Review – Empire of Gold

You Had Me At “I Do” – Review of Empire of Gold

Fifteen minutes in and I was already hooked with baited breath.  Hands down the best opening scene of any K-Drama I have seen to date.   Seriously, my jaw dropped to the floor… “With this ring I thee wed” has never been creepier.  EVER.

The Empire of Gold kept rolling forward at full steam – delivering some chilling scenes and immersing you into the strange and treacherous world of big, shady business.  Yes, ladies and gentleman, this world is as far removed from me as South Korea.  I shall keep my pittance of a government salary and continue to pay rent in my shabby but comfortable apartment and leave the bribes, back-stabbing, golfing, dinner deals and mergers to the high rollers who can stomach such things.  This is not a world of happy endings, or happy middles or even happy beginnings.  This world barely catches even a moment of such things.  And yet it’s compulsively watchable.  Like a massive car pile up on the interstate.  Keep me at a safe distance… about ten feet from the television, thank you.

A dark, precautionary tale of greed.  Highly recommended.

More Random Thoughts – Includes SPOILERS…

Ah, Lee Yo-Won.  This woman perfected the art of looking constipated in The Great Queen Seonduk.  She offered us yet another icey bitch performance in Empire of Gold.  Strangely, it didn’t bother me at all that this woman barely had a shred of humanity.  Her family had ripped it from her, after all.

And what a family.  I did not have to suspend belief to imagine this woman ruling an empire alone (hello again Queen Seonduk), despite the fact that it’s a cold, cold throne and she can’t trust another living soul.  Poor bitch, right?  Wrong!  Save your sympathy for the devil.  She could have said “No way, dad.  I’m a college professor and I kinda dig academia.  Find someone else to run your crumby empire.”  But she didn’t.  She threw away her own life and dreams to stand at the helm of the golden ship of fools.  She shared a bedroom with a handsome (if not equally cold) man for over ten years – and never bothered to bond with him.  Shit, they could have watched a drama together, told a knock-knock joke, teased one another about farting in bed.  ANYTHING.

This is what happens when mannequins get married:

Ko Soo.  Winner of the genetic lottery.  In my opinion, this is one of the best looking male actors on the scene.  I discovered him in Will It Snow For Christmas –  remember him singing to his drunk mother over the phone?  He was brilliant in that show.  In this show… he’s just one card – The  Wildcard.  When the rest of the cast members aren’t busy foiling themselves and each other, this guy jumps right in more than happy to ruin things.  Why?  Cause he hallucinated that his dead daddy wanted him to… while he was starving himself in a jail cell.  Yup.  Totally rational.

Son Hyun-Joo.  Someone give this man an Oscar.  He was incredible!  Just like everyone else, his engine was running on pure-grade-greed.  Sure, he disguised it.  “I have to run the company to avenge my father for being the patsy to his brother for decades!”  Blah, blah, blah.  He just wanted his portrait hung in the main office and we all knew it.

Kim Mi-Sook.  The Evil Mom.  If Martha Stewart had an evil twin, it would be this lady.  Sticky sweet with a calm demenor, this lady ruled the “evil mom” role.  Again, purely driven by greed.  Sure, she tried to pull the vengenance for someone who is dead routine.  “I must avenge my x-husband… by marrying his nemesis and being really, really nice to him for nearly 30 years and, you know, shopping every day and raising his children… Yes!  Vengeance is mine!”  No one is buying it, lady.  She wasn’t brave enough to gamble her comfort for revenge.  She couldn’t even give up her platinum credit card for her own son.

Ryu Seung-Soo, the gangster turned gangster-in-a-business-suit, was fun to watch.  He might possibly be the only person with a spine in the show.  Sure, he liked money… but I got the feeling he enjoyed hanging out with his friends and his make-shift “family” more than anything else.  I believed he could walk away at any minute and not look back.

Jang Shin-Young played a conniving con-artist who falls for the obsessive Ko Soo.  Don’t expect anything romantic to happen between them.  Neither of them know how to love another person.  Even when they were talking about their dream of sipping cocktails together in the Phillipines, I didn’t buy it.  It seemed more probable that they’d end up marrying natives of Botswana and raising cows.  Still, she nailed the cool, sly con-woman character who would sell her own mother down the river for a profit.

This is as intimate as you’re gonna get.  Well, we can make out after we murder someone… that’s forplay, right?

Lee Hyun-Jin played the only legitimate son of the evil mom.  You’ll be tempted to think he’s a good guy but it won’t hold up under scrutiny.  His idea of leaving the family behind involved having them buy a swanky ocean-front beach house on some warm Mediterranean island first… so he could “study” for ten years while avoiding jail time.  He obviously did not inherit his mother’s conniving genes, because every time he tries to help or puts his hand in – it blows up in his face.  Does he learn his lesson?  Nope.  Fail and repeat.  Cry a little.  Fail and repeat.

This actor looks very pretty when he’s sad… which is most of the show. 

Everyone is mesmerizingly flawed.  The actors play the faulty characters of this drama to perfection.  The eldest son of the family?  Eom Hye-Seop killed it!  You loved to hate this wormy man-child who could shoot fifteen holes in the ship and not make the slightest impression.  Normal people would have watched their lives sink to the depths of bankruptcy and ruin.  Wealth made this family invincible.  Even when they weren’t sitting in the chairman’s seat, I didn’t perceive any difference in their lives.  Nothing really changed except bragging rights.   Their money trees had deep, deep roots.  These are obscenely rich people arguing over owning department stores versus golf courses.

So you’re glad they’re unhappy, even though they don’t even have the good sense to realize it.  The meaninglessness is the perfect balance to the opulance.  These are not the chaebols who will take in some sweet poor girl and have their lives magically transformed and their icy hearts melted.  This ain’t no rom-com.  This is (rather heavy-handed) social commentary… with enough of a push to get you through twenty-something episodes of people babbling about stocks and shares and slush funds.

To be fair – this show had a lot of “Sit/Talk” scenes… you know, where you bounce from head to head to head (close up to close up to close up) while plot elements are laid down like a brick house.  Maybe I’m just used to it.  I think I became immune after watching The Great Queen Seonduk.  There was a lot of sitting around in that show, too… in the palace, mainly.  The higher up you get, the more things are hammered out via tea and comfortable chairs.  The same held true for this show.  Family meetings in the living room.  Family dinners.  Sit ins on those fabulous plush chairs that adorn the offices of all upper management.  Keister planted on his/hers couches in the bedroom.  As I was firmly planted on my own couch, I can’t say much about their lack of activity.

So, overall rating 9/10.

This is the perfect show to watch after you’ve marathoned a few “flower-boy” comedies and need to clear your palette.  Yum… the bitter delicacy of greed!

 

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