Empress Ki Korean Drama Review

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won

Empress Ki tells the story of Ki Sung Nyang (Ha Ji Won) who rises from nothing to marry Emperor Ta Hwan (Ji Chang Wook) and become Empress of the Yuan Empire.  She also gets involved in a love triangle with the Emperor and King Wang Yu of Goryeo (Joo Jin Mo).

Empress Ki has been on my watch list forever!  It’s one of those dramas that I had only heard positive reviews for, but clocking in at 51 episodes, I was always hesitant to start it.  I mean, I could watch three dramas in that time span!  And I love a good sageuk, but they can be hit or miss with me.

I happened to take quite a liking to the Goryeo period not long before starting this drama, and that’s really what gave me the final push to watch it.  I must say, there really needs to be more dramas set during the Goryeo period!

Empress Ki Korean Drama - Ji Chang Wook Empress Ki - Ha Ji Won 17

Now I really enjoy the costumes from the Joseon period, but I am in love with the Goryeo attire.  They’re just more fun to me.  There’s such a wide array of colors and styles.  I love what royalty wears, what the soldiers wear, and what the common man wears.  I also really love that the guys wear their hair down a lot more.  I love the long, pretty hair!  And the guys and girls both wear more jewelry which is something I really like.

Empress Ki 2 Empress Ki - Baek Jin Hee 4

Empress Ki is beautifully filmed and I was drooling all over the gorgeous cinematography as well the constant parade of beautiful costumes worn by practically everyone.  51 episodes in Goryeo really is a nice place to be.

Empress Ki - Ha Ji Won 4 Empress Ki - Ha Ji Won 20

Sung Nyang is about as strong as they come.  After a difficult childhood, she has pretended to be a man for most of her life.  Her skills are unparalleled and known by many.  She is also as loyal as can be, so when she bonds with the Wang Yu, she will always be true to him.  And because of his request, she does her best to protect the future Emperor of Yuan, Ta Hwan.

Her character goes through so many trials, and she is forced to harden herself as the drama goes on.  Ha Ji Won displayed a wonderful acting range going from a more loose, fun Sung Nyang to the absolutely serious Sung Nyang out for revenge for her fallen loved ones.

Empress Ki Korean Drama - Ji Chang Wook Empress Ki Korean Drama - Ji Chang Wook

Emperor Ta Hwan was so much fun!  In the beginning, Ta Hwan is a spoiled and cowardly man.   He was like a spoiled child who was out of touch with reality.  But his fears for his life were genuine.  People who were supposed to be protecting him were trying to kill him.  He didn’t know who to trust.  I got quite a kick out of his character.  He was humorous and at the same time I felt bad for him.

He goes through a slow and painful transformation as he learns to use his power and truly be a ruler.  Ji Chang Wook was fabulous at portraying both the humorous and regal sides to this character.  It’s thanks to Ji Chang Wook’s performance that Ta Hwan was so likable despite having so many flaws.

Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo 9 Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo 6

King Wang Yu is a righteous man who always has the best interests for his people.  He quickly takes a liking to Sung Nyang, but soon gets caught in the middle of the politics going on in Yuan.  By having Sung Nyang be the Emperor’s protector, he unwittingly sets up a future of heartache.  His character becomes more pained as the drama continues.  Joo Jin Mo brings forth the intensity that a character like this requires.


Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo and Ha Ji Won Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo and Ha Ji Won 2

My only real issue with the drama stems from the relationship with Wang Yu and Sung Nyang.  I felt that they needed more time in the beginning of the drama to establish their relationship.  The drama hints a lot at their unwavering love and loyalty towards each other, but it really wasn’t adequately established.  And then they spend the bulk of the drama apart.  I enjoyed them when they were together, but it just wasn’t enough to convince me of their epic love.

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won 4

Sung Nyang spends lots of time with Ta Hwan though.  In the beginning it is of a more humorous and fun nature.  I loved their interactions in those early episodes.  She goes through a period where she hates him, and then she finally begins to soften towards him and also sees that she can use him to help her in her revenge quest.

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won 11 Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won 29

Ta Hwan initially likes her, but in a very possessive sort of way.  He would stop at nothing to make her his.  But when she finally softens towards him and shows him that he really can be a powerful ruler, he begins to truly love her for who she is.  And her faith in him is what causes him to want to overcome his fear and become the Emperor he was meant to be.

Empress Ki - Baek Jin Hee 2

The Empress Tanasili played by Baek Jin Hee completely nailed her role.  How I disliked her!  But she was always fun to watch.  She was evil and completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of her blaming everyone else for her misdeeds.

Empress Ki - Baek Jin Hee 3

I really got a kick out of her interactions with her main servant Lady Seo (Seo Yi Sook).  This lady was ready to do literally anything the Empress said.  The delight on her face when she was plotting with the Empress was priceless.

Empress Ki - Kim Young Ho Empress Ki Korean Drama - Jin Yi Han

Baek Ahn (Kim Young Ho) and Tal Tal (Jin Yi Han) were a surprisingly fun pair.  They start out as the first bad guys because of their attempts to murder Ta Hwan.  But they finally decide to go against the Regent and pledge their support to that Hwan.  They are forced to constantly play both sides as they try to navigate what is best for the Yuan Empire.  They end up helping Sung Nyang in ways I would have never dreamed of.

Baek Ahn is your classic army general who’s loyalty to his country never wavers.  Tal Tal was a character that I became more intrigued with as the drama progressed.  Tal Tal always knew what was going on with everyone and was extremely wise.  He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but there is so much going on in his head.  I found him so fascinating.  And he just looked really cool in army gear and perfect hair.

Empress Ki - Jin Yi Han and Ha Ji Won

This is a complete side interest of mine, but there is a portion later on in the drama that really got my imagination going.  Tal Tal ends up secretly training Sung Nyang so that she can be their clans representative to be a consort to the Emperor.  I loved their training sessions and exchanges of information.

Tal Tal becomes such an important guiding force in Sung Nyang’s life during this time.  I actually found myself thinking it would be quite fun if they suddenly developed a real relationship at this point.  Just forget the King and the Emperor and run off with Tal Tal.  I guess I didn’t really want that to happen, but I thought it would be really interesting if it did.  I have a special place in my heart for Tal Tal🙂

Empress Ki - Kim Seo Hyung 2

The Empress Dowager (Kim Seo Hyung) was an interesting character.  For the first two-thirds of the drama, she is one of the few people who supports Ta Hwan.  She is integral in helping him and Sung Nyang battle the Regent.  But she makes a swift turn in the latter third becoming a villain in her own right.

Empress Ki - Joon Gook Hwan

I must say that Joon Gook Hwan is excellent at playing villainous characters, and this has to be one of my favorites I’ve seen him do.  The Regent is driven by his thirst for power and will do anything to get what he wants.  He prays on Ta Hwan’s weakness and is easily able to rule Yuan in his stead.  He is a ruthless but lively character who has one of the most awesome evil laughs.

Empress Ki - Kim Jung Hyun 2 Empress Ki - Cha Do Jin

Dang Ke Si (Kim Jung Hyun) has a bad history with Sung Nyang in that he is the one who killed her mother.  He is the perfect extenstion of his father, the Regent, being the one who executes many of the plans for power.  His brother (Cha Do Jin) is Dang Ke Si’s right hand man.  He doesn’t do much on his own accord and is probably the least interesting of the villain characters, but he is a nice compliment to our first family of evil.

Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo, Lee Moon Shik, Kwon Oh Jung 2

Wang Yu then has his band of loyal servants and bodyguards who are there for him from start to finish.  Each one was unique with his own quirks and talents.   This group goes through a lot for our King and Sung Nyang.  They are the kind of friends anyone would want to have.

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won 18 Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo 2

Empress Ki maintained a wonderful pace throughout the drama.  Even though the pacing was always good, it also had several layers of well done story arcs that ramped up the intensity several times.  It was very well structured.  It was interesting from start to finish, and I was never bored.  That says a lot considering it is 51 episodes.

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won 7 Empress Ki - Joo Jin Mo, Lee Moon Shik, Kwon Oh Jung

Empress Ki created a rich world populated with fun and interesting characters.  The villains were always entertaining to watch.  They were the kind of villains you love to hate.  We had humorous and loyal supporting characters.  And we had the epic journey of our leading lady on her rise power that was aided by her relationships by the King of Goryeo and the Emperor of Yuan.

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won 5I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Empress Ki.  Many people told me not to be scared off by the 51 episodes, and I will pass along that recommendation to you.  It truly did fly by, and I was sad to see this rich world come to an end.  I really did love every minute of it.  Empress Ki really is epic, and as far as sageuks go, it is one of the best.

My Rating: 10/10

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About Kay

Greetings! I’m Kay, creator and author of Kdrama Kisses. Kdrama Kisses is dedicated to bringing you the latest in kdrama casting news, drama trailers, reviews, and more. Happy drama watching to everyone!
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10 Responses to Empress Ki Korean Drama Review

  1. joybran2015 says:

    I loved it too! I probably like sageuks more than you because I enjoy the history, but this was especially good. When I watch a sageuk, I like to read a little about the real history. Empress Ki is very far from what is known about the period and the rulers. One thing I found interesting is that there really was an Emperor Ta Hwan who had the same kind of problems with court politics, but he was only eight years old when he went to Goryeo. Ji Chang Wook’s portrayal is right on because he really was a spoiled child in fear for his life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay says:

      Such an amazing drama! I actually love sageuks, but they have to be very low on the politics, which many aren’t. Nothing bores me more than political scheming. Empress Ki was great because it did have political scheming throughout, but it did so well at keeping those scenes brief, informative, and entertaining because of the wonderful villain characters. It was pretty much a perfect sageuk for me.

      I really enjoy history too and have begun learning more about Korean history. I’ll typically read up on a King or certain events when I hear a drama announces that it will use those characters or elements. I do that because of my fascination with history though. Otherwise, I prefer not to let actual historical events effect my drama watching, so I’ll typically refrain from comparing to original events while actually watching the drama. I really liked that Empress Ki seemed to take so many liberties with the events because I think it allowed them to do a lot with the story. It’s interesting that were actually some similarities between the character of Emperor Ta Hwan and the real one🙂

      You mentioned a couple months ago you were enjoying Dong Yi. Did you ever finish it?


      • joybran2015 says:

        I did finish Dong Yi and loved it. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

        I also tend to read the history after I watch the drama. The dramas I love most are the ones that don’t stick too close to the history. Empress Ki could have had one of those wonderful child actors play the young Ta Hwan, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as having Ji Chang Wook play the character as a grown man acting like a spoiled child. He did manage to look much younger than his real age, but old enough to sell the relationship with Ha Ji Won.

        I agree that too much political scheming can ruin a good sageuk if it isn’t handled carefully and played by great villains. For example, I actually liked the much reviled Dr. Jin until it got bogged down in politics. How could Song Seung Heon, Kim Jae Joong, and Jin Yi Han in period costumes be made so hard to watch except by spending so much time on boring political scheming?🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kay says:

          I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, I’m so glad they didn’t use any child actors in this one. Ji Chang Wook sold the role.

          I thought Empress Ki handled the politics perfectly because I was not bored for one single second of it. That’s amazing! I haven’t seen Dr. Jin, and because of what I’ve heard, I don’t plan to. Sounds like a good decision. There are to many other lovely sageuks to check out🙂


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  3. hariaharia says:

    I had (and still have) so many issues with this drama. It was a masterpiece up to episode 22. The writers’ brilliance was there and then…fan wars and accuracy maniacs took over. The acting and the directing (plus cinematography) just couldn’t make up for what was happening behind the scenes. The clever shenanigans were replaced by toooo many plots inside the harem, JJM’s role was cut short (leaving him angry and bitter. I can’t blame him despite the fact that his complaints were probably the main reason for losing the leading role in next month’s 50-ep. Tyrant), the “fangirlism” became online bulling (on a personal level) and, in the end, the writers hated each and every character to death (because we all know the big finale, right?).
    PS I couldn’t care less about History (I’m not Chinese, so I haven’t a clue anyway) but the overture had nothing to do with the plot we actually watched. I don’t know whether it was MBC’s choice (because the CEOs had the Chinese market in mind) or was the writers’ decision but no one denies the obvious: Empress Ki was a two-dramas combo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joybran2015 says:

      It sounds like it was a good thing that I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes or with the fandom during its airing. I was able to marathon it in ignorant bliss. I never would have guessed that the writers hated the characters they were using to tell their story.

      I’m not Chinese or Korean, but I enjoy learning a little bit of history about all kinds of different countries. It is especially interesting to see how simple facts about a different time and place can be turned into exciting stories.


    • Kay says:

      Yikes, sounds like there was more drama going on behind the scenes than in the actual drama! I too marathoned this in ignorant bliss, and I’m glad I did. I definitely agree that the first half of the drama was better than the second, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the second half.

      But the one thing I did mention in my review that I felt wasn’t executed well was the relationship between Wang Yu and Sung Nyang. But I felt it wasn’t even adequately established in the beginning of the drama, and then they were apart for so much of the rest. I was pretty much always rooting for Ta Hwan. His character was just so much more interesting.

      I try my best to stay away from fan politics and even production issues while actually watching the drama. I watch dramas to get carried away into a story and another land, so I want to avoid real life stuff. Definitely glad I did with this one, hehe


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