This year is sort of an anniversary for me as it was 10 years ago when I discovered Korean dramas. My, where did the time go?! 😀 I always planned on doing something to commemorate this “grand” event but never seemed to have the time. And what better way to do it than write about my first kdrama ever, The Legend or ‘The Story of the First King’s Four Gods’, as it’s also called. For some odd reason I never did write a proper post on The Legend way back when. Maybe I was too immersed in the drama to be able to form a cohersive thought on it. *g* The year is drawing to a close, so I thought it’s now or never if I want this post to be done in 2018.
The Legend was probably the first attempt at fusion sageuk and it came with a fantasy element. The whole project was an ambitious and rather grandiose brainchild of PD Kim Jong Hak, skripted by Song Ji Na. Both well known names. I believe it was the most expensive kdrama ever made at the time and it showed. The production values may seem somewhat dated by today’s standards but I think it still looks pretty classy. If you can find a HQ version, that is. Had it been made today, with the equipment and resources available now, it probably would have looked something akin to those past life sections in Goblin or one of those gorgeous looking Chinese fantasy wuxias.
The Legend is loosely based on the legend of Dangun (the legendary founder of Gojoseon, the first ever Korean kingdom) ~ wow, loads of ‘legend’ there 😀 ~ and King Gwanggaeto the Great (the nineteenth monarch of Goguryeo). The fantasy element comes from the addition of The Four Symbols (four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations; the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Turtle of the North), the so called Four Gods that Hwang Woong (son of Hwanin, the “Lord of Heaven”) in the origin story brought to the human world with him. They eventually become the four guardians of the prophesied future Yoo Shin King of the story. A review @ Kdramalove.com has a pretty good breakdown of the origin story/background, just don’t read to far down if you’d rather not get spoilt for the whole plot. 🙂 They managed to cram the origin story into the first episode and the teenage part of the main characters finishes in the middle of ep 4. I really liked how the teens’ transiton into their adult counterparts was done. But then the drama was beautifully filmed as it is, even the expositon bits were really well executed, imho. That said, I concur with the blogger at Words, that they “focused too much on the variety of wars, the planning, the stratagems”. Of course TPTB didn’t know that they’d never be able to expand the final part to fully round up the story, so I guess they can be somewhat excused. It is also true that Drama has many actual historical events inserted in those scenes, so not all of them are surplus. Here is a nice, albeit spoilery post on our hero Damdeok, what makes him tick and about his view of the world.
So, the origin story sets the basis of the drama, the first “legend” part. When Hwang Woong left the mortal world, he sealed the four gods in heavenly artefacts and gave a prophesy that one day a true king would be born and marking the event would be appearance of the ‘Yoo Shin’ Star and awakening of the guardian gods. Fast forward some 2000 years and one dark and stormy night two boys are born to the Goguryeo royal family. One is Damdeok, son of the Goguryeo Prince and the other Ho Gae, son of the Prince’s ambitious sister. The Yoo Shin star appears, as promised and the Artefacts awaken. Several interested parties are sprung into action and representatives of each head for where the artefacts are located. Included in said interested parties are people who will later become quite relevant to the story. One of them is Daejangro, the “Leader” of Hwacheon Clan, aka the Big Bad. Daejangro is played by scene stealing Choi Min Soo, rocking the attitude, dubious fashion choices and clearly having loads of fun with the larger than life, rather campy character. I remember enjoying the heck out of the scary dude. 😀
Daejangro of the Hwacheon Clan
Damdeok’s father Gogugyang is a rather weak king. To keep his son safe until he is old enough and able to deal with the palace politics, he tells the boy to act weak and hide his true self. During his early childhood Damdeok and his family live outside of the royal palace – out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. It’s only when his father becomes the king that Damdeok has to move in the royal palace with the rest of them. He was quite happy to live in obscurity and doesn’t really have any interest in becoming the king, but rather thinks cousin Ho Gae is much more suitable. The boys are quite ambale with each other but the bromance is cut short by Ho Gae’s mommy dearest, who is dead certain that Ho Gae is the promised Yoo Shin King. She is willing to go to any lengths to acertain that her son will be crowned and in the end resorts to murder. The plot gets foiled by Damdeok. What follows turns Ho Gae into a bitter enemy and sets the ball rolling towards a lot of other things destined to make life difficult for our hero in the future.
Teen Damdeok [Yoo Seung Ho] and his father, soon to be King Gogugyang [Dok Go Young Jae]
Damdeok’s mother died when he was born and his father was forced to keep his distance, so the boy grows up rather lonely. He doesn’t have any other same age friends save for Ho Gae, until one day he meetcutes Ki Ha, who is sneaking about in the royal library. She is a priestess in training and is quite taken with the mischevious lad. They become firm friends and she even teaches him how to fight. Ki Ha however is not quite who she appears to be and there is a dark force behind her. Her Master is not to be trifled with so she keeps her connection to Damdeok secret. She also helps him on several occasions, which is totally against the rules set by her Master.
Teen Damdeok and Ho Gae [Kim Ho Young, a musical actor these days] (Damdeok’s cousin)
The kids grow up and of course they fall in (forbidden) love. Adult Damdeok is still as mischevious as before and he likes to escape the Royal compound in disguise, to briefly enjoy the life of a commoner. Something he’s been doing since he moved into the Palace. He frequents a tavern, where he one day has another fateful encounter with a rascal he ends up saving from being beaten up. That is the free spirited, money and drink loving Sujini, apprentice of Hyeon Go who is one of the Guardians of the Four Gods and leader of the Geomul village. Growing up within a male tribe Sujini turned out rather tomboyish and strong. She is also very good at archery and riding. The friendship of the two strengthens over time and eventually Sujini becomes Damdeok’s faithful companion and ally. She is the one who stands by him when he gets framed for something he did not do and has to flee the palace. At the beginning of his escape there’s a well choreograped fight scene in the rain that I’ve watched several times because I just love how it looks. This is the beginning of the 4th act of the story, where Damdeok finally has to come to terms with his destiny, no matter how unwilling he initially is. People need him and he is a responsible person who loves his country and it’s people, so what else can he do but accept his fate, for now. At least he is someone who elicts respect and love from those willing to follow him and one by one he wins over many of those who opposed him to begin with. The events leading up to his flight and what happens during it sets a deep shadow into a previously pretty carefree young man. It is also the springboard of his quest to break free of the heavenly creed set upon him as the cost is too high. People he cares for keep getting hurt and dying because of him.
Adult Sujini [Lee Ji Ah]
Adult Sujini and Damdeok [Bae Yong Joon]
Quite a lot happens before the final curtain falls. Plenty of plotting, battles and fighting, several deaths, hardships and pain but also a lot of loving and lovely camraderie. We get to meet all sorts of people along the way. Some in passing and others who stay and make a difference. There’s even one reel to real romance.^^
Mr X called The Legend “a shampoo commercial” but fortunately I don’t have his exacting standards so I loved it. 😀 Yes, there are flaws and it took forever to get to the point where the hero’s kingly journey truly begins, but it was exciting (to me anyway), had some lovely contemplative moments too and looked really good. Plus it has an absolutely wonderful OST by Joe Hisashi. It also has more than one love story, for those who like that sort of thing.^^ Some happy, some tragic… and the OTP was kinda slow burn but heart warming. Don’t expect any smooches or plenty of skinship though. This is a sageuk from 2007, so other methods to depict feelings and love had to be used, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my books. Romance is weaved into the threads of the plot but by no means the main theme. Sageuks on the whole tend to have a large, mixed cast of veterans, up and coming, fan faves, hot items and noobs. Legend is no exception. Looking at the cast list it’s kinda amazing how many familiar names there are and how many of them were pretty much unknown at the time (Park.Sung.Woong!), e.g Lee Da Hee makes a brief but heroic appearance as a royal female warrior. BYJ was at the peak of his popularity and looked gorgeous. Talk about manes of glory! His was all his own too. 😉 Sadly the rigours of filming for months on end and getting hurt more than once, took a toll on his health so Legend ended up being his last drama (cameo in Dream High doesn’t count). No wonder he decided to work behind the scenes from then on.
Quite a transformation, this. ;P
Fom child Cheoro [tiny Lee Hyun Woo – I didn’t even remember he was in the cast^^], future lord of the Gwanmi fortress of Baekjae
To adult Cheoro while he still has the Guardian Artefact in him
To pretty Choero [Lee Philip] after he’s been turned back to normal 😀
Hyeon Go [Oh Seung Yoon], leader of Geomul village
Ba Son, the master blacksmith [Kim Mi Kyung]
General Go Woo Cheung, Damdeok’s trusted ally [Park Jung Hak] – Loved him!
Dal Bi [Shin Eun Jung] and Jumuchi, leader of the Talgal Mercenaries [Park Sung Woong] – They are sooo cute 🙂
What I didn’t know at the time was that the production had been plagued with all sorts of problems and there was a time it looked uncertain if they would ever be able to finish the drama. They ran out of funds at one point too, probably because of the many months they spent shooting on location somewhere in China/Russia. Sageuks are gruelling to make and Legend had it’s fair share of accidents, worst of which being Bae Yong Joon getting badly injured after a fall from a horse towards the end. Filming had to be halted for a while and Drama then sort of limped to the finish line. Thus the story never got the ending it deserved and was supposed to, but at least they were able to tie down some of the loose ends. I wasn’t that disappointed about how things were wrapped up as I was always more interested in the journey than where it ended… and I generally never get too invested in any OTP. Especially in historicals. Reception was mostly favourable (last epi’s rating was 37,5%) but Drama didn’t do quite as well as TPTB had hoped for and the production company never recovered from the excruciating production costs.
There are so many new dramas to watch these days that there probably who’d be interested in checking out an older drama like this. Especially as the availabilitys is a question mark. But if you do, I hope it’s worth your while. The first drama, like the first love has a tendency to become gilded with time, but to me The Legend will always be ‘legendary’ and I did enjoy it even on 2nd and 3rd helping. 🙂
Fiew more character pics:
Ki Ha aged 5
Teen Hyeon Go [Oh Seung Yoon, currently as Lee Yoon in The Last Empress 🙂 ] and baby Sujini
Teen Sujini [Shim Eun Kyung]
Young Saryang, Ki Ha’s guardian and teen Ki Ha [Park Eun Bin]
Adult Ho Gae [Yoon Tae Young]
Adult Ki Ha [Moon So Ri] (with a ‘replacement’ Saryang *g*)
Annnnd several pictures in a gallery as I got a little screengrab-happy and didn’t want to waste them. 😀