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Dae Jang-geum (2003)
wonderful, very detailed, immersive story with a novel-like narrative
I don't write reviews, but it is criminal how unknown this show is where I live (the U.S), and how dead this IMDb page is. So, I am hoping, with a little luck, to convince some people to give it a shot. This show deserves a much larger fan-base on my chunk of the globe.
I am writing this with people who have never seen a historical Korean Drama in mind. I will try to give an idea of what the show is like to watch.
It may not be for everyone. It is heavy on pathos, which can be great; but such a thing can, at times, come off kinda cheesy (though it is much worse in other Korean dramas). Still, I think it is handled pretty well in this show.
Also, if you are new to this genre, you will be thinking, "Why do they keep showing me flashbacks of things I just saw three minutes ago?" So, some patience may be required at times.
The shows that are most popular in the U.S. have pretty much nothing in common with this show (not putting them down, just trying to illustrate how different this show is from what people in my country are used too). It isn't about superheros, long-brewing or off-again on-again romances, love-triangles, or case-solving (though there are plenty of deaths). There are no special effects, hardly any fight scenes. The scenes that are funny are usually just goofy characters acting goofy. Don't expect the great humour we are used to from the best comedies out of the U.S and U.K. Which, should probably be expected, this isn't a comedy after-all.
What this show DOES have is a relatively non-complex, intelligent, brave protagonist who is pure of heart through and through, making her way in a world filled with plenty of people willing to do whatever it takes to maintain or gain political/financial power. There are political intrigue, rivals, and friendships.
The story is very detailed and it covers a lengthy time-line. The narrative is all determined by the writers from the onset; it isn't a show that just keeps coming up with new episodes until viewer interest wanes. You know how novels adapted to movies always feel so rushed? Well, this isn't based on a novel, but it feels like someone decided to just film a whole novel instead of shortening it to a 120-minute movie (it is over 50 hours).
It also provides a high level of escapism due to the detailed immersion into early 16th century Joseon (Korea before there was Korea) through the use of locations/sets, costumes, customs, cultures, etc.
I know I didn't explain much how the plot goes, but that is mentioned in a bunch of other places. I am just trying to give a feel for what watching this show is like.
This might be the show I have enjoyed more than any other. I recommend, at least, giving it a shot.
BTW, The show can also be found under the anglicized title, "Jewel in the Palace." Unfortunately, IMDb review guidelines prohibit me from telling you were this show is available for free, legally, with no copyright infringements. A show like this can be hard to find, unless you know where to look already.