Jackpot inspired me to time travel and my journey took me back to 2007 and 2009. It can be argued that a die-hard Sageuk fan is already a time traveller of sorts but what I mean is that I went back a couple of years to catch up with two Sageuks that I had ignored completely. These are Eight Days and Conspiracy in the Court, after watching them I wondered how I ever bypassed this two brilliant gems of the Sageuk Universe. As a result I put both Flower in Prison and Merchant Gaekju on the back burner as I took a brief journey back to the world of the tragic Crown Prince Sado, King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo.
Both shows focus on the assassination attempts that King Jeongjo had to live through once he ascended to the throne and they manage to reinforce to the viewer as to how dangerous factional politics were in the Joseon Era. Although I am sure many loyal Sageuk followers are rolling their eyes at this statement, as that element of dangerous politics is usually one of the central tropes of any drama that wants to be respectably labelled as a sageuk. However, I repeat this statement because I never really understood King Yeongjo’s erratic behaviour when I watched sageuks like Secret Door, Yi San, The Throne (this is a movie) until I watched Jackpot, which is very liberal with the actual history but gives one a glimpse of what he might have gone through to get to the throne and to keep it for so long. As such it is easier to see the dysfunctions he developed and consequently passed on to his son Sado who then left behind a legacy of demons to torment his son, King Jeongjo.
EIGHT DAYS (2009) 10 Episodes
I loved Eight Days but the explicit sex scenes really got on my nerves, I am really no prude but the reason I fled most American TV shows was due to gratuitous sex scenes. Sageuks generally do a great job of conveying emotions and desire without over-sexualising a scene so why Eight Days chose to go that R-rated route is a huge mystery to me.
That being said, the premise of the story is sound and based on real life events. The action begins around several assassination attempts against the newly crowned King Yeongjo played by Kim Sam Joong who was also one of the leads in Jing Bi Rok and I must say this guy knows how to play a king. Choi min Soo and him should open a King school or something. Is there a demand for those around? Because there really should be.
Anyway back to the sageuk, which begins against a backdrop of numerous assassination attempts and then fast forwards to more than ten years into the future as the King organizes a procession to celebrate his mother’s 60th birthday and to honour his tragic father, Crown Prince Sado.
Lady Hyegyeong his protective mother does not wish for this procession as she is aware the danger it puts her son in. Lady Hyegyeong is ably played by Jung Ae Ri who balances her motherly devotion, anxiety and guilt for her role in her husband’s death with such skill that it is impossible to look away when she is on screen. Jung Ae Ri is a power house actress and I truly wish Hollywood would fish for more talent outside its borders, the diversity would do wonders for the film industry.
The drama takes the viewer through the eight day period when the court left the palace for the ceremony and the several sane and not so sane players who make their attempts on the life of the embattled King.
The craziest group in the mix is a millennialist sect run by a loony named Moon Im bang who believes he has a divine mandate to turn Joseon into some form of Utopia,
the Noron faction of the day do not buy into his ideal but they make sure to hop unto his band wagon so that they can have a convenient scapegoat should things go wrong as they plan their own insurrection against the King.
Sometimes in my struggle to keep up with eight days I felt like there were entirely too many characters in the show but I can generously say that each and every one served to advance the plot in some way and it helped that even the actors with the smallest parts played their roles well.Jackpot Director, are you reading this?
The use of flashbacks is applied quite well and this drama does deserve its classification as a thriller and I would highly recommend it to any serious Sageuk fan. This one is not for the faint hearted as the plot really does require that your mind is fully engaged in order to keep up.
CONSPIRACY IN THE COURT/SEOUL’S SAD SONG (2007) 8 Episodes
Creepy Killers, Vengeful femme fatale assassins, greedy politicians and doomed love stories; this eight episode mystery thriller has it all. Conspiracy in the court is also based on the many assassination attempts on the king and hints at a successful one (at least on this show) against King Jeongjo during his twenty four year reign.
The drama begins with a bizarre string of killings of which the investigations draw our hero ,the nerdy genius Park Sang Kyu, into a series of events he would much rather avoid. Park sang Kyu is the son of a nobleman and a concubine, a fate he resents. He works as a lowly guard within the Joseon police force. Park sang Kyu is played by Jin Yi Han who is better known by drama fans as Tal Tal in Empress Ki, which aired in 2013.
The drama also introduces Lee Na Young the daughter of a prominent nobleman.
She starts out as an idealist with whom Park sang Kyu falls in love with but turns vengeful as she loses her family to political intrigues. The third character in this mystery thriller is Yang Man Oh.
He wants to change the world by means fair or foul and to this end he engages in very dubious associations to achieve his ends. It soon becomes evident that the murders are not what they seem and soon the investigation leads Park Sang Kyu and the other two, through a rabbit hole filled with conspiracies as well as disgruntled characters all who are out to get the king and in some cases to also grab power ,this trope never gets old, does it ?
However this drama is more than just a murder mystery but an exploration of what it means to lead a decent life and to be a decent person through the eyes of our three central characters who are forced to adapt to their unstable country.
The country faces turmoil brought on by the clashes between the King who was trying to centralize his power through people centred reforms and the conservative political forces who were determined to protect their interests at all costs even if it meant killing the king and ultimately destroying Joseon. Our Heroes find themselves on different sides of the fight without the luxury of being able to distinguish between good and evil at great personal cost.
This drama was worth the watch and for a thriller it had some comedy in places you would least expect which made for some delightful viewing. I also liked it due to the many complex characters it offered but again it is the same complexity which led me to fall asleep during some scenes (not many ) as some plot twists sometimes took too long to unravel. However I would recommend it as a must watch based on the great acting and the believable story line.