징비록 (The Jingbirok: A Memoir of Imjin War)

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50 Episodes
A KBS Production
Timeslot: Saturday and Sunday Evening, 9:40 PM
Genre: Sageuk
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 60 Minutes
Ran from: 2015/Feb/14~Aug/02

WITH 김상중 (Kim Sang-Joong) as Ryu Seong-Ryong; 김태우 (Kim Tae-Woo) as Seonjo; 김규철 (Kim Gyu-Cheol) as Toyotomi Hideyoshi; 김석훈 (Kim Seok-Hoon) as Lee Soon-Shin; 임혁 (Im Hyeok) as Kwak Jae-Woo; 임동진 (Im Dong-Jin) as Yoon Doo-Soo; 정태우 (Jung Tae-Woo) as Lee Cheon-Ri; 이재용 (Lee Jae-Yong) as Lee San-Hae; 남성진 (Nam Seong-Jin) as Lee Deok-Hyeong; 김혜은 (Kim Hye-Eun) as Lady Kim; 김효원 (Kim Hyo-Won) as Seong Hon; 이광기 (Lee Gwang-Gi) as Konishi Yukinaga; 이정용 (Lee Jung-Yong) as Kato Kiyomasa; 조재완 (Jo Jae-Wan) as So Yoshitoshi; 선동혁 (Seon Dong-Hyeok) as Jung Cheol; 박지일 (Park Ji-Il) as Song Ik-Pil; 김형일 (Kim Hyung-Il) as Shin Rip; 정소영 (Jung So-Young) as Lady Jang; 한가림 (Han Ga-Rim) as Dongdong; 노영학 (Noh Young-Hak) as Prince Gwanghae; 황인영 (Hwang In-Young) as Queen Euiin; 최철호 (Choi Cheol-Ho) as Lee Hang-Bok; 윤홍빈 (Yoon Hong-Bin) as Prince Imhae; 박철호 (Park Cheol-Ho) as Kim Seong-Il; 손가영 (Son Ga-Young) as Yodo; 오지영 (Oh Ji-Young) as Nene; 정흥채 (Jung Heung-Chae) as Li Rusong; 김하균 (Kim Ha-Gyun) as Yang Hao; 김명구 (Kim Myeong-Guk) as Sa Heon; 이기열 (Lee Gi-Yeol) as Shen Weijing;

CREW Production Director 김상휘 (Kim Sang-Hwi) B-Team Director 김영조 (Kim Young-Jo) Main Writers 정형수 (Jung Hyung-Soo) 정지연 (Jung Ji-Yeon) Chief Producer 김형일 (Kim Hyung-Il) Producer 김신일 (Kim Shin-Il) Director of Photography 안덕철 (Ahn Deok-Cheol) Lighting 이춘길 (Lee Choon-Gil) Art Director 양창선 (Yang Chang-Seon) Editor 민병호 (Min Byung-Ho) Music 이창희 (Lee Chang-Hee) 이임우 (Lee Im-Woo) Action Choreography 홍상석 (Hong Sang-Seok) 백경찬 (Baek Gyeong-Chan) Assistant Writer 백나래 (Baek Na-Rae) Assistant Producer 김민경 (Kim Min-Gyeong) Narrated By 김도현 (Kim Do-Hyeon)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 13.8% (04/26 - E22)
LOWEST: 7.7% (07/26 - E48)*
AVERAGE: 11.17%

*AGB Nielsen-confirmed error resulting from hardware failure

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FIRST LOOK

When people think of Ryu Seong-Ryong, they immediately connect him to Admiral Lee Soon-Shin, and expect him to play second fiddle to what should (in their minds) be the unavoidable, inevitable protagonist of this era – naval warfare and the conflict with the Wa. It's a tough position to be in for a sageuk focusing on someone who should instead be celebrated for his (historically alleged) diplomatic skills and his being one of the most illustrious courtiers in Joseon history (often heralded as being part of a “best of five” also comprising Hwang Hee, Maeng Sa-Seong, Lee Hang-Bok and Oh Yoon-Gyeom). In a way we find ourselves with the same dilemma 정도전 (Jung Do-Jeon) faced, that of dealing with a drama that puts the spotlight on people who were crucial to a certain period of history, but in cinematic terms often relegated to also-ran status. This might disappoint the mainstream that only comes for the bombastic quality that sageuk can offer, but might instead appeal to purists of the genre. The key at this point will be building a strong narrative core that focuses on what Ryu meant to this period (diplomacy and politics of the highest order, supposedly), and not what he means to the national psyche (an accessory to Lee Soon-Shin's accomplishments).

There are bold choices that at times reap surprising dividends. But that of casting Kim Tae-Woo -- someone who lacks the charisma to play anything above nerdy beta males on contemporary dramas -- as one of the most controversial and infamous kings in Joseon history was just a stupid risk. His complete lack of understanding of what the required poise and cadence for the canon are makes sitting through his manufactured rage and fits of desperation all the more grating. But then you dig deeper and start to realize that young Kim Sang-Hwi might be to blame: even the generally reliable Kim Sang-Joong is almost operatic on occasion, his overacting going to lengths it had not reached in quite some time; the entire Japanese side of things is littered with the kind of mannerisms and sageuk villain clichés that smell more of bad directing than any particular blemish on the writers' part – even though their being glorified caricatures might be a case of Jung Hyung-Soo attempting to pander to the most nostalgic and patriotic of KBS1 daeha viewers. So when you take those little things and measure them against a sum that looks quite respectable you feel this overwhelming sense of disappointment, even though there appears to be nothing here that's damaging enough to derail to entire show. It's exactly that what makes the difference between quality and an ordinary, somewhat well-made but ultimately mediocre show.

HALFTIME REPORT

One of the immediate consequences of KBS asking NHK for consulting help for what concerns the Japanese portions of the show is perhaps something they were looking to avert -- the dreaded 연개소문 (Yeon Gaesomun) effect, where parts of the story that on paper were supposed to be ancillary slowly become the main course because they're a lot more charming than what they were supposed to support. Not that Jung Hyung-Soo and Jung Ji-Yeon are necessarily putting the focus on the Wa over the political machinations in Joseon, but those parts feel a lot more focused, and are even better acted, particularly when it comes to an incredibly spirited Kim Gyu-Cheol. The problem with something that purports to be a political sageuk – especially in an environment where the genre as a whole has been dumbed down to the point where people only see these shows as a jingoistic collection of flashy battles – is that you need to make political debate compelling, as it's supposed to be your main course. In a show like this it's an even more exacting task, because we're dealing with politics that surround a conflict (the Imjin War), so you have to carefully choose when to give the public the token payoff of a battle – and when you do, it better be satisfying. There has been great controversy about the very disappointing skimming of the Battle of Chungju (it's the conclusion of the Chungju Campaign which led to the Wa capturing the capital only weeks later, so a decisive event in the seven year conflict), but that's an indirect consequence of a much bigger problem: the political conflict behind this virtual omission is not strong enough to “earn” a bye from the viewers. So from something that chooses to focus on the diplomacy that led to a conflict you end up looking like someone who's just trying to skim battles because they cost too much and you don't have time (show has been in live-shoot mode since Episode 8). When the KBS crew does grace us with battles, they're actually not too bad, but clearly it's not enough to placate the disappointment of those who expected another Jung Do-Jeon.

I've tried to give this show the benefit of the doubt for far too long, but not only is Jung Hyung-Soo displaying the same writer's fatigue that would infamously assault Choi Wan-Gyu's sageuk work after a few months – which means that what was an already meandering script essentially stalls to a stop, and begins to fill airtime with fluff that is neither funny nor compelling – we also get acting fatigue, which translates into the most egregious case of ensemble mediocrity in over a decade. A few quality performers have joined the fray (Im Hyeok above all), but the iconic role of Lee Soon-Shin has been entrusted to someone who shouldn't even have been in contention after his “feats” in 천추태후 (The Iron Empress), Kim Seok-Hoon. Nearly everyone is just mailing it in, forced as they are to recite vacuous platitudes that reek of “sageuk cosplay,” the desperate effort to recreate the beloved genre ambiance of yesteryear by mindlessly pounding on pathos that has no punch or narrative backbone. The result is that Kim Sang-Joong has managed to turn the illustrious protagonist into an annoyingly punctilious, anal-retentive, holier-than-thou caricature; Kim Tae-Woo's Seonjo looks like the ancestor of a male character from a Kim Sun-Ok makjang daily drama; and nearly everyone else revolving around their diatribe gives us phony, manufactured angst in droves, without a hint of humanity pervading this show. This is a bloated, insipid mess, a pale shell of this genre's former self. I've long argued what the solution was (giving the ball to young, eclectic talent like Kim Yong-Soo; shooting the entire show before broadcast and making shorter dramas; focusing on controversial, even failed historical figures that leave the usual conservative heroism at bay), but at this point I'm not sure anyone over at KBS even cares about this format's legacy. Jung Do-Jeon feels so remote right now.

ACTING GRADES

80 김규철 (Kim Gyu-Cheol)
78 임혁 (Im Hyeok)
75 임동진 (Im Dong-Jin)
75 선동혁 (Seon Dong-Hyeok)
74 박철호 (Park Cheol-Ho)
70 노영학 (Noh Young-Hak)
70 윤홍빈 (Yoon Hong-Bin)
70 김형일 (Kim Hyung-Il)
69 김혜은 (Kim Hye-Eun)
69 정소영 (Jung So-Young)
66 정태우 (Jung Tae-Woo)
66 박지일 (Park Ji-Il)
65 남성진 (Nam Seong-Jin)
65 이재용 (Lee Jae-Yong)
65 조재완 (Jo Jae-Wan)
65 이광기 (Lee Gwang-Gi)
65 손가영 (Son Ga-Young)
65 최철호 (Choi Cheol-Ho)
63 김효원 (Kim Hyo-Won)
60 김상중 (Kim Sang-Joong)
57 황인영 (Hwang In-Young)
53 김석훈 (Kim Seok-Hoon)
50 오지영 (Oh Ji-Young)
50 한가림 (Han Ga-Rim)
47 이정용 (Lee Jung-Yong)
41 김태우 (Kim Tae-Woo)

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