For the longest time a friend of mine has been encouraging me to get into K-drama. I have had two failed attempts, years ago. I don’t even remember the titles. All I know is I couldn’t get past the first episode for both of them. I vaguely remember there being a rich guy and his posse of rich guys, and a meek girl, in some boarding school. And the other one had a hot rich, advertising CEO and a spirited female director? Or something like that. Anyway, I found the whole thing too cliched and too mushy to sustain my interest. Or maybe I just didn’t give it a chance? Looking back, perhaps I had been too dismissive. I mean I should’ve at least finished the first episode. And I feel like, at that time in my life, I was a wannabe hipster less inclined to mushy, unrealistic romance? Hohoho. But because you know, aging makes you soft I thought I’d give K-dramas another stab. That and also because two of my friends would always talk excitedly (like insanely and obsessively) about whatever K-drama (and K-pop, which I will try and figure out soon) they’re into and I kind of feel a little left out.
So I’ve decided that I’d try to make sense of K-dramas and I will truly try hard this time. So this marks as the beginning of my “research” (cough, cough) on K-dramas! Besides, thanks to Netflix, which has a decent selection, K-dramas are now more accessible to me.
Henceforth! I have chosen Hwarang as my third attempt at K-drama. Perhaps the historical genre would be the better way to go, I thought. The result was a little less than what I wanted though. Because herein lies my mistake. We are talking about K-drama here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crime drama, or a medical drama, or a comedy, or a fantasy, or in my case a historical drama. If it’s K-drama, it will almost always revolve around romance.
(Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead)
The Bad News:
I just didn’t brace myself for the onslaught of cheesy and melodramatic romantic sequences in Hwarang. There is also an excessive use of flashbacks in this series and I admit I pressed the fast forward button a number of times. I am so sorry! This makes me feel guilty because I think fast forward-ing is kind of a crime. But geez, this was basically 5% historical, 47.5% romance and 47.5% flashbacks. Okay so, I know this won’t be your traditional historical drama with high historical fact accuracy. That’d be unwise of me to think that. But I was hoping for this to be largely an adventure type of historical genre, with a side of political intrigue; and yeah sure, some romance would be a great addition. Again, I would admit this is my fault for having such unrealistic expectations considering that this is a K-drama, and most K-dramas are romantic in nature!
Now another thing, I am not quite happy about the women characters in this series. The female love interest Ah Ro played by Go Ara felt too much like a plot device to spur the hero to make great feats. While she exhibited pluck (as it was once remarked by one of the Hwarangs as to how she can survive anywhere) she almost always end up being the damsel in distress that needed saving. The ice princess, Princess Sook Myung played by Seo Ye-ji was merely cast aside after her brief stint as the villainess and corner #4 of the love square, with no character development whatsoever. The great and terrible Queen Jiso played by Kim Ji-soo had a lot going for her until what I thought was an entirely too clean and unmemorable exit.
And after getting into all the hullabaloo about creating the Wonhwas (before there was Hwarang, came the Wonhwas which were the same except being all females), they didn’t truly get into what it means to be one, and what exactly their purpose was. From what was shown, they were to be the leaders of Hwarang? But both Sook Myung and Ah Ro did nothing of the sort. All Ah Ro was made to do as a Wonhwa was to wear fancy Wonhwa hair and make-up and clothing, and play dice with her handmaidens, and pine, and cry, and wonder aloud about the obvious. And Sook Myung the same, except she combines pining with glaring, and she doesn’t associate with heavens forbid, her handmaidens.
I was also quite peeved that they didn’t try to explain as to why the hero has these “fainting spells”. It was more like: let’s make him have fainting spells to make this and that fight more exciting. But WHY does he have fainting spells?! Is he terminally ill? Is it his superpower? Is it divine interference? But nope. He just has um, fainting spells at the most inopportune times.
And the fight scenes are average. Sad.
And oh, there is a cringe-worthy dance routine here that I couldn’t watch with a straight face.
The Good News:
I actually was off to a good start with Hwarang. The first episode was an excellent hook, I’d give it that. They enveloped the Hero with a lot of mystery. He experiences fainting spells, he seems to have the ability to defy gravity (he isn’t called Dog-Bird for nothing), he seems to muster a strange form of strength in times of need, and his luck seems to run deep. But nobody knows where he came from. Could he be someone important?
The set design and the costumes are excellent. If you look closely at the clothes, the intricate stitching is gorgeous and the design is lovely. The entire set is equally detailed. It creates an atmosphere that truly felt straight out of the era of Korea’s Silla. And the actors are pretty charming and the camera loves them. They have appropriately chosen gorgeous actors to play the so-called flower warriors (hwa = flower; rang = men/young men).
Also it is not to say that the plot is devoid of anything good. There were some gripping moments that involved a ruthless, blood-thirsty Crown Prince of Baekje, and some really emotional scenes involving Dog-Bird and his best friend. Kudos to Park Seo-joon who plays the male lead for being quite compelling in his dramatic scenes.
Watch this if:
- You love beautiful people
- You don’t mind excessive cheese in your romance
- You are less uptighty-wighty about your historical stuff (or just less uptighty-wighty in general?)
- You love a good shower scene with gorgeous, half naked, extremely fit men
- You love the idea of Hwarangs dancing like K-pop boy bands
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Nest Stop: Strong Girl Bong Soon (K-drama #2)
How about you? Any thoughts on Hwarang and K-dramas in general?