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Spirited art student Shin Chae-Kyung's life turns upside-down when she is told she has been betrothed to her classmate, Lee Shin, who also happens to be the crown prince of South Korea. To save her family from debt, she agrees to the marriage. But complications arise from all sides. The newlyweds can barely stand each other. Shin still pines for former girlfriend and ballerina Min Hyo Rin. Chae-Kyung finds adjusting to palace life difficult. And after years abroad, Lee Yul returns. A past family scandal had displaced him from the line of succession. Now, he is caught between his mother's machinations and his growing feelings towards his cousin's young bride.Written by
Lightweight, but fun with lots of treats for the eyes; while overall story can plod, central relationship maintains interest
Palace, also known as "Princess Hours", is a Corean television drama, based on a concurrent comic book. Upon its airing, it became one of the most popular dramas to air during its time period. Set in an alternate reality where upon Corea's independence from Japan, its people reinstate its royal family in the form of a constitutional monarchy. What unfolds over the course of the series is an emotionally charged, slowly paced, relationship drama featuring a quartet of principles, combined with courtly intrigue and remarkable production and art design.
This is my second experience with a Corean television drama and I came into it with a lot of skepticism after being disappointed by my previous attempt with Winter Sonata. However, I found Palace a lot more accessible and enjoyable and less contrived. One of its strongest aspects is it's production values and art design. The whole affair glows from the money that's pumped into it, from huge set pieces (the royal wedding parade scene was tremendous) and gorgeous costumes, to high quality video and sets. There's a lot of eye candy in the picture and it's easily one of the prettiest dramas I've seen in a while.
The story essentially follows a spirited high school girl, who by a long-forgotten betrothal, becomes the bride of the Crown Prince of Corea. It follows her entry into the monarchy and the ensuing turmoil as she and the palace itself adapts to their new situation. Throw in some complications with the Crown Prince's original love (who spurns him at first, leading to this marriage) as well as the return of the conniving exiled former Crown Princess and Royal Prince and you have courtly battles for power as well as the development of a tangled web of relationships. Granted, it doesn't take much effort to see how the story's going to play out as it's actually relatively straightforward. Instead of high degrees of "action", we instead follow, very slowly, the development of the characters as their collisions cause them all to react and grow. That said, while I found the characters fairly interesting, the show suffers a little from developing the characters too slowly, often threatening the characters becoming flat. This is especially true of the returned Royal Prince, who becomes fairly stale.
The newlyweds however, retain a lot of chemistry and their bickering on-off relationship helps propel the story forward and fortunately, the crux of Palace rests on that story. The other parts of the story don't lend themselves to much surprise and fail to provide the same dynamism, as such, I often found that many scenes could be trimmed or entire episodes rewritten and cut down to keep the pace of the story afloat. The underlying themes and "substance" to the story are a little weak and as such Palace becomes a little bit more of a confection, often veering into and from soap territory, but it wears its heart on its sleeve and its pleasures are in sharing those up front emotions with its viewers.
Props to the actors, the young unknowns that take the main roles. Although they are sometimes a little stiff, you can tell that they're not just rattling off the performances and the veterans do their jobs as well as you can expect from veterans of the screen. The direction gets a little quirky at times, perhaps thanks to its comic book heritage, with a handful of manic or ridiculous fantasy/daydream sequences, but ultimately, this is a straightforward work and it doesn't really falter where it counts.
I can recommend Palace quite simply because it's easy to get into, has a lot to look at, and has a emotionally hooking central love story. While it does plod at times, I found myself enough enchanted by the principal protagonist and her Cinderella story that it was still easy to watch the whole thing through to the end. I don't think Palace rewrites the book at all when it comes to its medium, genre or format, but I think it's a fun ride. It doesn't hurt that I love its alterna-history imagination as well. It's fun, lightweight (even though it gets heavy for the characters) entertainment and a decent entering place into the world of Corean dramas. 8/10.
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