Jingbirok 징비록 (2015) Korean Drama First Impressions: New “Classic” format history drama!

Jingbirok 징비 (2015) Korean Drama First Impressions: New “Classic” format history drama!

Keywords: #KimSangJoong #KimTaeWoo #Jingbirok #징비록 #Saguk #사극

The resent slate of more “fictional” period piece Korean dramas tends to have the same problem. The plots tend to be way more overcomplicated and convoluted than necessary. In addition, the depiction of those plots are lacking in what I like to call “viewer convenience”. The shows do not provide enough information about the world of the show or the characters to support such a heavy plot.

I cannot believe I am saying this but I missed the old “classic” Korean history dramas. You know the ones that pretend that they are “Docu-dramas”. They have a narrator providing back ground information about the characters and events via voice over. Also, you have character names show up subtitled when they first appear in the show.

 “Jingbirok” 징비 (2015) is a “classic” Korean history drama to its core!

The Plot
The show is loosely based on the memoir of same title written by the show’s real life protagonist Ryu Seong-Ryong. The title’s meaning can be translated as “reflecting on past mistakes and stopping it from occurring again”. It is basically a political analysis about what happened before, during, and after the Korean-Japanese war (1592~1598).

I’m writing this after the first episode aired.

In the first episode, we basically get shown the historical context of the time. Ryu Seong-Ryong was a premier politician of his time. While he eventually retired as the Joseon equivalent of prime minister, the show starts a few years before the start of the war when he was a second tier politician fight against a complaisant bureaucracy and an inept king.

Among this political reality of the Joseon Dynasty, the show has the Japanese come in as potential threats. During this time, the Japanese had become unified for the first time in centuries by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After this, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was putting in a lot of effort into bolstering his legitimacy. One of these efforts was reestablishing relations with the Joseon Dynasty.

Up to that point and even several centuries after, the Joseon Dynasty was seen as the “Higher” country in the eyes of the Japanese primarily because of Joseon’s access to China. So, relations with the Joseon Dynasty were a major avenue in which the Japanese gained access to superior Chinese culture. In other words, this would be a big deal for Toyotomi Hideyoshi if relations were reestablished on his watch.

However, the king of Joseon and a faction of politicians despised the Japanese primarily because they had a history of revolting against the Japanese King. “It is not what people do!” They called Japan “the country of animals”.  Our protagonist Ryu Seong-Ryong is in the faction that focused more of “real politics” than misguided ideals.

With the first episode, the most I could say is that it is a proper “classic” Korean history drama that focuses on political events than the personal melodrama. And, as a historical buff, I like that direction especially since the time period is rather politically interesting.

Like a proper “classic” Korean history drama, “Jingbirok” (2015) does a decent job in laying out the political situation and machinations going about. At least, you understand what is going on. It could do better in terms of providing more contexts regarding the political factions other than portraying one as intelligent and the other ignorant.  

Of course, the faction that has our protagonist as a member is the intelligent/reasonable one!

Since this show is more focused on history, there is no one character popping out in terms of either the attractiveness of the character or the actor’s skill. However, the overall average level of acting is pretty competent for what the show requires.

In regards to our protagonist Ryu Seong-Ryong, he is actually the character with the least amount of personality since he basically represents what is right. Kim Sang-Joong is playing him. You may have seen him in “Bad Guys” (2014), “Doctor Stranger” (2014) and “A New Leaf “(2014). As a veteran character actor, he has been having a great few years.

In “Jingbirok” (2015), he is basically stuck playing this stiff character and does what he can with the role. However, it is his least interesting performance in recent years. It is not that he is bad but that he is not given as much to do other than being a stick in the mud and knows it all.

Some interesting thoughts!
It is interesting in how Koreans’ view of kings differs according to the time period. The closer to start of the Joseon Dynasty, the more negative Koreans’ view of kings get and more pro- bureaucracy they get. The opposite happens when we come closer to the present.

The king in this show is portrayed as this very inept and immature mess of a ruler. While he is not seen as one of the better kings of the Joseon Dynasty, considering the average competency level of Joseon Dynasty’s kings, I think the show is going overboard with the portrayal.

Well, the source material is also somewhat biased.
The author is a bureaucrat after all.

Another interesting thing is that the Japanese are shown in a very barbaric and rather silly manner even considering historical realities. Also, even among the Japanese, the more closer to Joseon in geographic terms, the more civilized they are portrayed to be.

 Something to think about!

“Jingbirok” 징비 (2015) is shaping out to be a solid  Korean history drama  in the “classical” mold.  I am interesting is seeing more and waiting for the next episode to come up while writing this article.

Considering its format, I am not sure how well it will do in Korea and internationally. It may not get subbed because of what it is. There are many examples of this. 

This show is basically made because of the rising anti-Japanese sentiment and the interesting in the Korean-Japan war created by the movie “Roaring Currents” (2014). Considering the subject matter, I think that this will be a long running show if the ratings stay high.

I hate the fact that I cannot find how long this show is planning to be!
Make your mind up!

I cannot say I’ll keep with it for months. I haven’t watched a 50 plus episode show in a year and a half. However, I am going to give it my best try.

Score: B+ or 7.5/10

Thank you for reading this article!

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