The problem with a drama having a very effective documentative historical style is that, well, sooner or later it just feels like you're stuck in school. While a normal story would just use the existing characterization to establish that Korea is headed toward disaster, "Jing Bi-rok" is stuck in extended build-up mode. King Seonjo doesn't know that he's making such huge mistakes because, for quite some time, there won't be any immediate negative consequences. The Japanese, for now, are just focusing on their hand-to-hand combat.
The action sequences, what few there are, prove to be more interesting if only because of obvious metaphorical value. Take the nighttime clash. We very quickly get a good understanding of the strengths and limitations of firearms, as well as the proper tactical response to that kind of military situation. The end of that scene also demonstrates one of the big disadvantages of publically torturing and executing criminals- a regime that makes a habit of acting like this is going to deter anyone from willingly being taken alive.
Even this much, though, brings attention to an important odd part of the narrative construction of "Jing Bi-rok"- the fact that we don't really have any real heroic characters. For a sense of perspective, Seong-ryong is a historian. Every conversation we see him have exists mostly so that he can write it down in for future reference, so that characters who actually have the power and inclination to influence events will eventually be able to use it.
While the historical background in "Jing Bi-rok" remains enormously interesting, I remain sorry to admit that as someone who's not a native Korean, there's still way too much background detail going onthat I just can't fully keep track of. I rather expect the named subtitles are going to continue straight on to the drama's conclusion. There are just way too many characters here, and most of them appear and disappear at barely a moment's notice.
I don't want to be too harsh on "Jing Bi-rok" because the concept remains extremely sound. At the very least, the subtitled version of this drama may well turn into the most comprehensive English language source on the late sixteenth Japanese invasions of Korea- a historical field of study that is severely lacking, given that's it's quite literally the only large-scale military conflict the country engaged in out of the entire Joseon era. All the same, viewer engagement is important and needs better work here.
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 3"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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