Hwang Jin Yi (황진이)
Synopsis: This story is about the life of Joseon-era dancer, musician and poet, Hwang Jin Yi, who seeks perfection in her art relentlessly and the hardship facing women due to their lowly social status.
Country: South Korea
Genre: Historical, drama
Casting: Ha Ji Won, Kim Jae Won, Kim Young Ae, Wang Bit Na, Jang Geun Suk, Seo Hyun Jin etc…
Hwang Jin Yi was a drama that left me mixed feeling. I loved the ost, the costumes, the dances, the colours, the actors etc…- I’ve rarely seen a sageuk as beautiful as this one actually! But on the other hand the story didn’t hook me as much as I had wished for. It was pretty repetitive and plain. The whole drama could be summarized in a few words: dances/poetry competitions, Jin Yi’s unfortunate loves and revenge. The concept in itself (writing a plot about courtesans) wasn’t a bad idea. I actually learnt a lot about the living condition of courtesans and I loved it. But 24 episodes were probably too much and some characters were seriously useless/ badly written.
I started to be really into the drama only when Jin Yi and the other training courtesan were ordered to raise their hair (that is to say lose their virginity -with a man of high rank by preference) because the plot was finally taking an interesting and spicy turn (cause honestly as sweet as Jin Yi and Eun Ho’s romance was that wasn’t really thrilling at first). But for that I had to wait quite a few episodes- which seemed like an eternity for me. Hwang Jin Yi was quite the slow pace kind and I think I wasn’t, unfortunately, in the mood for that at that time. If it were not for the beauty of the scenes and the few really good twists of the drama, I think I might have dropped it because of its length.
Jin Yi (Ha Ji Won) was an interesting character even though she had some period of slump during the drama. She didn’t make a striking impression during the first part of the drama. Though the story in itself was rather interesting, her character didn’t really stand out as much as one could have wished. She was just this young woman who had discovered both her love for the art and her love for a man: Eun Ho (Jang Geun Suk). Even though this development was necessary to properly build her character, it was made rather slowly. She only started to fully grab my attention once Eun Ho was out of the picture actually. Her character wholly changed and the weak Jin Yi became the impetuous Myeong Wol. I loved that u-turn and how complex her character became. She was bold with men, ridiculed them and scorned the hierarchy. She was rather unpredictable in that way. She did all she could to harm Baek Moo -the head of the Gyobank- so as to take her revenge while her talent made her the object of violent jealousy. But Myeong Wol didn’t become whole black for all that. The little Jin Yi actually resurfaced along the episodes, showing Myeong Wol’s weakness. Despite all her hatred for Baek Moo, she still loved and admired this latter. She just couldn’t stand her thirst of ambition and selfishness. Myeong Wol was in that way a double-edged character. All tough on the outside but hurt on the inside. I loved that feature of her. What I less liked though, was how, near the end, the little Jin Yi regained full control of the character. It was consistent and I could hardly have imagined another end for her (>>>SPOILER- though I still think she could have stayed with Kim Jung Han -SPOILER<<<) but that was more boring to watch.
Kim Jung Han (Kim Jae Won) was the useless character I was talking about, above. I had been warned about him, but I never thought I would actually be that much disappointed. I’ve rarely seen a character being that dull. Normally I either come to love the hero or hate him when he is involved in a romance, but here I actually felt nothing for him (well…I did pity him for a bit, near the end: >>>SPOILER- the poor! Jin Yi chose the Gyobank over him, tough -SPOILER<<<). That’s simple: I didn’t believe in his romance with Jin Yi/Myeong Wol. Not that it was irrational, too sudden -or whatever other reasons that could have made their couple not worked- no!, they were just too plain to be even remembered. The thing is that, without the romance, his character was even more meaningless. He was just the Minister of Culture who fought for the survival of Korean art. In other words he spent his time writing poetry, end of story. I’m being a bit mean with him but that’s really how I felt. In short he was only used to develop Jin Yi’ s character. (Oh and I’m sorry but Kim Jae Won with such beard: a big nay)
Baek Moo (Kim Young Ae) was the character I liked the most because of her ambivalent personality. She deeply shocked me at times while thoroughly moved me at others. I hated her -as much as Jin Yi did- for her ambition and selfishness. I hated how she tried to use this latter only to complete her crane dance, how she actually tried to make of her what she had not become: the greatest artist of the country. But what Jin Yi didn’t understand (or at least closed her eyes on) was that Baek Moo also tried to protect her. She saw what love had made of Jin Yi’s mother and wanted to prevent, at all cost, such story to repeat itself. And despite having been stabbed in the back by Jin Yi, she always defended her nonetheless. If that’s not love I wonder what that was. Actually Baek Moo embodied the figure of protective mother -towards Jin Yi but also all the courtesans. Even though she was harsh at times with her girls, she trusted their talent (or at least more than her rival -Mae Hyang who was more ready to resort to some subterfuge to win) and didn’t stand when a lord cut one of their performance. She vowed her life to art and only believed in that. A courtesan is before anything else an artist, not a prostitutes or a barmaid. Her passion was what made her character beautiful till the end.
Bu Yong (Wang Bit Na) was Jin Yi’s main rival. She wasn’t unforgettable but she still managed to find some sympathy in me. She wasn’t the taxing kind of rival, and that’s what I liked about her. Despite her thirst of power and insecurity, she always wanted to win over Jin Yi with her talents and never resort to any tricks. She did try to ridicule her multiple times in public but her greatest wish was to fairly beat her and be recognized as the legitimate Head of Palace courtesans for her ability. Her relation with Maehyang was what kept her passion alive: despite all her hard work, despite having dedicated all her life to dance, and done everything she had been commanded to, Mae Hyang still had a greater admiration and consideration for Jin Yi (who wasn’t her girl). That was what fed her jealousy and thirst of fairly gaining the position she thought to deserve.
I deeply despised Lord Baek Gye Soo (Ryu Tae Joon). He was pathetic in his chase after Jin Yi and odious toward anyone that wasn’t her -especially Dan Shim who paid the price for it. Courtesans were merely prostitutes for him, toys. It was just impossible to not hate him. What I don’t understand is why the scriptwriter suddenly chose to make him likeable near the end. It was not consistent. He clearly confessed to Bu Yong that he didn’t believe in love or at least didn’t want to believe in it -cause his entire life would have been meaningless otherwise- yet five minutes later he seemed to have become a fervent supporter of Jin Yi and Kim Jung Han’s true love. In the space of an episode he even seemed to have become Jung Han’s best friend whereas he had hated his latter during the whole drama. Nonsense.
Despite my critics about Hwang Jin Yi, I don’t regret my watching. I learnt a lot about a subject I really like while getting an eyeful of beautiful performance, costumes and dances. It’s just a shame that characters were not all given the same importance. If it had not been for its length, Hwang Jin Yi might have burst the score.
Note de Dushbadou: 7.5/10
Note finale: 7.5/10