Imagine a historical drama all about handsome, aristocratic young men who join together, reluctantly at first, and transform into a group of amazing soldiers and military leaders whose goal is to make a brighter future for the citizens of Silla. That’s Hwarang.
The drama isn’t just about how the Hwarang was formed but also includes a future king in hiding and a young man masquerading as his best friend in order to find that “faceless King” whom he believes was the cause of that friend’s brutal murder. Both young men end up as Hwarang recruits and fall in love with the same beautiful woman who happens to be the chosen doctor for the Hwarang. Will these young men ever discover who the other really is? And what would happen if their real identities are ever revealed to the other members of the Hwarang?
Never knowing his parents, Moo-Myung has been raised by a kind man outside Silla’s capital walls all his life. As a poor peasant, his life has been a challenging one but those difficulties helped mold him into a strong, kind young man. He is known to most people as Dog-Bird because he is “fierce like a dog and free like a bird.” He goes on a quest to help his best friend, Sun-Woo, who was taken from his home in the capital when he was just a young boy and desperately wants to find his family again.
In order to protect her son from assassins, Queen Regent Jiso sent him away to live a secret life until she is ready for him to take his rightful place on the throne and become King Jinheung. He has lived a fairly privileged life, as Sam Maek-Jong, waiting for his mother to abdicate the throne. When he hears the Queen is putting together an elite group of young men, called Hwarang, he decides to join, much to her dismay. Everyone in the Three Kingdoms knows King Jinheung exists but only a few people knows who “the faceless King” really is.
Kim Ah-Ro is the daughter of the town doctor and, as such, has grown up by his side learning the art of medicine. She earns money, however, by making up and telling erotic love stories. She grew up, pretty much a loner but has one close friend. Her mother died and her brother was taken from the family when she was a very little girl. She misses him terribly and longs for the day she will see him again.
Handsome, well-adjusted Kim Soo-Ho is a young man from a privileged family. He is quite competitive and enjoys attention. He’s a ladies’ man in every sense of the word, having dated most every girl he has ever met. He’s quite good at sports and is very handy with a sword.
Park Ban-Ryu was raised in a well to do home, always having the best of the best but never being the recipient of any kind of affection. He was taught that power and prestige is everything and one must obtain them at all costs. Although he is well known, his arrogant attitude keeps him from having really close friends.
Chief Pung Wol-Ju is the man in charge of the Hwarang. From a distance you’d think he was an ignorant, irresponsible man but his depth of thinking is inspiring. He is a teacher, friend, and father figure to the Hwarang, and they learn more about themselves than they ever thought was possible under his tutelage.
One of the best things about Park Seo-Joon, whose character is known as Dog-Bird, is the fact that he had already served his mandatory military service before he went into the entertainment field. That means we are able to fall in love with this actor and never have to be without him! He debuted in a music video in 2011 and also appeared in a film entitled Perfect Game and then went on to be in the drama Dream High 2 the next year. The man’s been in 11 dramas in just five years! 2015 saw him beginning the year as Hwang Jung-Eum’s “twin brother” in Kill Me, Heal Me and ending it as her boyfriend in She Was Pretty. He’s been the recipient of several awards, my two favorites being the Watch Out He’s Gonna Make Your Heart Beat Award and the Best Couple Award with Ji Sung in Kill Me, Heal Me. That last one is legendary because both recipients are men. Ji Sung plays a man with multiple personalities, one of which is a female teenager who has a major crush on Park Seo-Joon’s character. They were the first male team ever to get the Best Couple Award!
I first became acquainted with Park Hyung-Sik (who plays the role of Kim Ji-Dwi) in the 2013 time travel fantasy drama Nine: Nine Times Time Travel. It’s a superbly fascinating show and he plays the lead male character in his teenage years. Then I watched him in High Society in which he won the New Star Award and the Excellence Award, Actor in a Miniseries. He just keeps getting better and better. This multi-talented guy’s been in musical theater, film, TV, and was a member of the recently disbanded group ZE:A (disbanded on February 9, 2017).
If you’re interested in knowing a bit about the woman who plays Kim Ah-Ro, I hope you’ll read what I wrote about Go Ara in my You’re All Surrounded review.
Choi Min-Ho (who plays the womanizer Kim Soo-Ho) modeled for Ha Sang Baek’s Seoul Collection in March of 2008 and then debuted as a member of the Kpop group Shinee two months later. That same year he also made a special appearance in the television series My Precious You. I was very impressed with his athletic abilities when he starred in the drama To the Beautiful You. His character is a high jumper in college and Min-Ho trained with Coach Kim Tae-Young, a former national high jump athlete, for a month and a half just for his role in the show. Min-Ho is also a songwriter. He has written and co-written lots of the raps on Shinee’s albums.
Although Do Ji-Han has been acting in films and on TV since 2008 (four movies and eight dramas) this is only the second thing he’s been in that I’ve seen. The first one was Will it Snow for Christmas?, a depressing love story with a horribly abrupt finish (I refuse to say “ending” because it didn’t end, it just stopped) but I don’t remember who he even played in the drama. His role is much more memorable in Hwarang. I think he did a great job as the aloof, egotistical Park Ban-Rye.
Fifty-two year old veteran actor Sung Dong-Il (whose character is the leader of the Hwarang, Chief Pung Wol-Ju) made his debut by way of the theater in 1987. He’s been in film and TV playing everything from comedy roles to villains. Just this year alone he has played a serial killer in The Legend of the Blue Sea, a General in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, and made a cameo appearance in The K2, Pied Piper, and Dear My Friends. But I remember him best as a father-figure psychiatrist in one of my top twenty favorite Kdramas, It’s Okay, That’s Love.
The idea of a “Hwarang” didn’t come from the imagination of screenwriter Park Eun-Yeong. No. The Hwarang (or Flowering Knights) were real and those men were instrumental in the fall of Goguryeo, and the unification of the Korean Peninsula under Unified Silla followed. In doing a little online research I found one Chinese official recorded, “They (Silla) choose fair sons from noble families and deck them out with cosmetics and fine clothes and call them Hwarang. The people all revere and serve them.” What was known as the Five Precepts for Secular Life became a list of ethics that the real-life Hwarang followed…
1. Show allegiance to one’s sovereign.
2. Treat one’s parents with respect and devotion.
3. Exhibit trust and sincerity amongst friends.
4. Never retreat in battle.
5. Exercise discretion when taking a life.
In the show Queen Regent Jiso decides to create the Hwarang in order to “control the royal council and plan a new future.” But in reality it was King Jinheung that began the Hwarang. Oh, here’s something I thought was interesting – the modern Hwa Rang Do is a Korean martial art inspired by the Hwarang.
Hwarang has a decent handful of action scenes – great sword fighting, horseback riding while shooting arrows, a couple fist fights – but not enough for me to classify it as an action drama. Also, if you’re wondering about what the romance is like I’ll let you decide. Here’s an exact quote from the show… “If you die, then so do I. If you’re not okay, then I’m not okay either. No matter what situation arises, I will always put you first. So if you really want to help me, think about yourself first.” Now, what girl doesn’t want to hear those exact words from the guy she loves? Oh, and the kisses are a thumbs up.
Sadly, this piece of historical fiction isn’t without some mistakes.
“Oops” number one – In one scene a few of the Hwarang are dancing with their swords one second and then all of a sudden the swords are gone. It’s not like they just put them down because there are no swords on the ground, and you don’t just toss a bunch of swords off to the side!
“Oops” number two – Another scene shows someone being kidnapped, put in a bag and flung over a horse. We, and someone in the show, are able to see the kidnapped person’s hair coming out of the end of the bag. However, when we next see the victim they are sitting down and the kidnapper pulls a bag off of their head. How were we able to see hair coming out of the big bag if there was a small bag over the person’s head?
“Oops” number three – Someone dies and a pile of stones is situated over their grave. Not too long after that, someone goes back to the grave and the pile of rocks is covered in moss. Does moss really grow that fast?
Something is said in this show that is a perfect, word-for-word copy of a very famous line in one of the old Star Wars movies. There’s no way I’m going to tell you what it is but I promise you’ll know it the second you hear it. It made me smile.
Because I know absolutely nothing about Korean history I decided to do a little reading, after I finished the show, and found out that Silla (where the drama takes place) was one of the Three Kingdoms, along with Baekje and Goguryeo, both of which are mentioned in the drama. Silla was also one of the world’s longest sustained dynasties, from 57 BC to 935 AD. Kind of cool.
In comparing its entertainment value (re-watchability) to the other historical Kdramas I’ve seen this past year, Hwarang comes in a close third – behind both Moonlight Drawn by Clouds and Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo but barely just squeezes in front of The Royal Gambler.
The soundtrack is very good, with some of the show’s actors adding their voices to the mix. Park Seo-Joon (Dog-Bird) sings Our Tears and Park Hyung-Sik (Kim Ji-Dwi) performs I’ll Be There. Hyung-Sik has a strong voice and the song, although it’s a ballad, has some power to it. Seo-Joos’s voice is whispery and his song is quite soft. The upbeat songs I like are Even if I Die, It’s You, sung by V and Jin from BTS and I Can Only See You, performed by Seulgi and Wendy from Red Velvet.
The scenery is pretty. There are lots and lots of outdoor shots and the scenes inside the palace and the area/buildings where the Hwarang are housed are very nice. However, the scenery in this drama isn’t on the same magnificent, grand scale as the scenery in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. My guess is the difference in scenery is also a difference in budget.
Hwarang is definitely entertaining. It’s not fantastic but I enjoyed it. Sword fighting, hidden identities, a love triangle, and character development… I recommend it.
Good character development
Some overlooked inconsistencies