Queen Seon Deok is a series that focuses on the 'villains' as much as it focuses on its 'heroes', because a strong and remarkable hero is called such because he/she faced an equally strong and remarkable nemesis. Because there is a strong opponent like Mishil, that Deokman was able to gain experience and wisdom. There are also other characters that play significant roles to both Deokman and Mishil in their quest to gain the throne. For this post, I list some of the main characters and their brief descriptions. Please note that my descriptions of the characters are merely based on the TV series, and not based on actual historical data. Warning: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.
1) PRINCESS DEOKMAN
Princess Deokman (Queen Seon Deok, posthumous) was played beautifully by Lee Yo Won (Fashion 70's). Her younger version was played with great vigor by Nam Ji Hyun (East of Eden, Will It Snow for Christmas?). She was born a twin, which according to a prophecy will mark the end of the sacred bone lineage, meaning that there will be no male heir of direct descendant to claim the throne. The news of the birth of twin princesses would only spell disaster to the royal family. Because of that the King, as in Deokman's father, ordered a nursemaid by the name of Seohwa to take away Deokman and escaped from the palace safely.
She is the one character that shows the most growth in the series, as it should since this is the story about her after all. She displays the quality of a leader since childhood, with perceptive intelligence and great perseverance. Lee Yo Won has the kind of beauty that grows in you and it matures as the character itself grows. I don't understand the complains people have against Lee Yo won's acting. I thought she was remarkable, and it just improves along the way. Perhaps what people really meant to complain was how the character was developed some time during her days as Hwarang. It has little to do with her acting, because I feel that she has delivered what the story asked of her.
There were some character inconsistencies, but I think the situation called for it. She was very brave and such a speak-up person when she was a child. But that is the very innocence of childhood, given her upringing. But further growing up, she has faced several near-death events, journeyed to a new country in search of her real identity, gained foreign and new experiences, and faced the ultimate truth about her birth and her so-called destiny. As she matures, she toned down a little, which is only right. But I never see the high-spirited person in her dies away. It's always there. Waiting to be free again. Just because she doesn't scream or being loud all the time like when she was a child, or just because she showed some moments of fear and uncertainties, she's weak. Circumstances change how people behave, but not necessarily change what inside them that has been shaped since they were small. And true enough, we see again the real Deokman as she overcomes her fears and makes up her mind to fight Mishil.
The best part of Queen Seon Deok has always been the one-to-one exchanges between Deokman and Mishil. I like how Deokman, despite her lack in knowledge and worldly experience in her early days, faces Mishil with a brave front, manages to counter Mishil's attack on her beliefs, then later when she's alone, she always thinks back of their conversations and gains new understanding of things, while stay true to her principle. However, there are also times when Mishil's words create doubts in her mind, which is only realistic, especially when what Mishil says is always right. But Mishil, in a way, is a pessimist, while Deokman is an optimist. Mishil presents the state of things as facts that cannot be changed, while Deokman dares to dream and hope. And through this dreams and hopes that she gains her people.
After Song Il Gook in Emperor of the Sea, this is the first time a villain takes center stage in my eyes as much as the main character. While her scenes with Deokman are always intriguing, Mishil's other scenes have power of their own. If this drama is named Lady Mishil instead of Queen Seon Deok, it probably is still valid because this is as much a story about Mishil as it is about Deokman. Go Hyun Jung (Spring Days), who played the character was really worth all the praise. This is the first drama of her that I actually watched (I tried Spring Days but was too young to appreciate it so I couldn't even finished the first episode)
Seju Mishil is described as a real beauty and a femme fatale, and gains power and prominence during the reign of King Jinheung as the female leader of the Hwarang. She is a treasure of Shilla, but also a poison. King Jinheung, who realizes that his demise is forthcoming orders Mishil to inscribe his last injunction. He names his grandson Baekjeong (later as King Jinpyeong, Deokman's father) as his successor to the throne. According to the codes of law, Seju Mishil, and Prince Geumnyun (the King's second son) who serve the current King must relinguish all significant posts upon his death and devote their remaining days to serving Buddha. This doesn't sit well with Mishil, who's eyeing for more power. King Jinheung realizes that Mishil is in no desire to follow his injunction. He thus gives a secret order to kill Mishil. Unfortunately, the one who carries the order, Seolwon, is none other than Mishil's own lover whose devotion to her is unquestionable. Mishil then devises her own plan to assassinate the King.
After the death of King Jinheung, Mishil put attempts to gain total power by underhanded schemes to make herself the Queen both during King Jinji's and King Jinpyeong's reigns. Although fails at both attempts, by then the royal power is diminishing while Mishil's grows stronger. King Jinpyeong, who witnessed first hand the attempt to murder his grandfather, King Jinheung, is merely a puppet king, and has no power to overcome Mishil's influence. The only thing he has that Mishil has not, is his sacred bone lineage, a fact that embitters Mishil to no end. Mishil marries Lord Sejong, whom in the case of no royal successor, could be the next-in-line to the throne. Together, Mishil and her clan continously devise their way into power by manipulating their exclusive knowledge on astronomy, claiming Mishil as the Heaven's Royal Maiden. They use the so-called Heaven's message as relayed to Mishil to their own advantage, like discriminating the Gaya people and forced them to leave and relocated to a barren land with no hope for the future.
Mishil is a woman of great wits and charm. However, she is not as visionary as Deokman. She dreams of becoming Queen, but never the King. She gains people's trust and manipulate them, but never makes them dream of greater dreams. It is through her confrontation with Deokman, as well as later with Chunchu (Deokman's nephew) that enlightens and propels her to become the King herself.
King Jinheung once said to Mishil, "It is not divine providence that bestows glory upon a ruler. It is his people.He who can be blessed by people's faith, shall rule over all creation for ages to come." Mishil gained her power using this very principle. Her close followers are some of the most loyal nobles like Lord Sejong and warriors like Lord Seolwon, Chilsuk, and Seokpum, who gave their all to support her cause.
Kim Nam Gil (When Spring Comes, Goodbye Solo) played the complex character of Bidam, who was the abandoned child of Mishil from her union with King Jinji. He was raised by Lord Munno, who aspired him to be the king who would lead the campaign for the unification of the Three Kingdoms. That is, before he found out the true nature of Bidam's character in an incident where Bidam assassinated a large group of people when he was just a young boy. Lord Munno, who initially was like a father figure, distanced himself from Bidam ever since, treating him with detachment. This episode in Bidam's life is the key event that forever haunts him. Bidam, often said in the drama itself, is one daunting specimen. He added a much needed dynamic in the drama when his character was first introduced. I didn't quite like him then, though admittedly intrigued. He's too wild and unpredictable. But rapidly he turned into a character that's hard to ignore, and hard not to root for, giving me the same heartache I felt while rooting for Song Il Gook's character in The Emperor of the Sea.
This is a contradictory statement, but Bidam is actually quite simple minded, in a way. He wants acceptance, and he will do anything to achieve that. His desire, ultimately, is to be accepted by Deokman. He can be childlike. Any sign of trust from Deokman, and he's over the moon. His devotion towards Deokman is very one-dimensional, which in real life can be a scary thing. Mishil once said to Bidam, "I tried to gain the throne by gaining people's hearts. But you are trying to gain this country to gain people's heart." Unlike Yushin who turns his love for Deokman into a devotion of a subordinate towards his ruler, sharing her grandiose dream and dedicating his effort to achieve those dreams, Bidam is different. He couldn't care less about those grand dreams, the title and fickle followers. For him, those are merely means to get to Deokman's heart. What he wants is not Deokman the King, but Deokman the woman.
His ultimate downfall is his inability to trust. Being physically abandoned by the biological mother since a baby is more than enough to inflict pain in a child. He desperately wants to be wanted. He behaved the way he thought Munno wanted him to behave, to gain his approval. but Munno also abandoned him, albeit not physically, but emotionally. This feeling of being unwanted was heavy in his heart until one day he met Deokman, who was the first person to ever offer him what his was seeking - approval. Deokman seems to accept him for what he is, turning everything about him that he thought was bad into something positive. Thusly, he describes his attachment to Deokman like a duckling that just comes out from the egg and followed the first person it sees at all cost. Sometimes, he also looks like a lost puppy to me, jumping from one owner to another, hoping anyone of them will give him some shelter - from trying to gain Munno's approval, to desperately hoping for some shred of love from a mother that abandoned him, to earning the trust and love of his devotion that is Deokman. But he's scared. He doesn't know when next he will be abandoned by the person he badly wants to trust. And because of it he lost everything. A trust that is fragile, and the attempt to trust that seems futile. He's like a man who desperately wants to reach out for love, but that which forever eludes him.
I would like to quote from a book I read (though I can't quite remember the exact words) The Shadow of the Wind, that I think describes Bidam's situation: "The downside of childhood is that you don't have to understand things to feel them. By the time your mind is able to comprehend, the cut is already too deep." Indeed.
4) KIM YUSHIN
Kim Yushin was played by Uhm Tae Woong (Resurrection). He was a royal of Gaya descendant, who later became a great general and was responsible for the campaign on the unification of the Three Kingdom under Queen Seon Deok and later Kings. In the story, he was Deokman's first love, and was her Hwarang leader during the early years when Deokman's identifty was yet to be revealed. He was a very honest and sincere man, almost to a fault. But that was also his greatest strength, besides his exceptional swordsmanship.
Kim Yushin was Deokman's greatest supporter. From the moment of Deokman's declaration to be a King, he buried his feelings for her and swore to give his all to support her cause. In the story, he was almost married to Deokman's twin sister, Princess Cheon Myung, but the princess was murdered and marriage was off. His Gaya poeple wanted to see him as their King and the Ruler of Shilla. Under his influence, the Gaya warriors agreed to support Deokman's cause.
The Gaya people was his strength, as well as his Achilles' heel. The Gaya people has been heavily discriminated for almost 80 years and suffered a lot when Mishil came to power. Their hope was to see Kim Yushin became the King of Shilla and restore the glory of Gaya. Kim Yushin however made clear that he had no desire to be a King, but will continue to support Deokman. Without his knowledge, a Gaya Reformation Movement was formed under the lead of Prince Wolya of Gaya. During the reign of Princess Deokman as King of Shilla, Bidam who was entrusted by Deokman to head a special unit had discovered the existence of this reformation and had used it against Yushin to eliminate Yushin's ever growing influence and fame.
In the earlier episodes, I must admit that I was a little dissatisfied with Yushin's character. He became a Hwarang leader at very young age, and at that time he didn't show much leadership quality, most likely due to his inferiority complex over his Gaya line. Also, it was frustrating to watch him watching his subordinates being bullied and he didn't even lift a finger to stop it. He just witnessed the situation with a hopeless look. I find that a little unbecoming. Later on however, as he gained strength, and perhaps a little bit more appreciative of his own worth, he became more charming; especially after he made up his mind to forget his love and be Deokman's follower instead.
The only complain left is the way he treated his wife, a bride from the Mishil's Clan. I'm not sure what the director wanted to convey by having Yushin showing not a single drop of warmth towards his wife; that he still loved Deokman? That Deokman is the only one for him? That viewers are supposed to applause him for being loyal to his love for Deokman by treating the wife coldly? For me, it was downright disrespectful to the wife and a little bit cruel. At least, in Emperor of the Sea, the protagonist Jang Bogo was shown to treat his wife with respect and care, despite her not being the love of his life.
Anyway, that complaint aside, I think, of all people, Kim Yushin was probably the one that Deokman most thankful for. Afterall, he had been with her through thick and thin, even before they were King and subordinate.
5) PRINCESS CHEON MYUNG
Princess Cheon Myung is Deokman's twin sister, played by Park Ye Jin (Memories of Bali, Hateful But Once Again). Childhood-wise, compared to Deokman who was 'abandoned' and lived in the desert without knowing she was actually a princess, Cheon Myung's life, despite living in the palace, is probably more pitiful. At least, Deokman grew up as a free spirit, while Cheon Myung had to face Mishil and more than just her daunting presence all her life. Facing every single day is like a going to a battle which losing is a foregone conclusion. Her right as a princess was almost demolished by Mishil's power. And with her passive parents as the King and Queen (no offence) , it's really a hard life for this beautiful but sad princess.
Under Mishil's scheme, her husband whom she married at a very young age was killed in a battlefield. This served as wake-up call to Cheon Myung, who decided that enough is enough. She then secretly planned to search for the legendary Lord Munno, the powerful Hwarang of Gukseon status to gain his support to fight Mishil. It was then that she met Deokman, though at that time none of them was aware of each other's real identity. In fact, she thought Deokman was a boy.
Through a series of events, she met Kim Yushin and was the one responsible to bringing Kim Yushin and his estranged clan into the palace and gave Hwarang status to him. She also entrusted Deokman under his care, where Deokman was then trained as a Hwarang as well. Even though she failed in her search for Munno, Kim Yushin and his clan was among her early followers she gained to help fight against Mishil. She regained her pride as a princess and reclaimed her status as the Hwarang's Keeper.
At one time, the King's side as well as Mishil's had given secret orders to kill Deokman. Desperately wanted to save her sister, Cheon Myung, with the help of Hwarang Alcheon, Bidam and Yushin, convinced Deokman to leave the city with Yushin and run away as far as they could and live instead as ordinary people. During this time, Mishil's follower had successfully tracked them down and had mistakenly shot an arrow at Cheon Myung whom he thought was Deokman.
Cheon Myung died soon after, leaving behind a son, Prince Chunchu.
6) PRINCE CHUNCHU
He was easily the most annoying kid in the show. LOL. Korea's little brother Yoo Seung Ho (The Way Home, Lord of Study) played the apparently-incompetent-but-actually-a-genius Prince Chunchu, the son of Princess Cheon Myung. Upon the death of his mother, Prince Chunchu, who was brought up outside palace was summoned back home. He took an arduously long time to reach the city, much to the despair of his escorts. He was afraid of riding horses, and has a weak body, thus always asking for a rest during the journey.
Back in Seorabeol, the Deokman's side and Mishil's are both anxious for Chunchu's arrival. Perhaps, they all want to be the first to tell the story of how his mother met her death. Also, who he sided with may give advantage to one over the other as the power will be unbalance once Chunchu join the battle of will. What Deokman and her followers didn't know was that, Mishil had sent the murderer himself to Prince Chunchu and escort him back.
Chunchu had shown little remorse over her mother's death and seemingly forgiving of the whole affair. When he reached the palace, he gave Deokman a cold shoulder and instead opt to find company in Mishil's circle. He was often seen to frequent shady places with Lord Misaeng, Mishil's brother. At one point, he had shown interest in Bojong's daughter a.k.a Mishil's grand-daughter, and their marriage seemed to be just around the corner. Deokman and her followers were certain that Chunchu had fallen under Msihil's spell and was being used to achieve her goal. But Chunchu turned out to be not-so-foolish a boy after all. While everyone thought he was a pawn in Mishil's devious scheme, Chunchu was actually carrying out his own big plan.
Later in the series, Chunchu and Bidam became rivals for the throne, albeit Bidam having no intention of gaining the throne (at that point in time). By then, Bidam's influence is already huge with Mishil's loyal followers and nobles alike who obviously would want Bidam to be the next King. Chunchu, who considered himself the successor of Deokman, took Bidam as a threat towards achieving his goal. He was partly responsible for turning Bidam into a rebel by purposefully planting the seed of doubts in Bidam's heart.
Chunchu is a very smart prince. What he lacked in physical strength, he made it up with his brilliant mind. He had provided much support to Deokman and became her strength as well. He was a victim of Mishil's greed. He lost his father, his grandfather, as well as his mother under Mishil's hand, and I can sympathize with his desire for retribution for what she had done. The only regrettable thing is he carried his prejudice towards Mishil to her son Bidam.