Drama Reviews September 30, 2015

Empress Ki

  • Information: South Korea • TV Drama • 2013 • 51 episodes
  • Original Title: 기황후
  • Starring: Ha Ji-Won, Joo Jin-Mo, Ji Chang-Wook
  • Gents Score :
  • My Rating:

When it comes to Korean historical dramas, I rarely have any interest in watching it due to my lack of knowledge of Korean history. Even the internationally-acclaimed Dae Jang Geum did not make it on my watch list. But in this case, the story of Empress Ki is intertwined with ancient Chinese history which piqued my interest. I was curious about how well-done a Korean drama with a Chinese palace setting could be. For the most part, I was not disappointed. Here’s my Korean drama review for Empress Ki and why I recommend it.


Seung-Nyang is an orphan in Goryeo (ancient Korea). Posing as a man so she wouldn’t be sent to China as a female tribute to service the Chinese Emperor, she survived and grew up to become the leader of a group of activists saving female tributes from being forcefully sent away. She meets the King of Goryeo, Wang Yoo, and falls in love with him. Through various circumstances, she eventually meets Toghon Temür, a prince from Mongolia and soon-to-be China’s Emperor, who falls in love with her.

The Good

  • Beautiful costumes
  • Good mixture of action, comedy, melodrama and romance
  • Good acting and chemistry from the three lead characters

The Bad

  • Romantic relationship seem forced at times


Have you ever watched something and it was so good that it made you want to marathon it 24/7? Empress Ki is such a drama. Well, I didn’t marathon it 24/7 (and I hope you won’t, either due to obvious health reasons) but it certainly gave me the urge to; all those cliffhanger endings didn’t help, either. Empress Ki is a highly romanticized historical romance that is loosely based on the real life historical figure. I had no idea that Korean women were being sent to China as concubines during the Yuan dynasty. I think some called them slaves and yes while they were slaves in Korea, they underwent an inspection in China; some were chosen as palace maids and some were even chosen to become concubines, wives of the Emperor.

Seung-Nyang and Wang Yoo. Photo © MBC

Seung-Nyang and Wang Yoo. Photo © MBC

The story does really well in bringing up the main character, Seung-Nyang, played by Ha Ji-Won. As a child, she was originally a slave with her mother (the reason why, I forgot) but with the help of a prince, she managed to escape at the sacrifice of her mother. In order to stay hidden, she posed as a boy and learned to fight and eventually became the leader of a group of activists (or bandits?). I really liked this part of the story in which I learned about her past and her motivations. Her chemistry with Wang Yoo, played by Joo Jin-Mo, was really well done, too. When he started to develop feelings for Seung-Nyang who he thought was a guy gave some good laughs.

The story was really well done up til the halfway mark where Toghon Temür, played by Ji Chang-Wook, appears and the relationships shift. That’s not to say that the story wasn’t as enjoyable though because it was. It’s hard to write this part of the review without spoilers so here goes.

Spoiler alert! Click and read at your own risk.

After Seung-Nyang arrives in China and becomes Toghon Temür’s wife, things just end up becoming awkward and their relationship seem forced. Seung-Nyang and Wang Yoo was the ideal couple and the chemistry was right but the scriptwriters decided to break them apart and force her with the Chinese Emperor who had no power and was pretty useless. The fact that Seung-Nyang ends up liking him was a bit out-of-character in my opinion. It felt very forced just because she belongs in China now and is the Emperor’s wife. I feel like they created this love triangle just for show.

The latter half of the series is pretty much your standard Chinese palace scheming plot in which Seung-Nyang tries to survive in the China palace, surrounded by enemies, while longing for Wang Yoo.

Photo © MBC

Photo © MBC

The acting was splendid by the entire cast, especially the three lead actors. Not to mention, the costumes were all gorgeous. At 51 episodes, it may seem tiring to watch the whole thing but surprisingly, there was really no downtime to the plot and there was no filler episodes to draw things out; it was one exciting episode to the next with no rest until the very end. That is why I said Empress Ki will make you want to marathon it! So if you have the time, catch it on Hulu, it’s free!

More Information: AsianWiki

This article is purely of my own thoughts and opinions. Your opinions may differ. Any offense caused by my rants and ramblings is unintentional. Thank you for understanding.


  1. Gerard Van Sister says:

    After watching the excellent Mr. Sunshine, I fell in love with Korean movies, especially Empress Ki, a serie loosely based on real events of the mid 1300’s. Excellent costumes and good acting by a number of main characters like Ha Ji-Won as Seung-Nyang, Ji Chang Wook as the emperor Toghon Temur, and Joo Jin-Mo as the king of ancient Korea.
    I strongly recommend the series and as a retired history teacher and lecturer, not necessarily of Korean history, but being a sucker of good period dramas.
    from Melbourne, Australia

    1. Billy W. says:

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! It only gets better from there. I haven’t watched Mr. Sunshine but it looks promising. Yes, there’s so much to learn from period dramas. It’s an exciting time for dramas because they’re so readily available and with subtitles. It makes watching other countries’ period dramas very convenient.

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