Picking up the historical pieces left behind by other historical K-dramas before it, My Country: The New Age gets off to a good start here, despite a questionable love triangle beginning to develop. Despite that, the series has all the makings to be one of the better Korean dramas of the year.
We begin in August 1398 with a group of soldiers deliberating over the best way to approach killing the Crown Prince. They lament their situation and question where Hwi is. Suddenly, he arrives on horseback and is tasked with leading the attack. Arrows fly, fires rage and at the centre of it sits Hwi who raises his samurai sword and comes to blow with his former ally Nam Sun-Ho.
It’s here we jump back 10 years to 1388, the year of the Wihwado Retreat, with Sun-Ho and Hwi training together. As they head back to the city, they’re stopped by guards who check their identity against a wanted poster. Free to go, they head inside where we meet the woman from the posters – Hee-Jae. Lamenting their apathy toward the coming war, she tells them they should do something to stop it.
Believing they put the posters up, our trio of characters go on the run from the city guards, with Sun-Ho separated from the others. Meanwhile, Hwi manages to fight off a few guards of his own after being found, hitting them with arrows and using yellow robes to evade their attacks. As they hear the horns blow, Hwi follows Hee-Jae into the gorgeously lit Ihwaru. Unfortunately, blood spatters outside prompt the guards to work out where he’s gone, as the Capital Patrol bang on the door before breaking it down.
Dressed up and in disguise, both Hee-Jae and Hwi manage to blend in with the others as Chi-Do, the guard in charge, demands they each come forward and stand next to the poster. Just as things look set to kick off, Sun-Ho arrives and tells them he’s noble-born and to call off the attack. A weak apology follows, before he leaves the trio to toast over drinks, forging their friendship over alcohol.
Sick of being labelled a concubine’s son, Sun-Ho vows to change his life and as Goryeo falls, he promises to be at the centre of this as the General’s sword. Taking her leave, Hee-Jae speaks to Seo-Seol who vows to stop the Capital Guard if they enter Ihwaru, but if she continues to put posters up, she’ll have to leave. To make matters worse, she’s also moved out of her room.
Hwi returns home the next day to take care of his sister Yeon who asks to go to the marketplace. While they talk, Chi-Do is tasked with bringing the trio he was hunting to the General by the next day or suffer the consequences and pay a fine. With a long line to register for the exams, Yeon waits patiently for Hwi after becoming shy with Sun-Ho whom she clearly takes a fancy to. Although Sun-Ho is allowed in, Hwi is refused due to the circumstances surrounding his Father’s death. Calling him a dog, the officer sneers as Yeon steps up and tells him to take it back. This causes her to have a panic attack as we jump back in time and see how Hwi and Yeon’s Father died.
Partway through the archery session, Sun-Ho is given some encouraging words from Hwe, which the General overhears. Giving Hwe the iron bow, he commands him to follow his lead and shoot arrows where he does. He manages it too, even beating the General on one occasion. Snapping an arrow, he tells Hwe to re-apply for the state exam by showing them the arrowhead, throwing Sun-Ho’s chances of winning into doubt.
After the meeting, Sun-Ho rides off after telling Hwe to apply and take the exam. As he heads home, Hwe comes face to face with Sun-Ho’s Father who offers to pay him off to prevent him taking the state exam – even going so far as to offer up 100 silver ingots. He refuses of course, but Hwe’s told this is an order, not an offer, as he’s left to stew.
Working in the smithy, he pounds the metal before making his mind up. Son of the greatest sword-smith in Goryeo, Hwe walks past Sun-Ho and Hee-Jae, bursting into the palace as he purposefully walks up to the Officer, fighting off numerous guards with Sun-Ho before slamming the arrowhead down on the table as Hee-Jae watches on from afar where we leave the episode.
Taking the best elements from both The Crowned Clown and Arthdal Chronicles, My Country; The New Age follows in their footsteps and gets off to a good start. Boasting high production values and some impressive choreography, My Country’s only downside comes from its teasing love triangle between its three leads which, if they go down this route, may well devalue the good work done so far. There’s some really good character work here too, with a decent balance of flashbacks and exposition helping to develop our trio. Despite the 80 minute run time, My Country packs an awful lot into its first episode. With plenty of questions left hanging over this one, My Country looks set to be another popular Korean drama but whether it can keep up this level of intrigue over the coming weeks remains to be seen.