Things briefly appear to be going well. For once King Seonjo is able to see the common people in a context that doesn't imply they despise him for being a terrible leader. Look into the crowd and you'll even spot some genuine smiles. It would appear that the action in "Jing Bi-rok" has turned the corner. Then we find out that the Japanese are responding to these reversals by escalating their practices of sheer brutality.
That's right, it's yet another case of mild good news quickly turning into terrible bad news. "Jing Bi-rok" frequently makes me wonder why anyone would want to start a war. It's less a humanitarian question as it is just what's the point? The whole exercise seems horribly stressful. Now, if the Japanese had better long-term control this would be a different matter. As it stands they can't really sustain this system indefinitely. Hideyoshi isn't a nation builder. He doesn't even try to be really.
Let's ignore the political questions for the moment and discuss something else for once- the acting. The performances in "Jing Bi-rok" are quite good. Although I suspect audiences are disappointed somewhat that most of the sparkle in this department comes from the performance of Kim Tae-woo as the constantly beleagured leader of Korea. King Seonjo just is not very good at his job. And it's not because he has a tragic flaw or anything. The man just lacks the proper skill set.
It's an especially funny contrast to Lee Soon-shin, who does have the right skill set for leadership. And who consequently is actually kind of boring. I've come to appreciate that, while the war scenes are the most exciting and the political scenes the most dull from a war narrative standpoint, more than anything else "Jing Bi-rok" is the story of the actual people involved in this conflict. And somewhat perversely, it's Lee Soon-shin's lack of complexity that makes him such a capable commander.
Then there's the Japanese war crimes. Or just the war misery in general. To some extent I'd like to criticize this drama for just wallowing in all that stuff- but that's rather obviously the point. I'm just watching this drama. For the people actually alive back then they had to live through this stuff day after day, with no apparent hope of this conflict ever reaching some kind of resolution. That must have been excruciatingly miserable. And it's at this point that I remember people in the world today are living through the same kind of crises. Humbling stuff, really.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Jing Bi-rok" Episode 27"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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