Okay! Now that we’ve sussed out the best/worst kdrama offerings for the first half of this year, it’s time to check out the lead performances and everyone’s favorite topic: the OTPs!
The above image shows you two of my most-loved characters in Jejoongwon.
One of them should be instantly familiar to many of you; the other you might not have seen before, because he’s newly arrived in Korea and this is his first time on Korean TV. Together they form part of what is undeniably one of the best kdrama ensembles of the year.
This ensemble is huge, given the drama’s length and scope, so let’s take a look at just twenty of the supporting actors and their roles. Whether they kindle in you love or loathing, you will not soon forget them.
As I explained in Part 1 of this review, Jejoongwon recreates events in the late Joseon dynasty which led to the founding of the country’s first Western-style hospital. Many of its characters are based on people who lived through those events, whose names remain unchanged in the drama.
Despite sticking fairly close to the annals, Jejoongwon never feels dry or documentary-like. As you watch, you will find yourself immersed in the stories that it paints, transported to an era that feels foreign and yet intimately familiar, ancient and yet newly modern. You may even become curious about the hospital and desire to learn more about its history. Such is the power and poignancy of its storytelling.
For now, let us meet the three leads of the drama. Without giving away major spoilers, I would like to offer you a glimpse into their individual stories and show you how their shared destinies began. I will devote Part 3 to the supporting cast and characters.
“If I had a thousand lives to give, Korea should have them all.”
Tears stung my eyes when I read the above epitaph. I had just finished another episode of Jejoongwon (SBS 2010) and was poking around the Internet, gobbling up every bit of information I could find on the historical facts behind the drama. Those words, even though they are inscribed on the tombstone of Ruby Rachel Kendrick, who is not a character in Jejoongwon, are nevertheless so true of the foreigners whose lives are reenacted in the drama.
Horace Allen. John Heron. Lilias Horton.
These names now roll off my tongue as if they are old friends. All of them were doctors. All of them were fiercely devoted to a foreign country called Joseon. This drama is about them and the hospital they established. But above all it is about one man’s journey, from an outcaste clan to an operating theater, from being a despised butcher to becoming one of Korea’s first surgeons.
Was it six years ago? A man and a woman at night, she bleeding from a wound on her shoulder, he tending so gently to the wound. Their voices are as soft as the breeze is light. As they walk home afterwards, cherry blossoms flutter around them, like a million pink and white lights aglow in the dark.
Even now, six years later, I can’t speak of my first sageuk (Korean historical or period drama) without a lump suddenly forming in my throat. Damo changed my life, literally flinging me over the edge into the depths of kdrama addiction. It marked the beginning of a love affair that has continued to grow; both my top movie and drama are period ones and I don’t see any other genre coming along to topple them, in the foreseeable future or otherwise.
Damo stayed at the top of my favorites list for a long time, but the day finally came when I had to sadly acknowledge that another drama would take its place. So it has been, this game of musical chairs, this rotation of faves and favored. I’m not alone. One of the contributors to this post sent me this note along with her picks: “I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CHANGE MY MIND.” (See how passionate we sageuk fans are? Haha.)
So here we are, a special post on my favorite genre. Six dear friends, all familiar names in the Kdrama community, responded enthusiastically to my invitation to participate in this poll of sorts. Nine categories in all (because it’s obvious thundie can’t count; she thought she listed ten), with picks that I’m sure will delight or dismay you. Wrapping up the post is a hilarious and insightful look at how sageuk and wuxia stack up against each other.
Many thanks (and cups of coffee) to ockoala (who wrote the sageuk/wuxia piece), dahee, dramaok, hjkomo, javabeans and His Grumpiness misterX. All of you inspire me every day to be a more discerning viewer.