Betsy Speicher

Dae Jang Geum (2003-2005)

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95 posts in this topic

I have no idea how likely this is to come to fruition, but there is a story that there will be a Chinese movie made based on Dae Jang Geum, to star Zhang Ziyi, who was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's nothing I'm eager to see, since it can only be a digest version of the full story. However, it may be of value for those who want to know more about the story, but don't want to invest in the DVDs.

Here's the news item/rumor: Movie

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Minorly Spoilerish

I have no idea how likely this is to come to fruition, but there is a story that there will be a Chinese movie made based on Dae Jang Geum, to star Zhang Ziyi, who was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's nothing I'm eager to see, since it can only be a digest version of the full story. However, it may be of value for those who want to know more about the story, but don't want to invest in the DVDs.

Here's the news item/rumor: Movie

Phhhh... Boh! [i'm even beginning to grouse in Korean :wacko: ] Good for Zhang Ziyi. She's a very pretty lady and a decent actress, but that's just not the point. The thing I love about this work is the brilliant unfolding of these characters' lives, Jang Geum's persistence against seemingly impossible odds, the deep investment in them, all of which come only from the weight of time we were given in the form of 54 full-hour-long episodes, each done with all of the cinematic and dramatic brilliance and dedication of a feature film.

This is why Firefly worked so well and Serenity fell flat, for all Joss Whedon's brilliance: Serenity seemed more like a roller-coaster ride than a movie and flattened the characters (& killed off a few) and the story to shove it into 2 hours. For Dae Jang Geum, they would most likely focus on the two lovers and shrink the dramatic action to focus on only a few leads, the Evil Choi and the Good Jang Geum and maybe a few comic running gags to keep it light, rather than allowing us to feel deeply as the Korean masterpiece does.

And, just as a thought, After reading some of the Korean history that this draws from, I think that the original Jang Geum may well not have been all that attractive. The tv drama uses Lee Young Ae's attractiveness as a foil for the major conflict in the last part of the story, but, purely physically, I find her pretty, but not beautiful, by the strictly anatomical Hollywood standard: She becomes transcendently beautiful by virtue of her luminous mind, which we see in her eyes and smile and actions. And it's the time-after-time-after-time we experience that brilliant mind in action that makes us fall in love with her. It is the superficiality of much of modern movie fare that the Korean drama departs from so completely and impressively. It achieves its effects by allowing the scene to play out, the characters to breathe and think and feel. When I was studying acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, this is one thing that we were allowed to do onstage that made a scene come powerfully alive: If it took 2, even 3 minutes to mentally process what was said, at a key moment, we took that time. In a performance, we could cut that down, having had that time to work through those thoughts, but it is still vastly more powerful to actually take in what was said, process it, consider the significance and the possible actions, and then react. That can happen fast in life and art, but it has to happen. I loved the slow, powerful scenes in which these characters died a thousand deaths or looked an eternity into a loved ones eyes. The show never bogs down but never cuts corners to fit the form.

I read in Readers Guide, once, that Hollywood is in a perpetual race to be second: No one wants to take a chance with something untried, but, if someone does and it works, everyone wants to cash in on that great idea. Given the popularity of Dae Jang Geum, it's not surprising that this has come up. And, once again, they'll most likely get it wrong. E.g. Titanic. Director James Cameron had to forgo his entire salary to get the show made, but after it killed at the box office, Hollywood was stoked. And their essentialization? "Sinking Ships!! They wanna see sinking ships!!" And we got Perfect Storm, Poseidon Adventure, ... oh, yeah, and then a flock of epic natural disaster movies. It's amazing these geniuses can find their cars in the parking lot.

Non-Spoiler Portion:

Those of you who haven't seen this show need to see it. It's set in an ancient, rigid, autocratic, bigoted society, but Jang Geum is a true intellectual hero and I believe that Ayn Rand would have loved this work, though we'll never really know for sure.

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Phhhh... Boh! [i'm even beginning to grouse in Korean :wacko: ] Good for Zhang Ziyi. She's a very pretty lady and a decent actress, but that's just not the point. The thing I love about this work is the brilliant unfolding of these characters' lives, Jang Geum's persistence against seemingly impossible odds, the deep investment in them, all of which come only from the weight of time we were given in the form of 54 full-hour-long episodes, each done with all of the cinematic and dramatic brilliance and dedication of a feature film.

Those of you who haven't seen this show need to see it. It's set in an ancient, rigid, autocratic, bigoted society, but Jang Geum is a true intellectual hero and I believe that Ayn Rand would have loved this work, though we'll never really know for sure.

I agree with everything you said. I was trying not to sound too negative about the movie, for the sole reason that watching the movie might get people motivated to watch the actual series. I think the financial investment is a major stumbling block in getting people to watch the series.

The movie, as I meant to indicate, would unfortunately be a Reader's Digest version of the series. Actually, it will be more like a Reader's Digest version of a Reader's Digest version of the series.

I thought when they groused, the Koreans would say "Ho ho!" or just "Hmm!"

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This is why Firefly worked so well and Serenity fell flat, for all Joss Whedon's brilliance: Serenity seemed more like a roller-coaster ride than a movie and flattened the characters (& killed off a few) and the story to shove it into 2 hours. For Dae Jang Geum, they would most likely focus on the two lovers and shrink the dramatic action to focus on only a few leads, the Evil Choi and the Good Jang Geum and maybe a few comic running gags to keep it light, rather than allowing us to feel deeply as the Korean masterpiece does.

And, just as a thought, After reading some of the Korean history that this draws from, I think that the original Jang Geum may well not have been all that attractive. The tv drama uses Lee Young Ae's attractiveness as a foil for the major conflict in the last part of the story, but, purely physically, I find her pretty, but not beautiful, by the strictly anatomical Hollywood standard: She becomes transcendently beautiful by virtue of her luminous mind, which we see in her eyes and smile and actions. And it's the time-after-time-after-time we experience that brilliant mind in action that makes us fall in love with her. It is the superficiality of much of modern movie fare that the Korean drama departs from so completely and impressively. It achieves its effects by allowing the scene to play out, the characters to breathe and think and feel.

I still liked Serenity, but of course I had the advantage of knowing the entire backstory, having seen the tv show. And the movie was done by the same man who did the tv series, which would not be the case with Dae Jang Geum. More reasons to doubt the efficacy of a Dae Jang Geum movie.

I also agree about Lee Young Ae. Not a traditionally beautiful woman, as in drop dead gorgeous. If they wanted that, the girl who played Shin Bi would have been better. It's the intelligence behind her eyes, her bright, benevolent personality, her sense of life, that makes Lee Young Ae/Jang Geum beautiful. And the same with the child Jang Geum. There were many prettier Korean girls in the show, for example the one who plays Keum Young as a little girl is very pretty. Even Yong Ro is very pretty as a little girl. But the one who plays Jang Geum just outshines them all, in spite of her crooked teeth.

I think these Korean television series' are an art form we simply do not have here in America. We have movies, and mini-series, and television shows with no defined beginning, middle and end. I've seen Dae Jang Geum referred to as a soap opera. It is certainly nothing like American soap operas, which are more like sagas, just a never ending day to day undolding of everyday life. Dae Jang Geum is a dramatic, romanticized story, with a theme, development, and a climax. There just isn't anything like it here. If there were, it would be perfect for dramatizing Atlas Shrugged!

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I mentioned the soundtrack of Dae Jang Geum before. It is available from Amazon here. There are several outstanding pieces of music on it, ranging from the rousing opening theme of the show, to more quiet incidental piano music.
I bought the soundtrack (Cheaper on YesAsia.com, straight from Asia). It is a thing of beauty, like the show and very artfully integrated with all the other elements of the production.

Spoilers

It is ironic that one of the most beautiful themes in the show is Keum Young's (on the album, labeled, unaccountably, "APNA." Is that Asia-Pacific Numismatic Association? Association for Protection of Native Americans? All People not Accounted for?). I don't believe that it is an accident that this graceful, pretty, perfect little waltz represents what could have been, for the character who nurses a truly hopeless love, ultimately sacrificing her talent, intelligence, and beauty for her family's "power." It is ironic, because, though the Hamangyeon, the love theme of Jang Geum and Min Jung Ho, translates to "hopeless love," it is anything but; that is only a temporary frustration, because their love, based on their deepest values, absolute integrity, and determination, ultimately does "conquer all."

The music of Dae Jang Geum serves the theme as Jang Geum practices her profession, with complete and total committment. The breadth of phrase in Hamangyeon is just beautiful, operatic (in fact sung by an operatic tenor in two versions), in that same unhurried, fully-rendered way that the dialogues and the action progress, allowing time for the characters to think and react. The sense of time, of the importance of ideas, is something Dae Jang Geum takes very seriously and is one of its many remarkable qualities.

End of Spoilers

Those who love great Romantic fiction should see this show. It's cheaper on Amazon Marketplace than Amazon.com itself. It may be cheaper still on the Asian sites, but then you run the risk of getting a version without the English subtitles, make sure to get the US version. Right now the Marketplace is the cheapest place to get it, as ca. $64.70 per box (3 total). Yes, it's expensive, but it's worth it. End of advertisement.

Oh, and Mr. Hawk, there is a 2CD version of the sound track on YesAsia.com. Up until just now, I'd only heard of the 1CD version. More of the music. Yay.

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I bought the soundtrack (Cheaper on YesAsia.com, straight from Asia). It is a thing of beauty, like the show and very artfully integrated with all the other elements of the production.

Spoilers

It is ironic that one of the most beautiful themes in the show is Keum Young's (on the album, labeled, unaccountably, "APNA." Is that Asia-Pacific Numismatic Association? Association for Protection of Native Americans? All People not Accounted for?). I don't believe that it is an accident that this graceful, pretty, perfect little waltz represents what could have been, for the character who nurses a truly hopeless love, ultimately sacrificing her talent, intelligence, and beauty for her family's "power." It is ironic, because, though the Hamangyeon, the love theme of Jang Geum and Min Jung Ho, translates to "hopeless love," it is anything but; that is only a temporary frustration, because their love, based on their deepest values, absolute integrity, and determination, ultimately does "conquer all."

The music of Dae Jang Geum serves the theme as Jang Geum practices her profession, with complete and total committment. The breadth of phrase in Hamangyeon is just beautiful, operatic (in fact sung by an operatic tenor in two versions), in that same unhurried, fully-rendered way that the dialogues and the action progress, allowing time for the characters to think and react. The sense of time, of the importance of ideas, is something Dae Jang Geum takes very seriously and is one of its many remarkable qualities.

End of Spoilers

Those who love great Romantic fiction should see this show. It's cheaper on Amazon Marketplace than Amazon.com itself. It may be cheaper still on the Asian sites, but then you run the risk of getting a version without the English subtitles, make sure to get the US version. Right now the Marketplace is the cheapest place to get it, as ca. $64.70 per box (3 total). Yes, it's expensive, but it's worth it. End of advertisement.

Oh, and Mr. Hawk, there is a 2CD version of the sound track on YesAsia.com. Up until just now, I'd only heard of the 1CD version. More of the music. Yay.

Wow. The two cd version is less expensive than the single cd version I bought on Amazon. I just wish they would translate all the titles into English.

Another of the pieces of music that is really evocative for me is track number 6, which is most often used for the cooking scenes. I can't hear it without immediately visualizing a close up of some kitchen lady's hands chopping up some fruit, vegetable, or meat into smaller portions, or one of the many scenes of the King tasting some food, savoring it for a moment while all the cooks and the Head Eunuch are on pins and needles, and then smiling to show he likes it - or frowning, causing panic and uproar in the kitchen.

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Those who love great Romantic fiction should see this show. It's cheaper on Amazon Marketplace than Amazon.com itself. It may be cheaper still on the Asian sites, but then you run the risk of getting a version without the English subtitles, make sure to get the US version. Right now the Marketplace is the cheapest place to get it, as ca. $64.70 per box (3 total). Yes, it's expensive, but it's worth it. End of advertisement.

And don't forget, you don't have to pay a dime to watch it on the Asian TV website: Dae Jang Geum.

The subtitles aren't quite as good, but it's still more than adequate.

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There is a 7 part series of video clips on YouTube called The Dae Jang Geum TV Show here, evidently an hour long program that was done in Korea in which all the main characters of the show are on a panel and are interviewed, sort or Johnny Carson style, by a talk show host. Unfortunately, there is no translation into English.

But it's still fun to watch, for me. First of all, the women all look even more beautiful in their modern attire and modern hair than they did in their period costumes. I hardly recognized Lady Min, she looked so different. Even little Jang Geum is there, the only one who is still in the period costume, the hanbok. And who could pass up an opportunity to see little Jang Geum again? Not I!

Though I can't understand exactly what is being said, I can see that Lady Choi is the most outgoing of the ladies. Very voluble and demonstrative. Lee Young Ae seems a bit embarassed by all the attention, since much of the discussion is evidently about her. The really weird looking guy with the horn rim glasses is the "silly physician." He is just as silly, it seems, in real life.

I've only watched two of the "episodes" so far. In the second one, they were showing some clips from the drama itself. When they were showing some of the sad scenes, such as where Jang Geum is carrying Lady Han on her shoulders to their ill fated exile, they also showed the actors in the present watchng the clips as they played. It was nice to see, because they were clearly affected by the emotion of the scenes. They took their roles seriously, and they still do. I really liked that.

Then they showed a couple of the really funny/cute scenes: the one where Jang Geum's stepmother, I forget her name, unfortunately, the wife of Jang Duk Gu, anyway she and Duk Gu were at home and got some good news (that Jang Geum had been made the Royal Physician?), and then she (Duk Gu's wife whose-name-I-can't-remember) breaks into her little celebratory 'shoulder dance.' I loved that scene; and the other cute scene they showed was the one where Lady Min and Chang Ye take Yeun Seng out under the moon and Lady Min tries to teach her how to absorb the moon's potency by opening her mouth really wide and inhaling. One of the cutest and funniest scenes in the series.

There are a few major characters missing from this program, unless I'm not recognizing them. I don't see Jang Duk, or Yeun Seng, or Shin Bi. Neither of the doctor mentors are there either. The ones I do recognize: Jang Geum, Lady Choi, Keum Young, Lady Han, Lady Jung, Little Jang Geum, Min Jeong Ho, Lady Min, the King, possibly the Queen (hard to recognize), Jang Duk Gu, the silly physician, and the director. I think that's it.

Anyway, this program is a delight to watch, even if I don't understand a word of it.

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WARNING!

The aforementioned 2-CD "soundtrack" is actually a musical version of Dae Jang Geum, with none of the music of the TV show. It's not terrible, but, as Dennis the Menace said, when served a tuna sandwich, "I had my mouth all set for peanut butter and jelly!" Aarrgghh.

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I found another site (besides www.aznV.tv) that has free streaming access to Dae Jang Geum:

http://www.dailymotion.com/search/dae%2Bjang%2Bgeum/1. Ignore the first few derivative videos. The rest are the actual episodes, broken into 2-3 segments per hour. But the quality of these transfers is better than those on the aznV.tv site and the subtitles appear to be the same as the ones on the DVDs, rather than the somewhat more sporadic and typographically-challenged ones on aznV.tv. It's a bit more of a hassle to start up 3 different videos per episode, but I think the high quality is worth it.

The link above was from a search on the site and all the videos came up in reverse order, starting with the last episode on page 1, so you'll have to work backwards to start at the top (Episode 1 is on Page 14 of that search result), but... did I mention about the good quality. B)

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I found another site (besides www.aznV.tv) that has free streaming access to Dae Jang Geum:

http://www.dailymotion.com/search/dae%2Bjang%2Bgeum/1. Ignore the first few derivative videos. The rest are the actual episodes, broken into 2-3 segments per hour. But the quality of these transfers is better than those on the aznV.tv site and the subtitles appear to be the same as the ones on the DVDs, rather than the somewhat more sporadic and typographically-challenged ones on aznV.tv. It's a bit more of a hassle to start up 3 different videos per episode, but I think the high quality is worth it.

The link above was from a search on the site and all the videos came up in reverse order, starting with the last episode on page 1, so you'll have to work backwards to start at the top (Episode 1 is on Page 14 of that search result), but... did I mention about the good quality. B)

The video transfer definitely looks better. But the subtitles are not the same as the DVDs. I watched the second part of episode 2, the scene where Jang Geum is punished by her mother for going to school. Then Jang Geum explains that she knows their family are not lowly peasants, because she saw her father's military uniform. In the DVD, she says something like "Dad was an officer in the Royal Guards." In this video playing website, she says "Dad was an army before." That's the same translation that was on the YouTube clips, most of which have been removed from YouTube now. Clearly "army" is not the correct translation. Her father was an officer in the army, he was not an entire army unto himself.

Still, both translations have their strengths and weaknesses. Neither is perfect.

The main thing is just to watch the story, however you can. It's worth the effort.

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The video transfer definitely looks better. But the subtitles are not the same as the DVDs. I watched the second part of episode 2, the scene where Jang Geum is punished by her mother for going to school. Then Jang Geum explains that she knows their family are not lowly peasants, because she saw her father's military uniform. In the DVD, she says something like "Dad was an officer in the Royal Guards." In this video playing website, she says "Dad was an army before." That's the same translation that was on the YouTube clips, most of which have been removed from YouTube now. Clearly "army" is not the correct translation. Her father was an officer in the army, he was not an entire army unto himself.

Still, both translations have their strengths and weaknesses. Neither is perfect.

The main thing is just to watch the story, however you can. It's worth the effort.

Darn! I didn't watch enough to see that problem. And her father was a pretty formidable guy when he wanted to be, but, I agree, he was not an army. A problem with the aznV.tv versions is that there are some translations missing, not just wrong, so that some important moments go by without explanation. It's not enough to cause a huge problem, but I noticed them because I'd seen them on the DVDs. On DVD, the full set can cost $200 (3x$60-something), but the sets are beautiful and the quality of the cinematography is superb. I read some background that mentioned that it was done on video, rather than film, and they were talking as if this was negative. Because video is less sensitive, that means that dark, moody scenes are harder to shoot. There were a few and I thought they came off well. But it may have driven them to light the sets as brightly as they often did, as well as the appropriateness of this choice in the context of a royal court in a mostly sunny climate. But whatever the reason, even scenes in rain and snow had a jewel-like clarity and beauty and many had the compositional elegance of a great painting. There are some scenes, esp. with Jang Geum or JG and Min Ho, that are breathtaking just to look at, aside from the power of the scene being shot.

I agree: Anyone who wants to see a truly excellent heroic drama should see this show. It will reward them greatly for their time.

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On DVD, the full set can cost $200 (3x$60-something), but the sets are beautiful and the quality of the cinematography is superb. I read some background that mentioned that it was done on video, rather than film, and they were talking as if this was negative. Because video is less sensitive, that means that dark, moody scenes are harder to shoot. There were a few and I thought they came off well. But it may have driven them to light the sets as brightly as they often did, as well as the appropriateness of this choice in the context of a royal court in a mostly sunny climate. But whatever the reason, even scenes in rain and snow had a jewel-like clarity and beauty and many had the compositional elegance of a great painting. There are some scenes, esp. with Jang Geum or JG and Min Ho, that are breathtaking just to look at, aside from the power of the scene being shot.

I agree: Anyone who wants to see a truly excellent heroic drama should see this show. It will reward them greatly for their time.

I absolutely agree with that. I wrote a fan letter to Lee Young Ae and that was one of the specific things I mentioned. Many scenes, especially the ones with Jang Geum and Min Jeong Ho, as you said, are clearly framed as though they were works of art. I particularly mentioned this scene , on Jeju Island, with Jang Geum and Min Jeong Ho framed in a doorway, at nighttime with snow falling in the background. In this scene, from about the 5 minute mark to the 9 minute mark, they say very openly and romantically what they mean to each other. A very beautiful scene, if ever there was one. Again, you can't get the full effect of the beauty of the scene on these websites, but only on the DVD. But you can see a reasonable facsimile of it. Not only is the scene and the dialogue beautiful, even Jang Geum's voice is exquisitely beautiful.

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I am so pleased to see fellow Objectivists pick up Dae Jang Geum. As far as I know I am the one who first introduced it to Objectivists on another forum, HBL, and on my own blog.

On this thread I have enjoyed the great still photos posted from the series, and the great commentary. I have only read part of it so far, but I will read the rest.

Incidentally, I am just finishing my second complete watching of the series. In some ways it is even better the second time around. I pick up different details I didn't see before, although some of the original, nearly painful suspense is not there since I know what will happen. I find myself telling my girlfriend *not* to mention what comes next, even though I already know it. I gladly try to "evade" (ha, ha) the knowledge of what will come next in order to experience the maximum suspense!

Jang Geum is my hero, Min Jeong Ho is my hero, Lady Han and Lady Jung are my heroes -- all of them. And my favorite evil characters are the three members of the Choi family, especially tragic Keum Young. In some ways, she is the most interesting character of the series.

My favorite hero, though, is the writer of the series. She is a great Romantic writer. The emotional intensity of the conflicts and the Romantic scenes are almost unbearable. Each character is so perfectly drawn and clearly motivated. We know *why* they do what they do, and every action they take is consistent with their characters. The writer amazingly preserved such characterization throughout the length of a 54 hour series involving dozens of characters. I give her the title "Dae," just like her lead character, Jang Geum. Just like Jang Geum, she is Great.

On a separate note, the fact that a culture can produce Dae Jang Geum in today's age infuses me with great optimism. It is a tangible demonstration of why the Asian cultures have risen so fast over the past 50 years. These cultures still need the leadership of America and the rational philosophy that Objectivism provides, but there are so many good values in their societies. Those values made Dae Jang Geum possible, but did not necessitate its creation. That required the individual genius of Dae Jang Geum's author.

Three cheers for Dae Jang Geum!

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These cultures still need the leadership of America and the rational philosophy that Objectivism provides, but there are so many good values in their societies.

Objectivism, yes. However, I don't know why they need the "leadership" of America, at least current day America. What do you mean by that?

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These cultures still need the leadership of America and the rational philosophy that Objectivism provides, but there are so many good values in their societies.

Objectivism, yes. However, I don't know why they need the "leadership" of America, at least current day America. What do you mean by that?

I mean Objectivism. The only sense that I meant the leadership of America is that if America sinks, it is unlikely that Asia will stand alone and lead a Renaissance, although I wouldn't rule it out. The more I see in Asia, the more I admire, in terms of values and economic achievement.

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I am so pleased to see fellow Objectivists pick up Dae Jang Geum. As far as I know I am the one who first introduced it to Objectivists on another forum, HBL, and on my own blog.

On this thread I have enjoyed the great still photos posted from the series, and the great commentary. I have only read part of it so far, but I will read the rest.

You were the one who introduced it to me. A debt I can never repay, I fear.

I recently found on YouTube a five part series called I Am Lee Young Ae. It follows her in a typical "day in the life," and describes the impact of Dae Jang Geum throughout the world. It is very popular in Zimbabwe, for example, and for all the right reasons. They interview some Zimbabweans about it, and they all have very intelligent comments about it, especially the girls. The popularity was such that the people demanded the tv station preempt the Olympics to show Dae Jang Geum. Lee Young Ae herself is not, of course, Jang Geum. But she is a gifted and dedicated actress.

The YouTube video is available here: I Am Lee Young Ae

Alann informed me that Dae Jang Geum can now be found on eBay for aobut $40 per volume, which is a substantial savings on the roughly $70 per volume I paid.

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SERIOUS SPOILERS FOLLOW - DON'T READ IF YOU PLAN TO WATCH THE SERIES

****

I stayed up late last night and watched three episodes in a row. I am reluctant to give away plot spoilers because the three episodes together constitute the climax of the series (so stop reading if you haven't seen every episode!). I can definitely say that I am enjoying Dae Jang Geum even more the second time around.

Jang Geum has just completely vanquished the Chois, and she has written her mother's grievances in the book of the kitchen ladies. I am simply astounded at the intensity of the resolution of Jang Geum's battle with the Chois. I had tears in my eyes when Lady Choi died and Keum Young was ejected from the palace. Evil as they were, they were so grand in their stature. There was nobility in their evilness, if such a thing is possible.

In the case of Keum Young, her nobility came from her unquenchable, utterly tragic love for Ming Jeong Ho. He said to her, as she left the palace, "I am sorry. That is all I can say to you." She said that if she meets him in another life, those are the only words she hopes she never hears.

Min Jeong Ho showed astonishment on his face when he heard those words, the second time as a result of Keum Young's actions. The other time was when she served him a dinner, the one and only time she ever shared a private dinner with the man she loved.

The actor who plays Min Jeong Ho is an expert at the understated display of his emotions. He barely utters a single word in each of those scenes with Keum Young, yet the emotional intensity of each of the scenes he created is overpowering. He is a superb actor. Incidentally, emotional restraint is an important virtue of Confucianism, which was dominant in that era. Such acting only adds to the authentic feel of Dae Jang Geum.

I am also amazed at the Queen. She is a first-handed thinker and admires Jang Geum's first-handedness. Her courageous and dangerous trust in Jang Geum made Jang Geum's triumph possible, and saved the life of her husband.

I love these characters. If I had the time and ability, I could write an essay on each one of them.

I still have a few more episodes left to watch. I am so excited.

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The actor who plays Min Jeong Ho is an expert at the understated display of his emotions. He barely utters a single word in each of those scenes with Keum Young, yet the emotional intensity of each of the scenes he created is overpowering. He is a superb actor. Incidentally, emotional restraint is an important virtue of Confucianism, which was dominant in that era. Such acting only adds to the authentic feel of Dae Jang Geum.

One of my favorite scenes with Min Jeong Ho takes place late in the story, when the King has fallen in love with Jang Geum. At one point, Yeun Seng, trying to be helpful, tells the King about the Jang Geum-Min Jeong Ho relationship. Then the King calls in Jang Geum and asks her if it is true, and she admits that it is. She of course considers it a matter of integrity not to lie about it, even though she had never volunteered the information before. The King lets her go, and begins brooding about the situation.

Then Jang Geum goes to Sir Min, having realized that her confession not only put her own life on the line, but also Sir Min's. She regrets having placed him in danger, and expects him to be shocked at the danger she has placed him in. But he surprises her by saying that he is happy that she acknowledged him, even before the King.

I also love the scene in which Sir Min has been imprisoned by his own friend and ally, to prevent him from any further attempts to save Jang Geum from her enemies - which is ruining his own career, and seemingly not doing her any good, either. But Sir Min is beside himself, and then says something (I can't remember the exact words) to this effect: "Let my go to her, and then you can let the scholar-officials tear me to pieces! Just let me help her!"

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I've noticed several people have recently rated Dae Jang Geum - highly - and I'm hoping they will give us their thoughts on the story. Even if they haven't finished watching the series yet, since it is interesting to see what they think at each stage of the story's progress, while it is still fresh in their minds.

Anyway, I was again reading Ayn Rand's introduction to Victor Hugo's Ninety-three, since I find a lot of her comments there applicable to Dae Jang Geum and its author, including this part:

Such was the nature of his conflict: a professed mystic in his conscious convictions, he was passionately in love with this earth; a professed altruist, he worshipped man's greatness, not his suffering, weaknesses or evils; . . . . . he achieved the grandeur of his characters by making them all superbly conscious, fully aware of their motives and desires, fully focused on reality and acting accordingly . . . "

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I've noticed several people have recently rated Dae Jang Geum - highly - and I'm hoping they will give us their thoughts on the story. Even if they haven't finished watching the series yet, since it is interesting to see what they think at each stage of the story's progress, while it is still fresh in their minds.

Anyway, I was again reading Ayn Rand's introduction to Victor Hugo's Ninety-three, since I find a lot of her comments there applicable to Dae Jang Geum and its author, ...

I'm about 2/3 through Dae Jang Geum and have recommended it to several friends who share my sense of life. I always describe the characters and plot as "Hugo-esque" in order to convey one of the most essential characteristics of the series in a single word.

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Here's something I wrote about one episode of Dae Jang Geum a while ago:

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Dae Jang Geum on the Value of Purpose

Episode Seven of Dae Jang Geum addresses the value of purpose in man's life, and the awful state of men without purpose. Having decided to dramatize this issue, how does a writer proceed?

The wonderful writer of DJG solved the problem in this way. First, Jang Geum got into trouble for going outside of the palace, which was strictly forbidden without special permission. The Head Lady decided to expel her from the palace, the standard punishment for that transgression. Everyone is appalled, knowing as they do that Jang Geum is one of the best among them, if not in fact the best. Finally, the Head Kitchen Lady, named Lady Jung, and Jang Geum's mentor, Lady Han, offer to forgo three year's worth of their salary if the Head Lady will allow Jang Geum to stay in the palace. This shows how highly the best and the brightest of the palace women value Jang Geum. The Head Lady greedily accepts their offer, but still banishes Jang Geum to the lowliest section of the palace grounds - the herb garden. It is a place to which loafers, miscreants, drunks and criminals are sent, and no one expects to return to the palace proper from the herb garden. It is essentially a place of exile and abandonment.

At the herb garden, the workers are supposed to be growing herbs. But none of them do any gardening, or in fact any kind of work, at all. When Jang Geum arrives, she finds the workers - and even their supervisor - lying in the fields, asleep. When she asks them what she is supposed to do, the supervisor tells her not to do anything, unless she wants to drink. No one expects any work to be done in the herb garden, and all the people there are content to do nothing, wasting away their existence drinking, eating, and sleeping, without purpose. These men are clearly going to pot, their minds and bodies atrophying from lack of use. It is against this background that we are able to contrast the behavior of Jang Geum.

Jang Geum finds their behavior incomprehensible. She literally goes to bed weeping at the apparent purposelessness of life in the herb garden. Finally, she tells the supervisor she cannot "do nothing," as it would drive her crazy. So she begins collecting all the assorted herb seeds she can find in the storehouse, none of which have any identifying lables attached to them. Those she recognizes, she labels accordingly, for those she cannot identify she bothers the supervisor until he identifies them for her. Soon she has them all identified, and she begins clearing some of the weed infested field and planting some of the herbs.

The other workers, and the supervisor, watch her and laugh at the "futility" of her actions. They begin taking bets on how soon she will give up - or worse. The last court lady sent to the herb garden had committed suicide. But Jang Geum persists in her methodical categorizing and gardening.

One day she comes to the workers and asks them for better gardening techniques. One of them mentions a particular herb that no one has succeeded in growing, though they had been trying for 20 years. Immediately, Jang Geum's face brightens, and she says: "Good! I will use that!" When they ask what she means, she explains that she will use that as her goal, as a purpose toward which to strive while in the herb garden. But why that particular goal? "Because you said it was hard!"

After a methodical trial and error period, Jang Geum succeeds in growing the rare herb - and finally the other workers, and the supervisor, begin to admire Jang Geum, and to want to bring some purpose back into their own lives, as well. They all recognize, once they have seen it again, the ennobling, uplifting value of purpose.

Jang Geum taught them that, though it was not her intention. She simply wanted purpose in her own life. But her good example had a salutary effect on all those around her.

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And not coincidentally, Jang Geum's success in growing the rare herb brings about the thing she most desires at the moment: she is allowed to return to the palace as a court lady in training, her status fully restored.

Thus did the writer of Dae Jang Geum - Kim Yeong-hyeon - dramatize the value of purpose in man's life. This is but one wonderful episode in a magnificent, 54 episode series called Dae Jang Geum.

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I always describe the characters and plot as "Hugo-esque" in order to convey one of the most essential characteristics of the series in a single word.

Interesting. Hugo is the author I thought of as well. His characters, plots, and most of all spirit are the closest. "Atlas Cooked" would work as a title, though the theme and plot are closer to those of The Fountainhead.

When I finish the last three episodes, I'll put in my full two cents. Hopefully my "library" won't charge too much in late fees. :D

By the way: THANK YOU!!!! to everyone who suggested it. Damn well worth it!

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I know I should curb my enthusiasm for this show, but it's just so darned good. Every time I re-watch an episode, some new beauty of plot or characterization strikes me with the need to praise it. Just as Hugo endowed all his characters with a full awareness of their own motives and desires, even to the peasant woman in Ninety-three searching for her children - her highest value - so Kim Yeong-hyeon endows all of her characters with the same awareness and focus. "This is what gives a beggar the stature of a giant . . . " as Ayn Rand said of Hugo's writing.

In episode 8 of DJG, Jang Geum is in the final competition to become a court lady of the Royal Kitchen. If she fails in this test, she will be cast out of the palace. One aspect of the preparation is the assistance of another court lady in training, who will make a new dress for each of the aspiring kitchen ladies. The one assigned to Jang Geum is a sweet and gentle young lady. But this young woman makes the conscious decision to sabotage Jang Geum's ingrediants, which she needs for the competition. She does this with no malice toward Jang Geum whatsoever, but because of an extraordinary value, to her, that she is willing to do anything to maintain, even if it means utterly ruining Jang Geum's chances of staying in the Royal Palace.

When I saw this scene unfold, my first reaction was "How could you possibly do this to Jang Geum? What did she do to you?" And that is exactly the reaction of Jang Geum herself. She is dumbfounded. But the author proceeds to show how she not only could do it, but should do it --- according to her own values. It is strikingly similar, in my eyes, to the scene in Ninety-three where one character says to another: "I arrest you." And the other says: "You are right." According to the first man's values, he ought to arrest the other man. And according to this girl's value hierarchy, she ought to do what she did. And she does so in spite of extreme risk to herself, in addition to the ruin it would inflict upon Jang Geum. And just as the man arrested in Hugo's novel said "You are right," so Jang Geum essentially said the same, when she came to understand the girl's motivation for what she did. Jang Geum ended up helping the girl maintain her highest value.

The way I'm explaining this, I'm not sure if it makes sense to anyone who hasn't seen the episode in question. It's hard to explain without giving the plot away completely. But the scene is so powerful, no matter how many times I watch it, it brings tears to my eyes every time.

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