It feels like forever waiting for Empress Ki to air. Yes, I am that excited for it, considering that I haven’t watched sageuk for quite a while. I need my fix of those colourful clothes and impressive crowns that can only be found in a sageuk, so without further ado, let’s dive into the world of Empress Ki..
The drama is based on the famous Empress Ki, who moved up the social class from a tribute woman from Goryeo to an Empress of Yuan Dynasty. While the drama uses the title ‘Empress Ki’, since this is no documentary, the characters are mostly fictional and the life of the empress merely being used as a motif for the drama.
The opening scene of episode 1 is so pretty. It’s not just the clothes or the place alone; it includes the three people that are involved in a love triangle: Empress Ki, the Emperor of Yuan, and the King of Goryeo. The story has not yet started but my heart is breaking for them: the king who sends away his lover, the tears of the empress looking at her lover, and the emperor’s happiness that is replaced momentarily with a doubt in his eyes. This scene is a reminder (or a warning?) that the journey down the road will be not without pain and tears, but it is lovely.
In the span of less of one hour of the first episode, SO many things happened. Empress Ki used to be a girl named Nyang and Wang Yoo was a crown prince. Yoo happened to free Nyang and the other women out of pity but that sent the Yuan generals on a killing spree to catch them, sending most of the pitiful women to Yoo’s feet as corpse. Nyang escaped death, obviously, thanks to her mother, who handed her a ring that matches her father’s. Nyang wandered around the city as a beggar in search of her father but missed him (who looked like a commander) by a mere second before she encountered Wang Go, a royal who was the likely candidate in the favour of Yuan as the next Goryeo king.
Nyang introduced herself as Seung-nyang (it sounds more masculine since it means jackal, a family of wolf) to hide his identity as a girl and grew up as an excellent archer. She spent her time doing dirty jobs for her lord Wang Go while using her earnings to retrieve the tribute women from Yuan. Yoo came down to her town hearing about her amazing unbeatable archery skills and challenged her for an archery competition, which ended rather badly for his clothes. It turned that he’s there for an undercover business, investigating the case of salt smuggling. Guess who’s the direct culprit? Seung-nyang, under Wang Go’s command.
So Seung-nyang went to find out whether Yoo came there to investigate them while Yoo started to suspect her as the person behind the smuggling work. They danced around the subject until Seung-nyang tipped him about the transaction venue which turned out to be a ruse. He knew it all along and went to the right place as tipped by another mysterious figure. Seung-nyang got apprehended by Yoo but the mysterious figure, the one who secretly told Yoo about the whole smuggling business from the start was no other than Seung-nyang. Why? Because Wang Go was eagerly sending the women as tribute to Yuan to keep himself in their favour and the Yuan person in charge was the general who killed her mother.
Episode 2 backtracks a little, showing why Seung-nyang was spared for the day: one of her boys told Yoo about the reason why she’s doing all the dirty jobs. A spy from Wang Go’s side told her to finish off Yoo while Seung-nyang took this opportunity to tell Yoo about her being the informant, secretly. They formed an alliance (also secretly) and tricked Wang Go, but the old man was brilliant enough to go back to the palace, telling the King (Yoo’s father) that the Crown Prince was dead and hoping that he’d be enthroned. Yoo managed to survive the attack from Wang Go and went back to the palace together with the proof of Wang Go’s smuggling activities, thanks to Seung-nyang. The King abdicated the throne for Yoo but pardoned Wang Go fearing that it’d cause a ruckus.
Seung-nyang got involved with the local authorities when her gang activities were found out but she got to know that the Commander was her father. However, her father Commander Ki Ja-oh thought she perished together with her mother back then, so he gave up on her. Instead of running to him and telling him that she’s still alive, Seung-nyang, being a tough guy/girl she was, decided to join the army. She passed the test and got the chance to work under her father. Yoo, on the other hand, started to enforce stricter rules in the court as the new King although the officers, especially Wang Go, didn’t look like they would change in the nearest time. He missed the chance to meet Seung-nyang…so close yet so far away!
The Yuan’s side was also busy with their plotting: Yeon-chul, the most powerful officer, was planning to get rid of the Crown Prince, Ta-hwan while he’s on exile in Goryeo. Wang Go was thinking the exact thing as an indirect way to bring Yoo down since Yuan would be mad with Goryeo’s failure to protect the heir to their throne. Yoo could read his enemies’ mind and sent Commander and Co. (including Seung-nyang) to protect Ta-hwan. He decided to meet Ta-hwan as a way to save the prince and also his Goryeo.
Ta-hwan was a timid person, but he could sense that something was wrong and tried to buy some time while on his journey to his exile place. General Baek Ahn and his nephew Tal-tal knew that he’s just acting and decided that they’d have to carry out the plan to attack him while Ta-hwan planned to save himself. He disguised himself as one of the soldiers but ran into Seung-nyang’s tent to hide; however, he failed miserably and Seung-nyang saw him.
The pace is quite fast for a sageuk piece and honestly, it takes a while for me to get used to the speed. I settle down pretty quickly in episode 2, finding reasons here and there to continue watching it. As for now, I really like the three leads and I start to care about them, though I’m not really attached to them (yet). I’d like to see Yoo and Seung-nyang meeting each other again because he’s so fond of her, but I bet he’d be surprised to learn about her true gender.
Ta-hwan appears for less than 20 minutes in episode 2 but he’s endearing from the start. It’s like watching a scared puppy: he’s easily frightened to the point that he might pass out if someone draws the sword in front of him. His tantrum might seem to be childish (“I want to eat the yummy persimmons~~”) but the truth is he’s trying to buy some time to live a little longer. It won’t be easy living as him: being watched day and night and he has to watch out all the time.
On another note, it’s good to see some familiar faces among the extended cast! Oh, and those pretty scenes shouldn’t be missed, for instance the music class and the lantern date.