Empress Ki: Eps 1-2


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.


25 thoughts on “Empress Ki: Eps 1-2

  1. I’ve been waiting for a good sageuk too. Not really into love triangles so much, but I find this story pretty interesting so far. And the costumes and crowns and sets are beautiful. I just love all the pageantry. πŸ˜€

    1. Honestly, the first 5 minutes of episode reminds me so much of period C-dramas! Love love love that scene πŸ™‚

      Since the story is told in flashbacks, for now it focuses on Goryeo since the leads are there, but I believe it will switch in between Yuan and Goryeo, with Seung-nyang and Ta-hwan in Yuan and Wang Yoo in Goryeo.


  3. Glad you are talking about this drama ! I was planning to let Empress Ki run till the drama was half way, and jump in from there. So many other good Kdrama’s at the moment. Plus, watching Secret Garden again has become a tradition for me in the dark, dull and wet days of November in the Dutch Lowlands.
    I started with it.
    But I could not resist, and now I will be hooked on the screen twice a week till April !
    The makers of Empress Ki also made History of The Salaryman.
    I will not look for other similarities, but History of The Salaryman also started in the 5th gear immediately, like Empress Ki.
    And the speed lasted till the end.

    This looks very good, and so does Ja Hi Won !
    “Fighting !”

    ps: By coincidence I found this clip, where Ha Ji Won does a cycle-tour around and above Amsterdam, in the area where i live:

    1. ps: This must have been around June 2013. There is a better, English subbed clip on Viki, but for some reason that one is blocked now in my region. ( I could watch it in August )

    2. Yay for more people tuning into Empress Ki!
      Now that you mention it, History of the Salaryman was fast-paced from the start, but I ended up loving it and also the writers’ other work, Incarnation of Money. Empress Ki captures my attention in the first 5 minutes but I’m still in the process of getting to know the characters better. The three leads are lovely and it’s hard not to like them.

      BTW, thanks for sharing the video! Ha Ji-won is so lovely πŸ™‚ It’s hard not to love her!

    3. Hank,
      Hi. What site are you watching it on in The Netherlands? I was recommending the show to a friend that lives in Amsterdam but she says she can’t watch it on the same sites that I see it on in the states.
      Thanks in advance.

    4. I really like the empress Ki drama. More power to you Miss Ha JI WON I hope there’s another part 2

  4. Love your review and look forward to it weekly. However, I’ll be the only voice to say while ep 1 was esthetically beautiful and wonderfully filmed; I was bored stiff! I had to watch ep 1 twice to get an understanding of what was happening because it was a very busy ep! Too busy for my taste. But for my love of HJW, I persevered and watched ep 2. While I am not a fan of love triangle stories, I will most likely watch this but probably not rabidly like I hoped. Very sad that there really wasn’t a great saguek this year. There have been those watchable; those I barely tolerated and those I couldn’t finish if you paid me. So, I’ll overlook the triangle for my girl and continue watching.

    1. I feel you. It feels super fast at first but I get accustomed to the speed in episode 2. I have faith in the writers and the cast; both are the reasons for my decision to start watching and continue the journey with the drama. Maybe we need to let the flow of the story settles in since we’re still in the introduction part. Because of that, I still have faith for Empress Ki to be decent. Hoping that Dramaland is kind enough to make it good, after the average offering of sageuk this year…

  5. ( I also posted this in a small forum dedicated to Asian Drama )

    A few years ago, I got nearly all the black&white episodes of British 60’s TV-Classic “The Avengers”.
    The ones with John Steed and Emma Peel.
    Played by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.
    They operate in the shadows of the secret services.

    A little bit surrealistic, glamor, humor and…good action !
    Diana Rigg has become the Grand Lady of Theater in the UK, playing on stage till high age.
    In an AOL-survey in 2008, she was still voted number 6 in the list of Most Attractive Actresses of Western Cinema of all times.
    In The Avengers she was equal with her male partner, including the fighting. She really masters a good deal of martial arts.
    Sometimes he rescued her, sometimes she rescued him.

    For many critics, she is one of the only Western actresses, who could play strong fighting women, ans still be feminine to the core, and be on equal level with her male partner.
    Because, either they became Lara Croft-types, with a superbody, but without real character, or they became almost a “male actor”l in a female appearance.

    My knowledge of Asian movie history is limited, there must be many actresses doing a good fight.
    But that fragile balance, is it always there ?

    I dare to vote for Ha Ji Won anyway, that she is exact doing that ! “Fighting !”

    1. I watched episode 1 again and boy, I am happy that Ha Ji-won took the role of Seung-nyang. I would believe if she’s a guy because she possesses this cool aura without looking too fake. She might seem to be typecasted, getting several roles of badass women but that’s her charm: she can act boyishly, all tough and strong but still maintains the vulnerability a woman has.

      No wonder Hollywood decides to sign a contract with her, she is a rare gem among the actresses!

  6. Ah! I really loved the first 2 episodes! Truth to be told, I wasn’t going to watch this drama, as 50 episodes is a really big commitment. However I found a clip of the wedding scene and watched out of curiosity… BAM! I was hooked. They sure know how to capture the audience from the start! I just hope that this stays good until the end. The last time I was rabidly in love with a sageuk was Jang Ok Jung… but then halfway through it spiraled into a slap-fest and I was was heart-broken at the wasted potential 😦

    Thanks for the post!

    1. You’re welcome! Glad you’re liking it so far πŸ™‚
      Actually, the first 5 minutes is my favourite. So far, I can’t watch it without shedding tears. It’s that good, at least to me. I really, really hope they keep the momentum until the end, though it would be nice if they slow down a little, just saying.
      Ah, Jang Ok Jung…I am still fond of their younger days, where Lee Soon and Ok-jung were just innocent pairing falling in love..too bad their characters fell into the political machinations while the drama itself gets involved with issues of facts and ratings. It could’ve been better…such a waste of a beautiful beginning.

  7. I might have made a fatal decision…I am in the history-mood, thanks to the very good historical dramas lately. ( Including Goddess Of Fire, because of the cast, not the actual drama )
    I discovered Empress Chun Chu last week, Hard to find reviews somewhere, but the comments underneath the clips are all very positive.
    Empress Chun Chu has 70 episodes. That will have me two very long drama;s for coming winter, plus the ongoing shorter ones.
    I started with Empress Chun Chu today. It is in an earlier period, around 1000 AD. It is a different story in a way, which would enable me to not get confused with Two Empresses.
    I hope anyway.

    1. 70+ episodes! It’s not going to be an easy watch but for Chae Si-ra and the awesome cast, I’m sure it will be enjoyable. The ratings were decent too πŸ™‚ Glad that you’re spending time with historical dramas and hopefully I’ll be able to do so later.
      Happy watching and enjoy the goodness of the history!

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