I don't really know what to call "Jing Bi-rok" genre-wise. It's a Korean costume drama with production values typical for the genre but in execution it almost seems like...a documentary maybe? Let's take Yoo Seong-ryong (played by Kim Sang-joong). His main purpose in the story is to provide narration. As far as I can tell there are all direct quotes from the historical document on which "Jing Bi-rok" is based. Passage of time is represented here, not by camera tricks and flourishes, but by listening to Yoo Seong-ryong explain what happens next.
It should be noted that the war hasn't actually started yet. So far we're still dealing with warning signs. By the time we get to the cliffhanger some desperately needed information regarding the situation is established, but the sheer amount of time it's taken for "Jing Bi-rok" to get to this point really just establishes that the Koreans really don't know what they're doing. Torture, as presented here, is less a matter of the good guys doing whatever it takes as it is desperation in an apparently unprecedented situation.
Whereas last episode we got to look at a gruesome battle, here we get to see some of the gruesome aftermath. And it's rather telling how for the most part, members of the upper classes tend to be shielded from having to look at the results of sheer brutality. The greater implication here appears to be that savagery begets savagery. The main sympathetic characters have realized, correctly, that this isn't a conflict they can win by trying to out-evil the other guys.
The portrayal of the Japanese continues to be interesting. While they're clearly the villains, there's a surprising unity of purpose to the scenes that take place at their court. Obviously, Hideyoshi (played by Kim Kyu-chul) is a crazy person. But Hideyoshi's motives are so obviously transparent that even a baby can mostly understand what he's after. Contrast King Seonjo (played by Kim Tae-woo). He doesn't seem to actually know what he wants. This is a very bad state of mind to be in against a determined opponent.
In spite of it's obvious status as a pseudo historical document, "Jing Bi-rok" also does great work keeping the viewer on their toes. This is the kind of royal intrigue where an assassination attempt can and does come out of nowhere. This is a drama that's not afraid to show off history as the dirty, unpleasant affair it really was for people living at the time. It's harsh stuff- yet also surprisingly compelling context for the Korean cultural identity at large.
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 2"
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