Review – Six Flying Dragons
This drama was outstanding. It’s about the end of the Goryeo period and the beginning of the Joseon period – in particular, the revolution leading from one to another. And it’s the best historical Korean Drama I have ever seen. Ever. After the second episode, I was pretty sure it was surpassing my favorites. And after the epic 3-Prong Rescue Sequence from the Biguk Temple in Episode 6… I was hooked. By the end of the loop to the opening scene in Ep 1 closing in Ep 10, I thought… wow… holy crap… that’s extremely good writing. It’s by the same writing team that brought us Queen Seonduk and Tree with Deep Roots… this male/female team, Kim Young-Hyun and Park Sang-Yeon, know their stuff. And they have been perfecting their craft. Tightly woven plots in each episode, building on each other throughout yet changing enough to keep you enthralled, extremely complicated but fulfilling character development, action, historical significance, and even some romance.
Seriously. BEST HISTORICAL DRAMA I HAVE EVER SEEN. Just… mesmerizing.
Overall Rating – 10/10. The View Is Only Better From the Moral High Ground If You Don’t Look Down.
More about characters – spoilers spoilers spoilers – thoughts and more…. please watch the show before treading into these waters, you don’t need to muddy up your experience by reading details first.
Okay, let’s just talk about Biguk Temple, Episode 6. Because this is episode that all the key players come together and their roles are established in one glorious sequence of events. First we have our little Boon Yi taken hostage and interrogated by the baddie Monk Jukryong. Our scholar hero, Lee Bang-Won, immediately follows after to rescue her with his trusty bodyguard, Jo Young-Gyoo, in tow – opting for the “disguise” method.
Their cover is blown in about five seconds. But here comes an even bigger baddie to save the day, ironically, our scholar’s nemesis…. the wicked Hong In-Bang. They chat maniacally inside the temple – and we learn that our scholar has been systematically bullied and ostracized from his fellow pupils by this dude for years. Child abuse on a tactical level… two sides of a coin (or are they?) clashing over power and submission.
Meanwhile, outside, rescue effort number two is underway. This time by Boon Yi’s brother, the ninja master Ddang-Sae! He also attempts the disguise method but his cover is quickly blown as well (these monks are savvy to infiltrators, as being spies is their business, after all). We get to see him go full tilt fucking boogie on a whole host of bad guys and it’s awesome. It’s SO AWESOME.
There’s this one part where he does this swirl run and he’s cutting down baddies like he’s a blender. It’s sword fight city and it’s incredible!
Using the commotion as an ideal opportunity, our newly minted, self-proclaimed swordsman and warrior Moo-Hyul (aka, the gentle giant) runs in to actually save Boon Yi… using this occasion to get as much hand holding as he possibly can. I actually snickered quite a lot on his insistence of holding her hand the entire rescue.
So Moo-Hyul and Boon-Yi run off through the forest. Ninja Ddang-Sae shows down with our baddie monk and cuts his sword in half before running off into the woods. And our Scholar Lee Bang-Won just saunters out the front door.
Roles Established. Boon Yi – dragged along through things beyond her power to control, but remaining dignified. Her brother, Ddang-Sea, just a ball of fury and blade, following his own instincts more than politics. Moo-Hyul, good-hearted warrior making the most of opportunities and dependable to protect others regardless of whether or not he understands why they are in trouble. And Lee Bang-Won, running in with little to no plans, but using his position, his authority, and his wits to come out on top. Everyone would basically stick to this format throughout the show.
These four youngsters are our main players – who navigate their lives according to the rules, ambitions and dreams set up by their elders (largely Jeong Do-Jeon’s dreams) … until viva the revolution, that is! Then they start to push their own rules, ambitions and dreams onto the stage… because, well, that’s how life is. Passing of the guard. One generation bowing out to the next in subtle ways. You leave a little, take a lot, reshape it, reframe it, rename it maybe… and call it yours. Then someone comes behind you and does the same thing.
So Let’s Introduce the Dragons.
Jeong Do-Jeon. The Philosopher Dragon.
This guy is basically a philosopher who is too much of an extrovert to sit quietly and write books about his big ideas. Nope. He’s a total instigator and showboat, but likes to consider himself a backstage type despite evidence to the contrary. Life screwed him over – but no worse, honestly, than most of our other characters. He took his guilt and resentment and decided he’d just tear down the entire country and start over. Yup. No delusions of grandeur here, people. Hahahaha. Even built himself a bat cave where he could sit and plot out his new world order.
I guess part of him felt a little uncomfortable about overthrowing the government and taking over the country – cause he conveniently wrote himself out of the two main roles, King and Prime Minister. Of course, he wasn’t going to step tooooo far back from the top of the pyramid, nope, he had hand picked his choices for both the King and the Prime Minister and if they weren’t going to do it – then he didn’t want any one else, by gosh. No, sir. Not a control freak at all. Jeong Do-Jeon was a fabulous bundle of contradictions, of idealism, of schemes and plots and backstabbing. He was the happy chess master, moving everyone around the board to realize his victory.
He was amazing. It’s probably a good thing people like this dude aren’t born very often or we’d live in constant global conflict. Oh wait! Unfortunately for him, someone else WAS born that matched his passion, intelligence and drive for social change. Someone who would sacrifice everything to get it. Enter…
Lee Bang-Won. The Scholar King Dragon.
This kid grew up with a strong sense of justice and power, the son of a strong army general who was beloved by the country and king. When he discovers his father is flawed and bowing to the will of evil men, it breaks his childhood apart, leaving a gaping hole that only a strong mentor could fill. And he finds that mentor… in Jeong Do-Jeon, and quietly pledges his life to him and the power he represents. He leaves his home and goes into training to be a scholar and never looks back.
Lee Bang-Won is a turbulent storm barely contained in human flesh. This guy is an emotional, reactive, super-charged machine. Once he’s programmed, you can’t turn him off. NO ONE COULD. He couldn’t even turn himself off. And truth be told, Jeong Do-Jeon had programmed him… it just wasn’t intentional. He was an unexpected pupil. Someone he hadn’t personally picked to be a part of his grand plan, and I already told you that Jeong Do-Jeon doesn’t like to compromise. Ain’t no erasers for his inked out plan – and Lee Bang-Won didn’t fit. He tried to make him fit, or at least make use of him… but hindsight being 2020, I bet he wished he’d kicked that kid out of his batcave and never let him back in.
Cause Lee Bang-Won was going to fuck up his grand scheme. Big time. Because Lee Bang-Won wasn’t in his grand scheme… and Lee Bang-Won isn’t the kind of guy who is going to sit on the sidelines and let other people do all the cool stuff.
He was the story’s antagonist, really. The anti-hero. But I couldn’t help it. I cheered for him the whole show. He wanted to change the world. Personally. He wanted his hand in it as much as Jeong Do-Jeon did. And he wasn’t going to let go.
Lee Seong-Gye. The General Dragon.
Lee Seong-Gye is Lee Bang-Won’s dad. The war hero. The battle hardened man with an iron will. It’s the man that Jeong Do-Jeon wants to make King. Only Lee Seong-Gye isn’t too keen on overthrowing the current king and taking up the throne. In fact, he’s not too keen on most of Jeong Do-Jeon’s ideas. Cause Lee Seong-Gye isn’t a big thinking kind of guy. He’s noble, he’s will is strong and his commitment to his troops and his country is unflappable… but he’s not the type to question authority. He’s been chopping off limbs in the name of other people’s ideas his entire life. Which is probably why Jeong Do-Jeon wanted him to be King. Someone who was a good man but wouldn’t interfere with his secret leadership of the government too much.
It takes the majority of the show to win Lee Seong-Gye over. I found his unflinching, unwavering resistance to being King fascinating and such an unexpected foil. Lee Bang-Won was all for making his daddy king, but his other brothers were a little less excited to jump on the revolution bandwagon. But none of them stood a chance against the combined wills of Lee Bang-Won AND Jeong Do-Jeon. That’s just more than these soldier boys could handle. Eventually they had to fold and go along with the plan… and Lee Seong-Gye rose to the throne and became the first King of Joseon.
Boon Yi. The People’s Dragon.
Oh, Boon Yi! Basically a perfect representation of the common people of that era – abandoned as a child, raised on the streets, screwed over repeatedly by the system. Everything she worked for or cared about was taken from her. Over and over. Yet she remained strong… inside. She had a strong will to make it through this world in one piece, by God. She was inspired by Jeong Do-Jeon’s grand vision and by Lee Bang-Won’s fiery passion. They offered her a light at the end of a dark tunnel and she clung to them both, even though it was clear she could never really a part of the world they were building in the same way they were going to be. Instead she became a light for her own people (the poor people), someone they could rely on, and in a way rose to her own power.
Class struggles weren’t really something either Lee Bang-Won or Jeong Do-Jeon were terribly interested in. The good of the people (the poor people), as far as they were concerned, was that they weren’t over burdened too much so that they could work hard and provide for the upper classes.
Boon Yi never let herself forget it, either. Which was admirable. She loved Lee Bang-Won passionately, but she knew their worlds were different. She could never touch the power he was after. The time they had together was limited, with an expiration date they both understood. And yet I found their relationship to be so beautiful and full of respect and longing and sadness.
Ddang-Sae. Ninja Dragon.
Ddang-Sae is Boon Yi’s brother. A sweet, introspective, shy child… he clung to the stronger will of his sister during his formative years. But when he falls in love with a young girl who is brutally raped – forced to witness it – powerless to stop it – he runs from his life. He attempts to avenge her, by killing the man, but he can’t even do that because of his compassion for the rapists family. Realizing he is too soft for this hard world – he tries to kill himself and is saved by a roaming ninja master. Maybe ninja’s not the right word… swordsman? But whatever, the dude basically turns ninja.
He’s able to find strength and a vague sense of purpose. He becomes one of the greatest swordsmen in the land. But don’t worry, he didn’t quite erase that soft side. He’s been living and working with a theater troupe… singing sad songs, acting, dancing. He doesn’t have any interest in over throwing the government, but when he discovers both his sister AND his long lost first girlfriend are both working with Jeong Deo-Jon, it seems his fate is sealed. So he signs up to the cause, to protect the women he loves and their big dreams.
Moo-Hyul. The Warrior Dragon (aka, The Gentle Giant).
I think if you’ve seen this drama, then you know that all your love is going to be for Moo-Hyul. He’s the 6th Dragon, but they don’t even title him as such until, what? The second to the last episode? Moo-Hyul is this tall, sweet guy who’s been raised by his grandmother and a large brood of younger relatives. Due to his stature and abilities, he is sent off to learn martial arts from a local instructor in hopes that he might one day get a government job and provide for his impoverished family. The dude turns out to be a natural swordsman.
He is used to represent the untainted heart, I believe (and symbolically, Lee Bang-Won’s heart). Someone who was raised with love. Who sees good in the world, even if he has to squint and actively search for it. He’ll help because he’s asked. He’ll help when he’s not asked. He can be counted on to do the right thing. He actually doesn’t experience the horrors of the world until he hooks his cart to Lee Bang-Won wagon and gets introduced to politics and the military. After that, it’s just a slow wade into ever deepening bloody waters.
Moo-Hyul also delivers, in my opinion, some of the most spectacular action sequences in the entire show. The man is a monster! Just a huge fiery chunk of raw physical power. On the flip side, he is also everyone’s confessor and some of the most intimate and quiet moments are between Moo-Hyul and the other major characters. He listens to their problems. He encourages them. He pretends, sometimes, to be less aware of things than he is in order to ease their suffering or inspire them. He watches them, ever protective, noticing when things are going wrong by keeping careful note of their facial expressions and body language.
There was such a unique balance to all the Dragons and their different personalities and positions in life.
Notable Side Character:
There are so many outstanding performances and memorable characters in this drama. I personally loved Lee Bang-Won’s first bodyguard and life-long follower, Jo Young-Gyoo. “Loyalty,” he scolds Moo-Hyul. That’s the only thing he lives by. He trusts his superiors to figure out the morality. He’s just a tool to be used and his life has meaning because of it. The man was a pincushion, too, am I right? He could be hacked down on the battlefield, stabbed in a street fight, tortured near death, and just bounce right back. He’d been injured so often he was practically impervious to pain.
He’s also a good friend, funny, supportive, and I ain’t gonna lie… I cried so hard when he died. His was the only death that choked me up. I really loved this guy.
Favorite Story Line (spoilers galore!):
My favorite story line was Lee Bang-Won, hands down. Talk about highs and lows. Especially his low or psychotic moments. Those were outstanding. When he finally meets his hero Jeong Don-Jon and basically gets told off for being a screw up? His face! When he found out he wasn’t included in Jeong Don-Jon’s master plan? Oh my gosh, that I was unexpected… the floor of his world dropped out! When he decides to kill Jung Mong-Joo / Poeun… and meets him on the bridge? Damn. When he torches the scholars village and then locks them up and starves them for three days? When he shows down with the Ming prince! “Translate this, mofo!” And of course… my favorite… when he realizes he’s going to have to kill his mentor and brother to achieve his goals… and he’s outside sitting there telling that story about killing off those school bullies to Moo-Hyul… how he had to go see them, to look them in the eyes… to make sure he could do it. Dammmmmmmmmmn.
And after the whole ordeal, after his personal revolution to take the throne – after all the blood and the betrayal… when he has that little breakdown in the storage room and the ghost of Jo Young-Gyoo comes to him… asking why he didn’t have one of his subordinates do the killing… and Lee Bang-Won confesses he couldn’t ask Moo-Hyul to do it because he feared he would leave him… and of course, he’s right… but just seeing Lee Bang-Won all alone in that dark room after all he’d been through, King at last and with no one to comfort him but the dead. Oh God, it was amazing.
This show was awesome.
The plot is way too intricate to really get into – I mean… fifty episodes of nonstop action and not a throw away episode among them. It was sooo good. I stayed up 23 hours straight to finish the final half… and when it was over, I was too wired to sleep.
I can’t wait to watch the next project these two writers put out.
If you haven’t watched this drama… you should. YOU SHOULD. Even if you don’t like historical dramas – it’s just magnificent. This may be the drama that drags you into the past. There is sooo much in this show – so much. And some of it is downright horrible (episode one, the peasant women being forced to breastfeed piglets because they thought it made the meat taste sweeter? Jesus, that will stick with me for eternity) and some of it breathtakingly beautiful (the entire show is gorgeous… lush with exquisite costuming and really well crafted sets and lighting… you will disappear into the past) and some of it will make your pulse race (Moo-Hyul’s gladiator scene? I thought I was going to have a panic attack). There are tender moments, between lovers, between friends, and between family members. Lots of inspiring speeches and grand ideas.
And the girls really kick ass in this drama, too. In most historical dramas… it’s all about the dudes, but not in this show. There are plenty of ladies calling the shots and taking leadership. And there are women taking up swords, too, and kicking tail. Hell, the most powerful, unstoppable swordsman in the country turns out to be a petite pretty lady who just slices palanquins in half and smacks warriors around with the side of her blade cause she’s so darn good she can just toy with you if she wants to.
You’ve also got dudes sporting elaborate eye make up… for no particular reason. Just cause they think it looks fabulous, I guess. And it does! There’s a famous swordsman, Gil Tae-Mi, who runs around in these flamboyant outfits who turns out to be this unstoppable killing machine… I thought that was a nice twist. Ain’t no one gonna make fun of this dude to his face, that’s for sure. I loved when his trainer was reminiscing on his childhood, about how he liked to play with dolls and was a sensitive child… and they put a sword in his hand to “butch” him up. Well, they taught him to kill. But you can’t really change people, people. He was bisexual. He loved running into the brothels and had a son but also openly flirted with men and it was heavily implied he skirted both sides in his pretty skirts… and he seemed perfectly happy with himself.
At one point, Gil Tae-Mi slaughters everyone who comes after him – and there’s just corpses everywhere… and he wanders out, bloody and a little dazed, and he’s mumbling to himself about feeling sorry that he skipped breakfast. He was hysterical! He also had the BEST DEATH SPEECH ever. It was depressing as hell, about how the powerful derive their power by stomping on the weak. And how it’s always been that way. And he’s crying while he says it… and you know it’s personal, that he was once weak and was stomped on and had to become powerful to survive. God, the characters in this show were so complex! And Gil Tae-Mi was such an interesting character.
Ahhh… how Six Flying Dragons, how I love thee!
You will love it too. Trust me.
2nd Favorite Sageuk: Queen Seon Duk (read review)
3rd Favorite Sageuk: Empress Ki (read review)
4th Favorite Sageuk: Sungkyunkwan Scandal (not a “serious” historical piece, but an adorable rom-com with cross dressing, shenanigans and more!)