Jewel in the Palace (Dae Jang Geum)

Reviewed by: Joie

August 28, 2006

Rating: three

Lee Young-Ae as Seo Jang-geum
Ji Jin-hee as Min Jung-ho
Hong Ri-na as Choi Geum-young
Im Ho as King Jungjong
Yang Mi-kyeong as Lady Han
Gyeon Mi-ri as Lady Choi

"Dae Jang Geum", or "Da Chang Jin" in Mandarin, has definitely been one of the most acclaimed Korean series. In my opinion, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is ancient. Also, the plot for "Dae Jang Geum" is not based on a love relationship, but the willpower of one girl, Jang Geum.

Other reviewers have already given a very detailed synopsis of Dae Jang Geum. Personally, I feel that it would be tiresome and pointless to repeat their summaries. Basically, it is about the orphaned Jang-geum's journey to record the injustices committed against her family. She begins by working in the Imperial Kitchen, hoping to become the Head Cook so she could have access to the record book. Later on, her plans are interrupted by Lady Choi. However, Jang-geum does not give up and takes a detour by becoming a doctor. Soon, after saving the King's life, she becomes the King's personal Imperial doctor. In the midst of this all is Jang-geum's romance with a man named Min Jung-ho.

As I mentioned earlier, this series was an acclaimed one, and there have been many positive reviews on this website. I definitely give credit to the producers for coming up with a different storyline, rather than the typical romantic Korean fare. However, I definitely have my criticisms about the series.

The problem with "Dae Jang Geum" is that it focuses too much on Jang-geum's life. It basically chronicles every part of Jang-geum's life from when she was born to approximately 40-50 years later. This causes the series to drag extremely. At times, it felt like I was watching three series: Jang-geum's childhood, Jang-geum's life as a maid in the Imperial Kitchen, and finally Jang-geum's life as a doctor. I tended to lose focus on Jang-geum occassionally; my attention drifted during some episodes.

However, despite its predictability, Jang-geum's story is touching at points, with much credit to the script. Her journey from an orphan to the King's personal doctor is a remarkable one.

The cast was memorable although definitely short of spectacular. Having watched the Mandarin-dubbed version, I cannot say much for vocal expression, but I will focus on nonverbal acting.

Lee Young-Ae as Jang-geum
Lee Young-Ae was certainly not a bad choice for Jang-geum, but I did not feel her acting was always there. In some scenes, she did not seem to capture the emotions needed, but most of the time her facial expressions were good. I did not like it, however, when Lee Young-Ae tried to act helpless. Her smile somewhat bothered me because it did not seem to suit the intelligence of Jang-geum. Another problem was the age progression for Jang-geum. For a character that goes through a few decades of life, Jang-geum barely shows any signs of age.

Ji Jin-hee as Min Jung-ho
A more handsome man would have been suitable for the role of Min Jung-ho, but Ji Jin-hee was adequate. However, he had good chemistry with Lee Young-Ae and showed the attraction Jung-ho had to Jang-geum. He always seemed very comforting to Jang-geum through Jang-geum's troubles.

Hong Ri-na as Choi Geum-young
Geum-young was definitely one of the more deep characters in this series, and I have to say that I was impressed with Hong Ri-na's portrayal of her. I liked her sarcastic looks. However, Hong Ri-na could have been more expressive in depicting the combination of hatred and admiration for Jang-geum.

Im Ho as King Jungjong
Im Ho's performance as the King was definitely impressive. He always looked very noble, which helped bring out his role. Meanwhile, his love for Jang-geum at the end, as well as his consideration for Jang-geum's well-being, is wonderfully acted out. A very nice performance.

Yang Mi-kyeong as Lady Han
I felt many of the supporting actors and actresses in "Dae Jang Geum" were more impressive than the leads. Yang Mi-kyeong's portrayal of Lady Han was a highlight of the series. She gave the character a great amount of depth, and had good chemistry with Jang Geum (particularly Little Jang Geum). Lady Han's death was perhaps the saddest scene in the series for me.

Gyeon Mi-ri as Lady Choi
Gyeon Mi-ri definitely fulfilled all my expectations for Lady Choi, from her annoyed looks to never-ending hatred for Jang-geum. From Gyeon Mi-ri's performance, I could clearly see Lady Choi's desire for power. Yet another highlight of this series.

Other Characters
Some other exceptional performances that caught my eye included the little Jang Geum and Jang Geum's parents. The little Jang Geum had a loveable innocence, and her crying broke my heart. I could feel her pain after losing her parents, as well as her determination. Meanwhile, Jang Geum's parents provided comical relief while showing their devotion to a child that was not biologically theirs.

"Dae Jang Geum" has been very acclaimed, as I mentioned earlier, so I had high expectations for this series. However, the series is really too long for my attention span, and I felt the highlight of the series came at the beginning. It is definitely enough to keep one interested, but its length is a weak point for me. The acting was overall above average, but the storyline is somewhat flawed. I do not feel that this is the best series ever made, but it is a nice series to watch.

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