Since the early 2000s, the Korean Wave that blows through most of East Asia has yet to splash on Western shores. Although popularity is growing, most Westerners addicted to Korean dramas have a hard time simply finding where to watch them. Sometimes they turn to other options, such as streaming videos online or buying big, pricey box sets, much like this one. But unlike other Asian box sets that simply slap some English-language subs on it and call it a day, Jumong is distinctively geared toward its Western fans.
Jumong is a television series that ran through 2006 to 2007. Set in 180 B.C., the show is a fictional account of real-life historical figure Jumong Taewang, the founder of the kingdom of Goguryeo. The episode begins with the kingdom of Ancient Josun falling to China’s Han Empire. A group of soldiers band together to defend the refugees of the divided Ancient Josun. One of the soldiers, Hae Mosu (Jun-ho Heo), flees while being pursued and takes refuge in a nearby village. It’s there where the princess of Haeback nurses him back to health, and they fall in love. Although there’s lots of running back and forth as Hae Mosu tries to hide his identity and avoid his pursuers, eventually the princess gives birth to Jumong, who grows up to be not quite the hero one might expect.
The show is rated the fifth most watched historical Korean drama of all time and won all kinds of prestigious awards. The box set includes all 81 episodes divided into four volumes; this totals to about 162 hours of content, not including the extra shows and special features.
Volumes one and three include reference guides that provide a thorough glimpse behind Jumong. Volume one’s reference guide begins like a textbook. It gives a detailed look at the history of Korea, which should help those going into the first episode. It also has a glossary of terms that explains Korean customs, objects, and other things that tend to get lost in translation.
For example, under “etiquette” the glossary explains that it’s tradition for younger people to turn their head away while drinking with someone older. I’m sure one could watch the entire series and enjoy it without knowing the lessons on Korean etiquette, but it’s interesting to know, anyhow.
Explanations for the time system back then, as well as an analysis of the trademark scorpion symbol on the DVD cover are there as well. Volume three’s reference guide has a detailed character guide (although it’s actually actor bios), an article on the differences between history and fiction, and a detailed production diary. The production diary takes the majority of the guide and gives a day-by-day account on what happened on the set that day. But unfortunately it’s not nearly as interesting as it sounds. It’s mostly entry after entry about which actor, writer, cinematographer came on the set that day.
At first the reference guides seem like cheap knock off replacements for special features, but alas, there are extras on volume one and two. Volume one includes one episode of Dae Jang Geum, the hugely popular historical drama that kicked off the whole Korean Wave. The real-life story is about a young girl who struggles being the daughter of fugitives, but grows up to be the first royal physician. Volume two includes one episode of Damo, a somewhat violent martial arts historical drama. Although the extra episodes are favorable, they’re clearly there just for marketing purposes.
Volume four has the typical special features one might expect. It includes behind the scenes videos, interviews, and bloopers. Most of these features are just clips taken from a Korean talk show. The 40-minute interview with the cast is particularly nauseating as the host asks gossipy questions to the cast who all sit uncomfortably as the audience “Ooooooooooo"s at possible hints of on-set romance. This part is followed by a short “making of” clip that includes lots of shots of actors falling off horses and dangling from wires, making the studio audience gasp collectively. The clip then closes with a blooper wheel, which contains—you guessed it—more mishaps with people and horses.
But despite this sillyness, Jumong is an impressive box set that will probably exceed the expectations of most fans. Although more people are jumping on the Korean Wave, until Korean dramas are played on more than just small local TV stations, Western fans will have to pay up.