“Empress Ki” – First Impressions

There has been a lot of talk surrounding this one. It’s historically inaccurate, the wardrobe is all wrong, the hairstyles aren’t correct, it’s too many episodes (confirmed at 50), it’s insulting to Koreans… With everything going against it, why would anyone bother, right? The problem for me was that I love all three leads and I don’t base my drama watching on historical accuracy or wardrobe mishaps. I tend to choose dramas that either have actors that I find intriguing and fascinating (Secret) or I try the first few episodes (Heirs) and find something appealing that makes me want to watch.
I did want to be careful what I wrote – the thought of insulting Koreans scared me. I know absolutely zippo about this particular time in history and attempts to learn gave me a headache. I know it was bloody and I know Koreans were enslaved. And I know Empress Ki is hated: that’s the extent of my knowledge. Yuan Dynasty? Goryeo? That’s all Greek to me. I decided to watch episode one without understanding the story. All I can say is it had the perfect amount of battle-fighting action scenes mixed with humor and romance.
It opened on a wedding between Empress Ki (Ha Ji Won) and Emperor Huizong (Ji Chang Wook) Silly me thinking it a happy occasion only to see the looks passing between Empress Ki and Wang Yoo (Joo Jin Mo)  – definitely some heartbreak going on there. And both of these actors do heartbroken so well! How could I be tearing up within the first 2 minutes of this?
Flashback scenes of Ki as a child, in prison but being released by a young royal (which turns out to be a young Wang Yoo) only to be hunted down like dogs in the next scene. Her Mom is shot with an arrow, protecting her and they fall down a ravine. She escapes, searches for food, gets caught stealing food and hides the fact that she’s a girl. It moves fairly quickly from there – showing her grown up and now hanging out with a band of “street thugs” of which she appears to be the lead. And she is a bad-ass. (Of course, this is Ha Ji Won we’re talking about)
For some reason, Wang Yoo (who is now 18 – LOL at Jin Mo trying to be 18) decides to challenge Ki’s group to a drinking/arrow-shooting contest. He and Ki both end up drunk, trying to shoot arrows at a target. They both do pretty good until Ki aims her arrow directly at him, falls on his shoulder, vomits all over him and passes out. Ahahaha. She’s taken to Yoo’s quarters to sleep it off.
When she wakes up, Yoo is playing a gayageum. He offers to teach her how to play and sits behind her – which seems to set off some strange feelings. Either because he’s holding her hands or because he’s so close, I’m not sure. They both feel something although I thought at this point, he still believes she’s a HE. When it gets so uncomfortable that Ki can’t handle it, she throws the gayageum and turns as if to stab him. Lowering her voice, she says she has to go. He admits he’s the Crown Prince.
They next meet because she agreed to teach him some arrow-shooting tips. She also meets with King Go who tells her to protect the Crown Prince. They go to a festival where a black-hooded assassin attempts to kill Yoo but Ki jumps in front of him and takes an arrow in the leg. When she refuses a piggy-back, Yoo princess carries her back to his quarters. Once the arrow is removed, Yoo rips open her pant leg to inspect the wound only to have Ki slap his face. She realizes she made a huge error and attempts to cover it by saying he ripped the only clothing she has.
There is a bath scene with Yoo trying to bring in a set of new, fresh clothes for her but she locked the door and won’t let him in. (LOL) Ki meets with King Go again who gives her an errand. Over a meal with Yoo, she brings up something in the market he’s investigating and you can tell he doesn’t trust her because of what she says. I’m not sure if what happens next is political plotting but it appears to be a set up – with Ki being caught and arrested by Yoo and his men and King Go being a part of it. Did he set Ki up to get to the Crown Prince? Is he trying to harm the Crown Prince?
Somehow Ki ends up in Emperor Huizong’s camp. He (from what I can tell so far) is a shrewd guy but pretending to be sickly, weak and an idiot. Their first meeting, he’s trying to sneak out of the camp but ends up having to hide in Ki’s tent and watches her bathe. (LMAO) He sneezes, she hears him and put a sword at his throat asking who he is. Even better, in the preview – it shows her kicking him face first into the mud. How they go from this to love and marriage, I can’t wait to find out.
All in all, a very enjoyable start. The visuals are stunning and I have no complaints with the directing or acting. Since I don’t know the history, I have no idea who is fighting who or why. (and part of me doesn’t care? LOL) I’m just extremely excited to see Joo Jin Mo back on my screen along with Ha Ji Won. And since the “Five Fingers” fiasco, I’m also very happy to see the adorable Ji Chang Wook. Once I learned he was playing Emperor Huizong and he takes Ki as his concubine? I was in. (LOL)
For those waiting for subs, it might be awhile. I know both ViKi and DramaFever are applying for the license but nothing has been settled yet. Or it might be that MBC won’t give out any license in which case (I’ve been told) they will release subs themselves but when or how remains a mystery. I will be watching this and will try to keep everyone informed as soon as I learn the details.


  • nana says:

    thank you for the summary actually i didn’t have time to watch the first episode as i need to study i wish i can finish it by tomorrow so i can watch secret and the heirs i liked this episode and i love the leads i just don’t like the fact that it is 50 ep cause it makes me crazy wanting to know what is going to happen at the end

  • Mawiie says:

    Thanks a bunch! I was waiting for someone to cover it! Glad you liked it 😀

  • gulagula says:

    i like this recap. haha. interesting. thanks for this

  • bing says:

    thanks so much for this..this is much helpful for us who can’t understand korean…Episode 1 has already english subs..we’re still waiting for ep 2…same here i have no idea in their history but what i know is I enjoy watching it and excited for the succeeding episodes..btw, the rating is outstanding as well..so does it mean this drama is appreciated by some korean fans despite of inaccuracy or whatsoever issues regarding this drama..

  • cslove says:

    So happy to see your recap and review. Thanks and I’m bought in to follow the shows just watching bits and pieces of epi one. Hope the translation will come real soon.

  • tessieroo says:

    Yes, the ratings were great! Number 1 in it’s time slot! I also learned MBC is doing their own subs, the episodes can be viewed (free) on Hulu (which I think it only available in America) but I’m guessing the episodes will be posted other places soon.

  • MadHatter says:

    King Chunghye of Goryo (Wang Yoo in the drama) was known as an immoral king, who raped and killed women as he pleased. It might explain why Koreans won’t think much of him. Not sure why they don’t like empress Qi so much, other than that she meddled in their internal affairs.

    • tessieroo says:

      Thanks! Even though I kinda of poo-pooed it in my review, I AM trying to learn about the history as much as I can so I appreciate the help. 🙂

  • UZ says:

    I dunno if others share my view but I find HJW’s tearing up upon noticing King Wang Yoo on her wedding / coronation day? a bit out of place and unrealistic. It may well be because i still cant relate to the supposed depth of their love without the back-story but in my mind, clearly she was not forced into the wedding and surely she’s made up her mind to choose the emperor over him so why the tears.. i dunno just a random thot..

    • tessieroo says:

      I don’t believe women had ANY choice in who they would marry back then? (LOL) I could be wrong but I think she was doing it for political reasons – to protect her countrymen? I learned via the completed subs that I was wrong on a lot of things in the first 2 episodes. >.<

  • Jennifer says:

    Hi Bing,

    Where can we find epi 1 with eng sub? Thanks

  • jomo says:

    This show has already improved my life.

    I had some dental work done today, which I HATE because I get very clausterphobic, you see.

    So I closed my eyes, and imagined which of her two men I would want to kiss more.
    I spent an almost pleasurable half hour comparing age and experience with youth and beauty. SIGH. We all should have that choice to make!!

    • tessieroo says:

      AHAHAHA – perfect day at the dentist. I can’t believe how much more I enjoyed this with subs. (Doh) For me, it would be really easy to choose – Ji Chang Wook. I mean…have you seen his abs and that GRIN? *hee* I got all happy because he was watching her bathe.

      Seriously, something is wrong with me and this drama. O_o

      • jomo says:

        How he looks is important, yes.
        For me, it’s all about the hands and what they can do with them.
        JJM gets major points for the gayageum scene.

        I get crazy over hands. Throw a mouth in there and I am done like dinner.
        (In Secret, the scene in the restaurant where MH licked his finger made me whelp, whereas the car kiss was less moving, we say.)

        We haven’t gotten to see JCW’s hands as much, so I will withhold judgement for now…

  • Kuma says:

    Second episode, while still good, is less interesting than the first. Could it be that the overlapse between Chinese and Korean histories make the second episode looked a tat too familiar? I kept thinking that I’m actually watching a Chinese period drama except that everybody is speaking Korean. It’s very disorienting. But, I’m going to give this show couple more episodes for the Korean vibe to come back.

  • boss says:

    Nothing i hate more then them showing basically the ending in the 1st episodes. I hate when historical kdramas do that. Not wasting my time on this now.

  • urian says:

    this drama is awesome can’t wait to watch, why just 2 eps in one week T_T
    eps 17 in raw can come here

  • TZ says:

    If they were scared of offending people with inaccurate history why not just say it’s loosely based on history and make their own original story with different characters? Or just don’t mention history at all. They don’t HAVE to be exact to historical people. Just take us to another world!

    If they weren’t pressure with this historical baggage, they probably would have been less pressure and more energy for just telling a good story.

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