[Review] Hwarang: The Beginning – 화랑: 더 비기닝

WEARING OUT THE FLOWER BOYS’ SPIRIT

After the death of the previous king, Queen Ji Soo (Kim Ji Soo) has been ruling the Silla Kingdom as regent in place of her young son, who she’s kept tucked away from enemies and assassins who are eager to seize power for themselves.  When Kim Sam Maek Jong (Park Hyung Shik) comes of age, he has grown weary of waiting for his mother to cede the regency.  In order to solidify their power, Queen Ji So creates an elite force made up of the sons of the noble families of Silla to cut across the existing power factions and bind their loyalties to the throne.  Despite Queen Ji So’s objections, Sam Maek Jong secretly enlists as a member as well as Moo Myung (Park Seo Joon), a commoner with a birth secret that even he’s not aware of.

One of the main reasons why I was interested in watching this drama, besides ogling over the flower boys, is that I was very much curious about learning more about the Silla Kingdom of Korean history.  I assumed this kingdom was more of a cultural influence in Korea’s history as their dress and artwork always seemed ornate to me but I never realized the strength of the military and political power.  During the Three Kingdoms period, they were the longest sustained dynasty lasting almost 900 years.  The Hwarang knights played a central role in unifying much of the peninsula before it was incorporated into the Goryeo Kingdom.

Oh Joon Sung – Hwarang Spirit (Opening Title) (Instrumental)

오준성 – Hwarang Spirit (Opening Title)

Although this drama was pre-produced and despite the trendy cast, the drama sorely missed the trend mark if you take into consideration what was going on in Korea at the time of its airing.  I think much of the mood in Korea at the time was about not watching a fluffy, coming-of-age story.  Looking at the dramas that aired on the other networks at this time, there was MBC’s Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People in which Hong Gil Dong was fighting the rich to help the poor and unfortunate and SBS had Defendant in which a prosecutor is fighting corruption.

As for Hwarang, much of the drama is a coming-of age story, whether its Moo Myung yearning for a place to call home or find his family, Sam Maek Jong stepping out of his mother’s shadow to become a strong leader or Park Ban Ryu (Do Ji Han) overcoming the burden of his family’s expectations of him.  Characterizing these figures in this way, it does seem interesting but the drama sorely lacked substance.  There was too much effort in making this drama an international trendy hit rather than focusing some of that attention to the character development or elaborating on the colorful but complicated history of Silla Kingdom.

Despite my criticisms, much of the cast is delightful and it’s easy to see why Park Seo Joon and Park Hyung Shik are stars.  However, I would direct your attention to their works after this drama rather than recommend this one.  I was also quite taken with Kim Ji Soo’s representation of Queen Ji So.  It’s not often that we see such a strong female character, especially one that’s in a position of leadership in historical drama.  Compared that with Go Ah Ra as Kim Ah Ro and Queen Ji So is a far more intriguing character.  Even Seo Ye Ji as Princess Sook Myung annoyed me from time to time.  Also, although his appearance is very limited, Lee Kwang Soo leaves a lasting impression as Kim Sun Woo, Myung’s best friend.

Perhaps one can argue that this drama was victim to the changing political mood in Korea at the time.  In a sense, the drama is about second generation chaebol fighting for power and the light nature of the drama’s tone was probably not what viewers were in the mood to watch.  However, I doubt that even a change in mood will make this drama more popular.  It’s not funny enough.  It’s not thought-provoking enough.  It’s not character-driven enough.  It’s not historically accurate enough.  It’s not romantic enough.  There are just too many things that just isn’t enough to warrant it to even be a mediocre drama.

Rating

 

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