"Empress Qi" episode 5 had very unusual pacing. It spent a lot of time on interpersonal relationships and yet still found time to make things happen with the government. The moments between Seung-nyang and Ta-hwan were pure gold.
Ha Ji-won and Ji Chang-wook have oodles of chemistry that allowed for the episode to flow smoothly. Ji Chang-wook's Ta-hwan grew leaps and bounds even while he was selfishly pouting and complaining. The juxtaposition of immaturity and growth is only enhanced by the tight writing and spot-on acting. This can be said for the cast as a whole. Joo Jin-mo is espeically convincing as the cornered king of Goryeo. He is fighting what seems to be a losing political battle with the vicious Yuan general, El Temur and his uncle Wang Go. What makes the battle engaging is that the characters are relatable. Wang Yoo is powerless, but still wants to protect his nation. Ta-hwan is feeling out of place. Seung-nyang has secrets to hide and a very important personal and public agendas to follow. All of these individuals come together to make this story cohesive.
One weakness in the show is the way it tends to take only one or two things and make them fantastical. Seung-nyang and Ta-hwan make a leap off a cliff and land on another cliff. It was so unlikely that the situation was distracting. It would've been better had they just fallen into the river. Another example is Seung-nyang's secret. How long can a woman who works so closely with men keep her gender a secret? It's been the entirety of her adult life thus far, which is unrealistic. This episode begins to address that issue, which makes it different from many other crossdressing shows.
Aside from those weaknesses, "Empress Qi" has many strengths. The villains have varied motivations for their actions, which makes their individual characters more interesting and also complicates the plot in all the right way. My favorite villain is Yeom Byeong-soo, a high-ranking soldier who betrayed Gorgyeo because it didn't protect his dead family. Byeong-soo serves a greedy Wang Go who uses him to attain status and power. Individual interests always conflict and I can't wait to see it happen. Some conflict has occurred already between Bayan and El Temur and history tells us there is plenty more.
"Empress Qi" isn't afraid to be cruel, but shows the cruelty tastefully. It doesn't need explicit gore to show pain and torture. It relies on actors, camera angles and music to rile up viewer emotion. This is the sign of a skilled production team. It can create beauty and horror out of this sad historical period in Korea's history.
Written by Raine from Raine's Dichotomy
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Empress Qi" Episode 5"
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