When do you ever like a DVD set of a TV mini-series so much that you can unequivocally say that it is the best drama you have ever seen – despite me being only a third of the way through watching it and despite it being an English subtitle experience of a Korean program, a culture I must admit I know next to nothing about?
Such is the case with Dae Jang Geum/Jewel in the Palace, a historical drama depicting Korean court life in the early 1500’s. It originally aired as 54 one hour episodes on television in South Korea in 2003-2004. Telling the story of a young orphan girl who becomes an apprentice cook in the King’s palace, she eventually becomes the first recorded female royal physician to a King.
The drama is in part based on actual history. The Annals of Joseon Dynasty, a history of the kings who ruled in Korea for 400 years, tells of a female royal doctor. The drama extrapolated from this historical truth is a remarkable combination of palace intrigue and corruption, extraordinary scenes of remarkable cooking/cuisine, heroism, morality and love.
This YouTube video (one of the few YouTube selections using shots of the English subtitled version) features the protagonist, Jae Geum with her mentor Lady Han, one of the Court Ladies for the Royal Kitchen.
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Although the above YouTube video sets the vignettes to a Celine Dion song, the actual soundtrack to the show is also haunting. I find myself hearing the music inside my head long after watching an episode. Here is the original soundtrack being performed by an orchestra.
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I borrowed the first volume of the three volume set (18 one hour episodes) through inter-library loan because not many libraries in the U.S. own it. Since the lending period was short and my pals and I are totally hooked on it, vol. 2 is already on its way as a purchase from Amazon.
I highly recommend Dae Jang Geum. Already exported to 60 countries and taking country after country by storm after its airing, you truly must find out for yourself just how captivating this epic story is.
Dae Jang Geum Themepark in South Korea.
Korea Times article about the international popularity of this drama.
Internet Movie Database comments about worldwide cultural impact of the drama.
Plot Summary of the 54 episodes in English.