Confessions of a 'Jewel in the Palace' addict

Confessions of a 'Jewel' addict 
By Walter Ang
November 15, 2006
Philippine Daily Inquirer

By the time the first run of "Jewel in the Palace" was about to end earlier this year, I had become so enamored with the show that when two of its actors visited the Philippines, I waited three hours amidst a throng of fans to catch a glimpse of them.

When they finally appeared onstage, they were as small as ants from where I stood. They scurried away after only about three minutes in the spotlight.

I was first encouraged to watch this Koreanovela (the show is on its encore run, weeknights at 6 p.m. on GMA network) when a friend told me how funny it was. I remembered the seminal "Betty La Fea" back in the '90s and how hilarious it was, so I asked for more details.

"It's about Jang Geum, a little orphan girl who wants to become a kitchen chef in the King's palace. She's the 'jewel' the title alludes to," he explained. "When someone steals the flour she needs to use for her final exams, everyone cries."

Intrigued, I dutifully tuned in to see what the fuss was all about. I figured that I, too, could have a good laugh over all this melodramatic silliness of crying over spilt milk, or in this case, stolen flour.

First time
The episode I caught that fateful night had Jang Geum (already one of the junior kitchen staff since she was able to pass that exam by making her own flour) playing detective in an attempt to find out what was causing the paralysis of the King's son. Ah, a mystery as well!

As it turned out, one of the ingredients used in the prince's meal, while medicinal in small amounts, became a paralyzing agent when its effects were magnified by another ingredient in the recipe. How did Jang Geum prove her theory? She cooked the recipe again, adjusting the amount of the paralyzing ingredient, ate it herself, and promptly fell to the floor as she lost all feeling in her extremities.

The episode ended with her friends chiding her, "I don't know if you're smart or stupid." I was laughing so hard I thought I'd end up losing all sensation in my limbs myself. And I was hooked.

How could anyone not fall in love with this naive but determined heroine with a heart of gold who struggled at all costs and endured all to achieve her dreams? If that's quite a mouthful, it is. In the grand scheme of soap operas, her plight is nothing new. But finally, here is a fresh take on the same old themes and archetypes.

Production values
Jang Geum's trials, travails and ultimate triumph when she is forced to shift careers and becomes Korea's first lady doctor is based on a real historical figure. The show is set in another culture and in another time?something fanciful to take the mind away from our daily grind. Production values include gorgeous costumes, detailed sets and inventive camera framing. Let's not forget all those wonderful sequences dealing with food preparation!

However, it was the superb Tagalog translation and dubbing that really kept me glued. The emotions conveyed by the dubbers were spot on. The voice actors of Jang Geum's adopted parents had perfect comic timing to match the facial expressions of the Korean actors. They were absolutely hilarious.

Lessons learned
The translation also brought "deep" Tagalog closer to a huge audience. We have to admit, who among us can actually construct Tagalog sentences with correct grammar and syntax?

So it was great to hear the lyricism and poetry of our own language come to life. I don't know by how many notches my Tagalog skills went up during the run of the show, but I now know the Tagalog word for sulfur (from the episode when Jang Geum had to cook sulfur-fed ducklings for the King).

"Jewel in the Palace" came into my life at a time when I was dealing with my very own cast of dubious characters with ill motives. With Jang Geum, I could have some de-stressing entertainment and also pick up?hokey as this might sound?tidbits of inspiration as she outmaneuvered the many hurdles thrown her way.

I spent the next several months living vicariously through Jang Geum, screaming and shaking my fist at her enemies, laughing at their repeated comeuppances, and smirking at their eventual downfall. For all the months the show was on, I followed Jang Geum through her multiple stumbles and cheered her at her every rise. And, yes, I refused to attend weeknight meetings if it meant I would miss the show.

We all need a Korean fairy tale every now and then.

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