First Look: Jang Yeong Sil

Strip Jumong of his bow and arrow and we're left with Song Il Gook headlining another historical Korean drama as the astronomer Jang Yeong Sil 장영실. Though I have to admit that plot-wise, the story about an accomplished scientist doesn't even come close to Jumong in terms of appeal.

Song Il Gook in epic historical kdrama Jang Yeong Sil

Episode 1 opens with a frail and aged Jang Yeong Sil (Song Il Gook) trudging across the field in anticipation of a solar eclipse. Given that the drama begins with a preview of the end, I'm just glad that the protagonist survived long enough to reach such a ripe age; as is NOT the case in so many dramas. 

scene from ep1 of historical kdrama Yang Yeong Sil starring Song Il Gook from Jumong

Flashback to a young Jang Yeong Sil who is but a wide-eyed slave boy thirsty for knowledge and eager to make a difference. His earnest curiosity repeatedly gets him in trouble and sets the stage for an impending love triangle as he earns the wrath of the young master (his cousin by blood) and gains a friend in Princess So Hyun. 

Jang Yeong Sil was almost being beaten to death at one point if not for his father's intervention. The father-son dynamic is unexpectedly heartwarming as Jang Yeong Sil's father is a man of noble birth, wise beyond his time and uninhibited by the constraints of social class, thereby openly accepting his son Yeong Sil despite the fact that Yeong Sil is born of a gisaeng (an entertainer akin to a prostitute). 

scene from ep1 of historical kdrama Yang Yeong Sil starring Song Il Gook from Jumong

The resemblance between the two is undeniable and their bond instantaneously made stronger by a common penchant for astronomy. Unfortunately, his father's attempts at including Yeong Sil only ostracizes him further, creating discord among the Jang household. 

The episode ultimately ends in a tearful but joyous moment when Yeong Sil and his father catch a spectacular view of the elusive solar eclipse yet with a sense of foreboding, I go on to the next episode.

First Impressions: Yep, things pretty much hit the fan from episode 2, thanks to a certain someone who left. With all that talent and no opportunity due to his lowly stature, Jang Yeong Sil is relegated to live life as a slave and his ill-fated connection to the Jang household only puts a bigger target on his back. Needless to say, it paints a very dreary picture for our hero and I predict a long and difficult journey ahead.

scene from ep1 of historical kdrama Yang Yeong Sil starring Song Il Gook from Jumong

The historical period is an interesting one revolving around Lee Bang Won's rule as King Taejong (coincidentally the main character from Six Flying Dragons). Yet instead of political conspiracies comes a focus on the importance of astrology in the Joseon era where the palace officials frantically chase a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse and the like. There has been an enormous amount of stargazing, calculating longitudes and latitudes and frankly, it's a bit hard to rally behind the supposed frenzy over the stars and the moon.

Song Il Gook appears towards the end of episode 2 and he captures the aura of crazed overly-passionate genius quite well but a 44-year old actor playing a teenager has got to come across as cringe-worthy on some level

If you like epic historical dramas coupled with science lessons, you might like this though it reminds me of a traditional k-drama that parents tend to watch - no flower boys and plenty of old men (ahem veteran actors), which should translate to an emotionally satisfying journey provided the writing stays strong. 

For synopsis, cast and ratings, see 2016 kdrama listing.

scene from ep1 of historical kdrama Yang Yeong Sil starring Song Il Gook from Jumong


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