Beautiful. Splendid Politics aka Hwajung (華政) aired its pilot episode and I am happy to report that it was a good beginning for the 50-episode drama. The episode was rather light despite having a heavy subject in the title (politics!) but it served its purpose, providing introductions and insight into the people and subject that will become the drama’s background. Having Cha Seung-won as Gwanghae in the episode and a number of characters already grown up at this point of the story also helped drawing in the attention to the story Hwajung wanted to tell us.
Two low ranking soldiers wandered around in the dark forest, freaking out since they’re been circling around the place and thought that they’re being tricked by the ghost. They brought out the map and one of the soldiers walked forward a few steps and suddenly, he fell into a cave. Someone was sitting there, surrounded by books and papers but the white haired man was actually a skeleton. Eeep.
A man stood on a rock looking at the mountains and the vast sky, and this gentleman was Yi Deok-hyung (Lee Sung-min!). The two soldiers were still alive and they rode the horses back to the envoy base camp set near the border of Ming-Joseon, bringing with them a box that looked like a coffin. It was about 10 years after the Japanese Invasion, so we’re in the year 1608. Deok-hyung stared at a red box (I assume it contained something important from Ming) with a forlorn expression, but another gentleman, Yi Hang-bok (Kim Seung-ok) cheered him up, telling him to have some alcohol instead of sulking around. The red box was indeed the source of Deok-hyung’s worry, because the box contained a message from Ming to the king of Joseon, but the message would probably cause a bloodbath in the palace. Hang-bok was not an ounce worried, positive that it could be a new beginning. A group of soldiers gathering around the coffin attracted Deok-hyung’s attention, but a staff only reported that it was because an accident happened on the night before.
We went to Changdeok Palace, which was still under reconstruction after the damage brought upon by the war and the Crown Prince, Gwanghae (Cha Seung-won), was satisfied to hear that the project was nearing its completion since the king would be glad to have the palace restored as soon as possible. He proved himself to be attentive and affectionate as he reminded the official to send the workers back home earlier on that day, because it was the full moon. His happiness didn’t last long as his eunuch reported that he had been summoned to the temporary palace since the envoys had returned from Ming.
A little girl ran away from her attendants and she was the young Princess Jungmyung. Her mother Queen Inmok (Shin Eun-jung) heard from the princess’s attendant, Court Lady Choi (Choi Yeo-jin), that the princess had gone to the king’s quarters. The atmosphere over at the said quarters was almost stifling, but the king’s attendant Court Lady Choi calmly tasted the king’s meals before serving it to the king, Seonjo (Park Young-gyu). Gwanghae knelt silently in front of his father without lifting his head, as if he’s waiting for the king to scold him. One spoon of soup later, the king stopped eating to question Gwanghae about his trip to Changdeok Palace.
Although Gwanghae tried to explain that he only wanted to restore the palace for Seonjo, the king wasn’t going to hear his excuse; instead, he mentioned the envoys and the message they brought from Ming. Seonjo was furious because the message was only to inform them that Ming didn’t approve of Gwanghae’s status as Joseon’s crown prince again, and he attributed the reason as Gwanghae being his illegitimate son instead of his legitimate issue. He was about to explode, but little Jungmyung (Heo Jung-eun) interrupted the heated luncheon, saving Gwanghae from his father’s wrath. Seonjo was amused that the princess asked for the citizens to be given more straws since it was full moon, and pointed out to Gwanghae that Jungmyung was the only person who could make him happy. Yeah, of course you can’t be happy when you’re too busy berating your son when you’re with him..
Queen Inmok entered the place after hearing Jungmyung calling Gwanghae casually as brother instead of Crown Prince, and she saw the rejection message in front of Gwanghae. Although Gwanghae insisted that it was okay for Jungmyung to call him brother, the queen thought that the rules were there to be followed. Gwanghae assured the upset princess that she could call him brother when no one’s around and she’s back to her beaming self. He reverted back to his serious mode to inform Jungmyung that he’s going to move again, but it was only a joke! It was adorable that Jungmyung was acting like a teenage girl, sighing that she’s bring tricked by her big brother again, and Gwanghae truly enjoying it. So cute! Meanwhile, Court Lady Choi took some medicine and one of the maids commented that she had not recovered from her digestive problems because of the stress working at the king’s quarters.
The peace at the marketplace was disturbed when two groups of boys had a face-off against one another in the middle of the market, ready to battle it off through ‘Protect the Flag’ game. The little men’s gang fight ensued with lots of pushing and pulling, jumping and knocking each other into the stalls, destroying the market bit by bit. The leader in blue spotted the opponent’s flag unguarded and his minions were prepared with a formation, but the other leader in peach managed to hold to the flag. The fight was interrupted when two patrol groups: one from the Capital Bureau (Hanseongbu) and the other from the Police Department (Podocheong). It was funny to see the kids being rounded up and then brought to the local office because they wrecked havoc at the marketplace. Hehehe!
The leaders tried to run away and both of them got caught, but they were recognized by the patrol leaders and the patrol groups ended up fighting with each other. The reason? The boy in blue was caught by the Capital Bureau while he’s the son of the Police Chief, and the boy in peach was the son of the Head of the Capital Bureau. The daddies: Chief Hong Young (Uhm Hyo-sub) and Minister Kang Joo-seon (Jo Sung-ha) made their kids knelt like criminals and read the things they destroyed in their brawl against each other. When Chief Hong ordered for them to be jailed, the boy in blue: Hong Joo-won (Choi Kwon-soo) argued that they didn’t deserve to be punished because what they did was part of the celebration for the full moon day, and peach boy Kang In-woo (Lee Tae-woo) stated that they couldn’t possibly capture the other citizens who did it too, so they were innocent. The daddies smiled after hearing the kids’ point and admitted defeat.
The daddies mused over their kids and their small talks turned into concerns regarding the Crown Prince’s seat, which remained a hot topic ever since the birth of Grand Prince Yeongchang. Chief Hong was surprised when his Minister Kang suggested that the king might be thinking of changing the Crown Prince and the position would go to the young grand prince, but Minister Kang didn’t say anything further when asked about the method Seonjo would use to persuade his retainers. An old document, probably related to the skeleton which had been transported to the Police Department was sent to Chief Hong but he already left for the royal feast.
Members of the royal family, including Gwanghae and the other princes gathered for a separate feast and Queen Inmok joined them with her children. As for the royal feast, only the ministers were invited to attend and they had small talks while waiting for the king to arrive. Deok-hyung and Hang-bok were joined by Yi Won-ik (Kim Chang-wan) and they decided to halt all political talks at least for that day, but Deok-hyung overheard the Prime Minister talking about the Crown Prince’s coronation and noticed that the Greater Northerners were nowhere to be seen.
The royals went to greet the queen and her children, and Jungmyung used formal words even when she’s speaking to an illegitimate princess. She hesitated a bit because she was younger, but had to follow what the law dictated since her status was higher, hence she could use casual speech. Gwanghae’s brother, Prince Imhae (Choi Jong-hwan) decided to celebrate the day with his own way that was drinking to his heart’s content, but another prince (Prince Jungwon, I presume) didn’t hesitate to remind him to be careful of his actions, with the king’s legitimate children in attendance. Imhae grew even more upset to witness how the princes were bowing deeply in front of the young Yeongchang but only nodded when greeting Gwanghae. The Crown Princess was aware of the lack of respect displayed in front of the Crown Prince, but Gwanghae could only hold her hand, persuading her to abstain her anger.
Imhae displayed his frustration in front of Gwanghae because he felt like his brother was being ridiculed in front of others, but Gwanghae found it no different than what he experienced in the past 16 years. He already survived in his position for 16 years and he’s confident that the kind won’t simply take away the position from him. Gwanghae was probably consoling himself when he told Imhae to be patient, but Imhae was more worried that Seonjo didn’t invite the ministers from the Greater Northerners who supported Gwanghae and he feared that the king might be planning something on that day during the royal feast.
Seonjo went to the Jongmyo Shrine before attending the feast, something that gave off a strange vibe on that day. The court musicians accompanied the ministers and their poems against the flowing stream, as a low ranking minister was hanging around the food preparation tent just to find a spot to eavesdrop on the feast. This man was Yi Yi-cheom (Jung Woong-in) and he found a good hiding spot, as Deok-hyung sensed that something was going to happen, judging from Seonjo’s signals sent to the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Joo-won and In-woo took the chance to find a place inside the palace because that’s Joo-won’s wish and they happened to see Yi-cheom snooping around suspiciously. They were about to approach him but In-woo accidentally made their presence known to him. Yi-cheom was not keen on letting other people know his activity there and he spotted the boys hiding behind a tree, so he slowly brought out his knife…only to be stopped by the court ladies nearby, looking for Jungmyung. Yi-cheom fled from the scene and the boys were safe for now, but Jungmyung appeared in front of them and made them her temporary bodyguards so that she won’t get caught by her attendants. Hee!
A minister offered his share of poems by stuttering his every line, and Seonjo slammed his cup on the table as if on cue when the minister brought up the phrase ‘good day’. Oh, something was about to happen for real! As for the kids, they were just about to exchange their names when Jungmyung hears her father’s roaring voice from the feast. The king was not amused to have the minister thinking that it was the good day, not after he received the rejection letter from Ming on the same day. Won-ik tried to appease the king but the Prime Minister had another idea: how about having His Majesty offering his poem and the ministers would answer him? That sounded like a brilliant idea but on a day like this, that was the worst idea one could have suggested.
Seonjo took his time thinking about a poem which would show his retainers’ loyalty to him. Deok-hyung could see where this would lead to and tried to stand up but he was stopped by Won-ik. Then, the king said his poem: bring down the fake; raise the authentic. Or to put in the current issue’s perspective: depose the illegitimate Gwanghae and bring the legitimate Yeongchang forth to the Crown Prince’s seat. At the family’s feast, a teapot fell onto the floor in front of Gwanghae’s son, giving off the sign of a bad omen.
Quoting what King Taejo did by crowning his son that was not the firstborn, Seonjo aimed to root out the treacherous one from his loyal ministers at that moment, despite Won-ik’s attempt to object. Chief Hong wondered if that was what Minister Kang meant earlier, but the latter only said that doing it would make the court even stronger. Jungmyung witnessed it all and she didn’t expect to see her father abandoning her older brother just like that. The Prime Minister provided his response, agreeing that it’s natural for the legitimate to replace the illegitimate. Gwanghae’s quarters was soon guarded heavily as if he’s a criminal, and his loyal retainers all gathered in Gwanghae’s cool lair.
Although his brother-in-law and Imhae suggested for them to gather their soldiers and threaten Seonjo on the same night, Gwanghae didn’t feel that it was right for them to respond with force, but Imhae wasn’t going to sit back and watch his brother deposed or even killed. Imhae suggested that they kill Yeongchang and find the royal seal, but Gwanghae didn’t want to become a thief in order to attain the much coveted position. Leader of the Greater Northerners Jung In-hong volunteered to meet Seonjo. However, in a separate place, Won-ik remarked that no one would be able to change the king’s mind. Deok-hyung decided to give it a try by meeting the most influential family, Minister Kang and Chief Hong, to see whether they could be of any help, because he won’t waste his faith in Gwanghae to become a good king for the country.
Gwanghae went to kneel in front of the king’s quarters while Leader Jung met Seonjo, ready to argue with Seonjo regarding the issue of Crown Prince. Leader Jung criticized Seonjo’s decision to disregard his faction’s opinion and pleaded for the king to open his eyes wide. Although Seonjo kept insisting that Gwanghae had no right or whatsoever to become the future king because of his status, he couldn’t deny the fact that Gwanghae was the one who protected the country when he himself was busy running away during the war. When Leader Jung mentioned that Gwanghae was favoured by the public to become a wise king for them, Seonjo of course felt that he was unwanted and stormed off, ignoring Gwanghae although the Crown Prince was kneeling and pleading to be given another chance.
He certainly endured so much throughout his life as Seonjo’s son: being unrecognized by his own father because Seonjo had not seen him for a while; crowned as the Crown Prince during the war so that he could become a human fodder for Seonjo’s favourite, Prince Shinsung; and protecting Seonjo and the country from the invaders despite the risk of getting injured or even dying. He was celebrated like a hero after the war ended much to his own father’s envy, and he had to accept the reality that a young boy would be able to take away the position he had worked so hard to protect all those years in a blink of an eye.
Seonjo went to Queen Inmok’s quarters and the queen thought that it was a rash decision, but he felt that it was the only way for him to protect his legitimate children. No one could predict what would happen to them once Gwanghae ascended the throne, but the queen was worried that it would be a burden to the young Yeongchang. The king then proceeded to blame her for giving birth to a princess instead of a prince when she had Jungmyung. Dude..you’re the one to be blamed.
Deok-hyung visited the Police Department to meet Chief Hong but he wasn’t at the office. He decided to wait there and accidentally saw the document that was found together with the skeleton. The skeleton was actually a corpse which didn’t rot, and it made Deok-hyung even more curious.
Seonjo summoned the Prime Minister and expressed his wish to change the will details pertaining the heir to the throne on the next day, since he wanted to leave the temporary palace with the new Crown Prince already in his position. Court Lady Kim took a sip of the medicine and had to wait for the food testing attendant to test the other food, but the king decided not to wait on that day and trusted the court lady.
As for the skeleton/corpse, the document probably contained slander against the royal family and Deok-hyung suggested to find the identity of the corpse. But then, he saw a bracelet on it, which reminded him of a wise man (who looked like his own older self. Hohoho!) he saw back when he was young. Deok-hyung read the document again and it described the event that would happen following the man’s death:a bloodbath would occur and no one would survive except for a destined soul, and that person would light the fire in his rightful position.
At the same time, Jungmyung had a nightmare, in which Yeongchang was in a fire, and two men had already infiltrated Yeongchang’s quarters. Court Lady Kim rushed to the kitchen to bring out her medicine but she started to cough out blood before she could take the medicine. Yi-cheom was there waiting for her, thinking that she should go and see the doctor, but she didn’t say anything in return even after he congratulated her for doing a good job. Did she poisoned herself every single day just to make it go unnoticed? Wow..that kind of dedication is surely rare.
Gwanghae had a wake up call after being ignored by Seonjo and off he went to the king’s bedroom, urging the attendants to announce his arrival to the sleeping king, except that the king was tossing and turning in his bed. Since the attendants were reluctant to disturb the king, Gwanghae decided to barge in, only to see Seonjo gasping for breath. The attendants all left to fetch the royal physicians, leaving Seonjo under Gwanghae’s care. But then, Gwanghae decided that he had been kind enough to his father and didn’t fetch the water Seonjo asked for, thinking that even as a king, he ought to give in to his pain instead of treating it.
Despite having a man almost dying in front of him, Gwanghae didn’t hesitate to mention how his sincere efforts were totally ignored by Seonjo, not to mention that he was treated as a political opponent by his own father. He stopped Seonjo’s hand from reaching the water bowl and promised to be a completely different king from Seonjo. Perhaps it’s time for the king to step down and become just a father to him, because Gwanghae would be the nation’s king from now on.
[END of Episode 1]
I actually like that the first episode didn’t try to become the greatest episode of all time; instead, it was nice but not too shabby, setting a good threshold for the upcoming episodes. For now, the focus is mostly on Gwanghae since the other characters are not grown up yet or they are not fully integrated into the story yet. Although the current Gwanghae is presented to us as a Crown Prince who has been protecting his position for 16 years and we don’t really get to witness his hardship, it’s easy to sympathize with him even through the short flashback scenes. Maybe it has something to do with King’s Face too, because I instantly hated Seonjo in this drama. Heh, I might have resented the character quite a bit in King’s Face, and the feelings were reawakened while watching Hwajung.
Watching dramas with same characters can be redundant and prone to comparison but to me, it’s more like a continuation from where King’s Face left off. I have to admit that I had the mental image of Seo In-guk transforming into Cha Seung-won, but in this drama, Lee Tae-hwan (who was Seo In-guk’s buddy in High School King of Savvy) became the young Gwanghae. What a small world, indeed! I don’t have much to comment since we’re still in the introduction phase, but I found the kids’ scenes cute and funny, especially those of Joo-won and In-woo. That marketplace gang fight has to be one of the most adorable fighting scene in sageuk!
Oh well, I might be in for the long, long ride with Splendid Politics, and I’m hoping that it can maintain its momentum for the remaining 49 episodes.