This drama is absolutely batshit insane. Crazy……but good. So I guess its crazy good then? I don’t know beyond episode 1 but so far I am soaking up everything I see. Unless I really love or hate a drama, nowadays I have no time nor inclination to write about it. Even a first impression review since I’d rather summon the energy to munch on a cupcake instead. I get lots of requests to check out this or that new drama, and if I haven’t written about it consider that either I don’t like it or I’m so uninterested in the premise I’m not even going to bother watching. This past Spring I found myself following two sageuks in Gu Family Book and Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love all the way through for various reasons, and taken as a whole neither were any good qualitatively. But they were nice fodder for conversation about the acting, story line, and directing. This week two new sageuks premiered and only one left such a strong impression with me I simply had to write about it. The Blade and Petal (Sword and Flower) aired its first episode today on KBS and managed to garner piddling ratings around 6.7%. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratings stayed that low or went even lower, because this isn’t your halmoni’s sageuk that’s for sure. A stylized visual virtuoso of imagery over pontification, this drama does something unique and different and thus far is cheeky enough to succeed. It’s entertaining as all out, the cool parts and the ridiculously dorky parts.
Anchored by phenomenal acting from the four leads Uhm Tae Woong, Kim Ok Bin, Choi Min Soo, and Kim Young Chul, all of whom look fantastic and are so intense and riveting onscreen it gives me the shivers. Coming across like a spaghetti western of a sageuk, this drama takes full advantage of being set in the more wild era of Gorguyeo, throwing in a crack archer of a male lead and a princess who sword fights with her dad to release some tension and discuss the current state of politics. But it’s not all machismo, taking the K-drama bread and butter of a love story and making it a key element to driving forward the fall of a political power and the ascendance of an equally gripping new one. By taking a very fusion approach, the narrative can aim higher with more pathos and allow in elements that require the suspension of disbelief and the willingness to accept that a princess can fall for a scraggly commoner on sight and a bastard son can find himself caught between the woman he loves and the father figure he longs for. The Blade and Petal is off to an entertaining as all heck start and as long as I’m loving every glorious moment of it then this drama gets a thumbs up from me.
Episode 1 recap:
Princess Moo Young narrates – she is a princess of Goguryeo. Her father King Yeongryu was a powerful ruler who defeated the Sui dynasty from China and protected their national sovereignty. But now the Tang dynasty has arisen and seeks to expand its control and rule, steadily encroaching on Goguryeo.
Her father who advocated a measured response to the rising Tang power, and General Yeon Gae So Mun who called for an immediate attack against the Tang. She thinks about the only love of her life – cut to a smiling Yeon Choong – the son of Yeon Gae So Mun. Was it better that they never met?
The camera pans out and we see a desolate capital city of Pyongyong. Princess Moo Young asks – how did Goguryeo fall?
Back track to some time ago (before all hell broke loose?), Princess Moo Young and her brother the Prince are riding in a convoy when an arrow shoots into their carriage. The King’s nephew Jang leads the royal bodyguards and fights off the assassins.
In the Goguryeo court, the King is discussing with his ministers about the latest Tang threat. He says Goguryeo is not the only country, there is Shilla and Baekjae and other countries that border the Tang and so far there is cautious peace between everyone. A minister points out that the Tang just attacked and eliminated a small country recently. The royal faction backs the King’s cautious approach in building up the domestic strength before declaring war on the Tang. The hawk faction backs General Yeon Gae So Mun’s call to launch a preemptive attack on the Tang now before they get even more powerful. This court session is pretty awesome in that every time the King speaks he stares at Yeon Gae So Mun, who stands there stalwart and silent and says nothing….yet.
A minister points out the latest Tang infractions – destroying a Goguryeo tower that soldiers lost their lives to build, and sending in spies posed as envoys to steal Goguryeo maps. The King derides those who quickly call for war as people who have never fought a battle and therefore do not understand the cost of war. It is not the strong who survive, it is the survivor who proves he is strong. The King asks what great ideas the ministers have and everyone stands there in silence. The King finally lays eyes on General Yeon, who speaks for the first time and calls for the removal of the weak Prime Minister and the installation of a new one. General Yeon says that once Tang is done conquering all of the neighboring countries, it will come after Goguryeo so they need a strong Prime Minister to protect the country at such time.
The King wants to install the prince as the Crown Prince first to ensure succession. General Yeon refuses to back installing the King’s son as Crown Prince, calling him weak and not equipped to rule Goguryeo and protect the country against the Tang. The two sides are at an impasse. He reminds the King that he was also not the heir to the throne but became the ruler by leading Goguryeo into war and defeating the Sui. General Yeon says the next Goguryeo Crown Prince should be the strongest most capable person, not someone who just happens to be the son of the King. Oh snap! A messenger interrupts the meeting to report that the Prince’s convoy was attacked, allegedly by Tang assassins.
The Princess and Prince manage to survive the attack. General Yeon and his supporters worry there was a long survivor that under questioning will reveal the assassination attempt was orchestrated by them. General Yeon does not look worried.
The Princess is leading a convoy back to the capital with the lone surviving assassin in tow. Yeon Choong walks through the crowd in the rain and climbs on top of a roof. He pulls back his bow and lets flying a perfect arrow to the heart of the surviving assassin.
A chase ensues over the rooftops and alleys of Pyongyang with the Princess and Jang chasing after him.
Yeon Choong manages to cover his face and finds himself with a sword to the neck by a very furious princess. He manages to escape when Jang jumps into the fray and needs to protect the princess first. Before Yeon Choong takes off running he hears Jang call her “princess”.
Yeon Choong enters an Inn and starts to perform his sharpshooting archery skills for the gathered crowd who gamble on him hitting the apple on a woman’s head. Jang runs in and suspects Yeon Choong but with the crowd there doesn’t do anything.
Yeon Choong thinks back to how he got here – he was performing his archery skills all over the city after having arrived in town ostensibly to look for someone very powerful. He’s hired to do a job and accepts it after being promised that he could meet the very powerful person who needs this job done.
He looks at a necklace with a picture of his mother painted on it and thinks back to his youth when she mentioned his father being a very powerful man with great purpose in life.
Princess Moo Young returns to court and informs her father that the assassin was taken out with one arrow that was tipped with a rare poison from the outer reaches of the Tang dynasty.
Moo Young discusses with her cousin Jang about the irony of fate – her brother doesn’t want to and doesn’t have the strength to be King, but he’s going to be regardless, whereas Jang has all the characteristics and personality to be King but cannot be. Jang says that a person’s fate can be changed.
Moo Young goes to the marketplace to try to get some information about the assassin who took out the assassin. Sadly there is no way to trace it to General Yeon. She thanks the marketplace folks who she knows helped rescue her and the prince from the assassins.
As she is browsing in the marketplace for hair accessories, her hand brushes a man’s and she finds herself standing next to Yeon Choong. She sees him staring at her – he’s staring because he recognizes her as the princess, but to her he’s just some swarthy sexy guy staring at her. I love the crazy ass music that plays here. Believe me this tune will stick in your mind like glue once you hear it. XD
Moo Young is instantly smitten with him (I dunno why cuz he looks like a bum) while he also checks her out. There is a round of eye-sexing that is pretty darn fast moving for a sageuk couple.
When Moo Young looks away to get her bearing and then turns back to finally talk to him, he’s already walked away and she looks around frantically for her hot guy.
She spots him and follows him from a parallel street. There is this incongruity that feels rather refreshing and plausible – she’s both forward and shy, looking down at times unable to meet his eyes, but then seeking him out because she’s thrilled by this strange attraction.
They get to an open street by the river and both stop, with Moo Young smiling to herself likely waiting for him to make the next move.
Suddenly a horse drawn carriage whizzes by and Yeon Choong grabs Moo Young and flips her upside down out of harms way. This whole scene is done in hilarious slow motion.
Afterwards they stand there staring at each other, and I’m fairly chomping at the two of them to either talk or start making out thereby giving me a good reason for the lack of dialogue.
Alas, our star-crossed future lovers can only stand there smiling like moon pies as PETALS literally fall from the sky and blanket them.
General Yeon Gae So Mun gets a report that the lone assassin was dispatched. Turns out their side wants to get rid of the current Prime Minister because the man was orchestrating a plot to send General Yeon to the farthest reaches of Goguryeo borders to “oversee” the building of a great wall. That would mean the elimination of his faction which is why his ministers cannot let that happen. The ministers ask if General Yeon has a choice for the next Prime Minister and the man takes a swig of wine and then pats an old minister on the shoulder twice before walking away, his answer very clear.
Yeon Choong waits to see the General. When they meet, Yeon Choong faces his father and reveals his bastard parentage and that his mother is dead. This information elicits no reaction from the General other than a cold response that there is no place for Choong in this household. Choong gets the message and leaves.
Princess Moo Young lays in bed and she’s holding a few flower petals as she reminisces about her swoony encounter with her mussy-haired silent prince charming.
Yeon Choong sits in his room and broods over his daddy’s curt and cold dismissal and rejection of him. A flower petal floats past and he catches it, reminding him of his encounter with Moo Young.
General Yeon is summoned into the Palace late at night by the King, which usually means very bad things are about to happen. His loyal ministers urge him to stage a coup right now rather than risk getting taken out by the King. He ignores then and just stands there tapping his fingers slowly and deliberately. He doesn’t blink and eye and goes, this man is one rock hard MoFo.
King Yeongryu is sparring with Princess Moo Young and discussing what to do about Yeon Gae So Mun. The Princess knows General Yeon is opposing the Crown Prince installation in exchange for the Prime Minister switch, and the King says General Yeon’s position means he doesn’t want to go oversee the wall building at the border. The King warns that one wrong move and the nobles might rise up in a coup.
The two men get ready for their late night tete-a-tete, with Princess Moo Young helping her father change and there is this great wordless moment between them when you can see that he wishes so desperately she was a boy and could be a good successor to the throne. General Yeon arrives at his late night private meeting with the King, who cuts to the chase and makes a offer that if he agrees to change the Prime Minister, then General Yeon needs to agree to install the prince as the Crown Prince. General Yeon agrees, saying only that he hopes the new Prime Minister can protect Goguryeo.
Princess Moo Young is out in the marketplace looking for Yeon Choong, who she knows is the famous archer performing all over town. She has a flyer for him and goes to the Inn where he usually performs. She sits outside waiting to see if he’ll show up.
Yeon Choong is inside the Inn discussing with his buddy who wonders what he’s going to do now. Yeon Choong looks out the window and sees Moo Young waiting for him, He thinks back to his encounters with Moo Young, who he knows is a princess because when he was face covered and running away as an assassin he heard Jang ask if the princess was alright. He makes up his mind to use her and tells his buddy that he’s not leaving the capital anymore. He’s going to stay and become someone who cannot be messed with.
Yeon Choong walks through marketplace and attracts quite a crowd following him to his next performance. Moo Young sees a flyer for his next performance and hurries to find him.
Yeon Choong readies for his performance and looks into the crowd for a volunteer. He locks eyes with Moo Young and walks towards her. He asks if she trusts him? She stares at him and then nods her head with a shy smile.
Thoughts of Mine:
The moment episode 1 ended I immediately wanted to rewatch it again. That’s a sign that it caught my attention right and good. This drama absolutely needs to be watched rather than following along with recaps. It’s stylized in a very innovative way I haven’t seen in any K-drama sageuk before. Rich and evocative but also aware that its skirting at the edges of sageuk reality but accepts that challenge to take the viewer to the same destination (angsty love story) but along a different route. So far I love the view.