One of the things I really like about "Jing Bi-rok" is the way it presents atmosphere. This isn't some politically correct version of sixteenth century Korea- even the obviously imaginary sequences are pretty committed to fidelity regarding the time period. In one scene King Seonjo wakes up from a bad dream and is calmed down by a woman who's not his wife. Queen Uuin (played by Hwang In-young) does appear in this episode- but "Jing Bi-rok" correctly notes that she has her own political situations that don't necessarily involve her husband directly.
But just so you don't get the wrong idea- the focus here is still very much on King Seonjo and his own sense of personal uncertainty and failure. "Jing Bi-rok" manages to spice up the proceedings somewhat by showing almost all of his turmoil here internally, through events that Seung-ryong could not have possibly witnessed. The work done with shadows here is also quite good- the direction team can get creative when the situation calls for it.
Also well worth noting is the meeting several distinguished Koreans have with Hideyoshi. I realized quite quickly that it's quite rare for dramas to accurately delineate the language barrier- even in "Jing Bi-rok" Hideyoshi speaks with his retainers in Korean. But the courtly scene is particularly noteworthy because we get both literal translations and spoken translations for everything Hideyoshi says. The differences are minor, but they really help to underscore the cultural barrier that makes the Japanese so inscrutable to the Koreans here.
At another one point there's a linguistic argument over the correct way to refer to certain leaders- a distinction that's much more important than it may seem at first glance. Consider also the attention paid to news given to and received from other countries. What's more, there's cultural problems beyond just language- take the entire sword demonstration. There's quite a lot of material to chew on this episode.
I think that's what really determines when "Jing Bi-rok" is going strong, is how many memorable setpieces there are. At one point we even get a short glimpse of what life is like for villages suffering from the plague- again, this initially seems irrelevant to everything else that happens, but the backdrop is essential. While the leaders here seem all-powerful, on the small level there are always these little issues that literally destroy lives which people in this time period can't really fight. A humbling moment indeed, to think of our forefathers having to work with so little.
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 4"
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