From a storytelling perspective Prince Gwanghae is in a very awkward place in "Jing Bi-rok". The main issue is just a historical one. Normally we think of Gwanghae not as a prince, but as a King. Gwanghae appears right now in "Splendid Politics", the other major historical long-form Korean drama currently airing. He's the villain. So it's a pretty odd transition to go from that to "Jing Bi-rok" and see that Gwanghae is mostly just a pawn in political games he can't actually control.
Given that King Gwanghae had a reputation for being a pretty big jerk, the way "Jing Bi-rok" explores the personage is history is a fairly interesting one. If any obvious lesson can be taken from the political games we constantly see here, it's that being a selfish jerk is behavior that's pretty frequently rewarded. What's more, King Seonjo is so constantly ineffectual that it's little wonder Prince Gwanghae has to constantly take it upon himself to act aggressively to just try and preserve some sort of dignity for the Korean population.
That's always been the main flaw of King Seonjo- he's just too unrealistically nice in a situation where niceties aren't called for. A pathetic attempt at a photo op just further demonstrates the general hopelessness of the situation for King Seonjo, making it all the more clear why Prince Gwanghae is determined to never let these kinds of humiliations confront Korea again. As a formative experience, the war is hardening a lot of Prince Gwanghae's harsher impulses. Which certainly makes sense, given historical perspective.
What's especially ironic is that Prince Gwanghae appears to be taking these cues from the Chinese. They decide to show the Koreans who's really running this operation, mostly for the sake of spite. One fact I can't help but wonder about is what the Chinese Emperor really thinks about all of this. I doubt he's put much serious thought into the situation at all really- he probably just gave his emissaries a blank check to do whatever they thought was the best idea.
In any case, "Jing Bi-rok" is slowly but surely moving toward another layer of disaster. I find myself wondering whether this is really going to be a fifty episode drama- there's still an awful lot of time left before the war finally ends with Lee Soon-shin's death, but I can't find any evidence that it's been extended beyond that runtime. Maybe everyone will get lucky and more bad stuff won't happen for awhile. It's not likely, but it would be nice.
Review by William Schwartz
"Jing Bi-rok" is directed by Kim Sang-hwi and Kim Yeong-jo, written by Jeong Hyung-soo and Jeong Ji-yeon and features Kim Sang-joong, Kim Tae-woo, Im Dong-jin, Kim Hye-eun, Lee Kwang-ki and Lee Kwang-ki.
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] "Jing Bi-rok" Episode 38"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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