(aka "Palace" or "Princess Hours" or "Goong")


directed by Hwang In-Roi
Korea 2006


The series begins with a disclaimer of sorts that what we are about to see, namely a story
about the Korean monarchy in contemporary times, is a fantasy – or more correctly, an alternate reality - since there hasn't been a monarchy in Korea since the start of the Japanese occupation in 1911. There has always been a current to have the monarchy reinstated, though that is hardly the wish of this series. I thought it odd for the writers to state the obvious, since it's not for the sake of the casual westerner passerby. On the other hand, what more socially agreeable way to get the ball rolling than a marriage at the highest level between the royal family and a commoner!

The series starts off with the news that the King is very ill. Anticipating the possibility of his sudden death, the royal family moves to find his young son, Shin, a wife. Not to worry: Shin, a senior attending a local high school, is already in love with Hyo-Rin. But it seems Hyo-Rin has other plans to advance her career as a ballerina, which would take her out of the country. [Foolish girl.] All the same, it turns out that there is hidden away among the royal papers a prior agreement between Shin's grandfather and his closest friend, a commoner, that their grandchildren would marry. Enter: the aforementioned Chae-kyung, who takes the news that she is the very grandchild as if she were swallowing lye. It's not that Shin isn't a decent-looking chap or that Chae-kyung thinks she is God's gift to men, she just thought (if that's the right word) she would end up as a fashion designer.
Neither Chae-kyung nor Shin is very happy about the arrangement, but what can one do – It is written! For quite a number of episodes, Chae-Kyung exercises her resistance to this arrangement in any number of ways just this side of treason, even after the wedding. As for Shin, his disdain for being told what to do leads him to the edge of disobedience, even to permitting an unchaperoned holiday in Bangkok with Hyo-rin, who has since reconsidered her career move.

Elsewhere, in England, news of all this reaches the ears of Lady Hwa-Yong, and this where things start to get poisonous. Lady Hwa-Yong was once the Crown Princess before the unexpected death of her husband, the older brother of the current King. His death made their son, Yul, who up to that moment was Crown Prince, the current ex-Crown Prince. While Yul and his mother could have remained in the palace to play their parts in royal affairs, they left under a cloud (to be unveiled later in the series). But now Lady Hwa-Yong feels it is time to return to orchestrate a coup. Yul is Shin's cousin, and he appears to be everything Shin is not – to Chae-Kyung, at least. Shin is for the most part oblivious to this ersatz romance; but as things eventually warm between himself and his new bride, his attitude necessarily changes. Shin, who can't help but be intimidating even when he tries not to be, and Chae-Kyung, who gradually learns the value of tradition as well as the price it exacts, see things in terms of black and white, so sensitivity to the other's plight has not yet matured. Quite the contrary.


Theatrical Release: 24 part series aired on MBC between January-March, 2006

DVD Review: YAE-Entertainment - Region 1 - NTSC

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Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 1440 mi

1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5 avg mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio Korean DD 2.0
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: YAE-Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 1.85:1

Edition Details:
• Extras (120 minutes):
• Cast Interviews
• Bloopers
• Behind-the-Scenes

DVD Release Date: November 21, 2006
Published in 1 box set



CONTEST HERE TO WIN a complete set of PALACE on DVD!

Palace is YA-Entertainment's first television drama inspired by a Korean manhwa – and a girl's comic at that - and it's an oddball, to say the least. The protagonist, Shin Chae-kyung takes the notion of "self-involved" teenager and runs away with – for touchdown after touchdown. Chae-kyung is a self-described airhead and klutz and, except for the requisite love and respect for her immediate family and a few loyal friends, she is clearly someone I would want to know only at a safe distance. This is why God gave us television.

In keeping with the comic book origins, though not its style, exactly, of Palace, the producers cast vivacious 22 year old Yoon Eun Hye, a member of the successful girl group "Baby V.O.X" since 1999 in the lead. Even though the cast for Palace is considerable, the show pretty much rises or falls with its lead actress and the chemistry she has with her co-stars. Since Palace (or "Goong" as it is known in Korea), Eun Hye has continued with TV dramas with critical success.

I have to admit that, more than any Korean TV drama until this, I found both the show and its lead tough going for the first two or three episodes. That's probably because Eun Hye nailed her character right from the start as whiney, noisy and unforgiving. O.K. I sympathized with her that she was asked, even expected, to alter her life's course, the likes of which no teenager could possibly anticipate. But it's not like she had a life to start with. Well, that's not really fair of me. What bugged me was Chae-kyung's utter unwillingness to explore anything new, at least for the first half of the series. I guess this is what bothers me about many adolescents I know. (The "No-Nothing Generation" as some parents disparagingly refer to them.) Like I say, Eun Hye really nails her character, so it was up to me to embrace, not just tolerate, something new, just as I expected her to do.

By the way, Palace was an incredibly successful series in 2006, second only in popularity to Jumong.


Notes on the DVD:
Image : 6.5
Palace is one of the few widescreen presentations that didn't make it to the U.S. in an anamorphic presentation. Just such an edition exists (from Premier), but it comes without English subtitles. Curiously, unlike the case with Jumong, where the YA edition is to preferred, Premier's version of Palace is subtly, though perceptibly better, especially noticeable in the less well lit palace interiors where the YAE tends to block up the black levels. The Premier is a little sharper, even compared to the letterboxed, unzoomed YAE, and of course is helped by the fact that it is anamorphic. In either case, color saturation is quite deep, especially within the palace where it is drenched in golds and reds. I found things were clearer if I backed off on color and contrast a point on the YAE. (The Premier edition begs for no such adjustment.) I have included two pairs of images for comparison, and chose to retain the letterboxed format for the YAE so that the differences will be more apparent. These images are photographed from front projection, the remainder of the captures are all taken via the computer.

Since there is no royal palace as such, a certain amount of CGI, tastefully executed, is added to some of the exteriors of the present buildings to give the illusion of a certain existence in the main city. CGI was also employed here and there when a royal jet or throngs of dignitaries were not to be had. But for the most part, what we see is what is there, or recreated on sets. Except for the interiors of the palace where things tend to get a little saturated and the blacks lack for some shadow detail, the image is quite good, though a touch noisy.

Make no mistake, with few moments of exception, Palace is relentless beautiful to look at, with the bonus of a closet full of luscious royal costumes that would be the envy of Joan Crawford. Frames are elegantly composed, even in motion. Focus is always deliberate,
with backgrounds carefully considered as contextual frames. It's a picture that, unlike most Korean dramas in contemporary settings, cries out for a high definition video transfer.

Audio & Music : 8/10
The audio mix, if we can rightly call it that, is stereo, but not surround. As a result, atmospherics are missed, but that would be all. The dialogue and ambient sounds are clear and are balanced well with the music. The music score for Palace is one of the best Korean drama soundtracks I've heard and is fully worth the expense of a separate purchase. It is colorful, engaging and inventive.

Translation & Subtitles : 8
I found this a pretty good translation into idiomatic English, with very few grammatical or spelling errors. Subtitles are clear enough, though too large I thought: white with a thin black border.

Operations & Box Design : 8
I may have an earlier box deign which entails a sturdy, compact outer sleeve with an open end for two standard DVD cases that each house four discs (12 episodes). Between them is a separate, slender case for the Extra Features disc. The art work is appropriately suggestive of the series: rich with reds and ornate costumes.

Extras : 6
For content, I score this a 9; but the image is pretty awful. Much of the disc, titled "Palace 1.5", is comprised of a a 75 minute live audience TV show filmed just as the series wrapped up – this is a common ploy for MBC to generate even more fan interest even while the series is in progress. The show is a gas, with two hosts falling over themselves to get the audience to giggle and applaud at real and imagined events on and off the set. Behind he hosts is the cast of the show, who chime in with embarrassed reactions and the occasional enlightened response. I find these shows – and I've seen several by this time, to be delightful, charming, funny, and informative in their way. In this case, they trace the 280 days of filming, starting in the summer of 2005 with the introduction of the new stars as they go through their first 8 hour read-through of the script and continuing with all sorts of backstage trivia and making-of bits.

For some reason, the image for Palace 1.5 is anamorphic, but way overexposed with washed out colors. Curiously, the Premier edition, which has almost twice the Extra Features - none of which are subtitled, remember, but all of which are in much, much better image quality - does not include this most delightful TV spot, though it does include most or all of the making-of material in 4:3 framing. As you can see, the YAE frames this sections with borders to make the change in aspect ratios less jarring.

The remainder of the disc contains 45 minutes of interviews with the stars as they discuss their characters. Most interesting is Yoon Eun Hye's comments about how her performance did or did not correspond to expectations by fans of the popular manhwa (graphic novels). I thought I had the advantage of having no such concerns, and came to think about her characterization in the same way as I think of Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith. Who else could possibly have brought Chae-Kyung to life?

Recommendation: 8
It took two or three episodes to get my bearings in what soon evolved as a most delicious goulash of comedy, romance, politics, culture (Korean and Thai) and thriller. The only reason why this series does not score higher is because of it not being anamorphic; all the same, it is highly recommended.

Palace is a little longer than most Korean TV dramas (24 hour long episodes as compared to the more frequent 16-20), but never felt liked it dragged. At the end of each episode, which often concluded with a mini-cliffhanger, I was eager to see where things would go next. My one complaint, besides the letterboxing of the image, is the ending, which not only is unrealistic on its own terms, but cries out for a sequel. That wish was granted briefly for a few episodes with a different cast. I gather it was not much liked and got what it deserved. I am not holding my breath for a course correction.

 - Leonard Norwitz


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WINNER: Cera K. of Ridge, NY will receive a complete set of the hit series, Palace.

Contest Answers:
1. Where Eagles Dare
2. King Kong (1933)
3. Giant
4. Citizen Kane
5. The Thorn Birds
6. The Last Emperor
7. The Honeymooners
8. Castle In The Sky!


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