I don't particularly care for the political elements in "Jing Bi-rok". Partially this is because they're rather reptitive- it's not a whole lot of fun just watching King Seonjo make more bad political decisions. And on the flip side, this also makes the general proceedings immensely depressing. You don't have to be a student of history to realize that King Seonjo and his similar-minded subordinates are making a rather boneheaded mistake. Apparently having their country overrun with a foreign army isn't enough to get them to change their corporally-minded attitude.
The weird thing about all this is that as we've seen time and again, the Japanese have a similarly medieval attitude when it comes to perceived traitors. The difference is that Hideyoshi and friends only have their executions happen when there's enough slack to have the condemned be easily replaced. "Jing Bi-rok" almost goes in an encouraging or even inspiring direction, and then King Seonjo has to go and find another way to ruin it.
Obviously this isn't all his fault, even if King Seonjo was the one to give the final order. The general sense of honor before reason is a fairly constant trend in "Jing Bi-rok"- and the more I think about it, the more I can recall other serious costumed Korean dramas use the trope on more standard narrative terms. In "Queen Seon-deok", for example, one plot point involves the titular character preventing a battlefield execution by arguing they're already outnumbered and outgunned and need every hand they can get. And in that case the commander knew firsthand that the soldier screwed up.
Instead, all we get here is the distant hope that eventually Lee Soon-shin will manage to save the day, through an interesting artillery demonstration. Many of you may have probably heard the myth that while the Chinese invented gunpowder they were too short-sighted to use it as weaponry. It's nice to see the presentation here inadvertently make note of how that's a load of nonsense by explicitly showing late sixteenth century Koreans master the basics of long-range firepower.
All in all this is really just more of the usual for "Jing Bi-rok". The drama consistently discusses historical actions and contexts in a way that's not necessarily thrilling narrative material, yet all the same does manage to be thought-provoking. I don't think it's really possible to understate just how unusual a product "Jing Bi-rok" is. Characters die or get wounded about as often as they do anything important, and this is little surprise considering that wars in real life tend to be really dangerous.
Review by William Schwartz
"Jing Bi-rok" is directed by Kim Sang-hwi and Kim Yeong-jo, written by Jeong Hyung-soo and Jeong Ji-yeon and features Kim Sang-joong, Kim Tae-woo, Im Dong-jin, Kim Hye-eun, Lee Kwang-ki and Lee Kwang-ki.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Jing Bi-rok" Episode 18"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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