Yi San (77 Episodes)
((summary taken from wikipedia))
이산-정조대왕 (李祘-正祖大王) / Yi San - King Jeong Jo
Yi San dramatizes the life of Korea's King Jeong Jo, the 22nd ruler of the Joeson Dynasty. Jeong Jo is remembered in Korean history for his sympathy with the plight of the common man.
It begins in Jeong Jo's early years, when he befriends two children working in the Palace (Sung Song Yeon and Dae Su). However, due to corruption in the government, the two are expelled from their positions and forced to flee.
Years later, they are finally reunited with Jeong Jo, whose position as Crown Prince is constantly being threatened by palace intrigue. As for his love life: Jeong Jo falls in love with his childhood friend Song Yeon, who is the daughter of a deceased artist, and not of noble birth.
While the show does deviate from the historical record in a number of ways, it's representation of court life during the Joseon Dynasty appears to be based on contemporary sources.
Cast: Lee Seo Jin, Han Ji Min, Park Eun Hye, Lee Jong Soo, Lee Soon Jae, Kyun Mi Ri, Sung Hyun Ah, Kim Yeo Jin, Lee Ip Sae, Ji Sang Ryul
Directed by: Kim Geun-Hong, Lee Byeong-Hoon
I feel a little guilty only giving this ambitious drama 4 stars... but when I compared it to other series of its kind (Damo, Jewel in the Palace) I just couldn't bring myself to give it higher.
The problem I had with Yi San is an obvious one: it's 77 episodes, and it feels like it.
They could have easily cut this series in half if they wanted in (or at least stopped before 60). I think I even read someplace that it initially had less episodes, but kept getting extended because of its popularity. If that was the case, I'd be curious to see how much better it would have been had they stuck to their original number of intended episodes.
My problem? It was the exact same thing over and over again, only with a different "threat" each time: Evil people plan to assasinate the prince, prince is saved, evil people plan to discredit the prince, prince is discredited for an episode, prince is proven innocent soon after, prince then discredits one of the evil people; repeat cycle (except later, prince becomes king).
It was like watching a little kid stick their hand in a fire. They get burned, but insist on doing it again, and again, and again... and rather than getting punished, they just keep getting their hand slapped and learn nothing. You'd think they'd learn after the third or fourth time... but noooo.
But everything else was terrific: the setting, the costumes, the acting, directing, and music.
I love the actors they chose for the kids. Once they became adults, I could still see the kids through the actions and mannerisms of the adults: Dae Su and Jeong Ju especially. There were certain looks they'd get that would just SCREAM their younger counterparts, and I was amazed at how similar they became. It really was like I was watching them as grownups, not just actors. And that doesn't happen very often for me, so I really appreciated that.
And strangely enough, my favorite character ended up being a side-character, Hong Gook Young. He was just awesome. I'm not sure why I ended up liking him so much... but I did. Even more so than Yi San and Dae Su for some reason (Though Dae Su was second).
So in conclusion: only watch Yi San if you're a fan of period dramas, or a huge follower of one of the main actors. If you're not a fan of really long series that tend to drag and repeat, you may want to steer clear.