Title: Dae Jang Geum a.k.a Jewel in the Palace
Length: 54 episodes * 60 minutes
Seo Jang Geum - Lee Young Ae (Fireworks)
Min Jung Ho - Ji Jin Hee (Love Letter)
Choi Geum Young - Hong Ri Na
Jung Jong - Lim Ho (Her House)
Dae Jang Geum is based on the story of a real historical figure, Jang Geum, a girl who overcame many obstacles while growing up as a junior cook in the royal kitchens, later becoming the royal physician, then ultimately the physician in charge of the king.
The year 1482, the palace soldier, Seo Chun-Soo, was ordered to execute the ousted Empress (Yeon-San's mother) by poison. Overcome with remorse and guilt at what he had done, he fell into a mountain valley but was luckily saved by a Taoist priest. The priest prophesised Chun Soo to lead an unfortunate life dictated by three women: the first he would kill, the second would die because of him and the third would be the cause of his death.
14 years later, the Emperor, Yeon-San succeeded the throne. Chun-Soo resigned from his position, wishing to leave this unlucky life. He rescued a dying girl, Park Myoung-yee, from the riverside and knew that this was the second girl from the prophecy.
Park Myoung-yee was a palace cook who witnessed an attempt to kill the Emperor by the other palace cooks. Upon reporting this to her superior, she was carried out during the night and upon false accusations, forced to take poison.
The two ran away together and had a daughter, Jang Geum. Since then, Chun-Soo took wife and daughter to live in a rural village among the lower classes, where they would be able to maintain a low profile. Unfortunately, in the year 1504, a political massacre occurred and the Emperor ordered all those connected to his mother's death to be killed. Little Jang Geum accidentally let slip her father's identity to the public and incidentally, the family of three was torn apart, with Jang Geum's mother being shot.
Young Jang Geum, with the loss of both parents, had no where to go. Fortunately, she was taken in by Gang Deok-Guk and his wife Geum Bo Ra, a couple who sell wine. Following her mother's dying instructions, Jang Geum successfully became a junior cook in the Soo Ra Gan (the royal kitchen).
Jang Geum's curiousity often landed her in immense trouble but she studied extremely hard and helps others in times of need. With a unique and delicate sense of taste and exceptional cooking ability, she was quickly recognized among the kitchen staff, especially by Lady Han, her master and mentor, for her talent.
During the Royal Competition to select the best Sang Gung, Lady Han fell into Choi Pan Sool and Lady Choi's plot and was unable to make it back to the palace in time. Jang Geum took her place in competing against Lady Choi. The Emperor Jung Jong was impressed and touched by Jang Geum's sincerity and motivation in her cooking and therefore announced her as the best junior cook while Lady Han was made the Imperial Attendant, the highest senior position and a much respected title.
Once Jang Geum found out Lady Han was her mother's best friend, both were so filled with emotion that no words could express their happiness at finding each other. They became closer than ever. However, with the Chois also discovering Jang Geum's real origin, their euphoria did not last long, knowing that Jang Geum was now in great danger.
With this sudden threat and her failure in the competition, Lady Choi found every opportunity to beat Lady Han and Jang Geum down.
On a trip to the spa, the Emperor fell extremely sick. Choi Pan Sool and Lady Choi framed Lady Han, blaming it on the sulphur-infected duck she cooked for the Emperor. As a result, Lady Han and Jang Geum were exiled to Jeju Island. Sadly, Lady Han died on the way.
While living as a government servant on Jeju Island (and after many attempts to run away), Jang Geum met Jang-Deok, a woman physician, and studied medicine from her. Jang Geum then re-entered the palace as a medical assistant.
Shocked at Jang Geum's return, Lady Choi continued to make life hard for her, vowing to have her kicked out of the palace. However, Jang Geum shone through with her sincerity and integrity in her medical practice. She earned the Empress' trust and faith in her by proving her outstanding medical knowledge and skills. She finally found the real reason for the Emperor's sickness and cleared both her mother and Lady Han's names.
In the palace, Jang Geum continued to intensively study and develop her medical skills, finding cures for many diseases in the process. Along the way, she treated the 'incurable' Empress Dowager, who stubbornly refused any treatments, and the prince who suffered from small pox. Though the royal physicians and medical assistants did shun Jang Geum at first, misunderstanding her actions, they soon accepted her for her knowledge and skills.
In the end, through Jang Geum's efforts, her consummate medical skills, her boundless love and immeasurable care, she became the first imperial female physician in Korean history and was thus given the name, the "Great Jang Geum" (Dae Jang Geum).
Seo Jang Geum [age 8 - 49] Lee Young Ae
An intelligent and beautiful lady whose outgoing nature and enthusiasm allow her stand out from the crowd. Ever since her parents died during a political massacre, she has suffered many hardships and obstacles, especially in the palace, but she overcomes them with strong determination and perseverance.
Being strong-willed, Jang Geum strives to reach her goal no matter what and although her character seems too good to be true, she does have her faults, as pointed out by her medical lecturer who she finds hardest to impress of all. Jang Geum can be too smart for her own good and can thus overlook simple problems, leading to mistakes that can be too big to rectify.
What sets her character apart from the usual k-drama heroines is that although she is kind-hearted, she is also human and can hate others with vengeance. One of her biggest obstacles to overcome is to rid herself of this aim as that is the reason why she wants to become a physician in the first place, in order to get back into the palace.
Though far from an easy thing to do, Jang Geum does manage to control her anger, not allowing it to motivate her into using her medical skills to harm her enemies. Instead, she uses a steady mind to bring them to justice without resorting to bribes, threats or tactless methods.
After the downfall of the Chois, she desperately seeks for her freedom outside the palace's influence where she is free to do whatever she desired without the pressure of the royalties bearing down on her and often goes out to take care of the lower class people. Through consistency, she never fails to keep improving her medical skills, always helping those in need to the best of her ability. Thus, it is with her extraordinary medical skills/knowledge and her moral to only use it for good that she becomes the first female physician for the Emperor, and named the Great Dae Jang Geum, ranking third in the officers, something that had never happened before in Chosun history.
Min Jung Ho [age 29 - 50] - Ji Jin Hee
A learned man with good looks and high intelligence, he is an outstanding scholar who combines both learning and the martial arts. Min Jung Ho is a judge of the Hang Sung Boo, a government ministry governing the affairs of the capital Hang Sung. He is saved by Jang Geum without his knowledge when he is shot. They then meet again when she goes to him to borrow books. They become romantically involved as he moves to Nae Geum Wee, the Royal Military Guard as Jong Sa Gwan, a senior officer.
Min is impressed by Jang Geum's intellectual beauty and passion for learning. He falls in love with her as he tries to help her, but puts himself in danger several times in the process. Later, he gets impeached by Sa Hun Boo, the Government Intelligence Agency and fired for his efforts to help Jang Geum after he becomes a senior official of Nae Eui Won, a government agency in charge of healthcare and drugs.
He constantly looks out for Jang Geum, always worried for her well-being and being there for her when she needs someone to lean on the most. This is demonstrated when he resigns from his position in order to follow Jang Geum to Jeju Island and stays there with her for the entire time, and then again when he breaches protocol and races back to the quarantined village when Jang Geum was tricked into staying behind. Min can be described as the perfect gentleman, one that girls often dream of but are once again disappointed by the lack of.
Choi Keum Young [age 20 - 40] - Hong Ri Na
Choi Keum-Young starts her life in the palace as the niece of the influential Lady Choi, and becomes Jang Geum's long-time rival. She is an arrogant girl burning with ambitions. Although she is with the Choi clan, she is desperate to find her own way: never really accepting the Chois' way but unable to find her own independent identity. Her intelligence and talents often put her head-to-head with Jang Geum and she desperately competes with her in order to become better than her.
However, her pride and class often clouds her judgment and she falls short of her rival. Therefore, she finds it easier to hate Jang Geum even though she secretly admires her independence and skill. Despite the social class difference, she has secretly loved Min Jung Ho since she was a little girl. When she finds out he is in love with Jang Geum instead, this only fuels her desire to hate Jang Geum more, thinking that she had taken away all that is hers. However, in the end, when Jang Geum exposes her and the Choi clan, she indirectly thankes Jang Geum for giving her freedom back. It could often be said, that under different circumstances, she and Jang Geum could be good friends but under these conditions, it's always 'what if¡'
Jung Jong [age 20 - 60] - Lim Ho
The 11th king of the Chosun Dynasty. He is very gentle but extremely irresolute and indecisive. His kind-heartedness is demonstrated when instead of punishing Min Jung Ho for breaching protocol when he went back for Jang Geum, he sees this as an act of good faith in helping the villagers and promotes him instead. His act of compassion also allows Jang Geum to complete her dream of becoming the Imperial Attendant for a short while in order to record her mother's findings.
He is a kind man who has lost his ability to love a woman as his first wife was forced to be killed by cabinet ministers for political reasons. The Emperor deeply grieved over his beloved wife, but he had no actual power to protect her. He is constantly aware that he is only a puppet to the appointed ministers and is angered over the fact he is helpless to do anything. The Emperor gets to know Jang Geum in the midst of his aggressive efforts toward pushing for a political reform and grows fond of her for her warm personality and outstanding talents. He finds an understanding companion within her and later, for the first time in a decade, becomes attracted to her not through political tactics but by an emotional motive. However, knowing that his love could not be returned, he shows his love for Jang Geum by not making her his concubine as he doesn't want her involved in a power struggle but only asks for her to stay by his side.
Han Sang Gung - Yang Mi-Kyung
As one of Soo Ra Gan's Sang Gung, she possesses a talent in culinary art and is able to identify the source of the ingredients in a dish. Best friend to Jang Geum's mother, she often misses and regrets not being able to save her friend. She is a rigorous person who is not to be swayed from her purpose. Although obdurate in nature, she is actually very kind-hearted. Jang Geum's appearance allowed to open up and she treats her as both a strict teacher and kind mother. Unfortunately, she is caught up in Choi Sang Gung's conspiracy and during her exile to Jeju Island, befalls an unjust death.
Choi Sang Gung - Kyun Mi Ri
Choi Pan Sool's younger sister and Keum-Young's aunt. Comes from a family of high hierarchy and is to be the successor of Soo Ran Gan's Highest Sang Gung from a long bloodline. She started learning the delicacy of food at a young age. She is arrogant in nature and holds her pride above anything else. She possesses a fierce need to get what she wants and will stop at nothing until she does. She is sharp-minded and quick in action and thus is always one step ahead of plotting against Jang Geum and Han Sang Gung. Her betrayal to both sides left her with a path of loose ends which eventually lead to her demise. Her speech to Jang Geum's mother and her death are both poignant and triumphant. Her strong need for power and her strong family connections condemned her to a life of tragedy.
During its original run on MBC, Dae Jang Geum achieved an amazing 54% ratings share, the highest viewer rating in Korean television history! The rating also shot up as soon as Dae Jang Geum was broadcast in Taiwan, creating the 'Jang Geum syndrome'. Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and even Chicago followed suit.
Dae Jang Geum, the story of a single girl's journey as she overcomes many hardships and obstacles, shining through with her courage and wisdom. An emotional roller-coaster that takes viewers along for the ride. You feel the sadness in her dilemmas, the joy of her companionship with Sir Min, the anger at the Chois' attempt to sabotage her and the thrill of it all as she overcomes them with her integrity and honesty. The fifty-four episodes go by far too quickly, each an adventure of its own and creating an in-depth view of the characters and of the palace life. The affairs of the kitchen are depicted as a furious struggle to secure the highest hierarchy where it can be hard to tell friend from foe, the dealings of a family plot to sabotage those who threaten to overturn their plan, comical minor characters to ease the balance¡ overall, a superb cast and storyline that will never fail to grab your interest.
Korean culture is displayed throughout with careful photography, costumes, sceneries, martial art choreography and scrumptious food-making as well as an educational purpose through learning about the various herbs and ailments.
The series focuses on Jang Geum's journey through life with a subplot of forbidden but chaste love (as all women in the palace belong to the Emperor and to marry anyone would be committing a serious offence resulting in death). Indeed, Jang Geum and Sir Min's love is pure and beautiful through lingering touches and embraces. Although slow in developing, their love is one of patience and commitment with no third party (saved outside admirers). Min Jung Ho's many sacrifices for Jang Geum and his neverending belief in her touches many as he willingly stays by her side no matter what, giving his unconditional love, faith, trust and life in her as well as his support and encouragement during her times of need.
There are also other characters that through time, viewers become emotionally linked to: Lady Han's last moments and death was one of sacrifice and of such injustice, that the anger at the Chois was uncontainable. There was the triumph when Jang Geum uncovered the Chois' past misdeeds. However, the death of Lady Choi was of such poignancy that for a brief moment sympathy overcomes the victory won. And there the second part of Jang Geum's journey ended, she had achieved what she had set out to do, avenging all the innocent people who had fallen in the Chois' hands.
Of course, Jang Geum would not have come as far as she did if not for the supporting characters: Yeon-saeng (Park Eun-hye) and Shinbi (Han Ji Min) as good friends of Jang Geum's, Jang Deok as her medical mentor, and her two medical teachers as well as Lady Min and Chang.
Jang Geum is a character of strong morals, never stepping down from what she believed in as demonstrated when the Empress asked for her help in 'treating' the first prince. Jang Geum maintained the fact she would only use her knowledge and skills to help others, not to harm them, even for the Empress and thus offered her own life instead.
Even in an era when the belief of male chauvinism ruled, Jang Geum stood out against all odds and finally becoming the royal doctor, a highly respected and honorable position even for men at that time. The ministers thought that giving a woman the title of royal physician, the top post of the nation's medical department, would result in shaking the society's fundamentals. Therefore, they impeached Sir Min for supporting the female royal physician, which is believed to be shaking the social order. This could be said to be the third part of Jang Geum's journey and which in my opinion, the hardest of them all: her battle against society, a fight against the traditional belief that has been placed down since the beginning of time.
While no one doubted Jang Geum's medical skills, it was thought wrong for a woman to gain such power in such a high position, it has never been heard of. Even the females were opposed to it, including the Empress Dowager, Yeon-saeng and Jang Geum's fellow colleagues, despite Jung Jong's persistence against the cabinet ministers. Jang Geum's medical teachers, whom she respects very much turned their backs on her, claiming that while it is not her fault, he will not find any cause to help her. This left Jang Geum in a very lonely position. Only Sir Min, Shinbi and Jang-Deok supported her and encouraged her to take her rightful place. As Sir Min stated, it is only when she has done this will she be able to be who she always was, and not someone who has been quashed by society's belief. Shinbi argued with the other medical women that if they had the right to play prostitutes then what is the difference in them playing a different role. Jang-Deok one the other hand, wants the respect that woman rightfully deserves. People do not trust their skills and knowledge and their biggest payment was to stay overnight.
One thing I must say I admire most about Jang Geum (among many other things) is her strong resolve to help others no matter their stature. She often goes off to the villages that others tend to avoid and treat the people there free of charge. In one episode, she even quarantined herself and other sick children away from the outside world and did not come out until she found a way to contain it. This is definitely a marking of a true doctor.
According to the 'Chosun Dynasty Chronicles', Seo Jang Geum was the first female physician to the Emperor in Chosun history. Unfortunately, not much is found regarding this legendary figure in the annals.
In another book, a medical record, described Jang Geum in more detail. In 250 words, it mentioned her study and research in acupuncture and medical delicacy.
*Note: I would just like to point out that the next section was written in old Chinese language (much like Shakespearean language). I roughly translated it as best as I could.
'Further records of the female physician, Jang Geum, have been lost and thus can not be checked upon. The 11th emperor, Jung Jong, bestowed upon her the name 'Jang Geum' Ever since the beginning, no medical women was permitted to check on the emperor; however, Jang Geum was an exception as he recognized her skill as a doctor and her unique talent in making medicine into a delicacy (by combining it into everyday food so to make it easier to consume)¡ In the after event, a scholar wrote a poem: The first imperial female physician in history. She was initially (a type of) textile maker and succeeded in becoming a female physician. In order to safeguard her medical profession, the imperial family honoured her with the name Dae Jang Gum and became a female hero, and the only imperial female physician to date.'
Though very laconic, these two accounts prove that there is indeed such a person as Seo Jang Geum. The very ill Jung Jong trusted Jang Gum and allowed her to make the diagnosis and prescription (something females were not allowed to do), and even rewarded her for her skill. Unfortunately, even the best physician cannot overcome age and time. It was said that after Jung Jong passed away, Jang Geum was exiled to China. Only when the empress came into power and regained Jang Geum's status, did she continue to serve the imperial family until she died of sickness in 1566.
Jang Geum is Chosun's history's most unique and remarkable woman. Her consummate medical skill enabled her to adjust the taste of the herbs and medicine to incorporate into everyday food. Even today, Jang Geum's form of acupuncture and secret recipe remain in Korea to undergo further research into its extensive possibilities in the medical world.
It can be assumed that most of the scenes in the Korean drama are fabricated to catch our attention (and it has done so very well). Nowhere in the records does it state she was a royal cook, though her cooking skill must have been of high standard to make the herbs and medicine more pleasantly edible. It is not very likely that such a character as Min Jung Ho existed, or if he did, he would not be romantically involved with Jang Geum as that is an offence at its highest.
Delightfully entertaining with a great plot that will have you glued to the screen, stunning scenes and costumes, wonderful performances as well as a beautiful soundtrack, can you blame 'Jang Geum' for being the highest rated show of 2003?
Although Jang Geum's history still remain shrouded in mystery, the TV drama has bought to life the heart of Korean culture and lifestyle.