So I tuned in for Hwajung‘s first two episodes, mainly because of having seen The King’s Face. I think having watched The King’s Face has helped me a lot in watching Hwajung because it’s almost like a continuation, but with older actors. Seo In Gook did a fine job as a younger Gwanghae, and, as a nice surprise, Cha Seung Won continued that same character, but gave him a darker spin.
The first two episodes provide a base to show why there is such contention over the throne. King Seonjo is getting old and sicker by the day, and he favors his newborn son Prince Yeongchang to be the crown prince instead of the older Gwanghae. Eldest son Imhae is a no-go already because he’s practically a lout. Gwanghae is really smart, knowing how to maneuver among the corruption and how to politic. However because he’s brighter than his father, Seonjo views him as the enemy and doesn’t want to give him the crown.
It gets to the point where Gwanghae is really frustrated, even though he’s lived through all the condescension from others in the court. So when Seonjo dies, poisoned by his faithful court lady Kim Gae Shi (which I feel is a nod to Kim Ga Hee (Jo Yeon Hee‘s character) in The King’s Face), Gwanghae doesn’t help in giving him water to drink. Not that that would have helped him survive anyways. Seonjo dies, and Queen Inmok (who’s far meeker and more motherly than the Inmok in The King’s Face) fears for her children’s safety.
Princess Jungmyung is really close to her brother Gwanghae, but at the same time she gets prophetic dreams of bloodshed and fears for her brother Yeongchang’s life. However since children’s dreams are just dreams, and Inmok realizes that Gwanghae may be a better suited king who will protect her children, the queen allows Gwanghae to assume the throne.
Gwanghae, the entire time, is the voice of reason and always trying to stay good despite being surrounded by corrupt politicians. There are some who want to usurp him and put Yeongchang on the throne, and there are some who are just greedy for power. So when he discovers that Imhae was arrested for treason, he wants to believe his brother is good. Except… Imhae admits to plotting treason. So what now!? At the same time, Inmok discovers the bracelet that belongs to a former great seer (or face reader?) who prophesied that only Yeongchang’s true bloodline will inherit the throne. And here she was thinking that Gwanghae’s act of mercy towards Imhae meant that he’d take care of Yeongchang!
So much bloodshed is to be had in this drama as Gwanghae transitions from being a good king to one who is cornered and must pay for the actions of his corrupt officials. It’s suggested that one of his ambitious officials will kill Imhae for treason, which will then make Inmok fear for Yeongchang’s life. And if she starts a coup, then Gwanghae will have no choice but to kill his baby brother.
I am really excited about the show, but at the same time I’m really apprehensive. The plot summary of the show already says that Gwanghae will be evil and hunt down Jungmyung, who will plot revenge for her baby brother. It’s a dark road ahead for Gwanghae, and something that’s hard for to swallow. Perhaps because I saw what a good king he was trying to be in The King’s Face, and I understood very quickly what a good king he was trying to be in Hwajung that I have so much sympathy for the character. I want to like him so much, and I don’t want him to be stained by too many sins. I want him to get out of the situation unscathed, or at least be able to prove to others that he didn’t commit the crimes. However that’s not what Hwajung is going to be about.
Cha Seung Won is amazing in this drama though because of his ability to gather so much sympathy and show his wisdom through his eyes in just two episodes. Even if you didn’t see any historical about Gwanghae before that portrays the king in a good light, Cha Seung Won can convince you to be on his side through this fight. He is so good at making you trust him, you wonder why no one else is trusting him.
The kids cast in this drama are really good – bright, cute, but seemingly mature for their age. There’s a side story involving Seo Kang Joon and Han Joo Wan‘s characters (although they’re played by kid actors now) that feels very disconnected from the overall arc. However they’ll play a bigger role when Jungmyung is played by Lee Yeon Hee, so I think it’s also wise to introduce them early and let the audience get to know them better.
I want to keep watching because of Cha Seung Won and because I want to see how Gwanghae will be portrayed. If his descent into becoming the main antagonist is believable, I may keep watching. But I would love it if he becomes an unwilling antagonist – one whom you know is doing wrong but at the same time you understand where he’s coming from.