First Impressions: Jing Bi Rok episodes 1-6
I rarely watch Sageuk dramas lately, they don’t intrigue me that much since most of the times it feels as if I was watching a modern era drama under Joseon costumes and a like-minded surrounding scenery. In addition, when it comes to South Korean historical dramas truth is usually being distorted and we wander endlessly in fantasy’s endless plains. Of course, not everything can be depicted in the exact same way it happened centuries ago and a little bit of imagination never hurt anyone, but the aforementioned characteristics along with the fact that war isn’t always a part of them seem to be preventing me from diving deeper in Sageuk dramas. And that’s the reason why Jing Bi Rok caught my attention in the first place. I can’t know whether everything depicted in the drama preserves the truth and only the truth, but it’s based on real facts and since it’s going to present the Japanese invasions in Korean peninsula during the 1592-1598 era there was no way i would ever say no to Jing Bi Rok. Needless to say that The Admiral played its own part in my final decision since Yi Sun Shin was an integral persona of that turbulent era. Draw your swords, sharpen your blades and prepare your arrows, there’s an excessive war coming and the mighty roar of the turtle ships devastating the waves and the enemy fleet will echo again!
I am 6 episodes deep in Jing Bi Rok’s world and i watched all of them in a single day. There are two ways i can decipher this and in one hand lies the drama’s intriguing and captivating aura in a world of politics and poli-tricks. On the other hand, there’s immense longing for the storyline to progress and dwell in the plains, mountainsides and seas of war where morals collapse as strategies rise, but also comradeship and courage blossom on barren soil. It’s a combination of both expectations and everything i have witnessed so far in Jing Bi Rok’s sphere of progress and i am really glad subtitles have started coming to the surface.
Historically we find ourselves before 1592 and we steadily move towards the birth of an atrocious war as everything is being seen through Ryu Seong Ryung’s book who was a Joseon scholar, official and historian during the Imjin War. During the first 6 episodes we witness the power struggle between the Easterner and Westerner Joseon factions in an attempt to attain King Seon Jo’s influence and eventually set the basis upon which the King will step upon under their political pressure. King Seon Jo (Kim Tae Woo) is not as naive and ignorant as he appears to be and step by step he takes advantage of the circumstances from treacheries to fake rumors and from moving in the shadows to using his officials according to plan. The Westerner faction, through schemes and shady plans, appears thirsty for wealth and power and they intend to do just anything in order to preserve the air their ambitions breathe. The Easterner faction, under the command of Ryu Seong Ryung (Kim Sang Joon) whose enlightened spirit is lead by the people for the people and Lee San Hae (Lee Jae Yong) who’s an insightful schemer, appears more open-minded and thoughtful when it comes to matters of the state and the people.
Hideyoshi Toyotomi (Kim Gyu Chul) after the unification of Japan and the birth of his first son, Tsurumatsu, has already started losing his mind and his ambitious thirst for more territory while believing in the superiority of the Japanese race have blinded him. He always has by his side the powerful and faithful samurai Kato Kiyomasa (Lee Jung Yong) who’s always ready to follow his Kampaku’s orders. He’s often rushed by his beliefs in the renowned Japanese power and that’s when Konishi Yukinaga (Lee Kwang Ki) comes into play. He’s yet another man by Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s side, a crypto-Christian preserving the Christian community’s ideals, but his very own ambitious plans as well that have nothing to do with Hideyoshi Toyotomi. He was the one in charge of the ambassador envoys sent to Joseon, but Joseon was always refusing to send back diplomatic envoys since the King was considering Japan an uncivilized country of beasts. Eventually, after a flow of events the King under the Easterner faction’s influence managed to send a goodwill mission of ambassadors to find out Japan’s real intentions behind the seemingly friendly vibes that were always being overshadowed by Japanese pirates’ continuous attacks on Korea’s southernmost regions.
After forcing the surrender of the Odawara Castle revolt, Hideyoshi Toyotomi found the time to see the goodwill mission ambassadors whose patience was being exhausted after months of waiting. The overall climate wasn’t the most pleasant, but Konishi’s men in charge were trying to present a friendly atmosphere while scheming behind their backs at the same time. Hideyoshi Toyotomi was considering their visit as Joseon’s submission to Japan whereas the ambassadors themselves were there in a neutral mission to find out the Kampaku’s real intentions. The translators between the two sides were paid off by Konishi and both Hideyoshi and the ambassadors heard everything their were craving for, even though there was an immense contrast of opinions lurking in the background.
The matter with the pirates, who were secretly being ordered by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, had already been solved and through the twofold meaning behind the official letter it wasn’t pretty clear what was going on, but Konishi’s men managed to convince the ambassadors that everything was flowing well. The words of So Yoshitoshi (Jo Jae Wan) were pointing towards the direction that Japan and Joseon had established a new found friendship and since Joseon was very fond of the Ming Dynasty in China, Japan was intending to cross Korea’s mainland and pay their respects towards the Ming Dynasty as well. Truth be told, Hideyoshi Toyotomi had already considered Joseon as a submissive country that would escort the Japanese army in its quest to conquer Ming.
The Westerner faction intended to establish a Crown Prince in order to keep a close eye on the King and eventually take charge of the overall situation, but the Easterner faction managed to see through their words and didn’t cooperate, leading to the Westerner faction’s enfeeblement in the King’s eyes. The overall ambiance feels menacing and the Joseon officials have already started witnessing that a war with Japan is at its birth pangs and it was about time they moderated their army, especially after the infiltration of Japanese spies having stolen Joseon’s new time bomb designs and mapping the Korean peninsula’s coastline.
The Westerner faction fought back when Ryo Seong Ryong proposed Yi Sun Shin as the admiral of the Joseon fleet, but his rank wasn’t a good one at that moment and many officials hated him for his disobedience and attitude. The Westerner faction considered that Ryo Seong Ryong was bribed by Yi Sun Shin and they ordered an investigation at Seong Ryong’s house, but they couldn’t find any evidence except for a humble clothing Sun Shin’s mother had offered Seong Ryong for his heartfelt help towards their family.
Under further investigation, the Westerner faction found out that Yi Sun Shin was an honorable and capable man who was under the negative influence of many officials for refusing to cooperate under their unjust and shady plans. The goodwill mission returns while the state is in an uproar and people from the southernmost provinces have already started immigrating to the north in order to avoid the forthcoming attack. Both factions reach a conclusion that Yi Sun Shin should be accepted as the fleet’s admiral, but the goodwill mission’s opinion isn’t quite helpful since the Easterner and Westerner ambassadors’ opinions seem to differ with one side considering Japan’s invasion a forthcoming reality and the other side stating that they shouldn’t worry about anything since everything’s nothing more than the exaggeration of a false show. Once again the Joseon court, in front of the very eyes of the King, drowns in the vast waters of confusion and the future feels uncertain and unpredictable.
Jing Bi Rok flows exceptionally well for the time being as it focuses on the vicious world of politics and the power struggle between opposing sides both in Joseon and Japan and the whole shady background behind the war and each state’s well-being. King Seon Jo has three sons, princes Im Hae and Gwang Hae from Queen Ui (Hwang In Young) In and prince Sin Seong from the Royal Noble Consort, Gwiin Kim (Kim Hye Eun), but none of them satisfies him as successor to the throne. The Queen seems powerless when it comes to the King’s ambitions and she’s the only one standing by her sons’ side, as for the Royal Noble Consort, by observing the King throughout the years she has learned the art of politics and she plays an important role in his final decisions. On the other side of the fence, Hideyoshi Toyotomi lives with his wife and his official concubine who gave birth to his first son. The flames of ambition and his son’s birth have turned him into a bloodthirsty lunatic waiting for the right time to bloodstain his sword and expand his own legacy under the grandeur of the newly acquired matchlock guns. Ming Dynasty is the real target, but Joseon lies in between and Japan has to establish its sovereignty in order to progress with the real intention behind Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s overambitious plan.
The cinematography is pretty good and it doesn’t differ from the generic Sageuk visualization. It’s character-centered for the time being since everything relies upon politics and poli-tricks and the flames of war haven’t started devouring the Korean peninsula. As for the storyline, it’s intriguing and keeps the interest of the audience at high levels during its ongoing Westerner-Easterner power struggle with the King being right in the middle of this confrontation trying to preserve his own upper status and ambitions by using both sides and background plots according to the circumstances. Nowadays, it’s rare for a Sageuk drama to catch my attention and Jing Bi Rok managed to achieve it in one blow without even trying accompanied by the spot-on acting that depicts each and every character’s psyche. I am looking forward to the forthcoming episodes and hopefully enough they will be available as soon as possible with the English subtitles since they are essential for the global audience.