I’ve finished watching Mandate of Heaven (KBS2 2013). And I have to say I loved it! Queen Munjeong is portrayed as so EVIL with no saving graces whatsoever (she’s even mean to her own son!) And her relentless plotting to kill anyone who gets in her way keeps the pace flying along.
Lee Dong Wook as Dr. Choi Won in Mandate of Heaven KBS2 2013 (KBS2 official site)
The Mandate of Heaven (KBS2, 2013) (left: promotional poster) Royal doctor Choi Won (Lee Dong-wook) now on the run for a murder he didn’t commit clutches his precious sick daughter Rang (Kim Yoo Bin). He’s doggedly chased by hardheaded Royal Inspector Lee (Song Jong Ho) but helped by Hong Da In (Song Ji Hyo) the nurse who falls in love with him. Meanwhile a kind but weak Crown Prince (Lim Seulong) is in fear for his life at the palace amidst a court full of scholars and officials jostling for power.
King Jungjong is very sick and doesn’t have long to go. (His doctor is Dr. Jang Geum!) Crown Prince Yi Ho is in line for the throne but Queen Munjeong (Park Jo Young) is not happy about this and will do anything to stop it! (She wants her own son to be King) Crown Prince Yi Ho wants his friend Choi Won back at the palace by his side as his personal doctor, since he is the only person that Yi Ho can trust – he knows there are plots to kill him. Choi Won doesn’t want to get involved in this. He just wants to clear his name and cure his sick daughter. But the powerful Queen Munjeong et al do not want Choi Won to clear his name as then a thorough investigation will REVEAL the true murderers. The queen wants to get rid of everyone in her way and that includes Yi Ho and his friend Choi Won …
Evil Queen Munjeong manipulates everyone including King Jungjung (KBS2 official site)
Well, I thought it was exciting. The baddies are very very bad indeed and poor old Crown Prince Yi Ho is far too kind and naive wanting to believe his step mother Queen Munjeong when she tells him that she would NEVER wish him harm. And asking (with ‘tears’ in her eyes) how he could possibly believe such a terrible thing? (Perhaps because as she speaks she is already plotting how to get poison unnoticed into his next meal!) He tries to toughen up and accept the truth but I really did want him to man-up even more.
This is a fast-paced thriller with gritty gasp-out-loud scenes of sudden violent acts from face slapping to strangling. And I was left helplessly watching in horror as likeable characters suddenly get it. NOOO! There’s a nameless unstoppable warrior with flying daggers, a host of murders, kidnappings, suicides, not to mention an exotic poisonous bird. Yes, there’s a lot going on, but all roads lead to one person: a ruthless Queen desperate for power and the throne single-mindedly sending her death orders to her unscrupulous underlings. Lord Kim may be a high ranking official in the government, but he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Da In looks back in horror as she is led away leaving Choi Won to face his fate at the hands of baddie Lord Kim (left) from the Soyun faction
Death and torture mean we get our share of heavy emotional scenes but luckily they are broken up with much needed comedy often provided by the family of bandits who step in to help Choi Won when he needs it. Ironically it’s the supposed bad guys that turn out to be the goodies here. But that doesn’t mean they are not scary. I love the way that Rang starts crying with fear even more when the bandit leader Geo Chil tries to smile at her! 😉
In between the Queen’s plotting, fun choreographed fight scenes, and dramatic chases we get to see a variety of relationships. A father’s love is one of the main themes of the drama and I really feel the bond between Choi Won and his sick daughter Rang as he struggles to find a cure for her – not easy with the added problem of his being on the run! We see this father-daughter bond again between the far less sophisticated but no less devoted father Geo Chil, the gruff bandit with the soft heart and his tomboy daughter So Baek (above).
Rang and her father Choi Won
The broken bromance between childhood friends Choi Won and Crown Prince Yi Ho is heartbreaking and I was rooting for them to patch up their differences and move on from the problems in their past. The prince is so lonely he needs a friend and confidante especially now when the court is full of spies and enemies. I liked the portrayal of Yi Ho the weak but earnest Crown Prince (played by actor /singer Im Seulong and member of K-pop group 2AM) as he struggles to get his head around the idea that the queen could possibly want to harm him now when although not his biological mother, she brought him up as her own child.
Crown Prince Yi Ho
And of course there’s got to be romance. Several of the characters fall in love (it’s not always reciprocated though!) But it’s the slowly developing romance between Choi Won’s sister Woo Young and Inspector Lee, the Royal Investigator that brings sexual tension often in a humorous way to the story. The feisty pair start off as enemies since Inspector Lee is chasing Woo Young’s brother Choi Won and believes he’s guilty. But this soon begins to change 😉
Inspector Lee and Woo Young
The main romance of the story I guess is meant to be between Choi Won (a widower) who supposedly finally finds love again in the arms of Royal nurse Da In (Song Ji-hyo) But I struggled with this. I couldn’t really feel the chemistry between them. And as there were so many other things going on, in retrospect I think their romance was unnecessary. Call me stingy, but I think one romance in the drama was enough. Choi Won’s single-minded goal throughout the story is to cure his daughter. He also has to patch up his friendship with Yi Ho and I feel that all this is enough for him. For me Da In’s characters gets lost during the drama – it becomes weaker and wishy-washy. At the beginning when Choi Won and Da In first meet I thought there was potential for a fiery and passionate relationship as nurse Da In is strong-willed and opinionated when she doesn’t respect Choi Won. But when she realises who he really is she changes and becomes meek. She is simply there to help and support him. And he needs her, especially to look after his daughter when he can’t look after her himself. But it’s as if we HAVE TO find another mother for Rang by the end of the drama to make the story nice and complete. (Actually I was hoping Da In would end up with Crown Prince Yi Ho!)
It wasn’t just the main characters that held my interest. I wanted to see the story develop for some of the minor characters too since it was such a fun cast. What about the Queen’s assassin ‘Nameless’? What was his story? (but I suppose there wasn’t enough time for that. Things were pretty cramped into 20 episodes as it was.) One of my favourite characters was the bandit Ggok Jeong. Poor Ggok Jeong and his unrequited love for So Baek. I felt so bad for him! No wonder he takes his frustrations and jealousy out on Choi Won! Aigoo.
Ggok Jeong (Kwon Hyun Sang) teaches Choi Won how to fight …
My main reason for watching this drama was that it portrays a piece of history in the mid-Joseon period leading up to the coronation of King Injong (r.1544-1545) The plot to kill Prince Yi Ho by Queen Munjeong is just a rumour but a great base for a drama. And whether true or not Queen Munjeong makes a terrifying baddie. This drama was definitely entertaining and well worth watching.