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 minimal spoilers and 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 trying to escape, SeungNyang’s mother is killed by Tangqishi, son of the Yuan Regent, El Temur. Before dying, SeungNyang’s mother tells her that her father is still alive and gives her the ring that her father will recognize. SeungNyang escapes successfully and, from then on, pretends to be a boy to protect herself.

SeungNyang learns archery, sword fighting, and other military skills with the help of Wang Ko, the brother of the King of Koryo. But SeungNyang 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, SeungNyang helps him to uncover Wang Ko’s salt-trafficking activities. About to be exposed, Wang Ko urges 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. But Commander Ki Ja-oh gets killed, and Wang Yu is framed as the mastermind of the assassination attempt.

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. 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. She fails in her last attempt because she is stopped by Lady Park, Togon’s concubine from Koryo.

Togon also learns, after some confusion, that SeungNyang is a woman. He becomes enamored with her and neglects Empress Tanasiri, El Temur’s daughter.

Eps. 13 to 20


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 free.

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 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 devise ways (including catching rats) to enrage El Temur, to bring dissension within his group, and to make known to the court and the public the existence of the Blood Vow. But El Temur threatens Togon and orders him to forget about the Blood Vow.

Battle lines are drawn between El Temur, on one side, and the Empress Dowager and Togon, on the other. But unknown to the http://www.dramacool.com/drama-detail/empress-kiEmpress Dowager, Togon is also working with Bayan and Tal Tal. Working with all sides, Wang Yu increases the intrigues and conflicts, but later on, 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. SeungNyang wants to use the will against El Temur and his family for her revenge and to help Wang Yu regain his throne.

SeungNyang becomes pregnant and hides for several months in a secret room in the palace. She survives through the help of her Koryo friends — Dokman (the Empress Dowager’s head eunuch), Lady Noh, Lady Park, and some kitchen maids. She finally escapes from the palace, but Lady Park, Lady Noh, and her kitchen maid-friends are massacred on Tanasiri’s order.

SeungNyang escapes from the massacre and gives birth prematurely in a cave. Later on, she is shot with an arrow by Yom Byungsu, and her baby gets thrown into the river below. She buries her friends, and unable to find her baby in the river, she accepts reluctantly that her baby died.

SeungNyang and former eunuch Jokho are captured by slave traders from the secretive group Eagle House. The group, with help from El Temur, controls business in Yuan through counterfeiting and other criminal activities. Through Yon Feisu, the group’s counterfeit vouchers bring widespread suffering in Koryo.

http://www.dramacool.es/drama-detail/empress-kiUpon learning that SeungNyang and Lady Park died because of Tanasiri, Togon collapses and loses his ability to speak.

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

Eps. 24 to 31


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.

http://www.dramacool.es/drama-detail/empress-kiThe Empress Dowager is recalled to the palace to oversee the selection of royal consorts, with candidates coming from the different provinces. Despite Tanasiri’s schemes and bullying from the other candidates, SeungNyang becomes a royal consort.

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 now a royal consort. 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. But 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 led her on romantically, Tanasiri decides to kill him too.

Together with some imperial guards, Tanasiri attacks SeungNyang. Caught in a trap later on, SeungNyang is saved by Togon from being struck by poisoned arrows. As they’re escaping through the woods, SeungNyang and Togon are pursued by other 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 Dowager Empress and the imperial court investigate El Temur and his clan for their role in the assassination attempt. Tanasiri doesn’t tell her father about how Wang Yu betrayed them, and so, El Temur asks Wang Yu to testify on their behalf.

Tangqishi tells 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 SeungNyang to miscarry, Tanasiri uses the “Maledictum Curse.”

El Temur appoints Wang Yu as commander of the city garrison. When the soldiers quit rather than serve him, Wang Yu takes in beggars and other men who are wandering aimlessly on the streets. He inspires and gives them hope. Several months later, SeungNyang gives birth to her son Ayushiridara, while Wang Yu finally has a small army of a hundred, well-trained soldiers.

Using the Blood Vow, SeungNyang helps Togon plot El Temur’s overthrow through 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 into marrying his niece Bayan Khutugh. He also persuades Togon to undertake a military quest to restore Yuan’s former glory. These things start SeungNyang’s feud with Bayan and the Empress Dowager.

Eps. 40 to 45


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 You 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.

SeungNyang learns about Bayan’s plans not only to annex Koryo but also to reimpose the concubine tribute. She asks Wang Yu to help her become Empress, promising to help Koryo according to the request of Wang Yu’s father.

Five years later ...

Bayan’s military quest ruins Yuan financially and militarily. To shift the blame, he uses Wang Yu as a scapegoat; he also imposes a trade embargo against Koryo. To trick Wang Yu into going back to Yuan, he uses Prince Maha.

Wang Yu is deposed again as king because he allegedly helped Yuan’s enemies. Later, Bayan tortures Wang Yu, hoping that he will implicate SeungNyang. 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 on the charges against Wang Yu. But Bayan and the Empress Dowager send their assassins against the Koryo minister.

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

Later, after finding out what happened to Wang Yu along the road and despite Tal Tal’s warning, SeungNyang 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 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 goes to rescue Maha, but he is shot with a poisoned arrow.

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 she finds out that 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.

Eagle House is financially ruined by Wang Yu and his men. Through Tal Tal and unknown to Togon and SeungNyang, Wang Yu gives the grain that he took from Eagle House to help feed the starving Yuan people.

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



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





Lessons: rack focus, selective or differential focusing. Note: This scene shows Empress Ki leaving after confronting Wang Yu; in the background, Bang, the faithful eunuch, is torn about revealing that Maha is Empress Ki’s son.



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.