K-Drama Review: When Queens Battle for a Throne on ‘The Great Queen Seon-deok’

The Great Queen Seondeok
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Flashback to the popular historical drama ‘The Great Queen Seon-deok’

if you have been a fan of K-dramas since the early 2000s, you surely know this drama and even watched it. This drama has been a hot topic since the time it was first broadcast and has even broadcast in other countries.

This series is about historical figures from South Korea and focuses on a battle for the throne to become a queen. The drama is loved and favored by people of all ages, even foreigners who certainly don’t understand the history of South Korea, or about who exactly ‘Queen Seondeok’ is, but have had the opportunity to get to know this character after watching this drama.

Of course, the success of this drama, besides introducing South Korean culture, also lies in the historical story. Let’s get to know the details about ‘The Great Queen Seon-deok’!

About The Great Queen Seo-deok

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The Great Queen Seon-deok,‘ also known as ‘Queen Seon-deok,‘  is a historical drama that aired in 2009. It was produced by MBC for their 48th-founding anniversary. This drama aired on MBC from May 25 to December 22, 2009 on Mondays and Tuesdays at 21:55 for 62 episodes.

The figure of Queen Seondeok reigned as Queen Regnant of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, from 632 to 647. She was Silla’s twenty-seventh ruler, and its first reigning queen. She was the second female sovereign in recorded East Asian history and completed a renaissance in thought, literature, and the arts in Silla. In Samguksagi, Queen Seondeok was described as “generous, benevolent, wise, and smart.”

Since it’s a historical drama chronicling the life of Queen Seondeok of Silla (57 B.C. to A.D. 935), most Koreans with a basic knowledge of history were able to predict what would happen her, even without having watched the drama’s subsequent episodes. Clearly, the TV version of Queen Seondeok’s story had been fictionalized to ensure viewers were on the edge of their seats.

 

Difference Between Drama and History

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Historically, succeeding her father, Queen Seondeok ruled Silla from 632 to 647 during a period of intense conflict with the neighboring Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms. In “Samguksagi,” the 12th-century historical text of Korea’s Three Kingdoms, Seondeok, also known as Deokman, is depicted as a woman who is “generous, benevolent, wise, and smart.” She is portrayed as such a character in the drama, too, only those characteristics are more emphasized as she battles her nemesis, Mishil. Mishil, a diabolical character, dominates the drama from the very first episode, and some viewers have even said that they thought the title of the drama was “Mishil,” not “Queen Seondeok.”

Yet Mishil is a semi-fictional character, therefore making most of the plot involving her character not based in historical fact. The only historical document that Mishil’s name appears in is a copy of the “Annals of the Hwarang” written by Silla historian Kim Dae-mun. The original book disappeared, but in 1989, a copy suddenly appeared in the Japanese Royal Library. Historians are still having an intense debate about whether the copy is a forgery or, indeed, legitimate.

In the book, Mishil is said to have had three lovers who were pungwolju (leaders of the code of Silla chivalry who lived from 540 to 681), and ruled the court through the bedrooms of the three kings, Jinheung, Jinji, and Jinpyeong. She does not exist in any other historical documents. Whether or not Mishil is real, the mischief she carefully coordinates to take down Seondeok in the drama is entirely fictional, causing viewers to wonder what her next move will be.

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The fictional elements of the story start from the beginning of the drama.

In the drama, Deokman is born as the younger twin daughter of King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya. Yet there was a Silla legend that said that if the king and queen gave birth to twins – especially twin daughters – their bloodline would end. Fearing his beloved Queen Maya would be ousted by Mishil, whose ambition was to become queen and bear a crown prince, King Jinpyeong secretly sends the newborn Deokman away from the palace with his loyal servant, Seohwa. Princess Cheonmyeong is raised in the palace, while Deokman is raised in a desert in Mongolia by Seohwa, without being aware of her royal identity.

Yet, according to historical records, Deokman and Cheonmyeong were not twin sisters. Moreover, Deokman was the older sister. She never had to leave the palace and live the life of a commoner, or even disguise herself as a boy, as portrayed in the drama right before everyone, including herself, finds out she’s a princess.

Every addictive TV drama has a love story, and “Queen Seondeok” was no exception. Although the young man and woman do not bluntly confess their love to each other, the drama frequently shows Deokman and Kim Yu-shin, Silla’s most famous general, developing feelings for each other. There’s even a love triangle – Deokman’s twin sister, Princess Cheonmyeong, liked Yu-shin first, but gives him and her life up for her country, causing Deokman to vow vengeance against Mishil. On the show, Princess Cheonmyeong dies after being shot with a poisoned arrow.

The love story is also fictional, and some historians criticized the drama for going too far to entertain the viewers with the queen’s romantic exploits. According to historical records, Queen Seondeok married three times and had no children. The drama briefly does touch on her actual achievements during her 15 years of ruling, including how she erects Cheomseongdae, an astronomical observatory, as well as the nine-story pagoda at Hwangnyong Temple. The drama also stays true to history in telling how Bidam, whom the queen had appointed to the highest position in court, turns his back on her, creating the biggest rebellion in Silla’s history.

Synopsis and Storyline

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The series begins at the end of King Jinheung’s reign and continues until the end of Queen Seondeok’s reign. Deokman was born as one ofKing Jinpyeong and Queen Maya’s twin daughters, but due to a prophecy, King Jinpyeong had to send his daughter away from the palace with the help of his clumsy, but loyal, servant Seohwa, in order to save Queen Maya from being ousted by Mishil, whose ambition was to become Queen. Seohwa raised Deokman as if she were her own, but a turn of events eventually led Deokman into finding out her real identity – only to be abandoned once again by her family in order to save the throne from Mishil’s hand, with the exception of her twin sister Cheonmyeon, who ended up losing her life while trying to help Deokman escape. Out of hatred, Deokman set out to take back what was taken from her, and avenge her sister by bringing Mishil down and becoming the first female king of Silla with the help of her trusted friend, Yushin, and the troubled rogue Bidam who she loved. Ultimately, she led a rebellion near the end of her reign because of a misunderstanding.

Cast and Character

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Apart from an interesting and storyline, the success of this drama is also thanks to the director who chose the cast pretty well. It can be seen that the list of actors and actresses in this drama include many of the top names in the industry at the time, and who have all been recognized for their acting skills. Even some supporting actors and actresses in this drama, were frequently seen as main cast in other various dramas and films. All the cast in this drama explore their roles and portray their characters very well. Let’s get to know the actors and actresses of this drama.

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Lee Yo-won as Princess Deokman, later Queen Seondeok

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    • Nam Ji-hyun as young Deokman
A charismatic, yet solitary ruler: She was known as the first female ruler in Korean history. Deokman was born as the twin sister of Princess Cheonmyong, and had a close brush with death as a baby due to an attempted assassination by Mi-shil, who had ambitions for the throne. A loyal servant named So-hwa rescued her by fleeing the kingdom with her. She loves to be around people, but after becoming a queen, she lost the liberty to trust them as sincerely and innocently as she once did. As ruling queen, she is deeply lonely and filled with despair, yet she must hide her true feelings and stand on her own to be reborn as a true king.
Go Hyun-jung-The Freat Queen Seondeok
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Go Hyun-jung as Lady Mishil

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    • Uee as young Mishil
The archenemy of Queen Seondeok: A royal concubine who will stop at nothing in order to achieve her dream of becoming a queen. She rose to power as a result of her relationships with prominent rulers and officials. She was concubine to three successive Silla kings: King Jinheung, King Jinji, and King Jinpyeong. She was the wife of Lord Sejong (the prime minister), the lover of General Seolwon, and the mother of Bidam.
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Park Ye-jin as Princess Cheonmyeong

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    • Shin Se-kyung as young Cheonmyeong
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    • Kim Yoo-jung as 10-year-old Cheonmyeong
Princess Cheonmyeong was Princess Deokman’s twin sister. As the first-born daughter, King Jinpyeong chose her to stay in the palace in the belief that she was the destined child who would bring Mishil down someday. She grew up fearing Mishil, which led to her living a life out of politics. She fell in love and married King Jinji’s son, Kim Yongsu. One day, Kim Yongsu was nominated as a possible candidate for the throne but had to prove himself worthy of it, which, in the end, caused him his death. Believing that Mishil had her hand on his death, she set out gathering allies in order to bring Mishil down one day. She was the first person to find out about Deokman’s real identity, and did everything she could in order to help her sister, which cost her life.
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Uhm Tae-woong as Kim Yushin

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    • Lee Hyun-woo as young Kim Yushin
The invincible warrior forever remembered by history: With a grand vision for unifying the three kingdoms under Silla’s rule, he aligns himself with Princess Deokman, who puts her complete trust in him. He became an invincible warrior, admired by all in the capital. He earns a well-deserved place in history, the very thing that Bidam desires.
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Kim Nam-gil as Bidam

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    • Park Ji-bin as young Bidam
The glorious downfall of a tragic hero: Bidam inherits the life of Mishil, and their story comes to an end. The tragedy of his mother’s life comes full circle and he becomes the wretched victim of the same fate. Ultimately, he gains nothing he desires – not a place in history, Silla, nor Deokman – and ends up forgotten by history, recorded only as of the instigator of a mutiny. He is loved, then hated. He gains power only to lose it, he earns the trust of people and then loses that trust. He will crash and burn, and his end will be tragic and glorious.

Supporting

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Yoo Seung-ho as Kim Chunchu (later King Taejong Muyeol)

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    • Jung Yun-seok as young Kim Chunchu
Ruler of the next age and ruler of the Three Kingdoms: This series began with Mishil’s age, continues through Deokman’s age and will end at the start of Chunchu’s age. This precocious genius will find his own footing alongside Deokman, Yusin, and Bidam, and gain power in his own way. Ultimately, he will be the one to uphold the dream that began with the late King Jijeung, and unify the Three Kingdoms
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Lee Seung-hyo as Kim Alcheon

He is most well known as Deokman’s staunch supporter and bodyguard. He was initially cold and looked down on Kim Yushin and the Yonghwa Hyangdo. Deokman earns his respect during war with Baekje, and then his loyalty, later on. He is Yushin’s war comrade and close friend. Along with Yushin, he is with Deokman until her final days.

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Jung Ho-bin as Gukseon Munno

The eighth leader of the Hwarang warriors and the Gukseon. Along with Mishil, Seolwon, and Sadaham, they were the people who King Jinheung trusted the most during his era. He helps rescue young Princess Deokman from the palace to protect the royal house. He also took care of Bidam, at the request of King Jinji. He is later killed by Yeomjeong while compiling the Geographical Survey of the Three Kingdoms, after Yeomjeong learns that he planned to give the books to Yushin.

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Jo Min-ki as King Jinpyeong

Deokman and Cheonmyeong’s father. He was a weak king. He was placed on the throne after Mishil dethroned King Jinji.

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Yoon Yoo-sun as Queen Maya

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    • Park Soo-jin as young Maya
King Jinpyeong’s wife, mother of Deokman and Cheonmyeong. She is extremely devoted to her husband. In her early days, Mishil tried to murder Maya, after Maya witnessed the Hwarang putting makeup on their faces. Mishil then tried to take Maya’s place as queen. However, Munno saved Maya and her twins, from falling to their deaths.
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Seo Young-hee as Sohwa

Maidservant to Jinpyeong and Maya, foster mother of Deokman. She brought Deokman to the desert and raised her there until Chilsuk found them. She “died” once in the desert, trying to save Deokman. She dies a second time in another attempt to protect Deokman, later.

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Im Ye-jin as Lady Manmyeong

Jinpyeong’s older sister; Kim Yushin’s mother, and Kim Seohyeon’s wife. She had eloped with Kim Seohyeon in her younger days. Her princess status was not restored until the Queen Mother had forgiven her.

Jung Sung-mo as Kim Seo-hyun

Manmyeong’s husband; Kim Yushin’s father. He is of Gaya descent, and on the hwabaek council.

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Park Jung-chul as Kim Yong-su

King Jinji’s eldest son; Princess Cheonmyeong’s husband. He was originally named heir after Princess Cheonmyeong’s three younger siblings die (because of the prophecy), and he goes out to war to prove himself. However, he is killed because of Mishil.

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Do Yi-sung (now known as In Gyo-jin) as Kim Yong-chun

King Jinji’s second son, a government minister; Princess Cheonmyeong’s ally and confidant. He was a pungwolju (prior to Hojae), and later served on the hwabaek council. He remains loyal to the royal house, and becomes Deokman’s ally later on.

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Shin Goo as Eulje

Senior government minister, friend to King Jinpyeong. He does everything he can to protect the royal house, even if it means trying to kill Deokman. He is later stripped of his titles by King Jinpyeong.

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Jung Woong-in as Misaeng, Mishil’s younger brother; the 10th leader of the Hwarang warriors. He was also a father to over 100 children.

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Dokgo Young-jae as Sejong, Mishil’s husband, the Prime Minister and sixth leader of the Hwarang warriors

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Jeon No-min as Seolwon, Mishil’s lover, the Minister of Defense and seventh leader of the Hwarang warriors.

Kim Jung-hyun as Hajong, Mishil and Sejong’s son, a government minister and the eleventh leader of the Hwarang warriors

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Baek Do-bin as Bojong, Mishil and Seolwon’s son, a Hwarang commander

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Song Ok-sook as Seori, Chief mudang of Shilla, an old friend of Mishil and Misaeng.

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Ahn Gil-kang as Chilsook

Formerly a Hwarang, an agent of Mishil. He was given the task to find the lost twin. Fifteen years later, he found Deokman in the desert.

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Lee Moon-sik as Jookbang

A con artist who rips off the young Deokman, and later joins Yu Shin’s Hwarang.

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Ryu Dam as Godo, A con artist who rips off the young Deokman, and later joins Yu Shin’s Hwarang.

Kang Sung-pil as Santak, Seokpum’s, and later Bidam’s, aide-de-camp.

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Joo Sang-wook as Wolya

Last prince of Gaya and the leader of the Bokya. He was adopted by Kim Seohyeon, and then replaced Yushin as Yonghwa Hyangdo’s leader. Yushin earns Wolya’s loyalty after letting the Gaya refugees stay on the Kim family’s private land.

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Jung Ho-keun as Seolji, Kayan commander; he is loyal to Wolya.

Hong Kyung-in as Seokpum (Noh Young-hak as young Seokpum)

Commander of a Hwarang loyal to Mishil. He comes from a poor family, but Mishil gives him his elevated status–this is why he is so loyal to Mishil.

Jung Hye-sun as Lady Man-ho, Jinpyeong and Manmyeong’s mother

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Park Eun-bin as Boryang, Bojong’s daughter; Kim Chunchu’s wife

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Qri as Youngmo, Hajong’s daughter; Kim Yushin’s wife