While browsing through my Viki.com queue, I came across The Crowned Clown and, not having watched a serious historical drama in quite a long time (I think My Sassy Girl, just shy of two years ago, was the last serious full-length ancient history drama I had seen), decided to give it a try and ended up finishing it in just four days! It’s a compelling story that reminded me a bit of the wonderful 1993 American political comedy movie Dave.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” – William Shakespeare (from King Henry IV)
After the death of his father the King, Yi Heon, afraid of loosing his throne to his younger brother, has the young boy removed from the palace and murdered. The pressures of being King begin to wear on Yi Heon and he eventually becomes a drug addict driven to the brink of insanity by others who desire their own choice on the throne. As threats to his life become more frequent the Chief Royal Secretary discovers an actor, a clown, who looks exactly like the King, and Yi Heon comes up with a way to save his life – have the clown sit on the throne until they either catch the one responsible for the attempts on his life or until he’s assassinated in his stead. As the ruse begins to take shape, things become quite complicated when the clown falls in love with the queen and turns out to be a much better ruler than the real King.
Ha-Seon and his 15 year old sister are orphans who were taken in by a traveling acting troupe and perform for crowds in different towns in Joseon, Ha-Seon being particularly good at portraying the country’s King. Although he has not been well educated he possesses a naturally high intellect and has a sympathetic heart. At first he has no desire to masquerade as King but eventually comes to understand the position of ruler is a way for him to protect what and who he truly loves.
Queen Yoo So-Woon was not happy to leave her family and home to go live in the palace but it helped that her father is a high government official that she is able to see often. At the beginning of their relationship King Yi Heon was kind to her but as time has gone on he has become cold, distant, and even scary. She is happily surprised when his personality begins to change and she soon comes to love the gentle, attentive, fair man her husband has become.
Although some may consider him a rebel, Chief Royal Secretary Yi Kyu is fiercely loyal to the Crown and people of Joseon and wouldn’t hesitate to die for what he believes in. All he wants is for the government to be understanding and treat its citizens fairly. He goes through mental anguish when he has to decide between supporting the King or upholding the nation.
Left State Counselor Shin Chi-Soo is evil to the core and has no trouble poisoning his niece to set someone up. He is eager to have the King deposed or killed in order to better his own situation. Threats, flattery, lies – all tools he deftly uses to his own benefit.
If you’re interested in reading some information about Yeo Jin-Goo, the talented actor who plays both the King and the Clown, you can go to my review of Circle: Two Worlds Connected.
For information about Lee Se-Young, the woman who plays the part of Yi-Heon’s Queen you can go to my Hit the Top review.
I wasn’t familiar with Kim Sang-Kyung, the man who plays Chief Royal Secretary Yi Kyu, but I thought his acting was flawless. Impressively, the man holds a B.A. in Theater and Film from Chung-Ang University. He began acting in 1998, appearing in a film and two Kdramas that year. He’s also no stranger to the theater, being part of the 2009 production Mom, Do You Want to Go on a Trip?
The man who plays the evil Left State Counselor Shin Chi-Soo is 53 year old Kwon Hae-Hyo. His acting career started by way of the theater in 1990, which he stayed active in for over two decades. He first caught my eye when I saw him in the immensely popular Kdrama Winter Sonata and thought he was extremely handsome. Since then I’ve been thrilled to see him appear in My Lovely Sam-Soon, What’s Up Fox, Who Are You?, Lie to Me, The King Of Dramas, Angel Eyes, Big Man, Twenty Again, Entertainer, and Radiant Office. It broke my heart watching him play such a despicable character in this show but, I have to admit, he played the part tremendously well.
One thing The Crowned Clown helped me realize (that I never thought of while watching any other historical drama) is that in those ancient times it wasn’t much better to be royalty than it was to be a commoner. If you were a lowely citizen you could easily starve to death because there was no money to buy food, but royalty could also starve because they would stop eating due to threats of death by poisoning. Poor people might have colder, smaller houses and drab clothing but they never had to worry about a family member trying to overthrow them. The destitute may have had their hand cut off for stealing but the hierarchy were beheaded when people would frame them for crimes they didn’t commit in order to remove them from their position. Nope, rich or poor, life back in those days just plain sucked.
Although the drama begins with the words “The characters, organizations, locations, and events in this drama are fictional and have no relation to historical facts,” there are some things in the story that match up to history. King Yi Heon (the King that was drugged and driven insane) is Yi Hon, the 15th King of the Joseon dynasty, known as Gwanghae-gun or Prince Gwanghaegun, who reigned from 1608 to 1623. Here are a few things the drama gets historically correct…
1. He revised the land ordinance and re-distributed land to the people.
2. Many books came out during his reign, including the famous medical book Donguibogam.
3. He also implemented the Daedong (more fair tax) law. During his reign it was activated only in Gyeonggi Province, which was the largest granary zone at the time. A century later the law was extended across the whole kingdom.
The Crowned Clown is a TV remake of the 2012 film Masquerade which is listed as Korea’s ninth all time highest-grossing film. Among its plethora of awards is Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Design, Best Technical Achievement, Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, Best Production, Best Music, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Screenplay. Interestingly enough, Jang Gwang played the King’s main Eunuch in the movie and actually reprises that role, as Eunuch Jo, in the drama. Since Masquerade stars Lee Byung-Hun (an actor on my favorites list) I began searching the internet in hopes of finding it and – bingo- it was available. So, my friend (the one who got me Netflix) rented it for me so I could watch it and compare it to The Crowned Clown! I found it absolutely excellent! I would say about 95% of what is shown in the film has also been put in the drama, although some things have their own little twist to them. Is one better than the other? Well, I personally preferred the drama simply because it’s longer length allows it to go into more detail than the movie which served to bring me emotionally closer to the characters. Which one should you watch first? I’d say first watch the drama and then see the movie right after simply because of the twists. It might be more difficult to relate the twists to certain events if you haven’t seen the more detailed drama first. One thing the movie makes clear that was not specifically revealed in the drama is that “Gwanghae (aka Yi Heon) is the only King in the history of Joseon who imposed tax only on landowners and confronted the Ming Dynasty to protect his people.”
If you’re at all wondering about The Crowned Clown’s nationwide ratings, its lowest was 5.709% for the first episode and the highest was 10.851% for the last/16th episode. That might not sound like much but this show was aired on a cable network so that’s actually quite amazing.
All but one song on the soundtrack are ballads. Always, sung by Seuigi of Red Velvet, and If I Could Be By Your Side performed by Sung Si-Kyung, are my favorites. The one I wasn’t thrilled with is the more fast-paced song called Light Saver sung by Ahn Ye-Eun. I just didn’t care for the song. As you watch the show I’m positive you’ll recognize the haunting melody of Schubert’s Serenade. It was the lover’s theme in the Kdrama Summer Scent and it’s used as Ha-Seon and the Queen’s love song in this drama, as well. Of course, this being a historical drama, there’s lots and lots of classical-type music in the background. Sad, exciting, suspenseful, romantic – the moods in this show are superbly enhanced by its instrumental music.
There’s no need to go into much detail describing the scenery/backgrounds/sets in this drama. As per all historical Kdramas I’ve seen, the scenery is absolutely exquisite. There’s a lush bamboo grove, a rocky cliff overlooking the blue ocean waters, a charming bridge complete with flickering fireflies in the night sky, elaborately decorated palace rooms… simply put, the cinematography is truly award-winning.
The fact that I’m not a huge fan of historical dramas but highly recommend The Crowned Clown is testament to just how good this drama really is – an excellent, original twist to the good old Prince and the Pauper story.
Excellent re-make of the movie Masquerade
Each episode is slightly over an hour so it is longer than its 16 episodes suggest