June 6, 2013

K-Drama for the Epic Fantasy Reader

At least once a week, I read something on Twitter about TV that makes me want to respond "you really should be watching historical Korean dramas."  Frustrated with episodic stories that go nowhere? Historical k-drama. Longing for wide-sweeping, big-scope stories?  K-drama.  Want interesting female characters?  K-drama.  Lamenting there's no chance for tragedy?  K-drama.

I'm fairly new to watching this genre, but it explodes my epic-loving brain.  Sweeping stakes.  Politics that really...well, make sense as politics.  Often, novels and movies talk vaugely about "political power" or "influence," but the dramas show how people are power.

Really, the historical k-dramas utilize a whole series of tropes I'd never seen before.  The first historical k-drama I watched, I felt like I'd just discovered Robin Hood and King Arthur for the first time.  It's changed the way I think about fiction and storytelling.

And so, if you love epic fantasy...big, rolling stories that are worth every second...I've got a pair of reccomendations.

Faith.  A warrior travels forward in time, looking for a legendary doctor to save the Queen's life, and brings back a plastic surgeon instead.  This story is half-historical, set in the mid-14th century reign of King Gongmin of Goryeo -- a turbulent time where the king tries to assert Goryeo's independence from Yuan (China).  But there's also some fantasy elements -- a bit of time travel, and some combat magic.

This is an easy show to drop into.  Having someone from the modern world kidnapped into 1300's politics allows for a gentler learning curve.  For all the sweeping drama -- coups, military maneuvers, betrayals and manipulations -- I loved the occasional funny character moments that sneak in.  The king and queen's relationship here also gave me the epiphany that I don't hate romance...I just like a specific kind of romance, which this had in spades.  Literally, I jumped up and down and squealed like a broken saxophone when this married couple held hands.  One day, I hope I write a romantic plot line half as emotional.  Overall, this series is twenty-four episodes of goodness.

Brief warning: Besides the fighting, there's a decent amount of surgery/medical drama here.  If blood makes you queasy, close your eyes and watch with someone who can read the subtitles to you.

The Great Queen Seon Deok.  This show chronicles the rise of the first Queen of Silla.  The scope, time-wise, is sweeping -- the show begins with Queen Seon Deok's father as a child and ends with her death (She reigned from 634 to 647; I don't think it's a spoiler she's no longer with us).  But every bit of it is packed with suspenseful politics, so I never felt like I was waiting to get to the "good parts."  It's all good.

Mishil -- that nice-looking lady in the purple dress -- is perhaps the scarriest antagonist I've found in fiction.  The worst thing Smaug can do, after all, is kill you.  Worse, I like her so much that if I were in this show...I'm not sure if I'd work for her or against her.  She is devastatingly clever, and she takes care of those who serve her.

Princess Deokman (later Queen Seon Deok) proves a worthy opponent to Mishil, especially with Kim Yushin backing her up.  But, to my delight, the story's conflict isn't broken up into "teams."  The various people are actually, well, people -- with their own motivations that don't map directly to what Mishil or Princess Deokman want.  It's fascinating to watch allies become opponents, depending on the issue.

Instead of portraying Queen Seon Deok as remarkable because she took the throne as a woman, the drama portrays her as remarkable because of her accomplishments -- like improving the conditions of the poor and building Cheomseongdae, the first observatory in the Far East.  Awesome.

I could go on.  And on.  And on.  But I'll cut it short here.  Faith is available on Hulu and DramaFeverThe Great Queen Seon Deok can be watched at Crunchyroll and DramaFever.


  1. What is "K Drama" for those who don't know? I assume Korean Drama?

  2. Yes, it is Korean Drama. I'll go edit the post to include that...

  3. I am so excited to try this out! Megan, you are a gold mine for media recommendations.