Hwang Jin Yi (Episodes 1-24)

EPISODE 01-24

I really hate to say this since I had such high expectations for this drama... but I really didn't like it that much. At least, not compared to other dramas I've seen from this genre. Don't get me wrong--the acting, setting, costumes, choreography--it was all top notch! But in the end, it was the story that let me down the most. And for something like this that tries to invest so much... the story should be the strongest.

Now, for those of you who have heard amazing, glowing reviews for this drama... here me out first before you start hurling things at your screen.

First, I must start out by saying that I LOVE period dramas, and Ha Ji Won (Damo and Duelist) is actually one of my favorite actresses. Yet, when I try to compare Hwang Jin Yi with other dramas I've seen that are set around the same time-period, it just pales in comparison. I mean, Dae Jang Geum had 54 episodes, but it had me hooked from beginning to end! Damo was the same--though depressing, it had a strong story, cast, costumes, settings, fight scenes, etc. It lacked nothing. However, Hwang Jin Yi seemed like another attempt to duplicate the success and feelings that those dramas evoked... only it never quite succeeded.

One of the main problems I had with the story, was that towards the end, the main point of the drama appeared to get blurred, or maybe just forgotten. While I was watching it, love and romance seemed to be the main motivation for Jin Yi... she was driven by it, inspired by it, and was willing to die for it. And though she never truly stopped loving her art, to me, it always seemed to come second in her life.

SPOILER

Towards the end, when she finally manages to successfully run away with the Minister... that, I think, is when the story begins getting itself tangled up. All of the scenes that show their life far away from the palace and the Gyobang, show them happy, content, and in love... even if they occasionally have regrets about the lives they left behind, they genuinely appear happy just being together, and feel that the sacrifices they made were well worth it. The fact that she's pregnant and plans to surprise him with the news soon, only seems to reinforce that fact.

And then they get caught and dragged back to the palace--and Jin Yi appears to change suddenly, without warning. Given the chance to run away with him again (with the king's blessing, no less!) she decides to go back to the Gyobang, and live out her life as a courtesan. Even though she's pregnant, and has constantly fought against this very thing--she decides to throw it all away. Supposedly it's for his sake... but I don't know if I believe that, or truly agree with it. First of all, who is she to make that kind of decision for him? He knows what he's given up--he was with her for 3 years after all--so why does she suddenly think she knows what's best for him? Does she truly think he'd just let her walk away? Especially after finding out she's pregnant?

That just seemed very selfish to me... and though, not exactly out of character, it was frustrating, stupid, and apparently a very convenient plot devise to get her back where the writers wanted her. After her miscarriage, the writers seem to forget all about her "husband" and tried sweeping the whole incident under the rug. I mean, one minute she's willing to die for him--the next, she's abandoning him and their love to pursue her art. Blah, whatever!

Love seems to be the main thing motivating her throughout the entire series--to watch her throw it away suddenly without any real, adequate reason, just doesn't make much sense to me. Especially when he's willing to lower himself so that she can have both... it's as if he's the only one truly invested in their relationship.

END SPOILER

A majority of the drama is devoted to building up the "rivalry" between Bu-Young and Jin-Yi... and yet, when their show-down finally comes, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by it all. I thought it came to late, and the outcome left me annoyed and angry. When it was over, I couldn't help but think of it as another frustrating mistake by the writers. Jin Yi was just some puppet they used in order to force the characters around her to evolve and change.

After everything she sacrificed to get to that point, she basically ends up back at the beginning. I didn't sit there for over 24 hours, just to watch the main character lose everyone and everything she cares about... just to dance happily in the marketplace.

Overall, I felt it could have been much better, and the story (if not closer to the actual historical character she's supposedly based on) then at least something less muddled, and more coherent. Towards the end, I just couldn't shake the feeling that it was wrong somehow-- like, something else was supposed to happen, but they changed it at the last minute for no discernible reason. THAT'S what I walked away thinking after watching this drama...

It was good. But there are MANY other dramas I'd definitely recommend watching before this one.

Also, for a more balanced review, definitely read xinisterlayer's comment below!

My Rating:

Comments

  1. Before I begin, I must say I'm like you - I love watching dramas and movies in any language and reading manga and fanfics and have wasted way too much time doing so, enjoyable as they may be. I first watched Hwang Jin Yi a couple months ago and then recently I decided to watch it again. It's become one of my favorite kdramas. Why? Because it is more realistic in its portrayal of life than other dramas. It might not be realistic in the sense that the writers obviously are paid to stir up drama for the viewership, but the drama highlights the often difficult trade-offs we have to make in life and the ambiguity of people's emotions - the fact that life is not black and white. And it also has a wonderful cast that was able to showcase each character's changes and growth.

    When I watched it the first time, of course I enjoyed the beginning with her and Eun-ho (and I still enjoy it). Can't fault a 19 year-old boy for being too young and innocent and weak to defy everything he's been taught and weaned on, right? is what I thought. Similarly on Jin Yi's side, this was her first love, and before she learned the cruel realities of the world she lived in, the one time she could throw caution to the wind and chase the ideal that is love. They both realized their mistake - they were too naive and hadn't been shown their limits yet. So, suffering a loss of love as well as a loss of innocence, Jin Yi, like anyone else would, decided to forsake love and concentrate on art.

    (excuse the long ramblings... I feel like I should explain everything so there's no misunderstanding of my opinion)

    So Jin Yi's art matures and becomes great because she was able to experience love, and then pain and understanding at the loss of that love. Art is ruled by emotion, after all.

    Then along comes Mr. I can climb a heart's walls better than Eun-ho. He's a very similar person - honorable and unselfish. Yet he, like Jin Yi now, is grown up, and so they both know (at least in the beginning) that things would never work out; hence the heavy denial on both sides. But then, as all humans are prone to do, they start dreaming and hoping and fooling themselves into thinking it could be otherwise. In a time of desperation when Jin Yi has lost her art, they both succumb to their fantasy.

    This is where I offer a different read of the drama than you:

    Within some time, they both started to miss something vital in life, and that is their ambition, their passion, their past dreams. I can't say they weren't in love, but it wasn't the same love Jin Yi had for Eun-ho. I don't think people can love each other as much a second time because they are more cautious and afraid to put themselves out there (once bitten, twice shy). In addition, she loved her art and he his people and king. So even though they loved each other, it wasn't a complete and utter love; and thus they both noticed something lacking.

    In the long run, their faint discontent could have sparked bitterness towards each other. But then of course, Jung Han gets caught. Jin Yi, out of both gratitude and love, almost throws her life away to save him. When she refuses the King's offer, it is for several different reasons that may contradict each other (she is still human, after all):

    1. Jin Yi knew that they could not keep running away from their dreams to pursue love - not only was it against "fate," it was also against their nature as an artist and someone who loved the people. No matter where they ran, art and duty would call to them, and maybe one day, love would not be enough to drown them out.
    2. She is as unselfish as he. She knows even if she will never become bitter at giving up her art, she does not want HIM to regret doing so. Even if she yearned all her life for art yet could not get it, she would stay silent for him. But she couldn't bear to see him act the same way.
    3. A tiny selfish bit of her wanted to pursue art again. Not if it would mean losing their love, but to protect and save him, she had to lose their love, and so she would turn to art in her solitude and heartbreak.

    In the end, she had to make the decision, not him, because she knows he would have chosen love. It wasn't that she believed their love could not last (or maybe she thought so a little bit), just that she did not think herself worthy enough for him to ruin his life over. I think I've tried making those kinds of decisions too in relationships, so I kind of understand where she's coming from and can relate.

    After this whole ordeal, you can see her strength and her conviction by how well she holds everything inside her and how she can almost seamlessly go back to art again. I don't necessarily see this as a bitchy kind of cold-heartedness, but rather one that all strong people have. You can see how naive Jung Han is through his multiple attempts to go back to the past. Of course, part of the blame is hers because she made such an abrupt and cold-hearted decision, but part of me thinks he should've manned the fuck up and part of me thinks he must have loved her more than she him.

    Anyways, from here on, I think I see what the writers were trying to portray about her life and her art. At the end of the day, she's not a woman, but an artist. The cumulation of all her "womanly" experiences, namely the love and grief, are expressed in her art, thus making it profound and great. This drama isn't about love triumphing over all, or that people can throw everything away for love, but rather the simple and touching story about a girl growing into a woman and becoming an artist.

    I think this is pretty relevant for today's age when women have to balance or choose between career and family. All women biologically are predisposed to love and childbirth, but the modern woman sometimes also wants a career that isn't any less important. Hwang Jin Yi is someone that has perchance wanted love and children, but in order to unselfishly keep her loved ones from stooping to wed a courtesan, has locked away love in her heart and turned to pursuing an illustrious career instead.

    Maybe I'm totally wrong!! But I had wanted to get this interpretation off my chest for a while.

    PS After studying each character thoroughly, I found that Byuk Gae Soo was actually the most intriguing and the hardest to figure out. At first I didn't even think he loved Jin Yi because it seemed more like obsession!! But then you realize he had his own way of loving, and he became, in the end, a rather honorable man. Must say though, he was more likable the second time around. (And Ha Ji Won says in real life she prefers him haha :])

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  2. Thank you so much for your comment, xinisterlayer. I definitely get where you're coming from. I think my interpretation just came off much semi-harsh because I wrote it immediately after watching it. I guess in the end, I was just frustrated with Jin Yi's character. I pretty much came to the same conclusions as you, about her being an artist above a lover... but I think that's what annoyed me so much about her.

    She spends almost the ENTIRE series mooning over lost love, devoting herself to revenge because of it even as she uses it to grow as an artist. She seems to hate her life as a courtesan (from what I can remember anyway--I'm not going to watch it again to check, lol.) And yet, when she finally finds love again and seems genuinely happy, she throws it away to protect him. And I'm very much of the opinion that he can protect himself--that each person should be responsible for making their own decisions in life. Most of all, I hate that she made the decision for him and completely disregarded what he wanted. But I agree with everything you said: part of it probably was because she missed her art. And I know she probably did it to protect him, but it doesn't make her decision any less frustrating or disappointing.

    I think I would have been a lot more forgiving if love hadn't played such an important, integral part in the story. After all, there are different kinds of love outside of romance--family, friendship, self-worth, country. They should have chosen one of them--any would have resulted in the same outcome. But to make ROMANCE her underlying motivation, and her biggest regret... and then to have her throw it away AGAIN when it's finally ACCEPTABLE, drives me nuts.

    It makes all her initial hatred and whining seem pointless. And so much for her "huge" revenge: she does exactly what they wanted to her to. She pushes romance aside in order to pursue a life she was forced and tricked into... and to me, that's wrong. She places so much importance on love that it should have either led to her triumph or her downfall. Instead, it seems to place her right back where she started.

    Again, I liked the series... but I just didn't find it as enjoyable or as entertaining as Dae Jang Geum, Damo, Hong Gil Dong, or Legend.

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  3. i really love all ur comments here..i've just started to follow the series and know it kinda like it...i's wrong to cheat by reading the episode guides but i just cant stop myself. i can't wait to watch the remaining of the series. kudos to u guys!

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  4. i've just watched it. part of me agrees with Angela and part of me also agrees with xinisterlayer. i really hate the fact that she end up dancing in the market. seriously: wtf!
    it really meant to say in a sense that all the hard work of learning traditional dances are not even worth anything compare to the market-dance. i understand that dances appeal to different audience but still... what a let-down. really a frustrating ending for me even after 3 weeks finished watching it.

    though i still love the fact that she portrays how powerful a 'low-class' gisaeng can be. the value it reflects is of being strong-willed is important to achieve we really want in our life.

    i really love this drama. i just hate that end part. and despite all, i also like lord baek. he is funny, hateful and handsome.

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  5. @HJWfan

    I love the ending. Don't you see? Jin-Yi was such a good dancer that she didn't want only the wealthy to experience it. She wanted everyone a share of this joy. She no longer needs wealth or love. Imagine her as a celebrity. Do you think Katy Perry will dance with you in a place that lives the poor and homeless people are everywhere? OF COURSE NOT! But JinYi didn't take that in consideration. She wanted everyone to experience the joy that courtesans have given up.

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  6. This was just pure Mary Sue for me, I'm sorry. Complete Mary Sue in all her untouchable, loved glory by all, including her enemies, the King and even the man she eventually ditches in a horrible, horrible way. She could do absolutely no wrong, including hating and actively trying to create the downfall of her teacher right up until the teacher's death, after which she finally realized maybe the bitch hadn't been trying to hold her down but had tried to make her reach her highest potential. And even when she was mourning that same teacher she had disrespected every moment until she died, she chose to do it her own way, and it was deemed okay, because she did it with heart and feeling. C'mon!!

    I am not Korean; I am not even Asian! But I really disliked the woman Hwang Jin Yi became by the end of the series. I do not see the progression of learning and performing dances for the masses that some people saw at the end of the drama. I never felt that she had any connection to the "common" people, even despite her sojourn with the guy she ran away with for three whole years. She largely kept to herself in the woods in their shack. She never had any connection with the common man or woman; HE did.

    I loved the costumes and choreography, I can only assume that's why I saw the whole drama through. But I had a really hard time buying the main character and I actually feel a little upset on behalf of the real historical Hwang Jin Yi this show was (supposedly) based on. Unless she was a sociopath. In that case I'd say this show was spot on.

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  7. I don't get the end of this drama. She dances for the poor and then they all leave. I don't get it.

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    Replies
    1. Read the comments, Anonymous. We debated the ending quite a bit there - and though it probably still won't be satisfactory, at least it'll make more sense!

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  8. @ANGELA JEWELL

    When you say, "she uses it to grow as an artist," I think that's where it all clicks together. From the beginning, I saw that Jin Yi loved the art of dancing, and a passion that is so innate and starts young is usually rare but very strong.

    It seems she got caught up in the idea of love, and she used that rage/fire of love to fuel her art. Many artists feel emotions to at an extreme end of the spectrum so that their art is more beautiful and vivid, which is why it probably came off to you as too extra. So in a sense, she had love AND art at the same time. It wasn't until she temporarily sacrificed one, which was art in exchange for love, that she realized she values herself too much as an artist.

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