The Queen of Asian Drama is Back with more Irreverent Reviews and Snarky Commentary.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Golden Empire

Empire of Gold / 황금의 제국 / Wanggeum-ui Jegook

2013 SBS K-dorama about a Chaebol family, their legacy, greed, and influential power over all else in their tiny corner of the world. It's about a poor guy from a poor section of that world who is down-trodden, brow-beaten, and disillusioned by it all. After losing his father to that corrupt system, he vows revenge.

Another Korean rehash of another Korean over-borrowed genre that played out precisely as had all of the others written, directed, and starred the same way.

I gave it three out of five because despite a lot of flaws, it actually intrigued me. I'll admit to being riveted for most of the 24 episodes. At least until about episode 18, when I began to realize and feel like I'd been there before, I'd seen this thing played out already, I'd heard enough of the same-old, same-old dialogue being reiterated again and again, and that the outcome for everyone involved was going to be entirely too predictable.

Then I wasn't as enthralled anymore.

Yet, and still, the star of the show, Go Soo as Jang Tae joo, had my attention start to finish, and even if I knew precisely what was going to happen (and, it did) he helped keep me interested, entertained, and drawn to him.

Go Soo as Jang Tae joo

Another star, Son Hyun joo as Choi Min jae, did nearly as fantastic a job of keeping me into the drama and rooting for him some of the time.

Son Hyun joo as Choi Min jae

The synopsis was misleading (again), too. Jang Tae joo DOESN'T fall for the leading lady of this Utopian household. I'll apologize if you think that might be a spoiler. For me, it was simply a lie that annoyed and upset me but not enough to keep me from watching the show.

Zero romance, too. I mean zero, and for 24 episodes, this isn't a good thing. A majority of the scenes took place either at the dining table of the Chaebol house or inside the office of the Empire. 24 episodes, a little more than an hour long each, and nothing but bickering, conniving, scheming, back-biting, hate-spewing dialogue start to finish.

For me, the most disheartening thing about these Korean (and Japanese) dramas that concentrate on one aspect of life and run with it for the duration, is the lack of human emotion, predictable behavior, and common-sense psychology involved in human contact.

This story was supposed to have spanned 2 decades, too. From 1993 to 2013.

Can you imagine living 20 years of your life this way? I certainly can't.

Sure, there were scenes that strayed from the mundane usual, like Min jae visiting his ill wife in the hospital, and Tae joo spouting off one-sided dialogue about his future plans to the ever-faithful Jang Shin yong as Yoon Sul hee, but even then it was dialogue and nothing emotional or embracing.

Cold, stiff, one-dimensional characters start to finish that leave me feeling as cold and uninterested in their story as I did for their plights.

No one touches, embraces, shows compassion, or even desire in these things, and there is nothing romantic about it to keep me involved emotionally.

The leading lady in this one, Lee Yo won as Choi Seo yoon, didn't interest me, either. Not that she didn't do a good job of acting, but that she remained as one-dimensional throughout, never swaying, varying her opinion, growing or learning from her experience.

There was the irritating time conundrum in this one, too.

If what she says is true, then she was 40 when she entered the house as a pregnant widow. Not entirely a stretch of the imagination, but ... if everyone in the household was under the misguided notion (for 30 years) that her son was their real brother, then it isn't likely she entered that house with a child on her arm or at her side.

If what she said is true, then that means Seo yoon is 40 as well. Which would mean that at the start of the show, she couldn't possibly have graduated college and garnered a college-level teaching position. Not at age 20, anyway. She'd have been more like 28, going on 30 at that time, which would make her 48 going on 50 at the end.

At the start, the stepmother had a 28 year-old college-bound, college-grad, not sure son. At the end, she said she was now 70. Do the math. The son was born 27 years ago. That would actually make him 28, - 29 is a stretch - and after 30 years, how old would he be then? Yet, he remained perpetually 27-28-29 whatever throughout the story.

These 20-somethings at the start would become 40-something's at the end, right? So, what would prompt Sul hee to want to remain by Tae joo's side all this time? What would make either supposed lover still talk about love, marriage, kids, and a sea-side home in the Philippines?

Tae joo referred to her as Sunbae, which would make her older than him. Which would mean she, too, was in her late 20's early 30's at the start and ended up in her late 40's early 50's at the end.

She went to jail for seven years, and after seven years ... was that supposed to be the leap from 2003 to 2013? That's ten years, or more depending on when you factor in her fall from grace and eventual incarceration to her final release.

The fashion strayed as well. Nail polish, hand bags, shoes, hairstyles, short-shorts, etc. that conflicted greatly with the era in which it was being worn or used - at whim and on occasion. Though there were also times when the characters wore the same thing over and over again ... argh.

The only thing that remained constant were the clunky, old hand phones that suddenly became 2013 models while everyone in this story stayed relatively the same as they had from the supposed 20 years earlier variety of themselves.

They never once used a computer, a laptop, or a tablet and received all of their bad news (insider trading, corruption, scandal, and even business slumps) via the news on 2013 big-screen, flat-screen televisions start to finish.

Do empires learn about their own stock slides, employee scandals, and consumer slumps via the news?

Crawling into bed in your street clothes.

Don't get that and never will.

How clean is clean over there anyhow? And, by clean I mean day's worth of grime collected on the body as well as ratings, time-slot, censorship clean via the broadcast system in that country.

I'm positive that before Korean's crawl into bed each night, that they at least shower but definitely change into something more comfortable, like pajamas, sweats, or a t-shirt, if not go nude prior to falling asleep.

Tae joo was dirt-poor at the beginning, and then he suddenly had 2 billion won in his hands. If anyone in this world knows the value of money, it's the poorest of the poor. Metaphor and symbolism aside, when he went to the pier and tossed two handful's of the stuff into the air, it made me furious.

Stop with the unbelievable crap already. It has no meaning, no lasting or redeeming qualities to it, and it makes no sense. A rich guy who is drunk or angry will do something that stupid, but not someone in Tae joo's shoes.

I liked and rooted for the seemingly budding friendship that sprang up between Tae joo and Min jae. I didn't like or feel any chemistry between Tae joo and Seo yoon.

Seo yoon abused Tae joo and then used him in a most cruel way but constantly worked against him - maybe put her faith in him once or twice - but never even bothered to explore her feminine side. Is she a robot?

After experiencing the things she and her family experienced, what was the actual lure of that responsibility supposed to be, anyway?

So she started out wanting to be a teacher and succeeded before her unaffectionate and cold father ended up relying on her for help in his waning years. Did she ever, really have a life? Get out and explore it on occasion? Meet new people and knock back a few cold ones with friends from her past? Was she really that stupid to believe her spiteful, wounded siblings would eventually see things her way?

She turned out to be as selfish and self-absorbed as the rest.

Actually, dear, he walked into Sung Jin Group because you were desperate for his help. Remember? The 2 Billion Won you needed in order to save your father's flagging empire? My, oh, my, how quickly we forget, eh?

Like I said: one-track, one-dimensional characters start to finish.

The reviews were quite favorable at, too. Poignant BS that nearly sounded excess in critique and made me laugh. For me, there was nothing profound, believable, or even outstanding about this drama other than the two male leads did a great job in their stereotypical and over-done roles.

Sorry ... man and woman living together for 30 years without contact is just too much for me to swallow, much less believe.

Or, was it four? Four years that turned into 30 or maybe seven years? I'm so confused, I don't know anything anymore.

I despised the ending, too.


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