My KDrama Commentary: THE LAST EMPRESS

TITLE: The Last Empress

MALE LEAD(S): Choi Jin-hyuk, Shin Sung-rok

FEMALE LEAD(S): Jang Na-ra, Lee Elijah

GENRE: Mystery, Modern Day Royalty, Action, Romance, Comedy

MY SCORE: 3/10

WHAT LED ME TO IT?

  • Who was I following? Choi Jin-hyuk
  • What had I just watched? Tunnel

STATUS: Completed

  • IF COMPLETED, how many times? ———- 1 ———-
  • If I’ve watched it more than three times, chances are it’s one of my Top 10 Favorites!

WHAT DID I LIKE ABOUT IT?

  • It starred Choi Jin-hyuk.
  • It promised a modern-day fairy tale.
  • It promised a story filled with intrigue, mind-boggling twists and turns, and justice prevailed.
  • It starred Jang Na-ra (discovery!).
  • It was a great idea for a story. I’m sure the actors were chosen specifically for each roll and it promised to be a big hit. In fairness to all, they did well and deserved all the awards they received.

WHAT DID I NOT LIKE ABOUT IT?

  • The realization that they were just promises, never to be fulfilled.
  • The series ran for 52 half-hour episodes, or 26 full episodes, ten episodes more than the regular Korean TV series. You’d think the writers could have completed the story well with all that time, couldn’t they? But no. By the time Oh Sunny ‘returns from the dead’ and agrees to continue playing Empress, there are so many added speculations and tangents that one would tend to ask, “Would someone really think that way?” or “Is that even logical?”
  • Choi Jin-hyuk was in the show from episode 3 until episode 48. I read somewhere that he wasn’t allowed to wear a fat-body costume as it would not hold up well in water. But the character would only have been in the water twice — when he was shot (and falls in) and when he was fished out. Couldn’t the production have just worked around those two scenes (or used CGI or something) instead of using another actor who did not have any likeness at all to CJH? Their voices weren’t even similar. Sheesh! (Another blogger had commented, “Amazing how a suit can transform a man!”)
  • Choi Jin-hyuk had already declared that he could not continue after the 48th episode, due to scheduling conflicts. So with that in mind, couldn’t the writers have killed Na Wang-sik off in a more acceptable manner that somehow gave him and his story justification, instead of putting him in a high speed car chase with blurry visuals, and then explaining that he really was a bad guy trying to fool everyone, all of which defies logic?
  • Most of the characters’ roles did not grow or progress throughout the 52 episodes.
    • Can you imagine feeling angry and murderous and being filled with hateful intentions everyday throughout 52 episodes? That was the role of the Empress Dowager (a. Shin Eun-Kyung). All she wanted was to control her son and his life, even his love life, to be able to stay in power, that she would not bend to anyone else’s will.
    • What about experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions – from being the royal assistant to the royal mistress to becoming the royal snitch?  Yes, the roles of Min Yu-ra (a. Lee Elijah) changed but they were all the same in a manner – selling her loyalty to the person she could make the most use of at the moment. And she must have been a cat, because she always found a way to get out of her death or exile sentence.
    • Let’s not forget the character of Emperor Lee Hyeok (a. Shin Sung-rok). He started as an ambitious spoiled brat, who believed he was above the law, but who eventually became a confused philanthropist, still conceited, trying to make amends and really falling in love with his wife. And he still wanted to be remembered as the only Royal. Well, at least he was consistent.
    • The Grand Empress Dowager (a. Park Won-sook) did develop from an antagonistic person to one who felt remorse, but what was the motive of her death? It’s like the writers couldn’t decide just how to kill her, therefore, they gave all the possible means and suspects and kept the viewers guessing. When the final explanation was given, it was the anticlimax. Pfth!
    • And then there was Na Wang-sik (a. Tae Hang-ho/Choi Jin-hyuk). I had expected his character to change the most because he had started out as a kind, innocent, and sort of martyrish personality whose life changed drastically with the death of his mother, and so he would have had to become vengeful, and at the same time, acting like he wanted to become the emperor’s bodyguard and try to make the empress fall in love with him as well. Though he got the first and second parts right (well, they were played by two different people), somehow I couldn’t catch the third, more complicated persona. To make matters worse, just when things were getting exciting, and you would think Na Wang-sik was about to get his ultimate revenge (and because you knew the actor was going to be killed off anyway), the writers bring in yet another character to make the story more complicated and Na Wang-sik is put on the shelf. And then he dies. What?
  • Was the objective to make Oh Sunny (a. Jang Na-ra) out to be the only sane person in the story? The thing is, she, too, had her moments of crazy, like in the beginning, when she went to the King’s Luncheon wearing that ugly, black jumpsuit. She explained that she wanted to change when she got there, but still, this is a lunch with THE KING, with whom she happens to have a huge crush on to boot. You’d expect her to take more care with her appearance.
  • There were too many things going on. The characters were traveling from one place to another like they were not far from each other. South Korea doesn’t have any traffic?
  • There were too many flashbacks with too little details or explanations.
  • I would have wanted a more in-depth story between Na Wang-sik and Min Yu-ra and, subsequently, Min Yu-ra and Kang Ju-seung.
  • The Moral of the Story: Everyone, no matter how high or low, has a price and can be bought. Everything, from century-old ceramic vases to promises and even family ties, can be broken. Nobody, not even a 7 year-old princess, is infallible.

QUESTIONS THAT AROSE REGARDING STORY CONTINUITY AND OTHER DETAILS:

  • Why wasn’t the transformation of Na Wang-sik into Chun Woo-bin shown in detail? Is it even believable that a man as fat and jolly as Tae Hang-ho become as thin and stoic as Choi Jin-hyuk in a matter of two months without repercussions or health consequences?
  • Why didn’t the writers develop the possible love story between Chun Woo-bin and Empress Sunny?

WILL I RECOMMEND IT? NO

WHY? It had too many suspicions and theories, and useless controversies that cropped up late in the story due to added characters and consequences that the whole thing just became blah. In Filipino, saksak sarado ng panlasa, nawalan tuloy ng sarap.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in film or Korean culture. In fact, I only started watching KDrama in 2016 and have just 48 completed shows under my belt. My writings are my own opinion and not the opinion of the majority. I enjoy shows that a lot of people don’t seem to like, and I dislike a lot of shows that are tagged as “Must Watch”. There are exceptions, of course. My point is, don’t blame the commentator.

Published by Bukidlife

A journaler - someone who writes in a journal.

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