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[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Korea-Khitan War" Episode 1

Straightaway "Korea-Khitan War" gets to the action, with epic war scenes demonstrating that the Koreans, or Goryeo, as it was known some thousand years ago, is not doing. Their losses seem gradual and possibly solvable. But unfortunately, the plot quickly takes on another direction. At the palace, King Mokjong (played by Baek Sung-hyun) seems to have trouble taking the conflict seriously. However, the young, probably gay king is determined to choose his own successor, sparring with Queen Mother Cheonchu (played by Lee Min-young) on the subject.


The gay angle is a weird embellishment. I've never heard it before, but then again, I'm not familiar with the history, although I'm skeptical that anything there definitively suggests that King Mokjong was gay rather than just infertile. The script notes that the Goryeo royal succession rules explicitly require that both parents descend from a common ancestor. So that would be my assumption anyway, although it's not clear whether any of this gay stuff is actually going to be important in the long run.

Aside from that one aspect, "Korea-Khitan War" is remarkably faithful when it comes to being a traditionally styled costume drama, with political scheming being the central priority of the script. To evade the Queen Mother, King Mokjong has placed his favored successor, Prince Wangsoon (played by Kim Dong-jun) in a monastery. There he's being guarded by Jin Kwan (played by Kang Shin-il), a monk of clear political and social importance.

Kim Dong-jun, for his part, is also surprisingly convincing in the lead role as a bratty teenager who's also the future King Hyunjong. If there was anything to be skeptical about in regard to "Korea-Khitan War" it was whether an idol with such a limited acting background could carry the leading role in such an ambitious, epically scoped project. In a weird way, Kim Dong-jun's inexperience actually makes him fit the role even better- his whole character arc at the moment just screams, what have I gotten myself into?

With initial ratings for "Korea-Khitan War" only hitting 5.5%, it's clear that there's still a target audience for this kind of traditionally styled no frills palace intrigue, although some may yet be skeptical that "Korea-Khitan War" can live up to its lofty ambitions. So far I'd say the drama is at least successful in stoking interest. Maybe not quite so much of the actual war yet, although I'm sure we'll get there sooner or later.

Written by William Schwartz


"Korea-Khitan War" is directed by Jeon Woo-seong, Kim Han-sol, written by Lee Jeong-woo-III, and features Kim Dong-jun, Ji Seung-hyun, Choi Soo-jong, Lee Shi-ah, Ha Seung-ri, Jo Ryun. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2023/11/11~Now airing, Sat, Sun 21:25 on KBS.

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