This is a episode commentary. It is intended for someone who has seen this episode, and will contain episode spoilers.

Jewel in the Palace: Episode 1 Commentary

Collage of Jewel in the Palace screenshots.

Back when I bought Janggeum’s Dream, I did so because I remembered being recommended the series at one time. The only thing I knew about it was that it featured “a young girl who wanted to be a cook in a castle” or something like that. When it comes to Jewel in the Palace, I was again going in not knowing what I’d be seeing. The difference this time is that I had a background of the characters from the animated spin-off. I put my trust in the animation that the original drama would be worth watching. Furthermore, by watching Jewel in the Palace, I hope to have any unresolved information in the first series of the animation to be revealed. Actually, the only thing I’m still in the dark on is what happened to Janggeum’s mother, and what the origin behind Janggeum’s purse is, and there’s no guarantee the purse will even appear in the original drama.

The first DVD has a “Character Introductions” section, which should introduce me to the spellings used for characters names in the subtitles. This shows me “Suh Jang-Geum” (portrayed by actress Lee Young-Ae), “Min Jung-Ho” (actor Ji Jin-Hee), “Choi Keum-Young” (actress Hong Lina), and finally, “King Jungjong” (Lim Ho).

The Korean title of this series is “대장금”, or The Great Jang-Geum, so it’s interesting how Jang-Geum is basically absent from the first episode. Instead, the story has been set up for the current king’s ascent to throne, and the wheels of plot are in motion with the sentence of poisoning to the queen. Jang-Geum’s parents are brought together from two different backgrounds, and the young Court Lady Choi is learning from her aunt the first lessons a member of the Choi family must know, lessons much more involved and villainous than those those learned by young Court Lady Choi’s niece in the animated series. Speaking of the Choi family and villianousness, they are already being set up as workers for the villians of the series, or perhaps they work on their own.

Because all the young court ladies wear the same outfit and have the same hair-style, I’m having trouble following who’s who. Choi has hair go down in the front of her ears, but Myeong’s friend, Baek-Yeong, has her hair on the sides combed back, going behind the ears. If I’ve followed the episode right, Choi was not certain about the actions her round-faced aunt has had carried out. It was the actions of Myeong’s friend making the antidote, however, which allowed Myeong to survive long enough to be saved. Myeong’s friend had to take part in the poisoning, so she did the only thing she felt she could do: she tried to save Myeong. It may very well be because of Myeong that the friend was not poisoned as well, for she also knew too much.

One of the reasons I write episode commentaries is because writing things down makes them easier to remember. Or, failing remembering, I can always refer to my posts as notes. The notes of this episode are the clues to the second and third women the soldier, Jang-Geum’s father, is to meet. The words “cheon” (creek) and”hyeol” (head) referred to Myeong, his future wife. She has been saved by him, but will also die because of him. And then “yeo” (woman) and “ja” (son, child) for the third woman (whom the soldier will be killed by or because of). Assuming the woman and son are not a reference to the deposed queen and her son (now the king), as the queen was the first woman already, then it’s left wide open who the woman may be.

On a positive note, one thing that’s finally answered for me is what the character I refer to as “Court Granny” (with all due respect) says in one of the second series episodes of the animated series. It sounded like Court Granny was calling out “Jungjong Mama” when the visiting young royal woman is poisoned. The same thing is heard in this episode, when the queen drinks the poison, and it’s translated as “Your majesty.” That’s one mystery solved for me! Maybe I shouldn’t be so eager-sounding whenever a majesty is poisoned, though…

Back to the episode, I’m not sure if I’d take any interest in this series had I seen this episode on television without having seen the animated series beforehand. The outfits and customs and ceremony and music and prepared foods did all attract my attention, as these are both different from what I’m familiar with culturally, and because they are relics of a time long since gone. Knowing what I do about the characters from the toned-down animated series, however, I am eager to see what becomes of Jang-Geum’s parents. I want to see how Jang-Geum comes to be a court lady in the palace. I want to see her meeting with Keum-Young. I want to see her first interactions with Jung-Ho. And I want to see if I can avoid accidentally writting Janggeum, Geumyeong, and Jeong-ho. And most of all, I eagerly await seeing if Yeonsaeng’s character will be equally adorable as her animated counterpart. (Or, will her name be spelled Young-Sang here? I don’t think I’d like that spelling as much.)

The circumstances behind Jang-Geum’s existence are interesting. If it weren’t for the queen being sentenced to poisoning, and then the wise man’s words, Jang-Geum’s father may have married someone else, much earlier in his life. Looking at the future rivalry of Jang-Geum and Keum-young, Jang-Geum would never have been born had Myeong not watched over her peer Choi’s actions, and spoke of them to Choi’s aunt. Now the younger Choi’s own niece will have a powerful rival, both in food preparation and in love, because of the elder Choi’s actions. That’s some serious case of “what goes around comes around”.

The papers of the three women Jang-Geum’s father would meet to have his fate set continues to play through my mind, probably because I wonder if the third person will be someone I know of from the animated series. Who from the animated series is a woman with a son? There is Dong-I’s mother and there is the queen dowager. No offense to Dong-I’s mother, but the combined hanja for the third woman reads “good”. A “good woman” fits the queen dowager perfectly, but does she have any relation to the present king? Will the present king show to be Jungjong’s father? How can Myeong die because of her husband’s actions, and what punishment might a “good woman” bestow on the man which will result in his death?

Something that bothered me about the animated series is how Janggeum talked so highly of her mother. Or, rather, how she only talked about her mother. Or, more precisely, how she never once mentions her father. She has two rings, and at least one of them symbolizes her mother. Had the series taken place in the United States, I would figure the rings were Janggeum’s parents’ wedding rings. Why does Janggeum not speak of her father in the animated series, in the first episode, when she speaks to her mother by speaking to the rings after Dong-I’s father relays Lady Han’s message? Will the next episode of Jewel in the Palace set the stage for Jang-Geum to look up to her mother, but put her father out of her mind?

Back when I started watching Janggeum’s Dream, and Janggeum talked of her mother being a good cook, but I never imagined she herself had been a royal court lady. This raises the question of whether Janggeum knew her mother had held the same position that Janggeum attains.

Although this first episode was difficult to follow due to all the same-looking people (again, same hair styles, same outfits), I think I’ll do better in following the next episode. I’m starting to watch little differences in hair styles, and later episodes should round out with a common cast of characters. Keep in mind, I’m the person who initially confused Jeong-ho and Suro in the animated series. There, Jeong-ho has black hair, blue eyes, and a deepish voice with a soft and quiet demeanor. Suro, on the other hand, appeared with brown hair and red eyes, and he was loud and outgoing.

It wasn’t until I re-watched a few scenes when I really felt I understood most of the episode. The only place I’m lost is during the archery game at the beginning. Why does the arrow break, and why is the archer’s hand bloodied? He pulled the arrow back with his right hand, so the blade did not touch his hand. It came from the bowstring. Did he rub his hand against the string, causing the bleeding, without his feeling pain from the wound? Just who was that archer, anyway?

Two concerns of mine with the subtitling of the episode are 1) the lack of subtitles for on-screen text when a character is first introduced (surely the text would have helped me keep track of who was who), and 2) the lack of subtitles for the next episode preview. The latter isn’t too bad for me, though. I’ve found from watching Haibane-Renmei that I like not knowing what the next episode will bring. There are no expectations, and there also no spoilers.

One episode down, 53 left to go. The names in this commentary caused havoc for my text editor’s spell checker.

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