After a weird opening setpiece where Yeong-sil's personal problems and the greater political situation randomly come into violent agreement, we get a few interesting scenes of Yeong-sil trying to make a go of life with palace scientists. Yeong-sil ends up making enemies by stupidly expressing his opinion and then backing it up with factual evidence. That's a really big problem in a scientific infrastructure where qualifications are considered more relevant than facts.
This is an intriguing story point precisely because it cuts across time so well. World scientific history is full of embarassing fads where properly accredited scientists came up with ridiculous theories that went unchallenged for decades. The reason for this wasn't because armed goons would pop up out of nowhere and physically attack "Real" scientists. No, the problem was much more simply that educated people tend to be very bad when it comes to making cliques, even if they personally find the idea of cliques to be offensive.
That's what King Taejong's problem is. It's obvious that King Taejong doesn't like the status quo, and in fact has presaged his entire violent takeover of the government on the assumption that he could change things. But poor King Taejong simply can't figure out that his strong-arm tactics are what's encouraging various subordinates in all other kinds of random locations to rule by the same example.
It's clear at this point that King Sejong is going to be just as important as Yeong-sil in the grand scheme of things because it's King Sejong, the first Joseon King to be raised outside of Goryeo, that's going to figure out a new better way of running the government that will allow men like Yeong-sil to contribute to Korea rather than make repeated attempts to escape the country and do science somewhere else.
While all of this is interesting thematic territory, I have to admit upon watching "Jang Yeong-sil - Drama" my immediate reaction was one of annoyance because "Jang Yeong-sil - Drama" feels like it should be more about talky politics and yet for reasons that remain unclear to me, the production team insists on filming lots of violent scenes. The threat of violence tends to make for of an impact in this context than for us to actually see it. Observe, for example, how King Taejong keeps managing to unintentionally menace people. In science or elsewhere, professional death is just as bad as the literal kind.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Jang Yeong-sil - Drama" Episode 5"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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