They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds!

We are captives of our own identities, living in prisons of our own creation

Theodore Bagwell, Prison Break

Title
The Flower in Prison (2016) 
Also known as
Okjunghwa [/zilla_to

Genre
Action,   Historical,     Sageuk,   Tragedy
Written by
Directed by
Lee Byung-hoon   &  Choi Jeong-kyu
Country of Origin
South Korea
Episodes
51

oh! … brief

The mystery surrounding a pregnant woman found stabbed outside the gates of a state-run prison and subsequently dies soon after delivering her baby, a girl later named Ok-nyeo is the basis of this fictional story set during the Joseon dynasty.  The story follows the life of Ok-nyeo and her rise from the lowly warden to a young woman of power and influence.

oh! … talks drama

I only watched this long-assed drama to its bitter conclusion because I wanted to know how things ended, but I hated this production more than I loved it. And here’s why …

The writer of the script, Choi Wan-kyu (ko) imagined a story, unlike anything I’ve seen in kdramas sageuk before.  For that alone, he should be praised, or at least that was my initial reaction.

Unfortunately, my praise soon turned to cursing.

How could this man take a narrative with such innovation and put it through the ringer?

To start with he created far too many characters (approximately 148 named characters including cameo appearances) and far too many ‘incidents’ or situations – it was overkill at its finest! But he didn’t stop there, his excessive and heavy-handed delivery of political machinations was miserable to watch unfold again and again and again and again and again and again ad nausea! The repeated struggle between the villains and the underdogs was taken to a whole new level – completely and annoyingly unrestrained and rendered any intent redundant. What a mess – a colossal and needless mess of immeasurable proportion.

My head ached with every episode and by the time the ‘end’ came around, I was relieved, for all about one miserable minute. The conclusion to this kdrama was so cockeyed it bordered on the ridiculous. No, I correct that, it was absolutely absurd!

Directors Lee Byung-hoon and Choi Jeong-kyu surprisingly did a remarkable job given the horrendous script. The cinematography was exceptionally good. The camera caught every minute detail of every scene. The wardrobe was amazing – the finery of the prestigious elite and the drudgery of the underdogs perfectly captured in attire. The choreography of the fight scenes, swordplay, hide-and-seek, and foot chases was phenomenal. Where these two directors completely failed was in the casting for the characters and the directing of actors and actresses.

I’ve never seen so many exaggerated performances in one production before. It was mind-numbing and achingly disproportionate for the overarching storyline. It made watching the production unbearably gruelling. I wanted to poke out my eyes, scoop out my brain matter and replace them – constantly!

But that’s not to say that within the monstrous cast, there weren’t absolute gems, who did the job of keeping this production from falling off the rails entirely!

Let’s see if I can suffer through the pain of writing about the actors and actresses. This might take some time but bear with me.

The character Ok-nyeo was depicted as both a young girl (played by Jung Da-bin) and adult woman (played by Jin Se-yeon). Jung Da-bin did a great job of painting the younger Ok-nyeo as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed intelligent young girl. She did such a fine job and was entertaining to watch. Jin Se-yeon who played the matured young woman was equally entertaining to watch. She also, for the most part, interpreted her character’s personality and emotions well and delivered a sound performance. There were a couple of moments where her delivery annoyed me, but for the most part, I feel Jin Se-yeon did well.

Like Ok-nyeo, the character of Yoon Tae-won was also depicted in two parts – younger man (played by Jung Yun-seok) and older matured Tae-won (played by Go Soo). The development of this character was seamless, I didn’t even realise until I read about the cast that the younger version of Tae-won had been played by another actor. Go Soo was mesmerising in this production. He delivered an authentic and heartbreaking performance from start to end. Between Ok-nyeo and Tae-won, my heart was drawn more towards Tae-won’s plight than the protagonist Ok-nyeo. So Goo truly inhabited and realistically interpreted the emotions, personality and character traits of Tae-won. Every facial expression, every movement, it was all authentic and genuine. He was one of the few saving graces of this production.

King Myeongjong was played by Seo Ha-joon. What a stellar performance. I think alongside Go Soo, he was my favourite. His inhabited his role and interpreted the character to perfection. Unfortunately, the writing around this character wasn’t solid so he took what he had and worked with it. The delivery of the inner turmoil of the character was astute and raw. Seo Ha-joon will soon find a niche and stronger roles or better scripts to work with. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more from this young man. His depiction for this production was on the money!

Sung Ji-heon was played by Choi Tae-joon and this was another remarkable performance for him. I enjoyed the cold and austere interpretation and delivery of this character. I wish the writer had taken the time to flesh out the backstory a little more, instead, he wasted time and energy running the audience around in circles with hyperbole and frenzied activities. Choi Tae-joon is one of the few actors that kept me watching this production. Another saving grace in all the mess.

Park Tae-soon, spy and teacher to Ok-nyeo was played by Jun Kwang-ryul. This character was crucial to further developing the strengths of Ok-nyeo and Jun Kwang-ryul mastered his interpretation and delivery of his performance.

Ji Cheon-deuk, foster-parent to Ok-nyeo was played by Jung Eun-pyo, a favoured actor. His performance was mixed for me in this production. I’ve been enamoured with his skilled ability to deliver exceptional facial expressions and humour without uttering a single word. For the most part, he did that again with his interpretation of Cheon-deuk, but, at times it was excessive and frustrating to watch. Don’t get me wrong, this was another stellar performance by Jung Eun-pyo, but, at times his emoting was overboard.

Kang Sun-ho, former spy chief and then a supporter of Ok-nyeo was played by Lim Ho and I appreciated that he gave an organic performance among all the excessive actors and actresses. Understated yet striking!

Joo Cheol-gi, former spy and then lackey to the ‘bad guys’ was played by Seo Beom-sik and he gave a solid performance as he inhabited his character’s sordid traits. He’s not hard on the eyes, either! I always found myself wishing he’d switch sides and become a good guy, but it never happens. He becomes Ok-nyeo’s nemesis as he is forced repeatedly to hunt her down. Interpreting this character, Seo Beom-sik used a bland facial expression, muted emotions and strongly participated in countless fight and chase scenes.

So I’ve given you a sampling of the good acting, let’s look now at the sample I selected of the bad acting.

Yoon Won-hyung, uncle to the king was played by Jung Joon-ho. While not an awful performance (which meant I could still watch it), the overacting and exaggerated performance was nerve-wracking, bordering on hysterical. There was no depth to the character and that fault lies with the actor. Even in an event that you are given a shitty script and piss-poor direction from the directors, as a professional you still put in your best effort. If this is an example of Jung Joon-ho’s best effort then I’m surprised.

Jung Nan-jung, the vile wife and master manipulator was played by Park Joo-mi. If I thought Jung Joon-ho’s performance were idiotic, then Park Joo-mi reached an all time low with hers. I was sick of the same repeated smirk, the same surprised ‘omg’ eyes and the same vile performance every time she was annoyed or angered by interference. It was boring and bland and she was supposed to be vile, but she came off as the greatest idiotic fool who couldn’t get her ‘act’ together. What a mind-boggling display of what not to do! I hated this performance, perhaps the most, and I expected so much more given that people raved about this production. If this is what appeals to the public then I should just stop right now. What nonsense!

Kim Mi-sook’s portrayal of Queen Munjeong was not as bad as the others, but, she never added to the one dimension of her character and that meant her performance was bland and unappealing.

oh! … sidekicks

There were some stellar performances by supporting cast members, and there were also god awful performances. Because of the sheer number of supporting cast, it is impossible to tell you about everyone.

Two of the prison officers were Lee Hyo-sung and Yoo Jong-hwe. Im Jung-ha playing Lee Hyo-sung gave a good performance, but, in the true style of this production, Park Kil-soo who played Yoo Jong-hwe gave another misguided performance. In fact, his over the top acting had me cringing every scene he was in. I hated the high-pitched delivery of his screeching. It made the hair on my arms stick up and almost drop off. Even thinking about it now as I type up my handwritten notes, I’m flinching.

Shorry who played Chung Dong had me scratching my head in puzzlement. How could anyone be so singularly stupid? This character is repeatedly abused, physically and emotionally by others in the story, but he never stands up for himself. How Shorry took all the beating about the head is mind-boggling. The performance he gave was neither here nor there for me. He was really good at times and then ruined it for me by exaggerating his performance and hyper-reacting to the situations ongoing.

The character couple, Jung Mak-gae and Min Dong-joo was so hilarious it was absurd. Jung Mak-gae played by Maen Sang-hun was either completely bland and expressionless or excessively emoting. I would have believed I was watching a slapstick comedy with these awful performances, sadly, however, that was not the case. Kim Yoon Kyung who played Min Dong-joo was just as bad. Supposed evil mastermind, she screws up again and again. At least her performance was a little better than some of the worst ones. But, again and again, like with Park Joo-mi, the repeated facial expressions and consistent reactions became boring and one-dimensional, fast.

I can’t write any more about these performances. Some were exceptional, most were good, but far too many were horrific for the excessive overacting and over-emoting.

oh! … that’s a wrap

The story was a sound one, one that could have delivered a fantastic production, however the script, directing of actors and the actor and actress performances were all over the place, making this kdrama by far the worst I have watched so far. The sad thing about that is this should have been an outstanding production. Lavish sets, astounding wardrobes, phenomenal choreography and a strong male and female lead.

I cannot recommend this production. The sheer number of episodes alone is off-putting, but given the abysmal acting of the most important supporting character’s I would not put myself through the time wasted watching this. I almost want to demand the hours lost, like that will ever happen.

Don’t bother watching this production to the end, unless any of what I mentioned about the acting appeals to your senses. If it does, then please stop reading my blog, I won’t waste my time reviewing another production like this again.

oh! … tidbits

This production was MBC’s special project drama to commemorate the network’s 55th founding anniversary. Such a waste!

This kdrama also is the third collaboration between director Lee Byung-hoon and writer Cho Wan-kyun (Hur Jun and Sangdo).

The royal characters in this production were based on actual historical figures.

Queen Mungjeong (December 2, 1501 – May 5, 1565) also known as Queen Dowager Seongryeol was Queen consort by marriage to King Jungjong of Joseon and Regent of Korea from 1545 to 1565. She was of the Papyeong Yun clan.

Myeongjong of Joseon (July 3, 1534 – August 3, 1567) was the 13th King of the Joseon Dynasty and the second son of Jungjong and Queen Munjeong. At the age of twelve, he became King following the death of his half-brother Injong. Due to his young age, his mother governed in his stead until her death in 1565. The king ruled the kingdom by himself and had his uncle Yun Won-hyeong put to death, along with his second wife Jeong-Nan-jeong, who also rose to power due to her close friendship and being second sister-in-law to Queen Munjeong. Yun Won-hyeong had allowed corruption to flourish in the government; while the kingdom was unstable, Myeongjong tried to reform the government after taking power into his own hands by recalling and reinstating Sarim scholars who were exiled in the purge but died only two years later without any male issue. King Seonjo, his half-nephew, succeeded to the throne in 1567.

Yun Won-hyung was a Korean Joseon Dynasty writer, philosopher, and politician. He was the younger brother of Queen Mungjeong, uncle to the 13th King of Myeongjong. H was a chief state councillor. He was exiled from the capital along with his 2nd wife due to his rampant corruption and manner toward the King.

Chung Nanjung was a politician and philosopher during the Joseon dynasty. She became a concubine and 2nd wife to Yun Wong-hyung and developed a close relationship to her sister-in-law, Queen Munjeong. She poisoned Yun Won-hyung’s first wife to death. She was exiled from the capital following the death of Queen Munjeong. She committed suicide by poison.

oh! … soundtrack

Sourcing the soundtrack online. I will add it when I find it.

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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