What if Korea still had a royal family, a ruling monarchy, in this modern time? Now that we've created the setting.... What if you saw your fiancee proposing to another woman? This is the situation Shin Chae-kyung finds herself in - Chae-kyung overhears Crown Prince Shin proposing to classmate and ballet dancer Min Hyo-rin, and then just days later finds herself in an arranged marriage with him!
Before he died, the king of the previous generation, Prince Shin's grandfather, made a promise with his only true friend. This promise engaged the current Crown Prince to his friend's granddaughter (Chae-kyung). At the time however, the Crown Prince was not Shin, but the current heir's son, Yul. When Yul's father died in an accident, Shin's father became the heir and Shin became the Crown Prince. So you can see how some problems would arise. A love quadrangle forms before you can even spit out the word "quadrangle."
Shin is the heir to the throne, but Yul isn't about to let him take that position without fighting back to reclaim what should have been his - and that includes Chae-kyung as well as the throne. Problems arise when Yul's vengeful, ambitious mother pulls out all the stops to bring herself and her son back into the palace. Yul plays along for a while, dutiful to his mother, until his love for Chae-kyung overwhelms all his other feelings. Meanwhile, Shin struggles to deal with his feelings for Hyo-Rin, which he is forced to put aside, and strange, emerging feelings for the unlikely Chae-kyung. Chae-kyung struggles endlessly with palace life, her upbeat and outgoing personality constantly at odds with palace rules and regulations. It's hard to decide which boy to root for. They're both good guys, in their way. Shin is just more awkward and less honest with his feelings, and Yul is more forward. But they both care for her - Shin does lots of little things to make her happy or take care of her, though she doesn't always notice; and Yul's stance of not letting his mother screw around with her is admirable.
There's political intrigue, plenty of drama, lots of humor, gorgeous sets and costumes, sweet romance, hot guys, beautiful girls.... What else do you need?
It's a really beautifully shot show, in terms of the environments and the costumes. They went all out. The set designs are incredibly detailed, and the use of updated traditional clothing for the royal family is superb. And apparently very expensive, though I'm sure the level of detail and realism was very helpful to actors, and it certainly gives everything a believable look.
The older actress (Kim Hye Ja) playing the Queen mother has a beautiful, melodious voice, and it sounds like she's singing a song every time she speaks. Yoon Eun Hye is amazing as lead character Chae-kyung, and she's a newcomer! In fact, (most of) the younger actors were fairly new, while the adult characters were veterans; a dynamic that transfers into the story. Shin was played by handsome Joo Ji Hoon, who later appeared in the Korean Antique Bakery film. The main gang is rounded out by talented Kim Jeong Hoon as Yul, and Song Ji Hyo as Hyo-rin.
Unfortunately, I am unable to compare this to the manhwa, because I have not read it. I've skimmed a tiny bit of it, and it looks entertaining. I did notice that the characters in the comic seem a little more animated than their live action counterparts (specifically Shin). But, you know, internal thoughts are a little hard to convey on a screen.
The story does move a little slow, I will admit. I think it could do to have a couple of episodes knocked off, and a few things consolidated. Shin and Chae-kyung bounce back and forth in their relationship an excessive amount, and often you just wish they would TALK to each other, because it would solve things really quick. But Shin is incredibly private and emotionally awkward, and he's constantly put off by how outgoing and honest Chae-kyung is, so it's understandable.
You can purchase Goong, known as Palace or Princess Hours in America (the DVDs are sold as Palace), from the American licensor YA Entertainment. (I got mine from Rightstuf.com.) The box set of the series comes with a bonus disc that has interviews, bloopers, and behind the scenes footage (most of which is really funny).
Head over to Comic Attack for Ludwig II, The Art of Angel Sanctuary: Angel Cage, and December 2009's Previews highlights.