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Jewel in the Palace (2003): An insight into Korean culture and history

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Nine years after this worldwide hit Korean drama series  Jewel in the Palace  (Dae Jang Geum) was first shown in the Philippines in 2005 and was a phenomenal success among Filipinos, It is also a drama that my Korean intellectual friends know.  I finally watched the drama in July 2014.   I am not really a full-fledged drama addict; I do not like sad endings and tearjerkers and do not have the patience to watch dramas in installments.  I have a preference for light comedy-romance dramas that are usually between 10-20 episodes max, so I was hesitant to watch a 54-episode historical drama even when everybody was raving about it.  But after watching my first “serious” Korean historical drama, I was not disappointed.

Jewel in the Palace is a fictional drama based  on a  Korean historical figure  Seo Jang-geum  (played by Lee Young-ae)  during the reigns of King Seongjong (1457–1494), King Yeonsan (1494–1506) and King Jungjong(1506–1544).  It follows the story of Jang-geum,  an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the Joseon dynasty king’s first female royal physician. Min Jeong-ho (played by Ji Jin hee) is a goodlooking and intelligent  outstanding Korean scholar who became romantically involved with Jang geum.

Lee Young-ae’s portrayal of Jang-geum, marked by her warm smile despite all the challenges that came her way is very powerful.  The child actress who portrayed the little girl Jang geum was  really good; I liked the way she recited the memorized passages from the classics and the medicinal properties of herbs. Ji Jin-hee was really dashing and  one of the more good-looking Korean actors that I have encountered.

Jewel in the Palace sparked my interest in Korean historical dramas.   I thought Jewel in the Palace would be boring, but  this drama combined the elements of history, Korean culture (Korean royal court cuisine and traditional medicine), comedy, romance, tragedy, mystery and intrigue to make the plot interesting.   Moreover, Jang geum’s  perseverance  in a time when women’s status in society was low was truly inspiring.  The use of traditional Korean music in the theme song “Onara” also enhanced the drama.

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teppei manpyou, why did you have to die?

Just finished watching Karei Naru Ichizoku (TBS, 2007) and ended up having puffy and reddish eyes from crying my heart out.  I had sensed a sad ending for the idealistic Teppei Manpyou, (Kimura Takuya) who at 36 years gave up his life in order to save the Manpyou family from further demoralization and destruction.  I cried because Teppei’s passion and ideal to pursue his dream of making Japan globally competitve through steel against all odds was very inspiring and I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t live to see it through.   His being able to defy all the odds was possible because of the support of his friends, family and staff whom he had valued and cherished and this I intended to emulate.  He actually didn’t give up his dream–he had thought that his death would pave the way for the others to pursue his dream, which did come true.  He gave up his life because he saw himself as the cause of  all his family’s dysfunctionality; that he would never really gain his father’s love despite all his achievements because of the deep seated hatred of his father for him for reasons not of his own doing.  “If I have not been born, then how would things have been?”, he asked.  However, in the end, we find that the hate relationship between Teppei and his father Daisuke should never have existed, that teh basis for the hatred an unintended mistake.  Daisuke thought that Teppei was not his true son and this was proven by Teppei’s blood type; only to find out from Teppei’s death certificate that Teppei;s bloodtype was erroneously listed as another because of the confusion during the war(?)  (wasn’t Teppei born in 1932?)which was the time the blood type was taken as I understood.

Again, Takuya Kimura gave an outstanding performance; in fact he won an award for his acting in this drama series.  Also, this drama was a TBS 50th anniversary special so it had this “cinematic” effect on it–spectacular scenes (love the snowstorm and snowcap mountain scenes and the view of the steel factory), cinematic music by Hattori Takayuki with the Philharmonic Orchestra and chorale.  I thought Daisuke (played by Kitaoji Kinya) gave out the most superb performance of a father that you would “love” to “hate.”  Again, Takuya had such expressive eyes here.  When he was mulling over what his father said about how he would  have been another person having an “ordinary” family had Teppei not been born, I thought his iris had a bluish grey tint and then later, “sparkling brown.” Just noticed Takuya was a little thin here but still retained his boyish charm.  Great drama, although a bit heavy for Takuya fans who are used to a Takuya doing “feel good” roles.  But then again, Takuya is such a verstile actor that one looks forward to him doing offbeat roles from time to time.

Got this synopsis from a website that sells DVD of this drama:

SYNOPSIS / Editorial Review about – Karei naru Ichizoku (The Wealthy Family)

With a big cast headlined by perennial favorite Kimura Takuya, TBS drama Karei naru Ichizoku, a.k.a. The Grand Tribe and The Family, has brought in equally big ratings. Set in the financial tumult of the 1970s, the sweeping TV series is based on Yamazaki Toyoko’s classic novel, which has previously been adapted for television and film. The story revolves around a wealthy and powerful family, and the inner conflicts, family secrets, and financial powerplay that tear them apart.Head of the family Manpyo Daisuke (Kitaoji Kinya) is a ruthless and powerful banker whose firm exercises great influence in the financial circle. Eldest son Teppei (Kimura Takuya) is the head of a steel firm, eldest daughter Sanae (Hasegawa Kyoko) is in the Ministry of Finance, second son Ginpei (Yamamoto Koji) works at his father’s bank, and youngest daughter Tsugiko (Aibu Saki) is a student. Along with Daisuke’s traditional wife (Harada Mieko) and scheming mistress (Suzuki Kyoka), the Manpyos form one of the most powerful families in Japan.