Sunday, September 11, 2016

King and the Clown -2005

Yeonsan Gun (1476-1506) was the 10th King of Joseon Dynasty from 1494 to 1506.  He was said to be one of the most cruel kings ever.  He killed people without any compunction.  His mother was ordered to drink poison and commit suicide for the crime of killing other concubines out of jealousy.

Jang Sa Eng
During the rule of Yeonsan, there was a troupe of minstrels who put up acrobatic shows, tight rope walking along with ribald skits. The older one was Jang Saeng (Kam Woo Sung) and the other minstrel was Gong-gil (Lee Joon-Ki).  Gong gil has pretty looks and is able to portray a girl quite effortlessly.

Gong Gil

The headman of the village likes young boys and asks for Gong-gil to be sent to him.  The leader of the troupe agrees to that. Jang Saeng does not like it, we learn that this has been going on for a long time.  The leader often pimps Gong-gil for extra rations or money.  Gong-gil is used to it, but Jang Saeng fights for him.

In the ensuing fracas, the leader is killed and Gong-gil and Jang Saeng run off to Hanyang (present day Seoul).  There they meet up with another small troupe and start performing risque plays involving the King and his Concubine which are met with wholehearted audience approval.

The ribald Play

The King's Clerk Cheo Sin (Jang Hang-Seon) is not amused when he sees the play while passing by.  He gets the troupe arrested and flogged.  Captain - Jang Saeng - dares him to show their skit to the King.  If he laughs, they live, if he does not, they die.

Colorful dance

The King (Jung Jin-Young) is used to pretty cultural shows like this, not a nasty ribald comedy.  

The King and His Concubine

But despite the nervous performance by Captain's troupe, he laughs.  He is not just amused, he wants the troupe to stay and be the Royal Minstrels.  What the Captain's troupe don't know is that the King is unhinged and is quite likely to become violent.  Also, to Jang Saeng's consternation, he appears to like Gong Gil a bit too much.  The King's clerk seems to have an agenda as well.  He seems to want them to perform plays on controversial topics.

A Play about the poisoning of the Queen

The movie is about very strong bonds of friendship (perhaps even intimacy) between Jang-Saeng and Gong-gil.  The King - Yeonsan- is attracted to Gong-gil too.  Gong Gil likes being with the King because he gets to see the King's vulnerable side.  The three leads, Kam Woo Sung, Jung Jin Young and Lee Jun Ki put in stupendous performances.  They are required to love and hate each other at times and they do it wonderfully.

But it is the director Lee Jun ik who is the ultimate winner for putting together this wonderful tale.  Each scene is tight and well directed.  The script and dialogues (alas, I had to depend on the subtitles) are flawless.

The director chooses the audience to use their own imagination to make out what is going on.  There are never any 'leading' dialogues to make the audience think anything.  Only in one instance in the beginning - where Jang Saeng speaks about Gong-gil being regularly pimped (which was integral to the story, if you think of it) - is the audience directly 'told' something.

You, as a viewer, can choose to believe that Jang Saeng was intimate with Gong Gil, or not.  You can choose to believe that the King slept with Gong Gil, or not.  Even the last scene is very open ended and you may, if you wish, believe what you will.

This is what I loved best about the movie.  This is what makes it stand out so much from the usual fare that is dished out.

The cinematography is very good.  As it is a historical film, there are a lot of costumes and montages of flag waving and grandeur. Even the countryside is pretty and virgin (as it must have been in those times).

A special word about the background score. Fabulous. We are given silences, traditional pipes and drums and a beautiful tune to accompany the opening credits.  It is soothing and apt for a great movie like this one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Fatal Encounter - 2014

The Fatal Encounter is a South-Korean Film directed by Lee Jae Kyu and written by Choi Sung-Hyun.  The cinematograhy is by Go Nak Sun.

Background: King Jeongjo (1752-1800) was a ruler of Joseon dynasty who ruled from 1776-1800.  He was the son of Crown Prince Sado who died as a result of being enclosed in a rice chest for eight days. Sado was called a killer and a rapist and various ministers under the rule of his father Yeongjo asked for his elimination.  As a royal person could not be harmed, Sado was ordered to climb into a rice chest and was sealed inside till he died. Upon assuming the throne at the young age of 24, King Jeongjo tried to clear his father's name, he also survived several assassination attempts in the very first year of his rule.  This movie is an account of one of those attempts.

King Jeongjo (Hyun Bin) has a punishing schedule.  He wakes up very early and works out.  He also wears weights on his body to strengthen it.  He is a master archer and is good with a sword as well. He is a great scholar who spends most of his time reading.

His clerk, the eunuch, Gap Soo,(Jung Jye Young) is always with the king.  He was brought over to the palace as a young boy,  In fact, he is a trained assassin who was castrated and sent to the palace so he may one day aid in killing the king. Gap Soo becomes the young prince's playmate and is convinced that the king should not be killed.

There is a nasty Fagin like person Gwang Bae (Choe Jae-Hyun) who brings up little boys and girls and raises them among pits and caves.  He trains them to be assassins and hires them out for killing people for money.  He had trained Gap Soo.  Gap-Soo's brother in distress in those training pits was Eul-Soo (Cho Jung Seok).  He is now the best assassin that Gwang Bae has.  Gwang Bae wants him to go and assassinate the king.

Eul Soo is in love with the laundry maid in the palace, Wol Hye (Jung Eun-Chae).  All he wants is to go somewhere far away with his lady love and live a normal life.

Jeongjo's grandmother, Queen Jungsoon (Han Ji-Min) is a very young woman whom his grandfather married at the fag end of his career perhaps. She is one of Jeongjo's deadliest enemies.  She is always at loggerheads with the King's mother, the two women keep trying to diminish each other.

This movie covers one day in the life of the King Jeongjo.  It is very crucial for him as there is a huge conspiracy to kill him that he is not aware of.  Within 24 hours, we move back and forth in time, getting vital information about various characters.  There are several situations that crop up, there are threats of poisonings, killing contracts and palace coups planned.  How the King, along with his loyal retainers (few and far between), copes with them within a day's time is what the movie is all about.

The movie uses the 24-hour format for its story telling very intelligently. It forays into the past to expand upon the current scene now and then, when it has to explain why the character is behaving so, or why the character is feeling this way. It was particularly useful in establishing the relationship between the King and Gap Soo; between Gap Soo and Eul Soo; between Eul Soo and Wol Hye. It helps to flesh out a narrative which is otherwise very terse and focused.

It is beautifully filmed, full marks to the cinematographer and the director for composing lovely scenes.  The movie is full of wonderful action sequences, obviously as it is a near war like situation in the palace, It was no surprise to me, after having seen some great K-dramas, that the acting was so good all around.  All the actors put in great performances.

The cherry on top of the cake is Hyun Bin as the King Jeongjo.  The King is just 24 years old when he ascends the throne.  So a young Hyun Bin is the right age to depict the King.  Right at the start I drooled watching the toned body of Hyun Bin as he works out.  All through the movie, he maintains a grim (kingly?) visage which suits him so much.  He is the focal point of the movie and he delivers confidently.

I have just finished watching Sungkyunkwan Scandal, a Korean Drama.  Post completion I was reading up a bit on the Joseon King Jeonjo who was depicted in the series, when I ran into a reference to this movie and was piqued into watching it. I am mighty glad too, as it is a fabulous film that no movie lover should miss.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sungkyunkwan Scandal - 2010

The Jal-Geum Quartet
Sungkynkwan Scandal aired from August 2010 to November 2010,  It was described as a fusion historical drama. It was directed by Kim Won Suk and Hwang In Hyuk.  It was written by Kim Tae-Hee and Jeong Eung Wol.

I have seen some K-Drama over the past two years, they came highly recommended by my mother and friends. Hence it is no surprise that most of them were such winners for me. I have not yet viewed a series that I have disliked.  I found some a little slow here and there, but on the whole the experience has always been good.

Likewise, this series, Sungkyunkwan Scandal has been very satisfying.  There were times when I was laughing out loudly, or crying over the hurt being felt by the characters, or even going totally mushy over stolen kisses and sweet looks.

Kim Yun-Hee disguised as Kim Yun-Shik

Kim Yun-Hee (Park Min-Young) is a young girl of a poor family who disguises herself as a boy and uses the identity of her younger brother, Kim Yun-Shik to work and earn money.  This is the late 18th Century in Korea, under the ruler Jeonjo of Joseon Dynasty.  Women are not allowed to study (in schools) or work. The only way Yun-Hee can help her family is by working under disguise or getting married to a rich man who will provide help to her family.  The latter is not a feasible option for the feisty Yun-Hee.

Hence, she wears a man's garb and works for a bookshop copying books or writing work assignments for the students of the Sungkyunkwan School. In a bid to earn money to pay back a loan taken to buy medicines for her younger brother, she agrees to stand in for a candidate for an entrance exam to the prestigious Sungkyunkwan school. It is here that she runs into Lee Seon-Jun (Micky Yoo Chan).

Lee Seon-Jun

He is a very upright young man; he comes from a noble family and is slated for great things. His father is the Left State Minister. He is the head of the Noron faction and a very important aristocrat. His son has a very secluded life, he studies all the time and knows little of the real world.  He is didactic and, well, a complete prig, He pressurises Yun-Shik into taking the entrance exam, as he is so bright. He cannot imagine the havoc he has wrecked upon the girl, who is cornered into attending the school. Yun-Shik is finally convinced that attending school will be a good idea when she learns that her sibling will get free medicine and she will be able to avail of good food, lodgings and education. On the flip-side, she could be beheaded if it is discovered that she is masquerading as a boy.

At the school Yun-Shik is assigned to a dorm with two students.  One of them is Lee Seon-Jun and the other is Moon Jae-Shin.

Moon Jae-Shin
Moon Jae-Shin (Yoo Ah-In) has already had a run-in with Yun-Shik when he had saved her from some soldiers who were tormenting her.  He feigns to be a dull student, interested only in drinking and sleeping.  He has wild hair and wears rough clothes and a surly expression.  In fact, he is a vigilante plampheteer who sticks to the school to avoid scrutiny. Of late his pamphlets have been bringing up the matter of the lost Geumdeungjisa (a document that implicated some aristocrats in the killing of Prince Sado), and claiming that the thieves of this documents are the enemies of the nation. 

Because of this, many in the government are alarmed and want to hunt down the elusive Red Messenger.  He is beneath the facade of a bored senior, a very loyal person.  Once he warms up to his roommates he sticks with them and helps them.

Moon Jae-Shin's childhood friend, Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jung-Ki) is a busybody Puck like character. He has fastidious tastes and is well groomed.  He likes to do things that amuse him.  At the moment it amuses him to stick with the rag-tag group of Moon Jae-Shin, Kim Yoon-Shik and Lee Sun-Joon.  He guesses right away that Yoon-Shik is a girl, and often tries to trap her into revealing her secret.  He has a secret of his own which he guards just as jealously.  He happily becomes the fourth of the Jal-Geum Quartet that dares to defy the nasty and powerful Student President Ha In-Soo and later take on tasks for the King Jeong Jo.

Opposing the J4 is the nasty, mean, power hungry student president Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo). He is the son of the War Minister Ha who is a corrupt and self-serving official.  In Soo is a bully and hates to be defied.  He has constant run-ins with the J4 and is constantly trying to undermine them.  He is in love with the beautiful Gisaeng Cho Sun.  She shows a marked preference for Yoon-Shik which makes him want to take down Yoon-shik even more.

Cho Sun

The main premise of the series is a comic look at the life of school-kids in the 18th Century.  The story contains several real historical facts.  The Joseon King Jeongjo really did rule over the second half of the 18th Century, and he really did implement many changes in the social structure.  The aristocracy was divided among the factions of  Sorons and Norons, who were always at loggerheads with each other. It was only the noblemen who had any say in the society, the common man was trodden upon. The King tried to make the society more equal.

The series takes on the issue of social inequality of those times.  The poor get poorer and have no choice but to indulge in crime to make the ends meet.  Yoon-Shik has lived among the poor and faced discrimination not only on the basis of gender, but also poverty.  She knows about the issues that dog the common people.  Jae-Shin belongs to the less powerful Soron faction and has seen his brother die because he tried to carry out a task that was detrimental to the Norons.  He is also trying to aim towards a more equal society.  Yong-Ha has money but has seen the life at close quarters and he is also sympathetic towards the under-dogs.  Sun-Jeon is an upright young man who will side with the right side no matter what.

There are a couple of episodes in the series when the homophobia practised in those times comes under a scanner.  The strong feminist tones are to be expected as the heroine is trying to make the best of her life despite being a woman in times when the woman had practically no rights.  The only way they could hope for a good life was to snag a good man.

These are weighty issues.  But do not think the series a dull and preachy watch.  Right from the start of the series, each episode is full of energy and draws you in.  There is a lot of comedy around the lead character - Sun Joon who is basically a prig. He has no social skills and seems a good candidate for Asperger's Syndrome.  He smiles seldom and utters only platitudes. He is so consistent in this, that it becomes a form of comedy.  Mickey Yoochan comes up trumps with this wonderful portrayal.

One can imagine all the kind of messes that the heroine Yoon-Shik keeps getting into, being a woman in disguise.  She has to initially sleep between two men and has a tough time taking a bath. The slaps on the back the other guys keep giving her and the casual arm around the shoulder, all add to her discomfort.  On top of that, the top Gisaeng falls for her.  Then there is the problem of love she cannot express her love for Sun-Joon without being taken for a homosexual.

It is towards the fag end that the series lost a bit of their energy for me.  One reason for that could be the bad subtitling which I have to rely on understand what's going on.  The other could be the sudden slowing down of the story.

The lead actors deliver a standout performance. Micky Yoochan, I have already mentioned.  He makes you love a prig who pontificates all the time. Park Min Young is the cement of the story.  She is the one who binds the F4 together.  She is the catalyst who makes a robotic Sun Joon human.  And she lives up to the demands of the role.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Secret Hotel - 2014

My Secret Hotel is a Korean drama in 16 episodes of an hour each starring Yoo In Ha, Jin Yi Han and Namgung Min.  It was aired from August to September 2014.

I finished watching Empress Ki some time ago.  It was a fabulous series, but quite serious and full of violence.  It was full of politics among the royalty in the 14th century.  After that I needed something fluffy and romantic to lighten my mood.  I had been quite impressed by Jin Yi Han who had an important side role in Empress Ki as Tal Tal. He looked very handsome in ceremonial robes and a long glossy ponytail.  I picked Jin Yi Han's series My Secret Hotel to get more eyefuls of the hunk.

I was NOT disappointed.  Right at the start, while the credits are rolling, Jin Yi Han bursts into a fabulous dance. Sigh. 

It was a typical K-romance.  Two guys vie for the affections of a girl. She is equally torn between the two.  Who will win?  This romance is embellished by a some mystery-thriller elements.  Here is how the initial story goes:

Nam Sang Hyo (Yoo In Ha) is a dedicated hotelier.  She has risen from a waitress to the Manager of a Banquet Hall.  She specializes in Wedding Planning.  The hotel she works at, called Secret Hotel, is one of the best in Seoul.  Her hotel has just got some bad press.  The Managing Director of her hotel, Jo Sung Gyeom (Namgung Min) asks her to deal with this crisis.  The PR Manager Yeo Eun Joo (Lee Young Eun) and Nam Sang Hyo plan a fancy celebrity wedding to bring back the Hotel's mojo.

The bride is the daughter of a cosmetic company owner. The groom is a well educated son of the richest man in Seoul.  This wedding represents the creme de la creme of the Seoul Society.  But Nam Sang Hyo gets a shock when she sees the Groom. It is Koo Hae Young (Jin Yi Han).  She was married to him for three months when she was in Las Vegas. It did not work out and they got a divorce.  She is cool as she greets him, causing him to do a double take.  He expected her to burst out in tears or at least, act shocked.

Nam Sang Hyo decides to act professional and carry on with her work despite feeling upset about Koo Hae Young. She murmurs a goodbye to him and walks away as the wedding commences. However, the grand wedding is rudely interrupted by a corpse falling at the Groom's feet as he walking down the aisle.

The murdered man is an Assistant Manager under Nam Sang Hyo. He was a nasty piece of work that no one liked much.  This brings in Kim Geum Bo (Ahn Kil Kang).  He is the best detective on the police force in Seoul. He is uncouth in appearance, but has a sharp mind.  He sets to work trying to solve the murder mystery.  He finds that Secret Hotel has many people with secrets.  There are several suspects and he must examine them all, and try to find the murderer.

The Managing Director is here to find out more about his father. His father used to work for The Secret Hotel in the past.  He died when he fell from the sixth floor of this hotel in an accident.  Jo Sung Gyeum has been getting cryptic messages from someone claiming to have information about the death of his father.  He has reason to suspect that it was not an accident, but murder.

 The Secret Hotel hides many secrets.

 Jo Sung Gyeum is interested in Nam Sang Hyo and wants date her.  She agrees, as she is also eager to move on from Koo Hae Young. She does not bargain with Hae Young reacting badly to her relationship with Jo Sung Gyeum and doing his utmost to wreck her new budding romance.  There are times when she finds she still has a soft spot for Koo Hae Young who had ditched her seven years ago and run away from her.

 She had followed him to New York and found this woman in his apartment.  It had broken her heart and she had fled back to Vegas and from there, back to Seoul.  How can she forgive him for running away with another woman just three months after being married to her?

Is Koo Hae Young really a player? Or was there a reason why he ditched Sang Hyo?  If he did not care for her, why does he chase her so relentlessly?

The PR Manager of The Secret Hotel, Lee Eun Joo is also sweet on Jo Sung Gyeum and is forever trying to drive Nam Sang Hyo away from him so she may have a chance to date him.  She even engineers a fix-up between Koo Hae Young and Nam Sang Hyo to get her out of the way.  Will her machinations be fruitful?

In the meantime, there is another murder at the hotel and detective Kim Geum Bo has to step up his game.

With just 16 episodes, the pace of the series is fast.  We have the issue of Jo Sun Gyeum's father thrown in to spice up the story. Nam Sang Hyo was an international adoptee (this means that she was adopted by an American couple when she was a child).  Her foster mother was a Korean too which explains how she can speak good Korean.  The story of her parentage is also linked to one of the secrets of the hotel.

I enjoyed the series thoroughly.  My only grouse was with the character of Nam Sang Hyo.  Initially she is a very spunky character, full of beans.  The hotel workers are laying bets to see which young lady of the two - Nam Sang Hyo and Lee Eun Jo will bag the handsome Managing Director.  Nam Sang Hyo loves playing the game of one-up-man-ship with Lee Eun Jo.  But later, she plays a rag doll who is being pulled one way and another by the two men in her life. 

With Jin Hi Yan looking like this, fresh faced with his curly mop, I had no problem with this minor irritant.  The series concludes to the satisfaction of all.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Empress Ki 2013

Empress Ki, a popular Korean Series, was aired from October 2013 to April 2014 in 51 episodes. It is a historical series based loosely on the life of a real person, Empress Ki, a Korean concubine who rose among ranks to become the Empress of Toghon Temur, the last Mongol Emperor. She existed from 1315 to 1370 AD.

Nyang Ki, (Sungyang/Empress Ki) a little girl, is being dragged towards China as a human tribute along with her mother. Their life ahead threatens to be full of misery. The young Korean crown prince, Wang Yu is also a part of the people going towards Daidu in China. He takes pity on young Nyang Ki and opens the door at night to allow all the captive women and their children to flee. Tangqishi, a Chinese Warlord kills all the fleeing women, among them, Nyang's mother. She gives her wedding ring to Nyang before dying and asks her to find her father Ki, who has a similar ring.

Young Nyang tries to fend for herself in Inju, where she is stranded. She disguises herself as a boy, changes her name to Sungyang, and finds employment with Wang Ko, the King of Shenyang. In time, she becomes a trained warrior and an unerring archer. She grows up to help Wang Ko smuggle salt and becomes one his most trusted 'men'. On the side, trying to help her country she is also sending messages to Crown Prince Wang Yu who is trying to curb the salt smuggling.

After a successful stint with helping Wang Yu bust the salt racket of Wang Ko, she discovers Commander Ki posted in Inju. She joins his force to be close to her father. Her father's unit is deputed to take care of the deposed Prince of China, Toghon Temur and keep him safe. This is where Sungyang meets Toghon Temur and makes a lasting impression on him.

Toghon beats all odds to become the Emperor of China. Yet, he is under the thumb of his Regent El Temur, a fact that rankles with him. Sungyang is captured by Tangqishi and dragged to China to become a slave.  He gets some feminine vibes from her and strips her to discover that she is a woman. He now wants her to be his personal slave after they reach Daidu. Wang Yu is also on his way to Daidu as a vassal of the Chinese Emperor, Toghon.

Wang Yu and Sungyang meet each other again later on and fall in love. Circumstances drive a wedge between them and Sungyang (after many plot twists) returns to the Palace as a concubine. She comes close to Toghon once again and finds that she is fated to be with him.

How the three major players, Sungyang, Wang Yu and Toghon cope with the circumstances to achieve what they dream of is the story of Empress Ki. Sungyang wants to help the Korean people as well Toghon. Wang Yu wants his crown to be restored and also wants Korea to prosper. Toghon wants to become an independent Emperor and shed the yokel of his Regent.

Rather than give out plot points which are too numerous to be listed here, it is better to give a brief sketch of all the major characters in the series. There are plethora of strong characters in the series and the story is also full of energy. Till the end, the viewer is kept on the edge of the seat while Ki, Toghon and Wang Yu cope with one crisis after the other. It is not possible to sketch every character in the series, and believe me, there are many great ones. I will limit myself to listing some of the major ones.

I was captivated by all the cute men in ponytails. The Emperor, Wang Yu, Tal Tal and Talahai all sport a pony tail that would put any pony to shame. The women are all very pretty too. It is a splendidly mounted series with gorgeous locales, dresses, horses and silks.

Empress Ki, Nyang Ki, Sungyang. Played by Ha Ji Won.

Nyang is woman of superior intellect. Being orphaned early in life, Nyang discovers it is better to hone her skills as a warrior and hide her femininity to survive. She becomes Sungyang, a boy skilled in warfare.

She loves Korea to distraction and will do anything to fell the people who hurt Korean interests. She helps Wang Yu, the crown prince of Korea, to uncover the Salt smuggling which is draining the Korean economy. She falls in love with him, but because of the constant strife in their life, they are not able stay together.

Tangqishi, the son of El Temur had killed her mother. The El Temur family also killed her father. Hence, she vows to take revenge. She could have returned to Korea and lived peacefully there, but she opted to join the Emperor's concubines to gain enough power to wreck vengeance upon El Temur. She helps Toghon overthrow them. In the process she also falls in love with him. Till the end, she is torn between her love for Wang Yu and her love for Toghon.

The role is played to perfection by Ha Ji Won. She has the requisite looks and talent for the role. Her face is the most perfect oval that I have ever seen. She has a beautiful eyes. Yet she looks perfect as a man with her swagger. It is not for nothing that she is one of major Hallayu stars of Korea.

Toghon Temur, Emperor of China, played by Ji Chang Wook.

When we first see Toghon in Empress Ki he is a mere boy. He is sent to Korea apparently under banishment, but El Temur's true intent is to kill him there. Thus, he would get rid of an Emperor Apparent and also be able to put the onus of his death on Korea.

Toghon knows this and is very scared. He tries to run away from the Korean Camp under Commander Ki but runs into Sungyang. She protects him and takes him under her wing. She teaches him how to use the sword and also how to shoot arrows. He becomes very attached to Sungyang but betrays her father to El Temur. Ki Nyang hates him for this for a long time.

Later, when he becomes an Emperor and learns that Sungyang is a woman, he falls deeply in love with her. He sticks by her through thick and thin and ultimately makes her his Empress. He grows from a frightened, unsure boy into an Emperor who rules on his own. Ji Chang Wook puts in such a natural performance that you are convinced absolutely by his act of a petulant boy who wants his way in everything. He looks ravishing in his ponytail as a fugitive Prince, and very handsome as the young emperor in his ceremonial robes.

Wang Yu, Crown Prince and later King-in-waiting of Korea., Played by Joo Jin Mo

Wang Yu is wise and sagacious. He has all the qualities needed to be the perfect King of Korea. Unfortunately, Korea is still the vassal state of China. He tries his best to do as much as he can for Korea from outside. He stays close to the Regent of China, El Temur in a bid to watch the Korean interests. He is also deeply in love with Sungyang. He tries to do all he can to help her, often putting his own life in danger in the process. He understands that a Korean Empress will be able to help Korea better and does all he can to ensure her success at investiture.

Most times the lead actors in Korean series are very cute looking. Joo Jin Mo, by contrast has rugged looks and a strong physique. He is one of the manliest actors that I have seen in K-series. In this drama, the Emperor is jealous of his good looks and feels he will lose Sungyang to his handsome looks.

Tanashiri, the first Empress of China, played by Baek Jin Hee

Tanashiri is the daughter of El Temur the Regent. Her father is the most powerful man in China. In an attempt to create a link with the Emperor, her father marries her to Toghon.

She is not keen on the marriage, but when she sees Toghon, she falls in love with him. Toghon is never able to warm up to her because he hates her father. This creates frustration in her. As it is, she is a spoiled, petulant young girl, fired by Emperor's rejection she turns into a hateful, vengeful young woman who does not think twice before getting people killed.

She creates such mayhem with her plotting and scheming, that she puts El Temur in the shade as the chief villain.  For a long time, she captures Ki's attention as she is constantly doing something vile.

Baek Jin Hee has put in an absolutely stupendous performance as the nasty Empress, Tanashiri. She steals every scene she is in.

Yeon Chul – El Temur – Regent to the Emperor, Played by Jeon Kuk Hwan

Another magnificent character, another great performance by Jeon Kuk Hwan. Yeon Chul was Regent to three Kings. Toghon's father, Khutughtu Khan, his younger brother and Toghon. He started off by being a very loyal and a trusted aid of the King.

After tasting power as the Regent, he becomes corrupt and power hungry. He kills Khutughtu Khan and tries to install his younger son on the throne. He thought that the young boy would be easy to manipulate. But the boy-emperor dies of illness soon. When El Temur meets Toghon who is under banishment in Korea, Toghon acts like a fool and a very submissive boy. He fools El Temur into thinking that he would make a good 'sleeping king'. As it is, Temur has ensured that Toghon does not even know how to read and write.

Along with his two sons, Tanqishi and Talahai, he is on the road to absolute power. His daughter is married to Toghon and he wants to make her son the emperor which will ensure that power remains in his blood line. His plans are foiled by Ki Nyang who wants vengeance for her mother and father.

Empress Dowager - Budashiri – Played by Kim Seo Hyung

The Dowager Empress, Budashiri is the former Empress of Khutughtu Khan. After his death she tries to nurture Toghon's younger brother who is named emperor.

On Toghon's return, she attaches herself as his mentor. He treats her like his mother and gives her all respect. After the fall of the Temur clan, Budashiri tries to get more power attached to herself and works against Nyang Ki, who had supported her to get rid of the Temurs.

Budashiri does not want a Korean woman to be given any importance. In a bid to protect her own child, Empress Ki hit back and a power struggle ensues between the two women. She is another strong woman character on this series.

Tangqishi - Dank Ke Se – Played by Kim Jung Hyun

He is the older son of El Temur and is being groomed to take up the Regent's role. He is extremely cruel and mean like the rest of the people in his family. He loses his temper when the tribute women in his entourage, that he is escorting to China from Korea, are set free by the boy prince Wang Yu. He kills all the escaping women, among them Ki Nyang's mother.

Ki has several run-in's with him and always gets the better of him. Yet he manages to survive and come back to haunt Nyang. At one point he even falls in love with Nyang in a perverse fashion and wants to possess and destroy her. His younger brother Talahai is seen more as his shadow in the series, usually following him as Tangqishi goes around creating mayhem.

General Baek An- Bayan – Played by Kim Young Ho

Another fabulous character full of many shades of grey. When we are introduced to Bayan, he is with Toghon, escorting him to his exile in Korea. We soon learn that El Temur has ordered, on behalf of the boy emperor, that Toghon be murdered cleverly to make it seem like the Koreans failed to protect him.

Bayan is not very happy with the decision. He is more of a warrior, he does not like these cloak and dagger politics. He is happy to swear allegiance to his Emperor and fight for him. He was a true follower of Khutugtu Khan and does not think too highly of El Temur.

After almost killing Toghon, he decides to help him retain the throne. He also helps Ki Nyang initially. She is all set to return to Korea at one point when something happens that makes her decide to return to Daidu and help Toghon become the Emperor he wants to. At this point, Bayan steps in and nominates Ki Nyang as his candidate for a concubine, as his foster daughter. Later, his character becomes darker and darker as he gains power. He also becomes very anti-Korea.

Yeon Bi Soo – Batoru – Played by Yu in Young

Batoru was another fabulous female character that started out with a big bang. General Batoru is the faceless terror of the Silk Road, who vanquishes enemies wearing a mask.. He (people perceive him as a man) is a master of guerrilla warfare.

Tangqishi despatches Wang Yu to this area to bear the brunt of Batoru's attacks. He means to annihilate the Korean troops by putting them in the front and then sweeping in with General Bayan to finish Batoru and secure the Silk Road. Wang Yu uses his superior war tactics to defeat Batoru. He is surprised to find that the face behind the mask is a young girl.

After this encounter, Batoru helps Wang Yu and Ki Nyang actively. However, Yeon Bi Soo loses her edge as a character and becomes sidelined. It was sad to see such a promising character lose steam.

Tal Tal – Toqto'a - Played by Jin Yi Han

I have saved one of the best characters in the series for the last. He was, in fact, a real person. He was a respected scholar who became a Grand Chancellor under Toghon.

In the series, he is, as he was in real life, a nephew of General Bayan. He was extremely well-read and wise. In the series, he stays in the background to begin with. He just observes the actions of all around him. From his observations, he realises that Ki Nyang has the true interests of the people at her heart. Initially he opposes Bayan's decision to sponsor Ki Nyang as a candidate for a concubine. He feels she would not do justice to interests of his clan, being an outsider. To some extent, his fears are justified until Nyang tells him that she would always keep the interests of the common people above feelings of clan or class.

This resonates with him and they become thick associates. In fact, there are times when I feel the chemistry between them was much better than the one she shares with Wang Yu or Toghon – her romantic partners. Jin Yi Han is very impressive as Tal Tal.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Pradeep Kumar Songs from 1960 to 1963

I have taken a long time to return to some more good songs picturised on Pradeep Kumar.  My first post was full of songs by Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh and Rafi from the 50s.

In this post, I go to the 60s which had some really very good songs picturised on Pradeep Kumar.  To reiterate, he is not my favorite actor.  He was very adequate, I feel the word really fits him.  He played a solid middle- class man who looked dependable.  He even played a Nawab or a Prince very well.  He looked handsome enough (in a solid sort of a way). His dialogue delivery was adequate.

He was lucky to have worked in an era where the story was the king.   It was the songs that were the crowning glory of the movie experience.  A line up of good songs could make or break a film.  Even now, after five decades, the movies have achieved immortality because of the songs.

As I did in the earlier post, I am working through Pradeep Kumar's filmography on IMDB and picking songs that I like best.

Yeh Rang bhare badal from Tu Nahi Aur Sahi (1960)

The music is by Ravi and the lyrics by Asad Bhopali. The singers are Asha and Rafi.

The movie was kind of odd.  Usually, the heroines get cautioned that their lives could be spoiled forever if they did not choose a good boyfriend.  In this movie, it is the hero whose life is 'spoiled' horribly because he chooses to trust a wayward girl.

The movie was borderline tolerable but had good songs.  I love this carefree song picturised on Pradeep Kumar and Nishi as they are eloping.

Yeh Mausam Rangeen Sama from Modern Girl (1961)

Now this is exactly the kind of a song that will never let Pradeep Kumar fade from our memory.  It is a swinging song that makes you want to dance the minute you hear.  The flirty hero (Pradeep Kumar) is complemented perfectly by the coy yet acquiescing heroine (Saeda Khan).

The music is by Ravi and the lyrics by Rajinder Krishan.  The song is sung by Mukesh and Suman Kalyanpur.

Hai Zindagi kitni Haseen from Apsara (1961)

The movie seems to have been a mythological fantasy if we look at the poster.  The heroine is supposed to be Padmini.  She does not look like one of the Travancore sisters.  Or maybe the poster is not very good.

This song has no video, so I can only guess it was picturised on Pradeep Kumar.

The song is written by Qamar Jalalabadi and music provided by Husnlal Bhagatram, sung by Talat and Asha.

A lovely song.

Ik Manzil rahi do phir pyar na kaise ho  from Sanjog (1961)

With Madan Mohan's line up of lovely songs, it was hard to pick one.  I chose this peppy duet as it is one of the few happy songs from the film.

The movie was quite a weepy one.  Poor Anita Guha is run through a wringer emotionally.

The music was by Madan Mohan, lyrics by Rajinder Krishan.  You can enjoy all the songs of the film here.

Saaze dil chhed de from Passport (1961)

This song was famously referenced in Jawani Diwani which came out in 1972.  The song was used while a bunch of youngsters were playing antakshari.  The youngsters claim that the song was made up, which prompts the hero to start an original song 'Agar Saaz chheda tarane banenge'.

This made me aware of the original sweet song.  It is so romantic with lovely lyrics. Which were by Farooq Kaiser and music by Kalyanji Anandji.  Sung by Lata and Rafi. Madhubala and Pradeep Kumar cavort blissfully in a garden. Ah, sweet love.

Saiyan chhod de baiyan  from Rakhi (1962)

 Again our Pradeep Kumar is in a garden chasing a pretty Waheeda.  He is quite determined to hold on to her wrist while she demurs demurely.

Another lovely song that reminds us of the wonderful music of the era. The lyrics are by Rajindra Krishan and music by Ravi.  Sung by Lata and Mukesh.

The title of the film suggests that the dominating emotion here was love between a brother (Ashok Kumar) and sister (Waheeda). Poor Pradeep Kumar was just the consort, methinks.

Aapne yaad dilaya to mujhe yaad aaya   From Aarti (1962)

Aarti was the second movie starring Pradeep Kumar and Meena Kumari.  There were a good number of films (four I think, Aarti, Chitralekha, Bheegi Raat and Bahu Begam) where  Ashok Kumar, Pradeep Kumar, and Meena Kumari were in a romantic triangle.

This movie had lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri and music by Roshan.  And it was so good, all the songs are winners.

There is a flirty song in the film - baar baar tohe kya samjhaye - but it is not filmed on the couple, hence I chose this rather moody song sung by Rafi and Lata.

Yeh Kisne Geet Chheda  from Meri Surat Teri Ankhen (1963)

The movie was a bit like The Phantom of the Opera.  The main protagonist was Ashok Kumar, the older son who is shunned because he is ugly.  He falls for pretty Asha Parekh who is not disgusted by him.  But she is in love with Pradeep Kumar already and cannot reciprocate.

This song is written by Shailendra and set to music by SD Burman.  It takes me away to another place altogether when I hear it.  It is sung by Suman and Mukesh.

Milte hi nazar unse ham ho gaye diwane from Ustadon ke Ustad

This was a crime thriller which starred Sheikh Mukhtiar, Ashok Kumar, Pradeep Kumar and Shakila.  I saw it quite a while back, as far as I remember, I was not bored.

I was really hard pressed between this song and Sau Baar Janam Lenge which is so haunting.

The music is by Ravi, lyrics by Asad Bhopali.  The qawwali is sung by Manna Dey, Asha and Rafi.  It is picturised on Sheikh Mukhtiar, Pradeep Kumar and famous Qawwal Shakila Bano Bhopali.

Paon choo lene do phoolon ko inayat hogi  from Taj Mahal (1963)
This was a lavish film about the great love between Khurram and Arjumand.  This is no legend, these people really did exist and there seems to be ample evidence that the couple was very fond of each other.

The lovely Bina Rai played Arjumand, later known as Mumtaz Mahal.  Pradeep Kumar stepped into the shoes of Shah Jahan.

The movie has a line up of memorable songs, a big achievement by Roshan.  The lyrics were by Sahir.  Among all the songs of the movies, I had no trouble picking this intensely romantic number.

I have completed 10 songs, each from a different film and yet reached only 1963 in Pradeep Kumar's filmography.  I will cover the next four years, until 1967 in the next post.  After 1967, Pradeep Kumar was playing mostly character roles, also, the standard of songs was going down.