Princess Hours

I’m going through withdrawal now I that finished watching Goong (literal translation “Palace”) (English title: Princess Hours). Really, spending 12 hours over the course of a weekend on my sofa is not good for my back. But it was such addictively enjoyable and entertaining series, so much that you didn’t want it to end. (This makes up for all the TV I’m not watching now that Channel 44 no longer shows reruns of Simpsons and South Park at 10 PM.)
This is the first Korean TV series I’ve ever watched. I never watched that other blockbuster “Palace” series: “Jewel in the Palace” (Dai Cheung Gum).
I don’t even remember how I heard about “Princess Hours”, but I was intrigued by the premise: A contemporary Korean crown prince marries a commoner fellow high school student in an arranged marriage. Throw in an ex-girl-friend, a rival Prince, and inevitable palace intrigue to the mix.

I checked out the first few discs from Netflix, one at a time, but they tended to be very skippy. That was so annoying, I checked out the whole series from the Sunnyvale Public Library. When you have them all in hand, instead of one at a time, you get obsessed with finding out what happens next . . . hence I was watching 3 or 6 episodes back-to-back, staying up into the wee hours.

Joe groaned every time I got a Goong disc from Netflix in the mail, instead of a movie more to his taste. One morning he woke up complaining that in his dream he’d almost gotten beaten up by some Korean mobster. Maybe he was tall, and looked like Jun Ji-Hoon, the male lead who plays the Crown Prince, ha ha!

The guy is quite some eye-candy. He was a fashion model previously; which might account for how he manages to wear his character’s wardrobe with such aplomb, without betraying the slightest hint of self-consciousness. Let me be blunt: those clothes were gay. Maybe his athletic physique overrides the sissy factor. But if the Crown Prince character had walked into the Raiders stands, he’d be beaten up into a bloody pulp like an adult Lord Fauntleroy. I can’t imagine any American men wearing those outfits in real-life; they’re the type of clothes you’d only see on a runway. Face it, there’s even a lot of women’s wear you’d only seen worn on a run-way: clothes that look they they were created just to make a statement, and not really intended to be sold at Macy’s. Then again, the TV show was based on a comic book series. Have you’ve ever seen that skit on the Dave Chapelle show where Charlie Murphy plays basketball with Prince (His Purpleness) in the “Shirts vs. Blouses” teams? Joe called nicknamed the Crown Prince “Blouses.”

Even the heroine’s outfits are quite something, over-the-top stylish for 2006, like something straight out of Anthropologie or Forever-21 with less skin-baring. Which means if you watch the series in 2009 or later, they’ll look quite dated. The producers put so much effort into the appearances, that you could tell what kind of scene it was going be (comic, sad, threatening turn of events, etc) based on the heroine’s clothes and hair-do. I remember feeling sorry for the actress: her hair must have been styled and treated so much, it must have taken quite a beating.
Even hair signifies something in the show. Colored hair seems to have diminished as a trend in Asia. Both the hero and heroine have black hair. The ex-girl-friend has reddish hair. The rival prince has reddish hair when he’s ‘incognito.’ After he’s promoted to a higher level of royalty, his hair is re-dyed black. The crown prince’s sidekicks have shaggy, tousled hair, the ‘just-got-out-of bed-look-that-actually-requires-60-minutes-of-styling-with-5-ounces-of-product.’ A trend that’s like a bad rash, why hasn’t it gone away already?

The producers didn’t stint on the other aspects of the show either: food, furnishings in the palaces, etc. The production values were really high. Even from a technical standpoint, the scenes were staged quite artfully and deliberately, with a lot of thought behind them. The characters stand in striking, broody poses even when they were just talking.

The plot did seem to take cues for its twists and turns from issues of real royal families of today. Commoner girl marries Prince Charming, but has to learn to cope with luxurious but regimented, lonely palace life. (Diana marrying Prince Charles). Prince Charming turns out to be less so when it turns out he had a girlfriend . . . and still has a thing going with her after the wedding (Diane-Charles-Camilla triangle. In fact that’s discussed by characters in the show. Along with a state visit from Prince William.)

The issue of who gets to become the next reigning monarch . . . it ends up being neither of the rival princes, but a princess. Which is something of an option for Thailand in the future. . .

What value-added benefit does a royal family contribute to a society that has to support them with taxes? Is it enough to justify their role by doing good works and forced to be role models preserving traditions. How much can they evolve and adapt to the 21st century? Paparazzi and tabloids: the stakes are higher when rumors can proliferate more easily on the Internet. Palace machines has less control on the spin.

I’ve watched Japanese shows and movies in the past, so I’m used to hearing the cadences and inflections of spoken Japanese; even picked up some really, really basic phrases. This was the first time I’ve watched a significant and listened to a significant amount of Korean, so it sounded more foreign; I didn’t know any phrases at all. But after 24 hours of it, I’ve learnt two phrases in Korean. “Yes, Your Highness,” “What?”
‘Shi-kan’ is time, which is pretty much the same in Chinese and Japanese! I also figured out what English words have been adopted into Korean: “interview”, “scandal” and “Cinderella”!

There’s also court language. In Thailand there’s rachasap, ‘royal words’, which people are supposed to speak when addressing royalty. I assume in Korea, there’s something similar, a “court Korean”, which they also used in the show to set the stage/moods. (There’s a scene where the heroine is shown struggling to learn ‘palace’ Korean, she finds it frustrating. There’s also a part where the prince pays a state visit to Thailand, but the funny thing is they use vernacular Thai, not rachasap!) But watching it with English subtitles, that was all lost. It would have been interesting to watch a Thai-dub version of the show; I’m guessing there’s more nuances in the Korean dialogue that can be expressed in Thai, (both are ‘Asian’ cultures) than in English.

(On my blog, I only seem to review items I recommend!) If you have 24 hours to kill (maybe when you’re stuck in bed with a 48-hour flu), watch this appealing show. It’s a visual delight; for a telenovela, the characters are quite developed; and the plot provides as much food for thought as it stretches credibility.


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