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Cha Seung Won Plays Prince Gwangae As More Tortured Than Evil

BY Julie Jones | Apr 23, 2015 12:20 PM EDT

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Several actors have portrayed the real-life Prince Gwanghae in film and drama. The reason he is such a fascinating character and that he is so often portrayed is that it's hard to imagine why he did what he did, namely murder so many members of his family.

Some stories portray him as out-and-out evil, while others see him as a victim of the times, an unstable era in which a royal figure had to kill members of his own family to survive. In "Hwajung" the prince does not seem so bad before he takes the crown but once he is king he is so tortured by fears that he cannot show any mercy. As he is the son of the former king and a concubine, others in court say he does not have the right to the throne even though his father said he was the most qualified.

Cha Seung Won's portrayal of the murderous prince is subtle enough to make viewers feel almost sorry for the character.

His Prince Gwanghae is not initially too concerned about losing the throne because he feels he deserves it and that everyone will eventually realize as much. He tries to deal with the other potential contenders by making peace with his brothers and opposing factions. That works for a while but after suffering through both real and imagined plots, he lashes out and kills his kin.

It's a tragic story, both for those who died and lost loved ones, and because the prince's victory comes at such a price. The more fear rules his life, the lonelier and more terrified he becomes. His retaliation separates him from the counsel of his family and causes him to mistrust any advisors who would help him.

It's a slow torturous descent into inhumanity. And Cha Seung Won is doing a good job of making you feel the prince's lonely and terrifying world.

When his half sister Princess Jungmyung asks him to spare her younger brother because he is only a child, he responds that there are no children in the palace. That's the way he was raised. That's the way he has to see his very young and innocent rival to survive.

So far, actors Ji Sung, Lee Byung Hun, Lee Sang Yoon, and most recently Seo In Guk, have portrayed the prince who became the 15th king of the Joseon dynasty and was later deposed. Each portrayal focused on a different aspect of the story. Lee Byung Hun's portrayal of the prince in the 2012 film "Masquerade," was also somewhat tortured as his character lived in fear of being assassinated.

Are you watching this drama? What do you think of Cha Seung Won's performance so far?

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