I recently finished watching Empire of Gold. This drama follows a group of people from different walks of life who mostly manipulate each other to get their hands on Sungjin, a multinational conglomerate that moves and churns the Korean economy.

The story spans a 20-year period between the economic collapse that ushered in IMF assistance in the late 90’s and the global recession that entailed mortgage crisis and bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. This setting and the engrossing bits that detail how a humble business in post civil-war Korea grew so massive while others didn’t or were stripped of power all together contribute to tension in the story.

The show generated media when it was scheduled because of the creators’ success with The Chaser. Writer Pak Kyoung-su and director Cho Nam-guk were experienced but virtually unknown to the public prior to The Chaser. Although I did not watch the show, I knew that it was praised for seasoned acting and eloquent writing that treated topics and issues rarely explored in trendy, over-priced prime time television.

I wouldn’t know how Empire of Gold compares to the Pak-Cho duo’s previous project, but it was every bit classy. Sure, there were times when I sensed a drag and felt rather tired of all the verbal skirmishes and shoddy schemes. Financial terms that everyone seemed to toss around effortlessly were gibberish to me. It had not occurred to me how fights over shares of a company could sustain so much drama.

Despite all that, the show kept me anticipating for two reasons. For one I wanted to find out who would finally come to own Sungjin! People making this show were superb at not giving away hints. But mostly I was moved by the incredible complexity each character portrayed and the play of basic forces that they fell victim to. Everyone has a good enough reason for doing what they do in the story. Even though their actions feed into an exhausting cycle of absurd, jarring consequences, their motives are rather simple and often convincing in their own way. Some of the characters do achieve sanity at the end but must pay an enormous cost. Just like any great work of literature, Empire of Gold brings you closer to life so that you can look at its seemingly complex dealings and how easy it is for us to stumble.

Empire of Gold is worth your time. I would like to see new works by Pak and Cho soon. The actors on the show were just as phenomenal. I hope the industry would consider taking on more works like this.

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