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Series / Jeong Dojeon

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Jeong Dojeon (정도전) is a 50-episode South Korean historical drama which aired on KBS on 2014. It stars Jo Jae Hyun as the titular character, a Confucian scholar who seeks to start a revolution and laid the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty.

It is the waning years of the Goryeo Dynasty, with the royal court is overrun with corruption. The high ranking minister Yi In-im rules through a puppet king with his fellow aristocrats. Jeong Dojeon is a low-ranking scholar who wants to fight this corruption, but is ultimately powerless to do anything, even getting exiled at one point. After much hardship, he decides that there is no hope for the ruling dynasty, so he plots to overthrow the current government and start a new era, with war hero Yi Seonggye (Yu Dong-geun) as its new monarch. Other opponents of Yi In-m include Choi Young, also a war hero, Jeong Mongju, Dojeon's friend since childhood, and Yi Seonggye's fifth son, Yi Bangwon.

This series provides examples of:

  • The Determinator: Jeong Dojeon will overthrow Yi In-im and the Goryeo Dynasty, no matter what.
  • Downer Ending: Yi Bangwon, later King Taejong, wipes out Jeong Dojeon and his faction, kills his little brother the Crown Prince, sends his father over a Despair Event Horizon and ultimately becomes king, Jeong Dojeon becoming villified in the process. The silver lining is that Taejong adopts some of Jeong Dojeon's policies and that his name would later be vindicated during King Gojong's reign, ironically during the twilight years of the Joseon Dynasty.
  • Evil Chancellor: Yi In-im. Some eventually accuse Jeong Dojeon of this as well.
  • Fallen Hero: Prior to the start of the series, King Gongmin of Goryeo was notable for driving the Mongols out of the kingdom and was described to be a good king by many. After the death of his wife, however, he lost interest in state affairs and the court became overrun with corruption. He even became oppressive by forcibly conscripting laborours to build a shrine for his late queen, leading to a deteriorating economy and many deaths. Just when it seems like he's going back to how he was before, he is assassinated in the second episode by his bodyguards due to Yi In-im's manipulations.
    • Sambong's former classmates and teacher begin to view him as this when he resorts to dirty methods to push his ideals, Poeun even going as far to say he is like Lee In-im.
  • Fake Aristocrat: When Poeun discovers that Sambong's mother was supposedly a servant-class, he uses this as an excuse to arrest him for deceiving the government by hiding his true social status. Its ambiguous whether this accusation is a true claim or false slander, as Sambong neither confirms nor denies it.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Jeong Dojeon was originally a low ranking official who leads a dynastic revolution. Similarly, Yi Seonggye was just a obscure border general dismissed as a country bumpkin by the nobility.
  • Founder of the Kingdom: The main character leads the dynastic revolution, and Yi Seonggye the first monarch of the Joseon Dynasty.
  • Hope Spot: Several.
    • Just when Jeong Dojeon coinvinces Gongmin to turn himself around and make things better again, Gongmin is murdered through Yi Inim's manipulations.
    • When Yi Inim tries to bring Gongmin's illegitimate son onto the throne so he can rule through him, Sambong tells the Queen Dowager that Yi Inim's claim is a lie, having the late king's painting in his possession as proof that the king trusted him. The Queen Dowager is about to give him a chance to testify against Yi Inim. However, Jeong Dojeon is blocked from doing so; out of fear that Choi Yeong would take control over the court as he returns to the capital, the Queen Dowager installs the later King U onto the throne to prevent that from happening.
  • I Did What I Had to Do/Utopia Justifies the Means: Yi Bangwon feels that Jeong Mongju's assassination was justified, despite his father's disapproval. Jeong Dojeon also does some morally ambiguous things as well.
  • In-Series Nickname/Pen Name: Historically, Confucian scholars went by pen-names and referred to as such by their peers. Jeong Dojeon's is Sambong and Jeong Mongju's is Poeun.
  • Irony: The series ends before it could get to that point in history, but despite being opposed to Sambong's goal of disbanding the private armies of the nobility, Yi Bangwon does just that after supressing a rebellion by his brother. In fact, despite their mutual enmity, Bangwon did enforce most of Sambong's reforms, but speaking highly of him became taboo.
  • Loved by All: Yi Seonggye was a war hero loved to the point the idea of him being king was supported. He loses alot of this as Jeong Mongju was also pretty widely beloved.
  • Puppet King: The last kings of the Goryeo were all this with officials making the decisions. When Jeong Dojeon reveals his vision of Joseon as a kingdom led by ministers with the king as a symbolic figure, Bangwon accuses him of using his father as one, arguing it was what led to the decline of Goryeo.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Goyeo Dynasty is replaced, but many people died in the process, the new government is not entirely liked by the populace, the king doesn't get to do much and internal strife continues.
  • Start of Darkness: A rift developed between Sambong and Bangwon after Poeun's death, but Bangwon becomes more antagonistic after being passed over as Crown Prince, despite the merits he feels he accomplished. In the end, he becomes the next and final political enemy of our main character.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Jeong Mongju gets slashed by swords several times before a mace bludgeoning his head ends him.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized/The Revolution Will Not Be Villified: The plotters against the Goryeo Dynasty hoped to change the regime without bloodshed by convincing its loyalists to join their cause, but things go wrong and both sides end up using dirty tactics against each other, resulting in some deaths. When Jeong Mongju is killed, the revolutionaries try to spin his death as punishment for being a traitor.
  • The Evil Prince: Yi Bangwon arguably becomes one in the eyes of many. It doesn't help that his own father viewed him as The Wrongful Heir to the Throne even before his feud with Sambong escalated. Ironically, historically, he was considered a good king, even though he's mainly remembered for the bloodshed he caused.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Jeong Mongju becomes more hostile towards his former friend, even being uncharacteristically smug when imprisoning him.
  • Undying Loyalty: Choi Yeong and Jeong Mongju are renowned for their dedication to protecting the Goryeo Dynasty. Poeun's poem epitomizes this trope:
    Jeong Mongju: Though I die and die again a hundred times, That my bones turn to dust, whether my soul remains or not, Ever loyal to my Lord, how can this red heart ever fade away?.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Choi Yeong wants to attack Liaodong to drive the Ming armies away, despite the consequence of retaliation it could bring.
    • Yi Bangwon justifies Poeun's death so that the new dynasty could happen.
    • Dojeon's actions are driven to help the people, so he will have anyone, even former classmates, arrested and tortured for opposing his land reform efforts.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Several examples.
    • Choi Yeong saw Yi Seonggye as a son and was devastated when he retreated from the Liadong Expedition and took his army back to the capital.
    • Sambong has a falling out with his teacher and Poeun because of his revolutionary ideals.
    • Bangwon looked to Sambong for advice, even calling him uncle, but a rift developed after Poeun's death; adding to that was political differences and passing him over as Crown Prince.