chilluns? They should teach that instead of abstinence-only education).
Back in the future… (ten years later):
Sujini and Hyun Go arrive in the capital, and it’s in the marketplace that Sujini exchanges fleeting glances with her sister, Kiha — but neither recognizes the other.
Legend has done a pretty remarkable thing in their casting, particularly given that so much of the story hinges upon establishing a strong foundation with the characters as children. Sujini is pretty winning all-around — keep an eye on that one — and although I didn’t think young Kiha was quite as good, she proves much more interesting in Episode 3. As for the boys, they’re all right, but so far they’re not on the same level as their female counterparts. Same goes for the adults, actually.
Sujini is sent to follow a suspicious looking character (you can tell he’s bad because he’s got a sinister mark on his face. Oh, right, and a glazed-over eye, like a case of half-cataracts) Saryang, a man from the Hwacheon clan. She witnesses the powerful Lady Yeon (Hogae’s mother) buying poison — something so stealthy and potent that delivering a drop a day in food can kill someone in a month.
To explain the complicated family tree a bit:
The current ruler is King Sosurim. He’s old and ailing. His younger sister is Lady Yeon — who married into the powerful Yeon noble family and is mother to (supposedly but clearly not) ten-year-old Hogae. The Yeons aren’t royalty, but she is determined to see her son become King — and not just any king, but the Jushin King. She’s kind of crazy about it. Really, really crazy. Seriously, she’s got major crazy eyes. She desperately pleads for Sosurim to name her son his heir, but he’s resolute in his decision —
After all, King Sosurim has a younger brother, and his last act before dying is to call Eojiji, father to Damdeok, in his last moments. King Sosurim slumps over young Damdeok to entreat him to reclaim the land of Jushin and become its king. He knows that Damdeok was also born under the Jushin star, even if the Yeon family has made it known throughout the kingdom that Hogae was born in accordance with the lore, as prophesied by the Oracle. Sosurim names his brother the next king. And dies.
This pisses off Lady Yeon (the new successor, not the dying, because she’s quite okay with the dying). But bloodline wins, and she watches in a helpless fury as Eojiji is coronated. Only maybe she’s not so much helpless as she is sneakily evil.
Damdeok becomes crown prince. Damdeok’s father tells him that there are untrustworthy people all around, and that he must keep himself from drawing anyone’s notice. In order to remain safe, he must pretend to be weak in both mind and body, and arouse nobody’s concerns. This is an act he must keep up until the day he becomes king, if he wants to survive.
Meanwhile, Hogae’s been making a name for himself as a bright student and strong, talented fighter. Given that he’s supposedly ten, he must’ve really been eating his Wheaties. I’ll let this casting weirdness go because we’re still operating in part-myth, and maybe the character is supposed to stretch the bounds of human ability, and maybe it’s all part of the lore, and maybe he’s just got a growth condition, okay? He’s just big-boned.
Whatever the reason, Hogae’s a celebrated, well-liked young man with a bright personality. For what it’s worth, Hogae seems like a nice kid, and he and Damdeok get along on friendly terms.
Kiha, interestingly, proves to be more than meets the eye herself. She’s been raised in the palace as a student of the shrine. Outwardly, she’s meek and quiet, but she occupies a peculiar position among the Hwacheon clan — she’s somewhat high in status, and considered one of them. Saryang (tattooed-face, weird-eyed guy) is assigned to guard and attend to her, and Kiha has an entirely different, authoritative demeanor when she’s outside of the palace. Sly.
Kiha sneaks out in the middle of the night to search for something in the royal library, and is both stealthy and well-trained as a fighter. But we’re not given a chance to see what she’s looking for when her search is interrupted by the appearance of Damdeok.
Because he’s been instructed to keep a low profile, Damdeok reads and trains on his own. He also senses Kiha’s presence and matter-of-factly talks to her as she hides, telling her she might as well come out to read.
Damdeok attempts a fighting maneuver, but without proper training, he stumbles and doesn’t understand why. Kiha slowly emerges from her hiding spot to tell him (or rather, she talks to the “bookshelf,” since shrine disciples aren’t allowed to speak to those outside the shrine) that he needs to build up strength in his lower body to have a strong basis for more complicated moves. And then she disappears before Damdeok has a chance to see where she’s gone. But he’s intrigued. And probably more than a little smitten. Ah, young love.