It really is uncanny how, every time the focus shifts back to internal politics, most of the characters straight up seem to forget the fact that they're in the middle of a war. In all fairness it has been a while since the war actually seemed important, especially since it seems like peace is just around the corner. Of course peace has seemed to be around the corner for several episodes now and, once again, we know that once peace does show up it's not actually going to be permanent.
So, repetition again. One of the problems with reviewing a drama like "Jing Bi-rok" is that it seems like I'm always repeating myself. But war is a repetitive environment, and for all King Seonjo's apparent incompetence, over the course of the conflict he never quite does so badly that anyone feels the need to depose him. Gwanghae's a smart kid- as annoying as it is to bug his dad for favors, it's a lot less work than trying to start an all out revolt. The Japanese are still around after all.
This is the main thing holding back the smarter characters here. They're hesitant to make any major power plays precisely because they know a serious political fight will just embolden the Japanese. Without a doubt, King Seonjo's worst failures to date have been when he gets harsh against apparent traitors. "Jing Bi-rok" frequently demonstrates that torture isn't just inhumane- it's a confidence crusher.
The citizen militias might not have uniforms, but there have been multiple points where they were the only thing preventing a Japanese advance. While they're not ideal patriots, at least they're trying. Whenever the political establishment hashes problems out in the torture yard, that just sends a clear message that taking personal initiative to protect the Korean peninsula isn't rewarded. It's a rather perverse disincentive.
And it's not going to get any better. To date "Jing Bi-rok" is still slated for fifty episodes, even though the story doesn't seem anywhere near complete yet. But given the way the same problems keep coming back, I could visualize the drama just getting abridged pretty easily. More torture, more incompetence, more of the Japanese acting devious, until finally Hideyoshi dies, because outside of that there's apparently no way to actually put this conflict to rest once and all. When we hit the cliffhanger, poised on the edge of yet another petty political struggle, it's easy to see Gwanghae thinking to himself "never again".
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 44"
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