Catching up on Sageuk Dramas: The Mandate of Heaven KBS2 2013

Choi Won

Mandate of Heaven (KBS2 2013) Choi Won (Lee Dong-wook) on the run

I’m still working my way through some of the dramas that are set in the mid Joseon period. Last month I watched Dae Jang Geum (MBC 2004) again (very nostalgic!) which is set during the reign of King Jungjong (r.1506-1544). But now it’s on to a drama I haven’t seen before …

King Jungjong’s son by his first queen became King Injong but reigned for less than a year (r. 1544-1545) and there was a rumour that he was poisoned so that his half-brother and son of the king’s third queen (Queen Munjeong) could become King. So even though his reign was short there is lots of intrigue surrounding it. And the drama that deals with the plot to kill King Injong is the thriller sageuk The Mandate of Heaven (or other title The Fugitive of Joseon) (KBS2, 2013) and so far I’m loving it.

Fugitive_of_Joseon-posterThe Mandate of Heaven (KBS2, 2013) (left: promotional poster) is about a doctor from the royal hospital who gets framed for a murder which is part of the plot to kill Crown Prince Yi Ho who later becomes King Injong (but not for long as we know).

The story starts towards the end of King Jungjong’s life when he is very sick and doesn’t have long to go. (His doctor – Dr. Jang Geum! – is a serious no-nonsense lady trying to do her best for the king in the midst of a court full of corrupt officials plotting and scheming to do harm to the members of the royal family. Spies are everywhere so no one is safe.) The person controlling all this is the powerful and manipulative Queen Munjeong.

It’s interesting to see the different interpretation of Jang Geum’s character 😉 and her role as the head doctor having to deal with all the hard-nosed hungu scholars who obviously can’t wait to get rid of her and put someone more manipulatable in her place! She’s found her feet and she’s not taking any nonsense which is encouraging in a court full of corruption. But in this drama she is a minor character.

Drama review so far…

The main story is about Choi Won (Lee Dong-wook) a royal doctor who was a close childhood friend of Crown Prince Yi Ho ( Lim Seulong ) and is the only person that Yi Ho seems to trust. But the two men fell out years ago when the crown prince failed to protect Choi Won’s grandfather who was also a royal doctor but got his hand chopped off (yikes) as a punishment by hungu officials.

Choi Won

Mandate of Heaven (KBS2 2013) Choi Won (Lee Dong-wook) on the run

But still Yi Ho wants Choi Won to become his doctor (as he’s worried about his own safety – and he should be as people ARE trying to kill him.) Choi Won doesn’t want to stay in the palace. Especially after what happened to his grandfather. :( The court is a scary and violent place for anyone who doesn’t agree to do what the hungu officials want them to do. But Choi Won has another reason to refuse the job: his daughter is seriously ill and his only concern is to find a cure for her.

Choi Won just wants to leave the palace and look after his daughter but when Yi Ho’s current doctor is murdered, Choi Won is dragged into the whole messy business which is part of Queen Munjeong’s plan to get rid of Crown Prince Yi Ho. Choi Won is framed for the murder and has to go on the run …He is doggedly chased by an arrogant investigator who seems hellbent on believing Choi Won is guilty no matter what anybody else says.

And with so much evidence piling up against Choi Won, Yi Ho is left wondering if he really can trust Choi Won after all. Poor old Crown Prince Yi Ho is presented as a lonely and weak prince who seems to have nobody on his side at all – even his own eunuch reports to Team Munjeong. :(

Crown_Prince_Yi Ho

Lonely Crown Prince Yi Ho ( Lim Seulong )stares at a notoriously poisonous bird and contemplates his fragile life

I’m only on episode 5 but so far this is an exciting thriller – with real gasp out loud and cover your face with a cushion moments. Gritty fast-paced scenes with characters showing bursts of anger that can be anything from face slapping to stabbing are a constant reminder that life at court is anything but comfortable. I’m always on the edge of my seat worried that a character I have grown fond of is going to be the next one with his head on the chopping block. I’ll be sitting there thinking “oh that’s a relief, at least he’s a good guy trying to help Choi Won” and then BAM he’s dead. :(

The manipulative and cold Queen Munjeong crushes a flower

But luckily these scenes are balanced with much needed humour. For example after a heavy emotional scene with characters grieving over sudden shocking news, we meet a tomboy criminal who can casually beat up a team of guards whilst holding a conversation. The comedy is a welcome relief. Watching other sageuk dramas I sometimes feel like the comedy scenes are unnecessary or simply put in as time-fillers to keep us in suspense for a while before allowing us to get back to the real action with the main characters. But in this drama I really do need the comedy breaks to calm me down (or cheer me up) and remind me that everything is going to be all right in the end! 😉

The baddies led by Queen Munjeong really are BAD. Queen Munjeong spends her time innocently painting flowers  – such a delicate ladylike hobby  – whilst ordering her minions to commit appalling acts and kill off anyone in her way. Queen Munjeong in Dae Jang Geum is nowhere near as bad as the villain she is portrayed to be here. (In Dae Jang Geum she considers having Crown Prince Yi Ho poisoned but then thinks better of it and changes her mind.)

Queen Munjeong plot

Queen Munjeong has many creative ways to manipulate people including having them find ‘divine messages’ sent via plant leaves

The emotional relationships in the drama are intriguing too. The broken bromance between Crown Prince Lee Ho and Dr. Choi Won is just so sad. Especially since Yi Ho has NOBODY to talk to AT ALL and he really wants to trust Choi Won. Come on boys. It’s time to be friends again.

And as well as bromance there has to be romance. I haven’t seen much of this yet but it must be on its way. At first, the nurse Da In (Song Ji-hyo) thinks Choi Won is a fool who doesn’t know his arse from his elbow when it comes to medicine. But she soon realises that there’s more to him than meets the eye ….

All very exciting. But that’s all I know for now. So I have to get back to the drama ….



3 thoughts on “Catching up on Sageuk Dramas: The Mandate of Heaven KBS2 2013

  • September 6, 2013 at 1:31 am

    You’ll love the series. I was especially taken in with the dynamics between Choi Won’s sister and the police investigator who’ll chase Choi Won.

    Great blog!

    • September 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Thats the main romance to follow in that drama 😛

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