Empress Ki : A story of an epic scale

Empress Ki Poster (behance.net)

Empress Ki is the most elaborate, gripping, and thrilling series I have watched this year. And at 51 episodes, it is the longest Korean drama series I have ever watched. Even though the number seems daunting and too much, it’s worth it all. If you like period dramas, you won’t want to give this one a miss.

It was in 2016 that I first read about Empress Ki, the historical drama that had garnered much praise and accolades from the audience and critics alike. Most Korean dramas are just 16 or 20 episodes long. So 51 seemed never-ending to me then. It wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to at least try the first episode. And I was hooked. But owing to the various circumstances I didn’t continue watching it. It was just last month that I remembered this epic story and watched it to completion within just a few days. Believe it or not, midway through it, I was almost literally pulling my hair out, in anticipation of what would happen next.

I would have given this magnum opus 10/10 had it stopped at the 37th or 38th episode, because till then it was almost perfect- flawless! But after that, the plotlines seemed a bit forced. The actions of the characters and the inner workings of their minds were not justified enough. They changed sides and faces too rapidly. It felt as if the writers of the story were changed. Till 37th episode, the pace was very good, the story progressed fast with a reasonable number of thrills, twists & turns and of course cliffhangers. But after that, it was rather too fast. Things happened in rapid succession. I was so unable to grasp the reason behind some of the turn of events.  The twists felt abrupt and edgy. And I was not satisfied with the ending. So I would settle at a 7.5/10.


The Story

It follows a girl, SeungNyang from Goryeo (erstwhile Korea) who dresses like a boy to escape the concubine tribute to Yuan (erstwhile China). She fights with her father whom she addresses as Commander and his pupils to catch hold of bandits, money mongers, and other antisocial elements. She is nicknamed 'The Jackal' for she's shrewd and clever beyond her years. In time she works for the King- Wang Yoo, gaining his trust and admiration for her archery skills. She plays an important role in protecting Toghon Temur, the crown prince of the Mongol Empire who is sent to Goryeo in exile, whom his own countrymen conspire to kill under the orders of the Regent, El Temur.

Somewhere in between, her identity as a girl is revealed. The King of Goryeo is deported to Yuan, and she is taken as a concubine. With several turn of events she rises to the position of a palace servant, a court lady, King's consort, and finally the empress; gaining many friends and enemies in the journey, losing many near and dear ones to power plays, scheming her own revenge, escaping death numerous times and influencing Goryeo and Yuan's economy and polity in a major way.

Empress Ki - the TV series is in no way less than an epic. It tells about an entire era.

The Love Stories

I adored Wang Yoo and SeungNyang's forbidden yet timeless love story. They led parallel lives where they could never be together as they already had missed their chance, and yet they were with each other in prayers and struggles alike. The ache was palpable through out the series.

And SeungNyang and Toghun's story was more about her revenge and his obsession than love. But it is an incredible tale nonetheless. She made this illiterate Emperor learn the Chinese alphabet secretly; fed his confidence and influence over the court and his ministers; and helped him face his sworn enemy, El Temur head on. Their relationship seemed more like a give and take to me- more loyalty than love.

While Wang Yoo is righteous, honorable, compassionate, brave and in every way an able leader, Togun is lazy, dim wit, unreliable, cowardly, unfit to rule an empire, and relies on false paths to glory instead of serving his people.

Tal Tal

The Numerous Characters

What I really like about such epic-like stories are the numerous characters- each relevant in his own space and scope. Every character desires for power and the throne. The Dowager Queen, El Temur- the Regent, the Empress, the ministers- everyone in some position of authority wants to control the throne, the decisions of the Emperor. Some wage wars and some play the palace politics and conspire against the throne.

El Temur is the best antagonist I have ever watched in a Korean series, the likes of whom cannot be recreated. He is so frightening that no one dares go against him. He is so intelligent, shrewd and cunning that no one can fool him, ever. For the best part of the series, he seemed so invincible and immune to all tactics and forces, that I thought he could never be defeated. Was amazed by the coup to kill him, which he managed to escape from and use it for his own benefit time and again.

Some characters whom I had not given much importance, thinking they were the minor or supporting ones, turned out to be with the most important roles. Tal Tal was one of them. And his uncle Baek Ahn. Tal Tal's virtues and knowledge in diverse topics took time to reveal. His reserved expressions, the stoic look, the ability to look through others, judge a situation perfectly, gauge the enemy's abilities just right, and his idealistic views made him one of my favorites.

Many characters changed sides and perspectives throughout the story, as the influence over the throne changed and the number of competitors altered. This was a rather interesting thing to note. The characters you root for go on and assume another personality and a different ideology with time.

SeungNyang caught in a fight

And amidst all these, there is a revenge story, war tactics, scheming a treasure hunt, hiding the treasure, and survival through it all. There were fake identities, bandits, eunuchs living in disguise, commanders turning eunuchs, anonymous dealers making money out of illegal trades and so much more. All the ingredients required of a fast-paced thriller. And kudos to the brilliant acting by all of them, the subplots were a great success too.

The costumes are so elaborate. The scenes and settings are so beautiful. It is a visual treat in every aspect.

I would urge you to try watching the first two episodes of this series. You would be hooked.


  1. What a wonderfully written review. I am tempted to watch the series now...

  2. Pratikshya, loved your review style. I am not much into drama - couldn't even watch GoT which the whole world is crazy after. But I have heard Korean dramas are very matured and sensible. I will definitely give this a try.

  3. I have watched this series, and loved it, I was cheering for Wang yu, loved Joo jin-mo's acting, I was sad at the deaths I laughed at some of the twists, and now I am starting it over again, there was so much going on, that I am starting again to get the bits I missed to see if I can see where some of the twists and turns started, Like the reviewer above, I didnt pick up on how important TalTal would be,

  4. One of the drama most love I ever watched in my life.
    I watched through the Netflix and even I stoped and repeat many time for same scenes to know clearly and did not left a single part of story of all 51 episodes.
    I really enjoyed and learned many things.

  5. I found this drama in admiration of Ha Ji Won ( who plays Seung Nyang aka “ The Jackal “ and who rises to the to as Empress Ki ). All in the cast are remarkable and bring so much to the characters they portray but Ha Ji Won’s performance covers a complex character that has many dimensions to her. From a fan page a translated article revealed that she was offered a chance to go to Hollywood but turned down the offering to make Empress Ki ( I am so thankful she did!).
    Additionally Ha Ji Won also did much research in her role of how her character would have dressed throughout the drama also considering the influence in culture, fashion, food ... that the historical Empress Ki was known to have brought from Koryo.
    The power struggles of the inner palace and the posturing for power cover just about all the themes: loyalty, trust, revenge, faithfulness, selflessness and selfishness, desire for power, greed and the most excellent: the theme of the good king who lays his life down for his subjects.
    The tale, characters and story have similarities to that of my favorite novel series The Lord of the Rings. I am thankful to the directors, writers, cast, musicians camera operators, wardrobe et all. They really delivered in this drama! Though, to avoid spoilers, I will simply say I would have tweaked some aspects of the storyline in the ending. Seung Nyang made me cry so much as did Wang Yu ( his team was AwEsOmE!) I wanted Togan to just “get it together buddy” and felt Ji Chang Wook brought so much to that performance ( thankfully Healer and K2 gave him stronger characters to portray)and, last of all Tal Tal ( who was simply epic ). My favorite scene was the first shadow puppet show.


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Queeristan by Parmesh Sahani

  Queeristan (Amazon Link) Thanks to Audible Free Trial I listened to this amazing non-fiction on LGBTQ inclusion in Indian workplaces. Author Parmesh Sahani identifies as gay Indian, working closely with Godrej higher management and employees for years to create an inclusive workplace, both legally and in spirit. This book is a result of those years of experience, research, collaboration with individuals from difference spectrum of the society and organizations who has successfully transitioned into a queer friendly one.   Indian history is inclusive. From the Khajuraho temple architectures, to Konark to the Rig Veda, there is existing proofs even 2000 years ago of Indian inclusiveness of queer. It’s the draconian British law that criminalised it, which was scraped in 2009, came into effect once again following a sad judgement in 2013 and eventually was scraped off for good in 2018. I am in awe of the lawyers who fought this legal battle- colleagues and partners – Arundhati Katju

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