[2019 Year in Review] I’m all cured from my persistent sageuk allergy
by Guest Beanie
Considering that Jewel in the Palace was my very first introduction to K-drama, it’s mind boggling how I eventually developed a bad case of sageuk allergy later on. I don’t know how it started, but historical dramas only ever led me toward frustration and boredom. My love for tight plot, complicated characters, and twisty intrigue didn’t matter in the slightest. No grand adventure or epic romance could change my mind. My allergy was the reason I never bothered to watch a sageuk whose recaps I enjoyed immensely.
It all changed earlier this year after Memories of Alhambra’s ending left me mightily dissatisfied but desperate to see more of Park Hoon. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to skip-watch Haechi just for his part, especially since my sister kept saying how good it was. That’s how I tried watching sageuk again, basically for the shallowest reason. Yet somehow, I found myself growing fond of the characters and thinking deeply about the court intrigues and the royal struggle for power.
I think this was a case of finding the right drama at the right time. Suffice it to say that the drama came right when my country was anticipating a general election. It was strangely captivating to watch Yi Geum rise from his lowly birth status and grow into a wise monarch that everyone loved. Empathetic, humble and progressive, he wasn’t just an ideal king for his era, but also a leader I wanted to see in real life.
It was somehow fitting that his biggest supporter was a motley group of friends who had neither the power nor status to bend favor towards him. I was engrossed with the idea of freely given loyalty and a king who valued the commoners’ opinion. It fascinated me that one of the most memorable thing about Yi Geum’s early days as a king was his impatience for empty formalities and inefficient bureaucracy, which is something modern day government has to deal with even now. One thought that I always had buzzing inside my head was, “How come we still have to deal with all these problems when centuries ago a real leader like him had tried to solve it?” Haechi left me both ashamed of what happened in our modern world and also hopeful that change is possible. And I found myself not that averse to the idea of watching another sageuk.
Right afterwards was the premiere of Nokdu Flower, which promised a historical tale told from outside the palace (fairly rare in dramas). Given what little I knew about the sheer incompetency of rulers during that depressing era, I couldn’t be more glad to watch this story told from the peasants’ perspective. It was almost too good to be a coincidence that this drama aired when a political debacle happened in my country. We might not have faced the same deep-seated problems, but the commoners’ spirit and longing for change was very relatable, as was their subsequent realization that they would have to do the right thing themselves. It was like being told that we, the citizens, don’t have the luxury of waiting around and that our fate is in our own hands.
Somehow, Nokdu Flower managed to impart deep messages about equality, empowerment, and humanity without being preachy. For a drama set in an era in which women were largely treated as second class citizens, it actually presented to us some of the strongest and well-developed female characters in dramaland.
They came from vastly different backgrounds and made their contribution in several different areas. They joined the loyal army, became merchants, teachers; managers. They were good mothers, daughters, wives, and friends. I was stunned to realize that being a strong woman has nothing to do with achieving the impossible. It’s all about inner strength: the ability to learn, to understand, to apologize, and to forgive. It’s about making changes possible and bringing new hope to the younger generation.
I guess it’s not unexpected that I immediately jumped to another sageuk adventure right after Nokdu Flower’s hopeful and true-to-history ending. Watching another promising young man rise to the seemingly impossible challenge to free his kingdom from another nation’s oppression in Jumong seemed oddly apt as the biggest student protest happened in my country following a particularly chaotic law debacle. Who knew that there would come a day where I could learn relatable lessons and live vicariously through a sageuk? Now, please excuse me while I continue watching episode 40.
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