Jang Ok Jung, Live In Love: A First Impression.

Be very proud (happy?) – I’m back in Kdramaland!

Well, sort of aha. After a good 1-month lull of not having any inclination, what more motivation, to pick up (lots of) shows I was watching prior to the lull, I’ve finally broken the spell by watching… Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love, hence this first impression!

In fact, I might give it’s contender a try because as we’re all probably aware, I have a lot of love for Lee Seung Gi in general (as the rest of the world does, I’m sure) and first impressions around cybersphere about Gu Family Book seem to be fairly mixed that I’m a little curious which faction I’ll be siding with, if I were to tune in.

Back to Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love – to make it easy, I’ll assess the drama in the following way, easy enough: Yay and Nay.

Jang Ok-jung, Live in Love (2013)
Jang Ok-jung, Live in Love (2013)

1) YAY – ergo Yes, More Please!

Casting & Characters

Here’s what I think about Yoo Ah In – dude is clearly born in the wrong era! The moment he appeared on my screen in his royal garb and smoothly talking his Old Korean (which is something I learned, basically that in sageuk they use olden-day Korean language), I… literally squealed. I am not even kidding and in fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this out loud but dear God, this man is perfect in the Joseon setting. He had only a few scenes in the first two episodes so it’s still too early to say what kind of character he is but whatever glimpses I had had of him: I really like what I’m seeing. I like the fact that he’s an intelligent and visionary king, as opposed to a typical puppet king. In terms of having to find a suitor, I like the fact that he’s looking at it – rather angrily, I might add – as a challenge and thus it excites me how he’ll be acting once he realizes himself smitten by Jang Ok Jung.

As for his leading lady and namesake of the show, Jang Ok Jung played by Kim Tae Hee – so far I’ve no qualms and in fact, I thought she did well in the first two episodes. There is no doubt that this lady is a natural beauty and this drama in itself is such a feast for the eyes. This might sound silly, but also true -s o much beauty might provide distractions, or cloud judgment but to be honest, I like that her character is a rather feisty lady and for her era, definitely an independent one. I hope she continues to be New Age, even later when she transitions to be the King’s concubine and wife.

Speaking of King’s concubine… Hong Soo Hyun is back in a sageuk! As a princess once more! I am not even going to hide the fact that I absolutely adore here and more than that, absolutely loved her performance in The Princess’ Man; she was electrifying to watch and positively crackled there, owning the character with poise, depth and bravery – phenomenal performance, in short. I’ll therefore admit that yes, I squealed in delight too, when she appeared on my screen with her beautiful costume and that glint in her eyes as the titular Queen In Hyun. Personally, I suspect she might very well steal the limelight from Kim Tae Hee but again, it’s still too early to say right now. Based on the one or two glimpses I had of her in the first two episodes though, I’ll attest this much: there’s no doubt she’ll give us another memorable performance. What else can I say, sageuk is definitely her thing.

Last but not least, the first two episodes also introduced us to the adult version of Lord Dongyup, namely King Sukjong’s uncle played by that cutie pie in Nice Guy, Lee Sang Yeob. He is so adorable and definitely the comic relief but – and correct me if I’m wrong – is it just me or his accent/lilt Old Korean is… very contemporary? So while he is cute, conniving and a delightful addition to the story, I genuinely would like to see more screen presence and acting chops from him, which I therefore hope his character will be able to portray later on.

I must add that there are lots of veteran actors and actresses here, ranging from old to young. I am liking the villain in Sung Dong-il, whom I’m of course always happy to see but probably now have greater attachment to thanks to his participation in Dad! Where Are You Going? I don’t know the other veterans by name, but I do recognize their faces from previous dramas, especially other sageuk and thus I’m relieved by their presence because they’ll definitely bring their A-games acting gravitas-wise to this show.

Just an aside: Jae Hee is the Daddy Long Legs but he’s yet to make an appearance – his character did, but not yet the adult-version.

That Sizzling Chemistry

Too early to tell , but there was a scene in episode one in which she tried to obtain his measurements …I sense frisson of something heated and existing to come and all I can say right now is – especially since he last romanced someone he clearly had zero chemistry with – oh thank God! If you’ve been following my reviews long enough, you should know by now that I tend to have A Thing for older-woman-younger man relationship and thus, tend to not find age gaps a big deal – I’m happy to report that on a first impression basis, Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love is doing just fine in this department.

Directing, Visuals & Costume

So much beauty!

If we’re to pinpoint one thing this show does right, it’s definitely this: putting money where it counts. Directing-wise I’m liking the camera angles and such – nothing astounding like Nice Guy, but the director’s good in highlighting and complementing the lush visuals of Joseon, springtime and most importantly, the costumes. The latter mind you, are especially gorgeous, colorful and indeed complement the spring setting in day-to-day Joseon perfectly, I thought. Plus, with such pretty faces donning the costumes, lots of feast for the eyes but more than that, since they’re re-imagining history by making Jang Ok Jung a fashion designer, I’m happy to report this is believable based on the costumes featured.

2) NAY, ergo Notch It Down, Please!

To be honest, I don’t get why Kdramas tend to be so hung up about First Loves – like dude, really? – but there you have it, even in this one. The kids playing their younger selves are decent, but I am not feeling anything emotionally in the budding romance department. The backstory is alright, but the writing is… mediocre.

In fact, to be honest I really thought that the writing of the backstory to be the sole, weakest aspect in the two hours I spent watching the first two episodes. I understand we’re trying to establish the setting, pacing and such, but I’m not feeling that level of intelligence put in to the writing; I see conflict, but it’s not convoluted and layered, you know what I mean? Instead, the conflicts seem to be very direct and straightforward to which I’m arguing, just because we know how the real history is played out doesn’t mean you can’t twist this re-imagining further. Don’t get me wrong, the writing’s not laughably terrible (yet – I hope not), but I really thought it’s mediocre at best, right now.

In hindsight, I did like the fact that they started off with the present-day characters and told us directly who’s who, before rewinding the clock and transitioning to the backstory. That was indeed creative and different, but I genuinely hope that once we get past the kids’ version and move back to present day, the writing will up a notch or two because when you’re re-imagining history- dude, possibilities are rife and exciting to just speculate!

3) Final Verdict

Here’s the clincher, will I or will I not be tuning in further? The answer… is obviously YAY!

For now I can say with absolute certainty that yes, I’ll be tuning in weekly!

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5 thoughts on “Jang Ok Jung, Live In Love: A First Impression.

  1. I’m a yay, too. :) For all the reasons you list (though I did not make the “NIce Guy” connection… how did I miss it?!? I’ll blame the costuming.)

    I actually kind of adored the kids. I liked their spunk. (The riot dance was pretty cook, imo.)

    1. I saw your post on Gu Family Book (though could not read all the way down as I didn’t want to be spoiled just yet) and now I’m wondering if it’s really that bad! Mixed first impressions so far on that one, I’d say.

      As for this one though, I don’t know why I wasn’t feeling the kids but SO EXCITED for the adults portion. Did you think the writing on that was weak too? I’m not having Big Issues, but I’m not too impressed with the writing based on what we’ve seen so far… Hopefully my sentiments will change after eps 3 and 4 though!

      1. Gu Family Book has made mixed impressions indeed! (Which is part of the reason I’m still sticking around. I may have gone way off script in what the show was trying to get across. The next set of episodes should tell me.)

        I liked how the kids were pulled and shaped by the political intrigue going on around them (part of the reason I loved the riot-dance so much — it visually showed them dancing around the chaos the adults had created). But I really liked that the kids were both aware of being pulled. Maybe not completely (the Crown Prince still had the confidence or arrogance of ignorant idealism — which I think we saw him forced beyond) but they had inklings.

        I definitely agree with you that it was following the “meet young” handbook but I did see some nuance. Not so much in the conflicts (as you say — they’re pretty straightforward) but in what the kids saw in each other. They neither of them really fell in love — not purely. The prince was physically attracted to her. She wanted the protection he could give her. Which I think is pretty unusual and suggests something complex about their characters. (Or maybe I stuck all that in there myself! I’ve done it before. :) )

        1. Loved everything you said! I definitely don’t think you’ve stuck all of them in there though, cos you’ve definitely covered the pathos grounds that I didn’t in this first impression – but thought of as a viewer when I watched (and conveniently forgot haha). OMG I so hope this show won’t disappoint for both of us!

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