Damn. This show is something. I initially watched this without really giving much thought to the plot–heck, Jang Hyuk is the protagonist, it’s sageuk, and to top it off, Song Joong Ki has a short (but AWESOME) role in it–that’s enough to make me want to watch, right? But boy oh boy do I enjoy this drama.
Song Joong Ki definitely improved on his acting. I first watched him in Triple, a disappointing drama that I still somewhat enjoyed. There I saw he’s got potential. A small role in Will it Snow at Christmas?, then Sungkyunkwan Scandal (I haven’t seen Obstetrics and Gynecology Doctors…yet). It was in his role as Gu Yong Ha that Song Joong Ki really showed quite an acting range. He flaunted, pranced, sneaked, schemed, laughed and cried his way on to becoming a solid actor in that role, but nothing prepared me for this revelation. Song Joong Ki was amazing as the young Lee Do. I felt each bit of fear, despair, frustration, weakness, and growing strength in every frame and every scene that had Joong Ki in it. It’s a shame that he only had a few episodes in the drama, but he acted with such ferocity that it feels as if young Lee Do were the protagonist in the entire story. Not a lot of actors can manage that.
One of my biggest misgivings about dramas where a character’s past is shown is when the younger and older version of a character don’t seem like one single entity with the very same personality. I felt that with East of Eden‘s Lee Dong Chul (played by Kim Bum and Song Seung Heon)–Kim Bum played Lee Dong Chul with a lot of rawness and brilliance, but Song Seung Heon’s Lee Dong Chul was different and well, different. I couldn’t really convince myself that he was playing the same character that Kim Bum did. The same thing happened with the main characters in The Duo: by the time the adult versions of the characters appeared in the story, Chun Doong was no longer Chun Doong and Gwi Dong no longer Gwi Dong. The transition from the younger to the older character must be seamless in order for the drama to work. As one of the audience, I should be able to reconcile the younger character with the older character and see them as the very same person, only older. The curious thing about Tree‘s Lee Do/King Sejong is that I actually felt that Song Joong Ki’s Lee Do grew to become Han Suk Kyu’s Lee Do. The way Han Suk Kyu spoke in certain scenes, the way he walked, even the way he felt despair and frustration in the latest episode was reminiscent of Song Joong Ki’s Lee Do. Now that is excellent acting right there. And while I admittedly haven’t watched Han Suk Kyu in anything, I swear I’ll get around to watching his dramas (and one film) once I can get my hands on it, especially Eyes of Dawn.
Oh, and Jang Hyuk! My reason for watching this drama. I love how his character bumbles in front of Muhyul and Lee Do, whereas his real tenacity shows whenever he’s alone or he’s investigating. Some people might say that his role is a little too alike his previous role in Chuno as the vengeful nobleman-turned-slave hunter Lee Dae Gil, but I say otherwise. Kang Chae Yoon may have some baggage just as Dae Gil had, but Chae Yoon went up the ranks instead of going down. He’s a lot more calculating than Dae Gil–instead of being all about brawns, Chae Yoon hides his strength and intelligence in the guise of a regular investigator. Oh, and while Dae Gil wants revenge for his family and for being betrayed by the girl he loved, Chae Yoon wants to avenge his father’s death by killing the man he thought was the reason for his father’s death, the King himself (!).
Initially, I thought the visuals of Tree was lacking, but after watching a few more episodes I think my initial remark was wrong. I began to appreciate the vibrant and rich tones and colors in each scene. The sets are also to die for, especially the ones in the palace. So are the costumes. (Meh, I am always in love with sageuk costumes.) The plot is outstanding, with twists and turns that gets the watchers thinking about what’s going to happen and wondering which character is plotting what. While I normally go for more romance in the dramas I watch (hence watching The Princess’ Man, which, despite also being about the politics after King Sejong’s reign, is centered on the love story of two people from warring families), Tree doesn’t have a lot of it (yet). It’s an action-packed thriller more than anything, and yes, I love it. I do hope Tree carries on with its brilliant start, because I am loving every bit of it.