Fast forward four months. I had watched all 51 episodes of Emperor of the Sea multiple times, researched the actors and characters, and tried to find the novel it was based on in an English translation (if you know of one, please post a comment!). See my review.
I started a spreadsheet to track recurring themes and phrases: “I have something to tell you,” “what’s your plan?,” “do you have a death wish?,” and “you must escape now!” I tried to decide if the underlying philosophy was more Buddhist or Catholic (the author of the novel converted), and what this highly fictionalized version of 9th century history told me about 21st century Korea and Koreans.
As I began to pick out words, it dawned on me that the dialogue was dubbed in Chinese. I sought out Korean versions, and was surprised by the the difference in the sound of the language. I loaded Pimsleur language lessons onto my MP3 player, and mumbled tortuously tongue-twisting phrases to myself on the way to the grocery store.