Why an older drama like Emperor of the Sea? Isn’t that a 2004 production?
Guilt, first of all. That three-volume set sitting on the shelf and looking all forlorn whenever I walk past. How many years has it sat there?
So did he make an appearance in Episode 1?
He did. Even the lizards in my room squealed when he appeared. But you should see the lizards’ reaction and mine when Brad Pitt’s two lady loves, one current and one former, popped up on the screen.
C’mon, be serious.
I kid you not. At first I thought I was seeing things, but when they appeared one after another and then stood side by side (ready to scalp each other), every doubt dissolved and I about fell off my chair. Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston. In a sageuk!
You’re sure you’re not drunk or something?
I’ll show you the incriminating evidence so that you know I’m not fibbing. But first let me tell you about my initial impressions of the drama. The episode opens with a full nine minutes of wordless action where Tang soldiers and rebels clash on the vast Chinese plains. The year is 817 A.D.
With the majestic backdrop and fierce fighting (unlike some period dramas where the soldiers brandish their swords at the air and fall dead from a mere brush with the breeze), this is one epic battle that spells “solid production values” in capital letters. Cinematography is breathtaking and reminds me of a similar opening scene in Kingdom of the Wind, one that held so much promise because of the exhilaration I felt watching it. I’m not a big fan of battle scenes, but if they are executed realistically and on an impressive scale, I get swept up in the grandeur and excitement. Even in the frenzied movements of soldiers and horses, the shots are beautifully framed, like they are works of art.
Besides Kim Gab-soo, you’re watching this for Song Il-guk, aren’t you?
Ha, are you psychic? But you’re right. I just could not stand watching him in A Man Called God with the awful hairdo and scraggy face. He looked so emaciated! I think the guy’s at his handsomest in a sageuk wearing his armor and sitting on his horse. Even if the plot goes to pot and starts to drag like it’s being weighed down by a thousand steel drums (so that Kingdom of the Wood becomes a more apt title), you can always count on Song Il-guk to at least make the drama watchable. He’s just very attractive in period garb and playing a king.
Is he playing a king here?
Hmm, I don’t think so. Based on the battle scene alone—because the man does not speak in this episode—it looks like he’s leading the rebel forces. Ruler or rebel, doesn’t he look mighty fine?
I read or heard somewhere that Song Il-guk’s not the lead in Emperor of the Sea.
You’re right. The lead’s Choi Soo-jong, who was so charismatic in last year’s gem of a war drama, Comrades, and who I heard was just as compelling playing a president in, well, in this year’s President!
Alas, Choi Soo-jong does not look very hot here, not in the opening battle scene and not up against his enemy, the droolsome rebel chief. Maybe it’s the paucity of black eyeliner, which he wore plenty in Comrades and which made his eyes look so arresting. Here he looks like he could pass for an extra on the set. Just sayin’.
What’s next after that epic battle?
We go back twelve years, to A.D. 805, and to a coastal settlement or port called Chunghae. A group of boys are perched above a cliff; the ocean is more than a hundred feet below. Their leader, Goong-bok, issues an ultimatum to his frightened underlings: prove your loyalty to me by hurtling off the cliff.
The one who finally takes that suicidal leap is someone whose loyalty is so assured, Goong-bok does not need or expect him to prove anything. So when Yon jumps, a stunned Goong-bok jumps after him and manages to save the former from drowning.
The two are best friends?
Not on an equal basis. Yon clearly looks up to Goong-bok and wants to follow him everywhere. Rather like an eager puppy with its master. So when Goong-bok decides to run away from Chunghae, Yon trails him and then insists that he can’t be left behind. Whatever the future, he will face it as Goong-bok’s ever-present shadow.
But why run away? Are they orphans?
No. Goong-bok’s a slave and I believe Yon is one as well. Goong-bok’s dad is the best shipbuilder in Chunghae, but he’s of lowly slave status. His son runs away because he can’t stand the stifling subjugation and dreams of becoming a merchant. (And suddenly I remember I still need to finish Sang Do. Arghh, so many dramas, so little time!)
But before heading for the coast, Goong-bok tells Yon that he has some unfinished business to tend to first. He then proceeds to beat the living daylights out of Joong-dal, who’s the son of the shipyard owner. Joong-dal’s pissed as hell and we can’t blame him because coitus interruptus BEFORE coitus in-progresstus is just shitty.
Ooh, drama’s getting titillating, eh?
Want me to skip ahead to the fun bits near the end? You know, when A met J or vice versa? But that would mean missing Kim Gab-soo’s first appearance in the episode and my ensuing yelps of delight.
No no, you recap the way you planned.
There’s no plan. I never know what’s the end until I get to it. But to speed things along, Goong-bok and Yon make their way in the darkness toward a ship that is berthed and about to set sail. One of Goong-bok’s underlings, who’s the son of the foreman supervising the colony of ship-repairing slaves, jumps out at them and begs to be taken along. He has stolen his father’s silver coins and uses that as a bait to get Goong-bok to reluctantly agree. The money will surely be useful on their flight to freedom.
So the three lads sneak onboard, their hearts racing with fear and hope.
Unfortunately, their adventure ends as quickly as it begins. After outing themselves as stowaways, Goong-bok uses the silver coins to persuade the merchant owner of the ship to allow him and his friends to remain onboard. But the next day, the three boys awake to the realization that the ship has turned around and is heading back for Chunghae!
Oh, that’s a surprising turn of events. Poor boys.
You mean “poor Goong-bok,” don’t you? After all, he’s the ringleader and a slave to boot. Don’t be expecting mercy, not even in measly portions.
Well, what lessons did the lad learn from that aborted escape? First, never trust adults with money that does not belong to you. Second, when running away, be sure to pad your butt well in case you get nabbed and hauled back to shore where your enemy—the one you bashed up earlier—awaits.
As added punishment, Goong-bok will be sent away to another shipyard. But the shipyard owner dangles a plea bargain before Goong-bok’s dad: Agree to repair a merchant ship which needs urgent repairs and his son will be spared.
But the Chunghae shipyard is only allowed to repair battleships. Anyone caught repairing a merchant ship behind the governor’s back will be severely punished!
That’s a tough decision for Goong-bok’s father to make.
Yes, very tough. But the old man is principled and tells the shipyard owner that he will not take the risk.
Meanwhile, Goong-bok is out with Yon in the fields when they spy a hawk in the sky. So the best archer in Chunghae does what comes naturally to him.
The downed and now very much dead hawk belongs to the governor’s son. Uh oh.
Incensed that his prized pet has left this world without so much as a fond farewell, and also jealous that a lowly slave should possess such otherworldly archery skills, Chang Kyeom ties Goong-bok up and uses him for target…
…and sparring practice.
What a meanie. Go beat up someone your age!
Haha, getting all protective, are you? But I admit I’m the same way. Because Goong-bok’s played by Baek Sung-hyun, who played the young Hwangbo Yoon in Damo. Naeuri!!
*half an hour and two boxes of tissues later*
Sorry. I get so carried away sometimes. To continue, Goong-bok passes out from too much “practice” and is tended to by the meanie’s sister, Jung Hwa. Who happens to be played by Lee Yeon-hee in an extremely short appearance in this episode.
Okay, time to move from the governor’s residence to the ship where He Who Is Awesomesauce rules.
A new and ominous revelation: Kim Gab-soo’s character, Lee Do-hyeong, apparently isn’t just an ordinary merchant plying silks and trinkets from port to port. He says to his men (and I shudder on hearing):
Our day of attack on Chunghae is near. If we succeed, we will feast on meat and wine and celebrate in the governor’s court. If we fail, we will have to subsist on rotting fish again. Prepare for the attack.
Wow, that be some buggy eyes we have there!
I know! I had to shield my own eyes when I was screencapping! Looks like Yummy Sauce might be our resident villain. Well, still love him no matter what. In fact, some of his most delectable roles are when he’s Eeeevil.
Also, Ajusshi is totally rocking the bushy brows.
Earlier in the day, Lee Do-hyeong’s men had come ashore to sell their wares in the marketplace. One of them wows the crowd with his amazing pugilistic skills. With all that hair covering half his face, I do not see anything untoward until… a gust of wind reveals this:
The eyes. The bee-stung lips. The moment I see them I go: Ha, definitely a resemblance there.
But it’s not until the forest scene where the second one pops up (so desperate to learn how to fight better so as not be a punching bag for Chang Kyeom any longer) that it becomes clear as day because now I get to see both of them in consecutive frames.
Oh. My. God.
LOL, thundie, you’re too much. You and your crazy imagination!
That was it. I couldn’t concentrate on the rest of the proceedings after that because I was giggling so hard the lizards had to take their repose in another room. Every glare, everything that the two said to each other, took on a whole new meaning.
Stop it, thundie!
I suppose that’s the end of Episode 1. Thanks for reading, everyone!