Silla queen holds audiences spellbound
Nowadays half the country is rushing home after work to catch the latest episodes of the hit drama “Queen Seondeok,” which airs every Monday and Tuesday at 10 p.m. on MBC.
And with every episode the addiction appears to be growing stronger for many.
The television drama is about the first queen to rule in Korea. Succeeding her father, Queen Seondeok ruled Silla from 632 to 647 during a period of intense conflict with the neighboring Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms.
The show, which first aired on May 25, started off strong with a 16.6 percent rating, according to TNS. In just three episodes its rating rose to 20 percent.
By the fourteenth episode the rating had jumped to well over 30 percent.
At the end of the 24th episode, when the twin sister of soon-to-be Queen Seondeok dies after she is struck by a poisonous arrow, the rating edged close to 40 percent.
It finally posted a 42 percent rating with its 26th episode this Tuesday, registering as one of the few TV dramas that has reached 40 percent this year.
“Brilliant Legacy,” which ended last month, had a record 47 percent audience share.
With the battle between Seondeok and her nemesis Mishil now going into full gear, ratings are expected to climb higher.
If so, Seondeok will truly stand out among the competition. No television drama currently matches up to Queen Seondeok.
In fact, dramas competing against Seondeok in the same time slot have quietly ended.
To fight back, rival networks are throwing various punches, putting on dramas that either have a cast filled with A-list stars or programs that were successful in the past.
For instance, SBS is showing “Dream” at the same time as Queen Seondeok, with a cast including heartthrobs such as Kim Beom, Joo Jin-mo and K-pop’s rising star Son Dam-bi.
Even with major star players in the show Dream has low ratings, and the singer Son Dam-bi is often criticized for her awkward acting.
Meanwhile, KBS recently began airing “The Home of Legends,” a horror program similar to “Tales from the Crypt,” a hit HBO horror series that was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it first aired in the U.S.
The new KBS show, however, has been criticized for its excessive use of computer graphics and weak plots.
So what makes Queen Seondeok so appealing?
First, the plot progresses at a rapid-fire pace, intensifying the show.
Additionally, the carefully coordinated battle of wits between supporters of Seondeok and her nemesis Mishil makes the show seem like a dramatized chess game.
It makes the viewer wonder what the next move will be.
The biggest contributor to the success of the show is Ko Hyeon-jeong, who plays the diabolical Mishil.
The fair-faced Ko has played good-hearted protagonists in past television dramas. This is her first “bad girl” role.
Ko has dominated the show since the first episode and continues to do so today.
Although it feels like she’s overdoing it at times when she stares deeply into the camera with a weird spooky tune floating in the background, her presence enlivens the show.
Her character draws audiences in because Mishil will stop at nothing to get her way, including (horrifyingly) ordering her younger brother to kill himself.
The television drama starts with a coup, orchestrated by Mishil, immediately after the death of King Jinheung.
Mishil tries to take the throne but fails on several accounts.
The opportunity arises when the queen of Silla, Maya Buin, gives birth to two girls: Cheonmyeong and Deokman.
According to a legend passed down since the founding of the Silla kingdom, the bloodline will end if the king and his queen have twin daughters.
To save his kingdom from Mishil, King Jinpyeong secretly sends the newborn Deokman and his royal servant out of the palace.
Deokman, who grows up in a desert in Mongolia, travels back to Silla to find the truth about her roots later in her life.
There she meets her twin sister, Princess Cheonmyeong, and the two sisters join forces to fight against the evil Mishil.
But when she tries to save Deokman’s life, Cheonmyeong is shot with a poisonous arrow, leaving Deokman to vow vengeance against Mishil and eventually become Silla’s first queen.
Although the television drama depicts the life of a historic figure, the plot is mostly fiction.
Although Seondeok and Cheonmyeong were sisters, no historical records suggest they were twins.
Additionally, Silla’s most famous general, Kim Yoo-shin, never had a love affair with Seondeok.
Yet the story is entertaining whether it is about the heartbreaking love between the two sisters and General Kim or the intellectual battles between the sisters and Mishil.
We can only hope that the story maintain its levels of intensity. The problem is, a lot of shows lose their artistic edge if a production company decides to extend a series to cash in on high ratings. Let’s hope Queen Seondeok avoids that tragic fate.
By Lee Ho-jeong [email@example.com]
The hit TV drama “Queen Seondeok” portrays a dramatic journey that the once-abandoned princess Deokman (second from left) takes to eventually become Queen Seondeok, the first queen of the Silla Dynasty. [MBC-TV]