Queen Seon Deok Part 1

Also known as Queen Seon Duk, depending on how you romanize it, I guess. But the wiki entry is written as Queen Seon Deok, so that I shall follow (despite having one extra letter to type – who said life was easy? :D).

This, is also the reason I abandoned Momo Love (albeit temporarily). I was going on a youtube frenzy of IU, when I came across a song she sang for Queen Seon Deok’s Ost, Windflower. I was completely blown away by the song – it was so sad, so beautiful, especially with IU’s voice. The video that started it all: credits to ppultaeangyeong.

The visuals that came with the amazing song was from Queen Seon Deok, so I thought I’d go onto dramawiki and see what it really was about and the rest is basically history.

Before I go on, please be warned that there are major spoilers ahead!

Queen Seon Deok chronicles the life of the first female ruler of Silla, which was an ancient kingdom of Korea. But if you are a history fanatic and have ounces of knowledge on the history of Silla and such things, the series is only *based on* Queen Seon Deok’s life, it doesn’t claim to be an accurate representation or such.

If you get bored easily, I’d suggest skipping the first 2-3 episodes at least, because it’s mostly about prophecies and the backstory of the Queen. But if you’re a sucker for detail like me, then watch it all! Would come in handy in to quickly understand some of the situations that happen later on.

Queen Seon Deok was born as Deokman, twin sister of Cheonmyeong. Back then (lol) there was a saying in Silla that when twins are born to the royal family, the royal bloodline will run out of male heirs. In ancient times we all know (or maybe not) that bloodlines are important, and in Silla only the seongeols (the royal bloodline) are worthy of the throne. So when the twin girls were born, the King Jinpyeong tried to hide the truth by sending Deokman away with his loyal servant, Sohwa.

Deokman grows up under the nurture of Sohwa, but she returns to Silla disguised as a boy, in search of her true identity. She overcomes loads and loads and loads (literally truckloads) of hardships and obstacles. She also meets Cheonmyeong and becomes her ally. They were initially unaware of their relationship but Deokman’s identity is eventually revealed.

As the battle for power in Silla grew, Cheonmyeong was eventually killed by a minion of Mishil, who is the main villain of the series. Lady Mishil is just an ordinary woman who used to be a concubine of Jinji, King Jinpyeong’s uncle. She was also the concubine of King Jinheung, who is Jinpyeong’s grandfather and Jinji’s father, which is kind of ewww, if you think about it properly.

Weird relationships aside, Mishil was crazily influential and power hungry. Deokman, who was broken up over her sister’s death, decides to return to put a claim to the throne herself – as a ruler/queen, which was something that was unheard of back then. She puts away her personal feelings for Kim Yushin and instead they work together to take down Mishil, step by step. And that basically is the core of the 62 episodes – Deokman’s struggles and the battle against Mishil and her minions.

Now, time to do some character breakdowns and such, because I love the characters in this story. The two main leads are female, and they’re both really strong characters in different ways. They’re portrayed very well too, and even the supporting cast are made up of really good actors. The events seem secondary to the amazing character development, but for me, the pace of the series was pretty okay.

There are so many characters in this series that it sometimes is impossible to remember their names or how they’re related, so please refer to this handy little relationship chart from dramawiki (I did not hotlink because I’m a good girl, okay?) because I have done that several times myself, it’s confusing!

Mishil
Although the series is named after Deokman’s character, I can’t help but feel that Mishil is the main character. It’s not because of the actresses’ acting skills, because Lee Yowon’s acting is on par with Go Hyunjung’s. It’s just that Mishil is the driving force beneath practically everything that happens in the series. Really, everything in the series can be traced back to her. Even after she died her presence was still felt, she had some sort of legacy or trail of influence.

She is a really smart woman who embraces power. Her ultimate dream is to become the Queen. In her case, she actually just wanted to be the King’s wife, the First Lady, that sort of thing. It’s in essence different from what Deokman wanted to be – a ruler. Anyway, since King Jinheung’s reign Mishil has been lusting for the spot of the Queen, but Jinheung realised her ambition and her greed. Before he was able to have her killed, he died of a heart attack (or Mishil would have poisoned him anyway).

Mishil then went against Jinheung’s dying wishes and had Jinji ascend the throne instead of Jinpyeong as was intended. Because she had this little affair with Jinji and thought he’d be nice enough to make her Queen. But Jinji sucked as a King and wouldn’t do as Mishil wished, so she booted him off and made young Jinpyeong the King instead. Jinpyeong feared Mishil and was more or less a puppet of hers, but she also wanted him to make her the Queen, however wrong it may sound to you, but apparently the thousands of people in Silla did not find it too odd.

Mishil’s efforts to become Queen included sending people to kill Lady Maya, Jinpyeong’s pregnant wife at that time. Maya was saved by Munno, who is the legendary leader of the Hwarang (young warriors I guess?) Mishil was once again thwarted, but she is a persistent woman.

Just to add a bit to the ‘eww’ factor was that Mishil herself had a husband, Sejong, who is a jingeol (one rank below the seongeols, so technically he’s a rich, powerful man still). She also had a lover, Seolwon, who has undying faith in her. She has a son with each man, and the 5 of them make up a really weird family. Eww.

Reasons to love/fear Mishil:

  • She is intimidating as hell. Don’t think you can stare her down without peeing in your pants. Case-in-point: Deokman always seems like she’s about to wither in fear when speaking to Mishil, before she embraced her newfound power and status as princess.
  • She uses her womanly ways to her benefit all the time – she knows how to treat men, that’s why she is able to have both Sejong and Seolwon all wrapped around her little finger. Heck, they practically worship her, which I don’t find surprising, given her poise.
  • She is gracious even in defeat. She comes head-to-head with Cheonmyeong and Deokman many times, and she doesn’t win all the time but she bounces back quickly to plan her next move. Cool as a cucumber, she is.
  • She is highly intelligent. She reads people really well, even Deokman seems like an open book to her. (Which is kind of true, because Deokman was less confident/experienced earlier in the series)
  • She has really expressive eyebrows. They add to the intimidating factor and makes her acting a whole lot more interesting to watch.
  • She recognises and values talent. She knows what capabilities people have and she tries to get them on her side, like how she tries to coerce Yushin and his father to become her allies, even going all out as to forcing them over, but well, Yushin is a hard rock to break. Literally and metaphorically.
  • She can tell the future! She can even manipulate the weather! Well, not exactly, but she is a master of manipulation, and she is far-sighted enough to see through a lot of things, which explains how she gained influence steadily over the years.

I felt that she had an appropriate ending, gracious yet she did not completely surrender to Deokman. Even as she was dying she managed to sow the seeds of discord that eventually left Bidam (her son with King Jinji whom she abandoned) to betray Deokman. Well played!

Deokman
Now I must sound like a complete Mishil fan, but it’s hard to not root for Deokman. We pretty much know how she lived her entire life, how difficult she had it, how little she had to happy for, how alone she felt in her later years. In the start, you’ll cheer on for her as she fights to merely survive. She gets herself into a lot of troublesome life-and-death situations even when she was young, although not always due to her fault. But she’s a fighter right from the start and exhibits some gritty leadership qualities.

She was initially raised in the desert in ancient China, but Mishil’s guard Chilsuk was sent to hunt her and her foster mother down. Chilsuk went after them for 15 years (he’s got one helluva determination) to bring Deokman back to Silla. Mishil had wanted Deokman back alive, so that she could use Deokman to threaten/blackmail the King, to reveal his cover-up. Deokman and Sohwa try to escape from Chilsuk, but are separated in the desert after a sandstorm.

Thinking her (foster) mother was dead, Deokman sadly leaves to Silla to search for Munno, who is the only clue she has to her true identity. Under the advice of her worldly friend she disguises herself as a boy. She arrives at the town where Kim Yushin lives. Cheonmyeong meets them here too, as she also was searching for Munno to affirm her destiny as the person to defeat Mishil. (see what harm prophecies can do to people?) Anyhow, Cheonmyeong meets Deokman and is impressed by her survival instincts and determination. She is also taken by Yushin, in some way or another, and decides to make Yushin her ally. Using her powers as the princess, she takes in Yushin as a Hwarang and forces Yushin to accept Deokman as a follower.

Oddly enough, Deokman has no idea that Cheonmyeong is actually a princess – initially she thought Cheonmyeong was a nun. And Cheonmyeong really did think of Deokman as a boy. So I guess they’re both equally silly. Yushin finds out Deokman is a girl pretty early and keeps it a secret for Deokman, unknown to Deokman herself, and saving her the grief of having to do things like bathing with the other guys. Lol.

The three of them basically grow up together, and at one point Yushin and Deokman even go to war together, where they gained a friend and ally in another Hwarang warrior, Alcheon.

Together, Yushin and Deokman help Cheonmyeong gather her powers to battle Mishil. But eventually, Deokman’s true identity is discovered by both Mishil’s side and also Cheonmyeong and the King. The King’s people are in favour of killing off Deokman to ensure that Deokman’s existence remained a secret; Mishil wanted to reveal Deokman as a princess and overturn the King in the process. Deokman was hurt by the fact that her own parents did not want her alive.

Yushin saves Deokman from being killed in the palace, and they flee. Cheonmyeong asks Deokman to run away from Silla, as that is the only way she can be alive. Yushin insists on going away with Deokman, because he loves her. Deokman however, does not seem to reciprocate his feelings, perhaps because she knows that Cheonmyeong loves Yushin, or because she’s too caught up with the overwhelming truth of her identity. I don’t know, but because I ship Deokman and Bidam more, I choose to believe that she never really did love Yushin as much as he did her.

While Deokman is on the run, one of Mishil’s minions acts against Mishil’s orders and decides that killing Deokman would be the best option. Therefore, in pursuit of Deokman, the little goon accidentally kills Cheonmyeong instead due to mistaken identity. It was pure stupidity that led to the accidental kill, because Deokman and Cheonmyeong aren’t even identical twins!

Cheonmyeong’s death changes everything for Deokman. Just when she was about to run away and live with someone who loves her, she loses her sister. She then makes a drastic  decision – she decides to return to the palace to reclaim her rightful place as a princess, and eventually become the ruler of Silla. I don’t know how the idea of being the king/ruler came into her mind in the first place, but it definitely shocked everyone.

Mishil was especially shocked, because all along she never aimed as far as to become the ruler of Silla, instead all she wanted was to be the First Lady, which seems like a feeble ambition next to Deokman’s. Instead of sticking to the conventions of having male rulers, Mishil now aims to claim the throne herself.

It is a bit odd to think that Mishil has never thought of breaking the tradition herself to be the ruler, because she definitely has the political and military influence already. The people also recognise her as a holy figure, a demi-goddess. But then again, this was ages and ages ago, where women generally did not have direct roles in the government.

The relationship between Deokman and Mishil is really interesting. It’s not as simple as a “I hate you, you hate me” relationship, it’s more like they each identify the other as a worthy opponent. Most of Deokman’s experience and strategies were gained from Mishil’s past actions, it’s as if Deokman was Mishil’s protege. They often have heart-to-hearts where they would exchange views about power and governing, which makes for really good subtle acting for the two leading ladies.

Sometimes I think Deokman would be so lost and uncertain without Mishil. Lol. But a lot of Deokman’s dominant ways and leadership mirror Mishil’s, even after Deokman becomes Queen. Deokman does try to call a truce between the two of them, offering Mishil to come over to join her. But helping someone else manage/run their country was never Mishil’s intention (she wanted Silla for herself!), so Mishil eventually took her own life. Not before planting some landmines around Deokman though.

Okay, I think I’ve rambled too much in this review to fit everything into one post. Will review the other characters in a separate post while I go to sleep. 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Queen Seon Deok Part 1

  1. Thank you for reviewing this! It made me laugh quite a bit, but I’m feeling kind of sad because yoo shin and deokman don’t end up together. lol. Although according to you, deokman doesn’t like yoo shin as much as yoo shin does deokman, I still think deokman likes yoo shin. Heh. Okay, enough of brambly stuff. Hope we can be friends? (: (okay, i sound so dodgy lol. anyway, if you’re comfortable, you can mail me if you want? since only you’ll be able to see my email. ) Oh, btw, are you from Singapore too?

    • Yeah Deokman and Yushin are a pity, because their timing wasn’t right. She had to choose between going for the throne and well, having a life, and she chose to fight Mishil. They both sort of gave up hope of actually being together and settled for being with each other as the only way they could be – as the queen and her general. With Bidam, there was more likelihood because I guess at one point, Deokman did really feel lonely and safe enough to abdicate her throne to be with him. But it was still really sad!

      I’m not from Singapore, but Singapore is cool! Would appreciate if you dropped by the blog once in a while just to say hi. 😉

  2. i just recently realised how amazing the actress who played Mishil is now that I have a chance to compare her with the evil queen in the drama the great King’s dream. that actress is so one dimensional and delivers every line with a sneer, she is playing the classic stereotype of the witch everyone would like to burn at the stake. Mishil on the other hand was this person you could not really figure out whether to hate or love and she kept you guessing e.g the time we expected her to destroy Yushin when all she wanted was him by her side. Mishil was amazing!

  3. Go HyunJung definitely gave Mishil a lot of depth. I think her character completely stole the show from Deokman, raised eyebrow and all. Pretty awesome.

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