K-Drama: The Last Empress Summary and Review

The Last Empress is a South Korean television series that aired in November 2018 and ended in February 2019. Originally slated for just 48 episodes, it made an extension to 52 episodes due to its popularity. 

However, Choi Jin-Hyuk, who played Na Wang Sik, did not take part in the extended episodes due to a conflict of his schedules so his character was implied to have been killed in a car accident.


Set in 2018 when the fictional constitutional monarchy of Korea is disintegrating due to some internal issues haunting the royal family with an incapable emperor ruling the imperial dynasty. 

The story begins with a narrative that something mysterious is hounding the palace when the empress died. The guards dig her grave and retrieve the precious sapphire necklace that can be worn only by a legitimate empress. 

Meanwhile, the widowed emperor, Lee Hyuk (Shin Sung-Rok) is looking for a new wife. He meets a vibrant theater actress from a modest family, Sunny Oh (Jang Na-Ra). 

Sunny is ecstatic to meet the emperor whom she admired. And did not hesitate when he proposed for marriage. 

The royal family is composed of individuals with odd personalities that contradict each other. The emperor's grandmother is a fierce custodian of the imperial family's legacy and wants her grandson to assume his role with greater responsibilities and sense of gallantry to please the subjects, in which he both lacked. 

The emperor's mother is a greedy dowager empress with a treacherous personality who cares nothing but to gain control of power, including the emperor.

The emperor lacks the capacity to rule a kingdom and is always at the mercy of his mother.  He has a sister who seems like a nuisance and childish, and a younger brother, the Crown Prince, who despises his irresolute brother and greedy mother and who has been living outside the palace.

After marrying the emperor, Sunny realizes life in the palace is no fairytale. She discovers her husband's infidelity and other dark schemes. She further realizes that a royal life is not what ordinary people often think. 

Feeling abandoned by her husband, she lives on her own in her lonely world within the palace walls, eventually, she falls in love with the imperial family's bodyguard, Na Wang Sik (Choi Jin-Hyuk).

When the emperor's grandmother dies under mysterious circumstances, Sunny Oh finds herself being accused of the murder, vows to clear her name and haunts the real killer, she works with Na Wang Sik to uncover the massive palace's conspiracy and uncover the real perpetrators. 


As someone who loves everything about the monarchy and the royal lifestyle, I find the first five episodes, enjoyable. I am impressed with the flow of the screenplay.

I like how the narrative unfolds in the first few episodes, and I like how the character of Sunny Oh evolved in the story, from a seemingly innocent young woman to a resolute empress who empowers women and finds courage to restore justice in the realm.

But as the drama deepened, and more layers of the story unfolded, I find the whole thing loosened up and became incoherent. Like a passing train traversing smoothly but derailed at the finishing approach of the journey because its machine disintegrated, that's how the story of The Last Empress flowed. 

The Last Empress is a good piece, but it did not sustain its logical storyline as the scenes revolves. It becomes a bit funny when it attempted to tie up the loose end of the script, trying to make the emperor relevant when the fine tuning didn't actually make sense.

So many loopholes that the script ultimately lacks logic. For instance, the grand empress was presented as a resolute ageing matriarch who had been fierce with her principles in life and who wanted her grandson to appear steadfast to continue the legacy of his imperial ancestors, but committed suicide for a lame reason that she wanted to protect the legacy of the imperial family and because she was disappointed with the behavior of the imperial family? It sounds pathetic and did not make sense.

The tense episodes where everyone is trying to uncover the mystery of her death, figuring out who is the real murderer, and why she was murdered created a climax in the story and a smooth flow of the drama, but only bangled up in the end when it was revealed she committed suicide, therefore freeing everyone from the crime. How's that conclusion even concocted in the first place? It's so lame. It has thrown off the logic, weakening the narrative.

The writer perhaps attempted to create another layer of thrill in the story by adding several twists of death, betrayal, conspiracy, and more villains which made the story even weaker. 

Lee Hyuk's character is one of the most annoying in the series. It's not only inconsistent but totally lacks progress. And the writer just wrapped up his character by killing him. Absurd.

I love Sunny Oh's character in the first five episodes, but it went on from being steadfast to being a bit nuisance as the series wrapped up. Annoying in some episodes. 

Only four characters in The Last Empress really stood out - Na Wang Sik (Choi Jin Hyuk), Min Yoo Ra (Lee Elijah), Oh Hel-ro (Stephanie Lee), and Crown Prince Lee Yoon (Oh Seung-Yoon). 

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