Truthfully, sometimes I wonder if I am better off watching Jang Ok-jung, Live In Love through a marathon. Perhaps if I do it that way, I’ll be able to really ascertain the coherence of the story line because I admit to being guilty of (my) inconsistent responses to the show. The weekly gap is magnified a thousand times in terms of Real Life happenings that I’m uncertain how much I retain in terms of afterthoughts, emotions and the like. What more, I don’t have the luxury of watching an episode multiple times. Regardless, this is also the first time I’m attempting so-called weekly random afterthoughts about a show and so far it’s been… fun? Entertaining, more like and requires me to think harder.
Recalling my response at last week’s episodes, I admit that my shortcoming as a viewer in watching Jang Ok-jung, Live In Love is my inability to turn off my modern-age mind when watching this show. Customs, rules, relationships and such are different then versus now and by right, I ought to recognize this and thus, assess it within the context of it’s time, which I admit I’m not exactly doing. I’d realized this as I braced myself for episodes 13 and 14 however, thus consciously delving into them on a clean, unbiased slate. I’m happy to report that I think my attempt’s successful because I’d thoroughly enjoyed both episodes and in fact, have so much to say/show/highlight.
I find it rather interesting that in both of this week’s episodes, I was very affected by the King, i.e. Lee Soon and thus, Yoo Ah In‘s portrayal of his character …only to read in Koala’s page that Yoo Ah In had apparently tweeted his frustration at his inability to understand Lee Soon’s recent motivations and thus, actions. Could someone kindly verify if this is indeed true? I know nil Korean and Google Translate is of course, ironically always lost in translation.
Regardless, I’d genuinely responded and pretty much was entranced by his acting and portrayal as the King – honestly, the line is very blurred right now as I’m typing this, between the actor and his character… – and wanted to really delve into just why I think so. Therefore, I present to you what will be a multiple parts entry – this one’s specifically themed…
Part I: The Makings of A King
Here’s the first scene which made me pay attention, goosebumps all over at the intensity and sheer force of the statement, the expression, the setting – everything. I particularly loved this statement, hence I’d screen-capped it specifically as such;
Where Yoo Ah In is slaying it, in my opinion, is in expressing the internal turmoils and frustrations that Lee Soon feels. There’s a certain force to be reckoned with, in my opinion, of his portrayal through his facial expressions which always gets to me. This here, for instance, is a look of utter frustration and rage at his retainers because he’s fully aware that they don’t respect him as their king and he damn well doesn’t intend to let them get away with it.
Then there’s this expression of pure determination; fury and fiery passion all in one. It’s a man with a purpose, damn right. I love this particular scene below because it’s clear that he’s not looking at the bulls eye as mere target test. I sense rage and ego, convoluted and entangled – both not particularly positive traits on their own, what more mixed together. Again, I thought the intensity was downright palpable.
And then… something so sweet – a man in love. I admit that their romantic moments can sometimes feel a teeny-weeny bit annoying – teeny-weeny – and I’m aware how it goes down in history, but hot damn. There is such softness in his face, stripped away of all that tension that turns me into goo, because really, away from the limelight and all the politicking fiasco, I’m reminded of the earlier episodes in which he’s very simply, a man in love with a woman. Unfortunately, as he and all of us are aware, she’s of a different social stature and thus, their love is as beautiful as it feels impossible.
Now comes my favorite scene. What can I say? It’s my favorite sort, that play-by-light. His expression is dark, contrasted with the light he’s surrounded by. This quick beat, moment, amplifies his inner turmoil so loudly without needing any words. It’s like you can practically see his brain waves buzzing away, trying to analyze information on the go, derailed however, by his emotional sentiments.
It’s rather symbolic this scene. Thus this soft, quick kiss he placed on her lips, half-smiling, almost playful is somewhat heartrending. It’s heart versus mind, and in this brief moment, he gives himself away – but only for a moment.
Here’s a scene from when Ok-jung just found out about her pregnancy and wanted to tell Lee Soon, who’s held up in a meeting. She’d simply admired him from afar, figuring that she’ll just break the news later. I love this shot of him because I thought this scene positively glowed and exuded so much royal charisma; in this particular moment, Yoo Ah In was Lee Soon the King, and vice versa. It is strangely and unexpectedly very moving.
But of course, once he noticed her walking away, he paused the meeting and ran gleefully towards her. So incredibly cute. Brief conversations later, he swooped her in for a back hug! Back hugs are ahem, my weakness and coupled with such loving expressions as expressed by the two below – oh my god, my heart… that goo on the floor…
Then tragedy came knocking in the worse possible way. One moment, so happy and the next, so swift, these revelations that change everything. It’s interesting, this one and that scene above, surrounded by the white light – they showcase not only the same stance and setting, but most crucially, the same inner turmoils. However, unlike that one which basked in the light of love, this one reflects a dark trajectory.
I thought there’s so much intensity in this expression – pure disbelief as the truth creeps oh so slowly – that once more, makes me amazed at Yoo Ah In‘s ability to express so many convoluted emotions through his facial expression and eyes alone. Disbelief, anger, rage, betrayal and above all, that irony once more – here he is, owning a position that’s the highest a man can elevate to and yet unable to protect the one he loves the most.
And then – pure badassery. Rage, raw and guttural. I admit to being taken aback when he pulled that sword and flinched once more, nervous at this sudden transformation because gone is the softness, replaced by dark, haunting eyes and a conscious decision to utilize his power.
Now that a decision’s made, he’s all fury and rage, but outwardly calm. It’s eerier this way, you know? When rage drives you in control as opposed to losing it. Another favorite scene, because it fits very well with the phrase between a rock and a hard place. Cornered, and in an attempt to save what is important to him, it’s like he’s decided to sell his soul to the devil in exchange. Like it or not, a decision’s made.
Thus he engages in the game coolly; the tables are now turned.
There’s that quiet resolute that comes with a decision made – not necessarily the right one, but most definitely the chosen one – and he intends to see it through now. I know I sound like a broken record but dead serious, Yoo Ah In nails it – the intensity in his expression below is crazy palpable.
So cold, so intense, so full of restrained anger … ah, I can feel the small hairs on my back stand.
But what’s even more interesting is that once he’d said what he wanted, as he takes his leave – there’s a moment where his expression betrays his outward hardness. There’s this brief moment, mere seconds, in which he gives himself away and thus, revealing what he really feels: heartbreak. This woman he’d just put in her place is his mother after all, the one who’d birthed and cared for him, twisted as her ways may be.
So he walks absentmindedly, trying to absorb all that’s happened.
I know I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it a last time – here’s again, where I sense the makings of a strong king; it’s a heavy price to pay, his actions and decision and he’s well-aware. It comes part and parcel with understanding his position in his life, namely that he is a ruler of a nation – one who must command power, respect (and according to him at least), fear. That’s a lot to ask of a man; mere mortal.
Which is exactly why, this expression of his at the sight of his beloved is utterly moving – there’s a profound sadness, so much was exchanged in the unsaid. I thought he felt for the both of them – the thought of their unborn child, of what ifs and mostly, of why things happened the way they did.
So when he pulled her in for an embrace, after saying all that he did about wanting her to bear his child, a son whom he promises to groom as the next ruler of the nation – he’s speaking both as a man in love and as the King, trying to marry the two. It’s like he’s trying to convince himself as much as he’s trying to soothe her and our worries away.
It’s romantic, but with a tinge of an unexpected bitterness, a sour aftertaste because the intention’s not driven by love, rather it’s a game once more. Stakes are in, it’s how one plays one’s card.
And he damn well knows it: how to play the game, what his next moves will be and how he’ll come out of it all, come hell or high water, triumphant. Just look at that expression – you know, I know and he knows that he’ll damn well make sure he comes out a royal winner.