Directed By Yoon Sung-sik & Kim Yeong-jo
I’ve been marathoning Korean dramas this month, particularly the dramas where Park Seo-joon was cast in because he is my new favorite Korean actor. The next drama that I will be talking about is Hwarang. The series received some criticism despite having an all-star cast.
In the kingdom of Silla, the queen, Jiso, rules on behalf of her son, Sammaekjong, after her husband, King Beopheung died. Yet since her reign, the government officials, nobles, and citizens grew anxious as they await her son to take the throne and so rather than waiting, they plan to overthrow the Royal Family.
In order to maintain the “bone rank system,” Queen Jiso creates an elite group called Hwarang. The Hwarang consists of young men from various noble households that support the Royal Family and are used to break down any power factions among the council. There are two men in Hwarang that are hiding their identities: Kim Ji-dwi (Park Hyung-sik) who is the future king of Silla and Kim Sun-woo (Park Seo-joon), a peasant that is trying to figure out who killed his best friend.
In the beginning, I was actually skeptical on whether or not some of the actors in this cast will be able to full-fill their roles as warriors since historical dramas isn’t a genre that these actors are known for. For example, I wouldn’t have picked Park Hyung-sik to play the future king as he seems to fit more of the charismatic and loveable roles. In this particular drama, Park Hyung-sik played a much more serious and emotional role. Park Hyung-sik, portraying Kim Ji-dwi, is in a constant mental battle trying to overcome the self-doubt he has in ruling and also to not be ridiculed by his subjects for his lack of ruling experience. Park Hyung-sik has done a great job in showing the youthfulness of a young king but also shows his depth as an actor. Aside from Park Hyung-sik, there are other actors I wouldn’t have cast in this drama, but these actors’ overall performances were better than I expected.
When it comes to historical dramas, the storylines are quite climatic with plenty of action and plot twists. However, Hwarang tones down the theatrics as most conflicts are handled through diplomacy as opposed to war except when four of the Hwarang and Ah-ro (Go Ara) go to the bordering country. I think diplomacy didn’t have an impact on the audience as the climax of the plot was a bit dry and anticlimactic than one would expect from a historical drama. Thus, I felt that the entertainment value of this show didn’t meet audience’s expectations. Yet by focusing on resolving conflicts with diplomacy as opposed to violence is an interesting factor in a historical drama as it isn’t much of an emphasis on other ones I watched such as Faith and Scarlet Heart Ryeo.
Furthermore, I felt that the plot wasn’t fully developed as the ending left some important questions unanswered. The initial issue as to why Sun-woo went to the capital is to find out and kill the person that murdered his best friend. Yet this initial problem becomes a subplot and is later resolved. Yet I did feel like the solution wasn’t satisfying. One way that the story could have been written better is to actually explore this storyline a little more by suggesting what would happen if Ah-ro finds out who killed her brother because then, there would be some emotional conflicts and drama between key characters.
Another aspect that this drama should have explored is bringing conflict between the romantic relationship of Sun-woo and Ah-ro such as letting Ah-ro’s father find out about their relationship despite him wanting Sun-woo to live the life of his dead son. By having a problem like this occur, it can strengthen but also create some conflict between the two as there isn’t any external conflict between them—a majority of their conflicts are emotional and internal issues. Hwarang had the potential of having some good storylines between characters but the drama took a more simple approach and at the end, some key points in the plot were left unnoticed.
Yet, despite these flaws, Hwarang is a historical drama you should watch if you want some major eye candy. The plot is pretty simple and the entertainment value is good (not the greatest, but definitely not average).