Tuesday, October 14, 2014

“Empress Ki” Eps. 1-51 (synopsis, episodes, links, and review)

Watch all 51 episodes of “Empress Ki” free in the KissAsian website (English subtitles); Novelization of “Empress Ki” (from Koala’s Playground); Description of characters (from The Talking Cupboard); Drama Fact vs. Fiction (Part1, Part 2); Free 500-plus interactive English grammar and vocabulary exercises based on “Empress Ki” and other Korean historical dramas (external link).

“Empress Ki” is a fictionalized account of the historical figures Empress Ki, Emperor Togon, and their son Ayushiridara who later on became emperor. Leading the cast are Ha Ji-won in the title role (aka “SeungNyang”), Joo Jin-mo as “Wang Yu,” Ji Chang-wook as “Togon,” Jin Yi-han as “Tal Tal,” and Baek Jin-hee as “Tanasiri.” It won the “Golden Bird Prize for Serial Drama” at the 9th Seoul International Drama Awards. It has been broadcast in Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Poland, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Thailand, Hungary, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, and Panama.

(Jump to Some holes in the “Empress Ki” narrative; Reasons to watch “Empress Ki”; Photography lessons from “Empress Ki”)

“Empress Ki” synopsis with only a few spoilers and with links to free episodes in KissAsian website

Eps. 1 to 6


SeungNyang, her mother, and other Koryo women are being dragged off to Yuan as part of the concubine tribute. But they are released from prison by Wang Yu, the young Crown Prince of Koryo.

While they’re trying to escape, SeungNyang’s mother is shot with an arrow by Tangqishi, son of the Yuan Regent, El Temur. Before dying, she tells SeungNyang that her father is still alive and gives her the ring that her father will recognize. SeungNyang escapes successfully and, from then on, protects herself by pretending to be a boy.

Under Wang Ko, the brother of the King of Koryo, SeungNyang learns archery, sword fighting, and other military skills. But she secretly turns against Wang Ko when she learns that he is helping Tangqishi with getting women for the concubine tribute.

Thirteen years later, SeungNyang pretends to work faithfully for Wang Ko, but the band of Koryo boys that she leads is actually trying to save their sisters who have been taken as concubines to Yuan. Not knowing that Wang Yu is the Crown Prince, she helps him to uncover Wang Ko’s salt-trafficking activities. About to be exposed, Wang Ko pressures the King of Koryo to crown him as the next king.

SeungNyang becomes a soldier, and she helps Commander Ki Ja-oh and Wang Yu in protecting Togon, the exiled Yuan prince, from assassins sent by El Temur.

Eps. 7 to 12


Along the way to the Yuan capital, Tangqishi and Wang Yu find out that SeungNyang is a woman. Tangqishi wants SeungNyang for himself, and so, he sends Wang Yu to the dangerous border where the Turks are trying to control the Silk Road.

Talahai orders that Wang Yu be killed; General Bayan thus places Wang Yu, his men, and the slaves at the forefront of the battle, armed with only a few rusty swords and shields.

SeungNyang ends up as a kitchen maid and, later on, as a palace maid in the capital, where Togon is now the Emperor.

SeungNyang blames Togon for her father’s death and tries to kill him on several occasions, beginning with his wedding to El Temur’s daughter, Tanasiri. She fails in her last attempt because she is stopped by Lady Park, Togon’s concubine from Koryo.

After some confusion, Togon also learns that the palace maid SeungNyang is the same person who saved him in Koryo. But as he becomes enamored with her, SeungNyang gets caught between the Empress Dowager and Empress Tanasiri in their conflict over Lady Park.

Eps. 13 to 20


The conflict between the Empress Dowager and Tanasiri intensifies when El Temur orders a public examination of Lady Park in the Office of Inquisitors. El Temur orders the Royal Physician and two other physicians to conduct the examination.

Wang Yu defeats the Turks by using the Koryo slaves whom he inspired and trained. After making a secret deal with the Turk general Batolu (aka Yon Feisu), he sets free General Bayan and his adjutant Tal Tal.

In the Yuan capital, Wang Yu is welcomed as a hero by El Temur and the Empress Dowager. With music and poetry, he charms the Empress Dowager and even Tanasiri, who begins to think that he is romantically interested in her.

With SeungNyang’s obvious affection for Wang Yu, Togon becomes jealous and possessive. He even engages Wang Yu in a football match (“cuju”) with SeungNyang as the prize.

Wang Yu finds out about the Blood Vow, the late Emperor’s will that could bring El Temur down. With Bayan and Tal Tal secretly searching for the Blood Vow, Wang Yu and his men use the “Curse of the Khan” in devising ways (including catching rats) to enrage El Temur, to bring dissension within his group, and to make known the existence of the Blood Vow to the court and the public. To protect SeungNyang, however, he forbids her from joining in his schemes.

Battle lines are drawn between El Temur, on one side, and the Empress Dowager and Togon, on the other side. But unknown to the Empress Dowager, Togon is also working with Bayan and Tal Tal. With both sides focusing their search on Jokho (the late Emperor’s head eunuch), a showdown takes place at the House of Autumn Moon.

When Togon persists in trying to gain her affection, SeungNyang reveals to him that Commander Ki Ja-oh was her father.

Wang Yu increases the intrigues and conflicts between the opposing sides, but then, he gets framed for poisoning El Temur.

Wang Yu and SeungNyang finally consummate their relationship.

Eps. 21 to 23


SeungNyang saves Wang Yu, Bayan, Tal Tal, and Togon from being implicated in a rebellion against El Temur. Out of gratitude, El Temur promotes Bayan as governor of Liaoyang province. He also pressures Togon into deposing the Empress Dowager, who has placed upon herself all the blame for the rebellion.

When El Temur denies his request to be reinstated as King of Koryo, Wang Yu decides to return to Koryo, but SeungNyang stays to search for the Blood Vow. She wants to use the will against El Temur and his clan for her revenge and to help Wang Yu regain his throne.

To the Empress Dowager’s disbelief, Tanasiri becomes pregnant.

SeungNyang also becomes pregnant; she hides for several months in a secret room in the palace and survives through the help of her Koryo friends — Dokman (the Empress Dowager’s head eunuch), Lady Park, Lady Noh, and some kitchen maids. She finally escapes from the palace by hiding in Lady Park’s entourage, but along the way to the temple where Lady Park is supposed to give birth, bandits attack them.

SeungNyang escapes from the attack and gives birth prematurely in a cave. Later on, she is shot with an arrow, and her baby gets thrown into the river below. Unable to find her baby in the river, she accepts reluctantly that her baby died.

Dokman tells Togon that SeungNyang died during the attack on Lady Park’s entourage; in despair, Togon later collapses and loses his ability to speak.

http://www.dramacool.es/drama-detail/empress-kiOn their way to the Yuan-Koryo border, SeungNyang and former eunuch Jokho are captured by slave traders from Eagle House. With help from El Temur, this secretive group controls business in Yuan through counterfeiting and other criminal activities. The group’s counterfeit vouchers also bring widespread suffering in Koryo.

While being held captive, SeungNyang finally finds the Blood Vow.

Eps. 24 to 25


Thinking that SeungNyang is dead, Wang Yu agrees to marry El Temur’s niece for political reasons and to avenge SeungNyang’s death. SeungNyang learns about his marriage and decides to avenge her friends in her own way. She tells Bayan and Tal Tal that she found the Blood Vow and convinces them to send her as their candidate for royal consort. She plans to exact revenge on El Temur and his clan by using the position of consort and Togon’s affections for her.

The Empress Dowager is recalled to the palace to oversee the selection of royal consorts, with candidates coming from the families of the provincial governors. But Tanasiri bullies and schemes against SeungNyang and the other candidates.

Eps. 26 to 31


The Empress Dowager finds out that Hwanggak Temple (where Tanasiri stayed) was burned down, and she becomes suspicious about Prince Maha. Meanwhile, Tanasiri continues to torment SeungNyang and the other royal consorts.

SeungNyang secretly begins teaching Togon reading and writing, things that El Temur deliberately withheld from Togon when he was growing up.

Wang Yu and his men leave Koryo to track down the counterfeiters in Liaoyang province; there, he meets Yon Feisu. His royal guard, Musong, also infiltrates Eagle House.

Upon returning to Yuan, Wang Yu finds out that SeungNyang is alive. But Tal Tal warns him not to interfere with their plans of bringing El Temur down. Wang Yu and SeungNyang meet, and they agree to go on their separate ways.

El Temur forces Togon to seal an abdication decree that names Prince Maha as Emperor and Tanasiri as Empress Regent.

SeungNyang, the Empress Dowager, Bayan, and Tal Tal try to rescue Togon from losing his throne. To stop the abdication, Tal Tal gives to SeungNyang a secret document from Wang Yu. The document names all the government officials in the various provinces who have dealt with Eagle House and outlines El Temur’s complicity in the group’s illicit activities.

Tal Tal begins arresting the group’s leaders in the provinces, but El Temur orders his men to ambush Tal Tal.

Eps. 32 to 34


El Temur plans to assassinate Togon and SeungNyang during the Royal Hunt by using the imperial guards under Yom Byungsu. During the hunt, Tanasiri finds out that Wang Yu is still in love with SeungNyang. Feeling that Wang Yu deceived her, Tanasiri decides to kill him too.

As they’re escaping through the woods, SeungNyang and Togon are pursued by the imperial guards. Wang Yu and two of his men catch up with the pursuing guards, but they’re badly outnumbered and are soon wounded and surrounded.

The Empress Dowager and the imperial court investigate the assassination attempt. To protect his clan, Tangqishi orders Yom Byungsu to take all the blame for the assassination attempt. Later, Yom Byungsu is sentenced to death.

Eps. 35 to 39


SeungNyang conceives a child with Togon. To cause her to miscarry, Tanasiri uses the “Maledictum Curse.”

El Temur appoints Wang Yu as commander of the city garrison. When the garrison’s officers and soldiers quit rather than serve him, Wang Yu takes in beggars and other men who are wandering aimlessly on the streets.

Bang, Wang Yu’s faithful eunuch, finds out that Prince Maha is Wang Yu and SeungNyang’s son.

Using the Blood Vow, SeungNyang helps Togon plot El Temur’s overthrow. With the help of Wang Yu, the Empress Dowager, Bayan, and the other governors, the uprising succeeds, and El Temur is deposed. Togon appoints Bayan as the new Regent and restores Wang Yu as King of Koryo.

Togon plans to invest SeungNyang as the new Empress. But, with the Empress Dowager’s urging, Bayan opposes Togon’s plan. He pressures Togon to marry his niece Bayan Khutugh.

When SeungNyang learns about Bayan’s plan to reimpose the concubine tribute, she asks Wang Yu to help her become the Empress, promising to help Koryo according to the request of Wang Yu’s father.

Eps. 40 to 41


Tangqishi and his men ambush SeungNyang as she continues to search for El Temur’s treasure. Meanwhile, Bayan and Empress Bayan Khutugh plan how to wrest control of the government from SeungNyang and her allies. But Tanasiri’s former attendants report Empress Bayan Khutugh’s every move to the Empress Dowager.

Conflict over SeungNyang arises between Wang Yu and Yon Feisu; later, the head of Eagle House orders Yon Feisu to help Tangqishi. Meanwhile, after Tal Tal confronts SeungNyang, Bayan orders him to find El Temur’s treasure by arresting all members of Eagle House.

SeungNyang solves the “Eight-Eight King” song and finds out where El Temur hid his treasure. She calls for Wang Yu and Yon Feisu and tells them where the treasure is. But Yon Feisu becomes jealous and contacts Bayan.

Bayan sends Tal Tal to the mining town to find El Temur’s treasure, but Tangqishi and Yom Byungsu reach the town first. At the town, Tal Tal learns about the “Eight-Eight King” song that the children have been singing.

Eps. 42 to 45


Despite the objections by SeungNyang, Tal Tal, and the governors, Togon and Bayan decide to launch their military campaign to regain Yuan’s former glory. Bayan orders Wang Yu to provide 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 horses as Koryo’s contribution to the campaign.

Five years later ...

The campaign ruins Yuan financially and militarily. The Empress Dowager thus urges Bayan to avoid the people’s anger and to shift the blame by using SeungNyang and Wang Yu as scapegoats. They send Prince Maha to Koryo to trick Wang Yu into going back to Yuan.

On the way back to Yuan, Prince Maha meets his uncle Tangqishi for the first time.

In the capital, Bayan tortures Wang Yu, hoping that he will implicate SeungNyang. But SeungNyang orders her political allies to petition Togon to release Wang Yu; she also asks Yon Feisu to fetch a Koryo minister who will testify for Wang Yu. Bayan and the Empress Dowager, however, send their men to kill the Koryo minister.

In his jealousy and drunken confusion, Togon orders the execution of Wang Yu and his men.

Later on, SeungNyang finds out what happened to Wang Yu along the road. Despite Tal Tal’s warning, she vows vengeance against Bayan.

After Togon refuses to name the Crown Prince, Bayan suggests a competition between Prince Maha and SeungNyang’s son Ayushiridara. SeungNyang meets Lady Yon in secret and tells her to reveal to the imperial court that Prince Maha isn’t Tanasiri’s son. But after the meeting, Lady Yon is caught by Empress Bayan Khutugh.

Eps. 46 to 47


Bang, Wang Yu’s faithful eunuch, finds out that Empress Bayan Khutugh wants to kill Prince Maha; he tells SeungNyang that Maha is her son with Wang Yu. SeungNyang rushes to the temple with her guards to rescue Maha.

After escaping from Tangqishi at the Yuan-Koryo border, Wang Yu returns to the Yuan capital; there, he finds out that Maha is his son.

The conflict intensifies between SeungNyang and Bayan, but despite the appeals of the imperial court, Togon remains loyal to Bayan. Using the imperial seal, Bayan dismisses all government officials who are loyal to SeungNyang and tortures them.

The leader of Eagle House senses that SeungNyang has fallen out of Togon’s favor, and so he sends Yom Byungsu with a letter for Bayan, suggesting that the empire’s coffers can be filled by confiscating assets from foreign and Koryo traders.

SeungNyang appeals to Tal Tal to stop Bayan’s tyranny and atrocities. When Tal Tal pleads that she stop her conflict with Bayan, SeungNyang says that she’s not a coward.

When Togon collapses, the Empress Dowager urges Bayan to arrest SeungNyang and her allies. But the imperial court hastily assembles and appoints SeungNyang as the Crown Prince’s Regent.

After finding out that Prince Maha is SeungNyang and Wang Yu’s son, Lady Soh goes to the palace to reveal everything to Togon.

Eps. 48 to 51


Despite Kolta’s protest, SeungNyang takes Togon to her pavilion. Later, upon learning that Maha died, she orders that deposed Empress Bayan Khutugh be executed by poison.

Urged on by the Empress Dowager, Bayan musters his men and storms SeungNyang’s pavilion. Confronted by SeungNyang and encouraged by Kolta, he raises his sword to kill SeungNyang.

Wang Yu plans to ruin Eagle House; he disguises himself as the leader of Eagle House and meets all of the group’s sub-leaders, including Tangqishi and Yom Byungsu.

When Togon refuses to choose between him and SeungNyang, Bayan kneels and vows allegiance to SeungNyang. Later, however, he orders Tal Tal to lure SeungNyang to a late-night meeting at the grand hall, where he will kill her.

Togon orders SeungNyang to perform the repentance ritual. Later, on Kolta’s advice, he banishes her to a temple to receive 100 lashes daily until she repents. Meanwhile, Tal Tal resigns from government service to lead a life of study and contemplation.

Kolta finds out that the Eagle House men have been selling off all their grains and other goods. At the market, other traders who have been hoarding their grains begin selling in panic as prices drop.

Tangqishi bribes the new commander of the imperial guards. Later, he attacks Togon and SeungNyang as they’re returning to the palace.

Togon finally learns that Maha is Wang Yu and SeungNyang’s son.

Because of Tal Tal and SeungNyang’s request, Togon restores Wang Yu as King of Koryo. But to protect SeungNyang and her secret about Maha, Togon betrays Wang Yu after SeungNyang’s investiture as the new Empress.

Kolta slowly poisons Togon, and Eagle House conspires with the Empress Dowager to enthrone a new Emperor.

SeungNyang uses her position as Empress to rule Koryo by proxy. She also stops the concubine tribute.

Some holes in the “Empress Ki” narrative


1. Why would the children in the mining town be singing the song that held the clues to the whereabouts of El Temur’s treasure? Even Tangqishi didn’t know where his father’s treasure was. Who taught them the song and why?

2. Why would Lady Yon steal the Empress’s ring of all things? (The ring became the evidence that exposed the Empress as the brains behind the assassination attempt on Prince Maha.)

3. Why didn’t Wang Yu kill the villain Yom Byungsu after Wang Yu defeated the Turks in Episode 13? Wang Yu sets General Bayan and Tal Tal free because he knew they could help him gain favor with El Temur and restore his throne. But Yom the Scum? He creates all kinds of trouble for Wang Yu and for SeungNyang until the very last episodes.

The same question could be asked about SeungNyang in Episode 33. Why didn’t she kill Tanasiri when she had the chance? Her previous plan (ensnaring Tanasiri on the issue of Lady Park’s pregnancy) had already failed. Episode 34 comes next, and Tanasiri is back to her old ways. Did nothing happen at all in Episode 33?

4. Why did Wang Yu show himself to Togon in Episode 47 as SeungNyang and Togon were visiting the people in the city?

5. Why would SeungNyang shed a tear for Yom the Scum as he lay dying in Episode 51? The show’s writers gave her great lines about “a perfect Koryo” but didn’t Yom try to kill her numerous times? Didn’t Yom shoot Prince Maha with a poisoned arrow?

6. To protect Empress Ki and her secret about Maha, Togon killed Lady Soh and Wang Yu. In Togon’s muddled mind, killing Wang Yu was reasonable. But when Tal Tal tells Empress Ki that Togon killed Wang Yu to protect her, she readily accepts Togon’s reason. Did she really think that Wang Yu would ever betray her secret about Maha?

Also, when Togon met Lady Soh, he commanded Kolta and the guards to stay away so that they would not be able to hear their conversation. But in the scene where Togon was about to kill Wang Yu, numerous guards were all around. Unless the guards were totally deaf, they heard Togon and Wang Yu’s conversation about Maha. But Togon didn’t kill these guards. Either that scene is badly written, badly directed, or both.

7. The major selling point of “Empress Ki” is the love triangle among SeungNyang, Wang Yu, and Togon. But Wang Yu is heroic from start to finish, while Togon is pathetic. Are we really supposed to believe that SeungNyang will fall in love with Togon? In real life, would anyone want to marry a guy like Togon?

(For emotionally and intellectually satisfying examples of a love triangle, there’s (a) Jumong, Daeso, and Sosuhno in “Jumong,”(b) Hwang Jung, Yu Seon Rak, and Baek Do-yang in “Jejoongwon,” and (c) Do Min-joon, Cheon Song-yi, and Lee Hwi-kyung in “My Love from the Star.”)

8. The narrative keeps going briskly only because some characters overhear what the others are talking about. For example, Lady Soh overhears from Eunuch Bang and Wang Yu that Maha is actually Wang Yu and SeungNyang’s son.

Also, the characters display an utter lack of peripheral vision about other characters being near them and being able to see what they’re doing or hear what they are talking about. If used once or twice, these dramatic devices work. But when used repeatedly, the story becomes unbelievable.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “Fiction is the willing suspension of disbelief.” Where would “Empress Ki” be without Coleridge?

Reasons to watch “Empress Ki”


1. Excellent acting by Ha Ji-won as “SeungNyang,” Joo Jin-mo as “Wang Yu,” Ji Chang-wook as “Togon,” and Baek Jin-hee as “Tanasiri.”

(Baek Jin-hee has a new drama series titled “Pride and Prejudice.” I love Jane Austen; I have to check out what Baek Jin-hee’s new drama is all about.)

2. Great action scenes, especially in Episode 33; the sword fighting sequences are much better than that of “Jumong.”

3. Outstanding production values

4. Excellent cinematography

Photography lessons from “Empress Ki”




Lessons: natural frame, symmetry, rule of thirds. Note: This scene from Episode 4, if I remember correctly, foreshadows SeungNyang’s series-long conflict in choosing between Wang Yu and Togon, between Koryo and Yuan.



Lessons: natural frame, diagonal line, line of direction





Lesson: rack focus (common technique used in K-dramas; in the first picture, SeungNyang is in focus while Eunuch Bang is out of focus; in the second picture, SeungNyang is out of focus while Eunuch Bang is in focus)



Lessons: background blur, compressed perspective


Lesson: background blur


Lessons: direction of light, out-of-focus highlights


Lesson: establishing shot


Lessons: foreground and background blur, compressed perspective


Lessons: foreground and background blur, partial (foreground) frame


Lessons: foreground and background blur


Lesson: high key lighting, bokeh (aesthetic quality of blurred areas of a photograph)


Lessons: line of direction, background blur, bokeh (aesthetic quality of blurred areas of a photograph)


Lessons: line of direction, background blur


Lessons: linear perspective, foreground blur


Lessons: natural frame, background frame, partial (foreground) frame


Lesson: shallow depth of field (notice SeungNyang’s right eye, from our point of view, is in focus while her left eye is out of focus)


Lesson: symmetry


Lesson: symmetry


Lessons: direction of light, warm and cool colors



Lessons: sidelighting, out of focus highlights



Lesson: sidelighting



Lesson: background blur, shallow depth of field. Note: In this scene, Empress Tanasiri is about to be hanged; she looks back at Wang Yu after telling him not to witness her execution.



Lesson: high angle shot



Lesson: natural frame in the foreground



Lesson: natural frame in the foreground



Lesson: low angle shot. Note: In this scene (Episode 50, I think), Tangqishi reveals to Togon that Maha is Empress Ki and Wang Yu’s son.



Lesson: natural frame in the background



Lessons: low angle shot, diagonal lines. Note: SeungNyang finds Prince Togon hiding in a box; Episode3 or 4, I think.



Lessons: natural frame, selective or differential focusing, shallow depth of field, center the dominant eye