And one more time: I can give you a shovel, but which direction and how deep you want to dig, it all depends on you. This is my personal take on the characters. As useful as the shovel itself. You may also leave it and don’t care.
Friendship, jealousy, love, hatred, bias, hope, fun, dreams
And now, the same as I did with QSD, the person who captured my mind and heart (right order) will be described as the last one. So, Issy, you know where to stop reading^^. Among many characters there were almost all types of people. And we got to know their behavior, their habits, their mindset.
King Jeongjo – I had problems with liking the King. As I know from the history, his only obstacle on his road to changing the country was his own death, in some very murky circumstances. He longed all his life to fulfill his filial duty by honoring his father, executed by his grandfather, the king Yeongjo. Prince Sado was starved to death. King’s obsession was to find a book or rather a loose compilation of notes called Geum Deung Ji Sa. This book (let’s keep this term) was a secret will of the late King Yeongjo in which he expressed his regret over his son’s death. As much as political faction of Norons was connected to the previous King, exposing this will would shake their position and strengthen the opposition. That’s why 10 years before the time of the drama they took those matters in their own hands. For all 20 episodes he was focused on it, this was his only hope. And when he finally got it in his hands, he decided to burn it.
This move is quite heavy in meaning. In the last episode the King was informed that the scholar who brought him GDJS is in fact a girl. King was furious, seeing this as violating of the rules. See, this was an exceptional example of clattering of one man’s dreams and reality. King dreamed of a better Joseon, of some phantom Joseon, but couldn’t handle properly the “making of” this New Joseon. This new world he was dreaming of was in fact a silent reality in Kim Yunshik shape. And suddenly he felt out of his power. Because he’s never dreamt of THIS kind of reality. Only after a bitter talk with Seonjun who gave him back the compass, King started to see things in a different light. He realized that his dream Joseon is less important than the contemporary one. And in fact the reality can be his dream Joseon. This was one great moment in this drama. We dream of a better future, but we may miss in the same time a chance, a solid chance to turn the reality around us into this dream. King realized this at the very end. And even though he was angry at Professor Jeong, who kept the faith in his students, he came in terms with his dreams he had to give up. New Joseon didn’t come as a spectacular event. It came as a small bud. But it wasn’t a failure at all. Kim Yunhee stayed in Seongkyunkwan, despite all the bias. She stayed, because she was worthy of it. Because she was the future of Joseon. (Jo Seongha)
Professor Jeong Yak-yong – I liked the man. At first he seemed a bit on the less normal side. Granted, he wasn’t typical Professor in school, but he possessed truly remarkable mind. Add to this a perception able to shatter one’s masquerade, strip the person bare and see the true intentions. Sometimes I put Professor and Yongha together, because they both shared the same sharp observation sense. Yongha added sarcasm to it, while Professor stayed with his righteousness. He believed in his students until the very end, he protected them, he pleaded for them. Yet he was a very strict man, and didn’t hesitate to punish them. I liked how he played Yunhee when he discovered she’s a girl. He did the same what Seonjun always done to her – pushed her to her limits. Forced her to cross the border of unimaginable. Even if she cried, was hurt or tired. He saw through Yongha without problems. And he saw through Insu as well. He also dreamt about the new Joseon, and hoped it would come one day, but he had no illusions of it coming during his lifetime. He mentioned once missionaries that came with a strange idea of equality. This idea of leveling everyone, yangbans with common people, Norons with Namins and Sorons, men and women, was accompanied by the idea of freedom of the individual. He believed in that, even though he knew it’s not the time to neither express it nor strive for it. (Ahn Naesang)
Professor Yu and Professor Choi – nice back up characters. Not only a background for the rest, but they had personalities. Professor Yu was the most normal out of the whole crazy bunch of students and teachers alike. I liked how he suddenly questioned Yunhee in the library and said she passed the test. He was the true scholar, as he said, he never was lazy student, and never regretted staying in SKK. His opposite was Professor, who acted as if he sat on the hot coal. He was loud, everywhere, annoying, but… but it was him who gave the idea on how to save Seonjun when he was in jail. It was his voice-over when Jaeshin was writing Hong Byeok Seo leaflets. And his funny lines when he tried to please the King… As I said, they both had well defined traits of characters. (played respectively by: Park Geunsu and Kim Hakyun ).
Choseon – a gisaeng of a high rank. First thing first, gisaeng in Joseon wasn’t actually the same as geisha in Japan. Their ranking was more complicated, their history longer and their position much higher. Gisaeng was not only a companion, but also an advisor. Highly educated as for the women in Confucian society, they were more like pretty treasure boxes. A man could have them, but they had the power enough to refuse it. Of course, not every gisaeng. Our Choseon was very beautiful, yet somehow far beyond everyone’s grab. Her clothes and hair-dressing depicted first-class gisaeng. She was very strict in choosing her clients, and seemed to be bid somehow to the Minister of War. As the story progressed, we saw that Minister held some kind of threat over her family, perhaps due to the debts. The same situation Yunhee fortunately escaped from. But Choseon had also her dark alter-ego used by the Minister without any hesitation. She was well mannered and gentle, yet cold. She looked as if she was suffocating, she knew she was a plaything despite her haughty attitude sometimes, but she wanted to be treated as human being. The first person who did that was actually Yunhee when she put clothes on her naked arms, rescuing Choseon from the near abuse. This small, but meaningful gesture captured suffering gisaeng’s heart. This was what Ha Insu never did, although he had feelings for her for many years. He showed her no heart but power. Choseon saw power in her life, but she never saw a heart and compassion.
Jwasang (Left State Minister) Lee Cheongmu – father of Lee Seonjun. From the first minute of his appearance he oozed the power. It was so clearly visible that he is the man who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. And it looked like there was no one who could say that word in his presence. We called him Devil. I maintain this opinion. He was a gifted politician, cunning and very well organized. He was able to control others, or at least it was what it seemed. His main goal in life was to stay at power at all costs. And this is why I refuse to call him an idealist. He didn’t dream of a better future, of a better Joseon, but he wanted to maintain the status-quo. He didn’t like the changes, and when his son started to show those, he resented him (although I’m not really sure if this wasn’t what actually happened), because changes for him meant losing the power, the prestige, the ability to control everything and everyone. Every move of an idealist is marked with morals, with a vision including all humanity. Not just a very small group of people. Idealist dreams of a better reality and strives to make it come true. Politician sees the future he’s making. They have nothing in common. Minister was a great mind, great man, but not an idealist. His plans for the future never transcended the existing situation. I especially liked the scene when Seonjun was in prison and his father visited him. It was a bitter, short talk for both men. Seonjun saw in his father the man he used to admire, but now strove to not become like him and he managed to escape the same road. Minister, on the other hand, saw in his son a man he perhaps had wanted to be in his long gone past, but has forsaken this in pursue of the power. He understood that everything that his son has learned from him, became real. Minister taught his son many beautiful phrases and passages from books, like the one Seonjun said to the King, but I don’t think Minister believed in the words he was teaching. For him, with time, they were just righteous sentences showing great education and rhetoric skills. They were just hollow forms he liked to use. This is why he started to hate his son. Because Seonjun rebelled against him, and because he actually turned those words into action. (Kim Gabsu)
Pyeongpan (Minister of War) Ha Wugyu – Father of the siblings: Insu and Hyoeun. We saw him at first as the Minister Lee’s right hand and his close associate. Their “friendship” from the very beginning looked as if it was a burden to the Great Minister, but for some reasons he put up with mean, cruel and shallow Minister of War. The reasons for that are revealed only in the last episodes. Minister of War likes to keep common people on his leash by simple threats. This makes him a real bastard. He seems to have no human traits whatsoever, he doesn’t even possess the piercing mind of his great counterpart. All he can do is just scheming without thinking of all possible outcomes. Being cautious is not his strongest point, that’s for sure. And his kids are not his strongest assets as well. (Lee Jaeyong)
3 lazy students: – I really liked the bunch. They brought the comic relief. We had Ahn Dohyeon (Kim Jeongkyun), the oldest among them, who was very skilled in a technique he called “mixed wine”. While watching the scene I suddenly wanted to sit at that table and drink the wine. Then we had Kim Wutak (Jang Sehyeon, his first acting role) who relied solely on “what Confucius said”, quoting the words in most hilarious moments. But I liked two scenes involving his quoting. One was when he quoted his master and added with despair: “Ah, Confucius was an idiot!”. I literally fell from my chair. The other scene, in Ep. 17 when they played the game, well known also here, in the menacing and bad West: one person said a word and the next one had to make a word starting with the last syllable of the previous one. His turn was to say a word starting with “seulk”. And his desperate answer was that “Confucius didn’t use the word seulk”. And the other one Bae Haewon (Hwang Chanwu, he played in Miindo^^), who was a great admirer of cookies. Those three were naturally funny, they were always together, laughing, drinking and fearing to take a one bold step ahead.
Ha Hyoeun – in every drama there has to be “the other woman”, even if this woman is as transparent to “her man” as the air. Sister of Ha Insu. At first she seemed to be a feisty little one, but then she got stuck with her infatuation for Seonjun and started to behave really weird. She said she would wait until his heart change, she said she was ready to love him not getting his love back. She thought love can be achieved as an award for devotion. I guess both she and Jaeshin made the same mistake. She was so desperate to hold onto “her man” till the end that she was ready to live a life with a man who would never love her. Yes, she liked to read sappy romance novel, why you ask? There was this great line that Yongha said when they met. She asked him for advice on how to change Seonjun’s heart. Yongha, perhaps understanding everyone even better than they did themselves, answered: “In this novel, you’re the one who is left out of love”. She tried to capture Seonjun’s heart, she saw he was lost in his thoughts and tangled emotions, but she didn’t know why. She didn’t see the only one object of his focus. She read the books in which girl gets her beloved’s heart through hardship and fidelity. She transposed those every little girls dreams into reality that overwhelmed her. Hyoeun is a poor girl. Girl that grew up without any knowledge on the world except for things she started to learn as the future wife and from things she read in those girly novels. She knew no other books.
As I said someplace else, I can understand her motives if not the behavior. She was a mere girl in a noble family. Girls were traded for connections, for ties, for anything. Marriage in the high society wasn’t born out of love but out of political situation. Therefore girls were treated like furniture and sent to the best suited family. They were married sometimes to men twice their age. And they had absolutely nothing to say on this.
So a girl, who in her life read only tearjerkers and romance novels, got the chance to become a wife of a young, handsome man – is there any girl who wouldn’t grab the chance? OK, there is, but poor Hyoeun didn’t know that marriage is NOT the most important factor in life. She had no idea of other choices. Isn’t it like this with all of us? Only when we know about the possibility, or at least about the range, we can think of a way, or other solutions to the situation or problem. If we were kept in a basement for 20 years and we were told repeatedly that this is a castle, we would tell the first person we’d met that this is a castle. She simply didn’t know that life can have other meaning than to be a good wife. For her it was an ultimate goal. A goal and the way to another goal behind it at the same time. This is why, despite her idiotic behavior and neglecting Seonjun’s attitude, I can’t fully condemn her. This is why I also find this as one of the strongest points of this drama. Because it never lost the contact with reality. Her character was real. Annoying? OK. Irritating? Fine. Stupid? No doubt. But real, behaving as every girl who saw a bright future. Suddenly she realized that the future she saw wasn’t hers.
There is a very tense moment in Ep 17, when she met with Yunhee inside the bookstore. She, still not knowing the truth, begged Yunhee to help turn Seonjun’s heart in her direction, because Yunshik was his most treasured roommate. The scene was heavy for both girls. Both in love, but only one was loved. Yunhee knew why she couldn’t grant her wish, but Hyoeun didn’t know why Seonjun was so stone-cold toward her. I tried to imagine myself for a moment in either of the girls’ place. Yunhee stood face to face with a girl who wanted the impossible, who also had feelings for the same man. And she was a righteous girl after all, she wanted to yield. Hyoeun thought that everything that befell Seonjun was because of her, even his imprisonment, she saw herself in the centre of his vision. She didn’t realize that the man has merely acknowledged her existence and played her against Yunhee in some moment of his confusion.
But I have to give her one thing – when she witnessed the talk between Yunhee and Seonjun during his imprisonment, she gave up. She realized who was always in his mind and heart, she realized that whatever he did for her was just another rule in behaving of a noble man, but what he did for Yunhee was not inside this noble family prescriptions book. Not screaming, not making a scene, not throwing a tantrum. Really nicely done. (Seo Hyorim)
Ha Insu – otherwise known as Blinky. You may ask why. But you either didn’t see the drama or watched it not closely enough. Because poor Blinky blinked around 20-30 times during the whole drama. Considering it had 20 episodes… I don’t know whose fault is with his character. Was it the script? Or maybe the method of playing him, chosen by the actor himself? At first Insu was a School President, normal work for a high class student. And he was bad. Well, maybe not even bad, this is somewhat wrong. He was distorted. While looking at him I saw an empty vase with a crack. Whatever someone could pour inside, it would leak out. So he was empty all the time, with traces of dried up venomous water that he carried from time to time. And… I dare say, under that poison lied something else. He could be able to change, but either he didn’t have the motivation or chance. He was fairly happy inside the Seongkyunkwan, because he had the school in his clench. Everyone feared him if not respected. It all collapsed when new students came and among them Seonjun and Yunhee. They were the only people who didn’t fear him, who had the guts to oppose him and to ridicule him. I don’t count Yongha, because as he said it himself, he acquainted with Insu because of fun and also had the courage to not follow him blindly. Insu held also a thread over Yongha, so he never opposed much. Although in the first episode he had his funs with trying to bring Seonjun down. They underestimated seemingly boring Mr. Lee.
Ha Insu’s the biggest tragedy in life was his family. I partially blame the family for creating such character. I said partially, because, ultimately, Seonjun had almost the same base. Insu grew up as cold, cruel, scheming man. Yes, he had one passion in his life – Choseon. He tried very hard to capture her heart and possess her, but she refused all this time. He chose the wrong method though. As I said, he showed her not his inner (maybe non-existent or hidden as a fetus someplace) Insu, but the feared Insu. He showed her prospects she could have with him. Not a shred of a feeling. Lust is not a feeling, my dear readers. He felt that, but was able to control himself, masking it as haughtiness and cruelty. His father couldn’t do that and he pursued his lust accompanied by cruelty. The worst combination possible.
So our dear Blinky tried very hard to humiliate everyone, especially Seonjun whom he hated from the first glance, and Yunshik, whose low social position was a slap in his face. He was excited (in his way) on the smallest sight of any chance that could bring those two down. I think the visible closeness those shared also played its part in awakening the Rivers of Hatred inside Insu. Seeing a Noron’s son (and Blinky was a Noron himself) befriending little Namin, has caused him a deep disgust for social deteriorating that Seonjun started to show. He wanted at first to show Seonjun his place in the society and inside Seongkyunkwan. He wanted to see him on his knees, he wanted to see him on his side.
I think the fateful event was an archery contest. Everything after that started to make unexpected turns. After that, we’ve barely seen Insu with Choseon, all his actions were focused on one thing – breaking the friendship of the four people. To do that he was willing to go to any lengths, move the earth and the sky and call all demons from Hell. It’s interesting – this hatred toward four friends. It might come from the lack of his experience in that field, he didn’t have any friends, only three mignons who did dirty job for him and served as his guard, and who left him in the end. He couldn’t befriend them because of few reasons – lower social status, and personal inclinations. Insu was obsessed with layers of the society. He didn’t change, he never learned, he was totally immune to teachings on humanity, on moral values, on life treasures like fun, friendship and love.
I have to give him one thing – perseverance. No matter how hard the fall, he was always ready to create next scheming. And he thought about this all the time (not blinking, cause that could disperse those dark clouds he saw gathering over Seonjun and Yunshik, hehe), he sacrificed his every thought and energy. He was ready to jump in a blink (ekhem) of an eye from the low those two put him in countless times and prepare his warfare.
I liked the moments of his talks with Seonjun. He was the only person that could make Insu boiling. It looked as if he was on the verge of exploding, usually calm and precise words of the former made Insu furious. He didn’t show the outburst because he had the face to keep.
He stepped out of his character once, at the end, by protecting Choseon from his father. He looked so shocked when he saw her in Hong Byeok Seo attire and he made a decision in few seconds. Capturing HBS was his dream and ambition, he suspected HBS to be one of the roommates of Eastern Middle Room^^, so seeing the woman he had inside his empty vessel for so long acting as one, and attempting to take a revenge upon his father – this all shook him. Maybe his feelings for the gisaeng helped him to clog the crack and retain whatever the future could pour into him? But sadly, we didn’t get a look at his future at the end of the episode 20. I assume he died from a dry eye disease. Or became a gisaeng himself. (Jeon Taesu) About the acting: Still not sure if the character was entirely depending on the actor or not. But if so… Jeon Taesu, watch your nuna at work and learn, boy! But the truth is, in the later episodes, his character didn’t get as much screen time as it had before the archery contest. Maybe this is also a reason why Insu didn’t develop that much as the rest of the merry bunch.
Ha Insu mignons: Im Byeongchun (Kang Seongpil) Seol Gobung (Dong Yun) Kang Mu (Chae Byeongchan). They followed Blinky everywhere, they took the part of his power, and they were hoping for more profits. But as Insu started to get lower and lower, they grew tired with him. The first one to display the skeptical attitude was Kang Mu, who looked as if he didn’t approve most of Insu’s moves, but did nothing to stop. Byeongchun was the closest, but he has been used without any consideration. And stupid Gobung wasn’t entitled to his own opinion. They left Blinky’s side when students went against him to plead for Seonjun’s freedom. But even shortly before, when Guards were searching through SKK, Gobung picked up books they left in disorder. He didn’t like the violating SKK rules.
Mun Jaeshin – all fans of Jaeshin, you may not like this review. It’s not like I didn’t like the character, I just grew weary of him. I liked, hell, I loved him. It was because of him I started this drama, not my fault that already in Ep 01 I found more admire-worthy character. Jaeshin was known as the outcast, both in his family and in Seongkyunkwan. He didn’t make any friends, except for Yongha, who was always close by, ready to help and clean the mess. When he first appeared in the drama, he appeared in a classic bad guy attire and circumstances. Clad in some clothes he fought over with beggars on the street, unkempt and close to being rude. Ah, classic second lead, a total opposite to neat and unmovable male alpha. I though: so far, so good! We have a clash! It was obvious that Jaeshin harbored some tragedy somewhere under those layers of clothes that looked so easily to strip… I mean, OK, back to the character. His
bad fame preceded him. The news about him entering into Seongkyunkwan for another year was two steps ahead. Everyone trembled in fear, because Jaeshin unscrupulously could beat the opponent to the pulp. Some fan(girl)s saw connections with Bidam character. I laughed my ass off while reading this. Dark clothes and easily taken from the pocket violence don’t make such horrible character out of genuinely good and positive Jaeshin. I saw no common points in those two. Except for overacting in some scenes. Comparing him to KNG, on the other hand, is completely out of discussion. Just not now, and not now for a long, long time.
Slowly we got into Jaeshin’s troubled heart and mind. Behind his rough attitude, neglecting the rules and disrespecting everything and everyone, lied his older brother’s death. Death he blamed on Norons. This death built also a wall between him and his father. He hated the man whom he accused of treading upon his brother legacy, he felt not loved enough, he felt left behind. We know nothing on his brother, except for the fact that Jaeshin admired him, and that he was a great scholar. So Jaeshin figured his own cry for help – he became the walking tornado of emotions, he wanted to bring himself down, he wanted to do everything heinous just so his father could notice him. And he did, he gambled, he drank, and what’s more, he immersed himself in violence. The violence and his brother legacy merged into the character of Hong Byeok Seo. I always wondered when he got the time to prepare all those leaflets, but well, not my problem. Hong Byeok Seo acted on behalf of all those people that felt oppressed. And also he gave warnings to ruling Norons and hinted about GDJS book. And this well kept secret of Jaeshin wasn’t that much of a secret at all. King and Professor Jeong knew, his father knew, and of course Yongha knew. After some time Yunhee and Seonjun got to know as well. Insu treated this as a personal crusade against this stubborn Soron, so he did what he could to expose him. But the way I see it, there wasn’t so many things that Jaeshin solved with his own hands. Usually Yongha was his safety line, Yunhee helped him when he got slashed, and Seonjun saved him in homosexuality scandal.
Jaeshin was first to know about Yunhee’s true gender, when he saw her in the tub. He started to hiccup again. Oh, I forgot to mention, he had a very unique indisposition (if I may say it), he got hiccups whenever a woman appeared close to him. So at first he hiccupped around Yunhee, with time he started to control it. After he discovered it, he took upon himself a role of her bodyguard. He truly had a bad job, because it was Seonjun who was almost unendingly with Yunhee, and who protected her in the best way. There was the scene, in Ep 08 I believe, when Jaeshin had problems with sleeping in the same room right after he discovered her secret. Both Seonjun and Yunhee were asleep already when Jaeshin came back from cooling down, and he took a look at Yunhee. He saw… a girl, with braid and clad in girl’s night robes. It was all his imagination, but as I don’t think there was that much of useless scenes in this drama, this is actually a very crucial moment. It was very brief and easily forgotten. It shows how Jaeshin perceived her from now on. As a girl. As a weak and protection-needing woman. As if the fact she was in SKK suddenly vaporized from the heat of his heart. He should at least ask himself why she was in SKK. And if not, he should appreciate her desperation and strong will to stay there. Instead, he saw her as a girl. Nevertheless, he suddenly felt the need to put another coat to cover his well-toned abs he so proudly presented until that moment, hehe. That was funny move, Jaeshin, very funny^^. And his horror when he saw Yunhee cuddling up to Seonjun during the night… This drama was able to jump from a serious scene to such ingeniously funny one.
As I mentioned earlier while describing Hyoeun, Jaeshin made the same mistake, albeit on the smaller scale. I couldn’t get rid of the annoying feeling while watching him. Don’t get me wrong, he behaved great toward Yunhee, he was on fairly stable terms with Seonjun, but I couldn’t feel any sympathy toward his feelings for Yunhee. And I felt his personal, family problems, and wished he could get out from the hell he put himself into. But judging his relations with Yunhee, no, not a chance for me to wish him happiness with her. Several reasons actually.
Fan(girl)s were shipping Yunhee with him, they changed original stills replacing Seonjun with Jaeshin. Fine, Photoshop rules, but the brain not that much. It was all because he was the second lead, so every over-emotional girl’s heart longed for the guy who won’t get the girl. I never fully understood this trend. I’m not a second-lead girl, and I’m not a leading guy girl. I just cheer on the character I like the most, I can sympathize the most with, and I guess, I feel the connection with. Furtermore, Jaeshin couldn’t get her not because he was the second lead, but because he wasn’t compatible with her. He didn’t read her mind as well as Seonjun did. He didn’t understand her halfway the way other guy did. Yunhee and Seonjun were connected by something more than just a fascination about the opposite sex. They started off from a solid friendship. And there is even more on Yunhee side, explained in her section. Why this was so easily overlooked?
Jaeshin tried to be around, but he was not even a step, but few steps behind. Even Yongha was closer, because he quickly realized who is inside Yunhee’s mind, and he had no problems with reading Seonjun at the same time. Jaeshin was always “watching her from afar” while Seonjun didn’t hesitate much and took steps forward. I guess poor 걸오 (Geol Oh) hoped for an award for his devotion and silent support. But carrying a drunken girl on one’s own back doesn’t count as an award-winning event. Especially when the girl is drunk because of another man.
Jaeshin matured in last two episodes. He saw his situation when he started to see things as a big panorama. Until that moment, he was only focused on himself, his pain, his suffering, not noticing that other people have their own problems as well. And slowly, as Yunhee’s feeling were more and more perceivable for the rest of the Quartet, Jaeshin stepped back. I have two reasons behind it. First, he didn’t want to impose his feelings (and this is close to being coward in terms of love), second, he realized his own feelings weren’t strong enough. He also saw that it was only Seonjun who occupied her mind. But we didn’t witness any clash of interests, except for the sleeping scene in Ep 16. Omo, did I call Jaeshin coward? Yes, because when you are unable to confess, you are a coward. Seonjun threw away everything and confessed while he thought Yunhee was still a boy. This is the boldness that Jaeshin lacked. And please, don’t impose any softness, a will not to hurt, and another blabbering on me. You want the girl? Just do the damned step forward! Especially when he had some advantage on Seonjun by knowing her gender.
So yes, his plead to his father for saving Seonjun was partially for him and partially for Yunhee. He didn’t want to see her sad and hurt because her man took the responsibility for another. Plus, he saw what kind of man Yunhee made out of Seonjun. And this change and his actions prompted Jaeshin to act in a more mature way. He apologized to his father. I liked the scene when he asked for forgiveness and said he doesn’t want to live in this hell anymore, (and not the scene that preceded it. Jaeshin in his full ADHD wasn’t for me at all). He got rid of the hatred that was consuming his heart, he started to understand people and their motives. He started to take Ritalin… And this was all thanks to Yunhee again. (Yu Ah-in). About the acting: I really loved Yu Ah-in in Antique. He was short-tempered in it, but managed to hold the reins of the character. Here, he took the different method. Method I didn’t like. Sure, Jaeshin was quick-tempered as well, maybe even more, but he had his nice, funny moments. Sometimes he was overdoing though. Well, yes, I prefer more consistent characters, why you ask? They seem boring? Who cares?
Gu Yongha – son of a wealthy merchant’s family. OK, let’s say it like this – Gu Yongha. He was bright, quirky, smart and spread around the aura of refined pleasure. But there was actually another Yongha, rarely visible, tucked between genuine benevolence and sarcasm. He chose sarcasm as his shield and believed in this image of himself so bad, he couldn’t distinguish between real Yongha and Yeorim. In the last episodes he matured as every character here. He decided to come out clean, to not hide any more lies of that caliber. He always described himself as a tiny coward, sometimes acted as one, but this step proved that everyone can overcome their own personal demons. In one thing Yongha was acting overly mature – Jaeshin. He was concerned about his friend, he watched his steps, he could go to any lengths just to help him and rescue from the sinking sands the reckless boy put himself into. Due to his witty mind he was able to make up every excuse and explanation, if it wasn’t for that, Jaeshin would end up in the prison long time ago. Or in some nameless grave.
Yongha is a tricky character. There were voices that he was gay and had feelings for Jaeshin. Well, good job, Sherlocks! He said that himself, when confused Seonjun asked him for help. But in the same time he said that there was one book that helped him to overcome these feeling. Yes, the (in)famous red book. Maybe yes, maybe not. But Yongha, the main source of true, yet bitter remarks on life and relationships, said that it doesn’t matter whom our heart chooses. Love is love. Not thinking too much about it, Seonjun exposed himself, because Yongha was no idiot. He had a very keen observation and liked to pop out here and there to either observe the scene or just to eavesdrop. I liked Yongha because of his apparent shallowness he bragged about. He was a perfect player, a cynical player, giving to all around the image of this kind of Yongha they wanted to see, and nothing more. He had a very well suited counterpart in Professor Jeong who was exactly as sharp-visioned as him.
From the very beginning Yongha sensed that something was wrong with Yunshik. He tried everything to expose her, and usually – deux ex machina – Jaeshin appeared and took care of the matters.
I liked the talks between Yongha and Insu. Insu didn’t fear him, but he was irritated as if Yongha was just a mosquito on a summer night. This was more of annoyance that Blinky felt. Therefore, it was all natural to assume he was in possession of some threat over pinky boy. And he was. He exposed Yongha during the Students Council when they debated on the protest against Seonjun’s imprisonment and the impeachment of Insu. Yongha was a player, a very skilled one, and underestimating this trait of his character had really bad results. He saw the person inside Seonjun’s mind and heart, and even though he wished Jaeshin the biggest happiness, he helped the Noron. It was because of his scheming that Yunhee and Seonjun were trapped on the island, it was because of him they met on rocks by the creek, it was because of him they were locked up in the same room. Also, it was because of him, the problem of Yunhee sleeping in the same room as the boys was solved. Yongha wasn’t afraid to ridicule himself if he set his mind to do something. And as he said he was a coward, some nightly rustling of the bushes had to scare him out of his silken socks. Gumiho… the biggest gumiho around was him himself actually.
Toward the end, Yongha, who usually had no problems with reading people, was more and more bewildered by Seonjun’s behavior. I guess everyone was. Insu was just pissed about it, but couldn’t do anything to crush him. I think the moment he bonded to him was the homosexuality scandal, and the Students Council. And after that, he was more aware of his presence. But still, his main focus was Jaeshin.
I have no problems with thinking that Yongha was gay. I have no problems with thinking he wasn’t. This character was written and to some extent, played in such a way that leaves that matter open for discussion. Ah, discussion. That requires reading beforehand… Some people around don’t like to think that much and prefer every their doubt explained. Isn’t it the very reason we like to read books? And watch movies? To guess what happened sometimes, or to hypothesize. It’s a difficult process and during that, some brain cells are supposed to be used, so… Very well, watch plain, closed with a final conclusion series. Don’t start anything more ambitious. And if you plan to ask questions, ask proper questions. There is an answer to every question, but this has to be posed in a well-constructed way. And I’m sorry, but for stupid ones there are only stupid answers.
As I mentioned, I don’t actually care about Yongha’s sexual orientation. For me it looked more like a teasing, his all behavior with Jaeshin, but hysterical and hormonally-imbalanced voices were screaming for a bro-mance. So I say it one more time – WHO CARES? Does it change the perception of this character in any way? He’s Gu Yong Ha. He can behave in a way we would describe as “gay” (in the negative connotations), but truthfully, he doesn’t have to harbor man-to-man feelings at all. Granted, he said he had some feelings for Jaeshin, but on the other hand, couldn’t it be to just trick Seonjun? He could say it so Seonjun would say the name of the person he started to have feelings for. Don’t forget, Yongha played people sometimes. And even though Mr. Lee didn’t say it, Yongha read it. He was good at this. Probably he wanted to have anything on Seonjun later. Or just for fun. His all life was fun. Until he was involved in some bigger game, a game for the future, for a dream to come. And even the cynical Yongha had a dream of a better Joseon, where his low status in society wouldn’t count that much. I find this image of Yongha more convincing, true and solid that the one he displayed so willingly. Because talking about sex, gisaengs and plotting new action is a lot easier, that talking about the things we wish for, because we want to conquer our own feelings (disgusting sometimes), our own lack and demons. (Song Jungki). About the acting: Song Jungki is an experienced actor and I guess they needed one for playing such elusive and inconsistent character. He was light in one scene, and greatly changed to somber in the next. He wasn’t overacting, but sometimes I had the impression he was slightly out of his character, which is bad. On the film-plan, you ARE the character you play. But in overall, I liked his face, his changes, the tone of the voice, and his trademark like: I’m Gu Yongha. This line described everything his character was made of – the self-reliance, the stubbornness, the vanity. He did a great job, especially when emotions other than happiness were involved. When Yongha was sad, I was sad. I didn’t have the same vibe with Jaeshin character though.
Kim Yunhee/Yunshik – a girl acting as a man is always tricky. She looked like a girl, but managed to behave like a boy. She changed a bit the tone of her voice, she used men’s language, she was behaving like a man with her body (walking and sitting, to be exact). Korea has its fair share of flower boys, so being that pretty as a boy wasn’t anything special, hehe. But mentioning some could mean the insult to both sexes, so I won’t. I rarely like leading ladies in Kdramas, because they are made of clichés mostly. A good girl has to be of a pure heart, yielding, able to sacrifice, whether the bad one is a total opposite.
Yunhee managed to stay as the true character until the end. She wasn’t any weakling, she tried to live in a way she thought as noble, she behaved according to her beliefs, and hated relying on others. But what I liked the most in her character, was her attitude toward her own feelings and those of Seonjun. She didn’t scream from joy, she didn’t behave like whacked out of her mind, she didn’t cling onto him like a leech, she wasn’t all Seonjun-absorbed. She came in terms with it the same way he came in terms with his feelings. They both shared the same trait of character – they took things into the consideration and didn’t make a fuss over it. This was what made the biggest impression on me while watching her character. She wasn’t hysterical, she tried to make a living in a hostile world and behaved the way she thought of as appropriate. But she wasn’t a martyr either.
I was afraid few times of how she would act when everyone got to know her gender. I had few terrible scenarios in mind. And I was so much pleased when nothing changed. Only Jaeshin changed his attitude toward her, but not Seonjun. Sure, he was fiercely jealous, but still not suffocating. But nothing also changed from her side. Yes, she was a consistent and pretty well sketched from the beginning, not as overly-annoyingly-cute as others in gender-bender dramas (and no, not Coffee Prince I’m pointing out), and she acted as a man for some time already so she didn’t lose this behavior.
Her character is not so easily described if we want to dig deeper into the matter. Position of women in Joseon, especially under Neo-Confucian thought that permeated every aspect of life, was really low. They weren’t permitted to study, the only books for them were those of romances with heavy dose of moralisation. Yunhee is only a name for those nameless girls in those times, whose minds were broader than the social rules. She is a transposition of those girls’ wishes and ambitions. And last but not least, she is a symbol of the future. She is the future. It’s not like she was the only one, she wasn’t. Few years later lived a famous painter who is thought to be a woman. Those who have seen Miindo, or Painter of the Wind (drama) know whom I’m talking about. Yunhee is just an example, bold enough to take the step she feared. No, that’s not it. She wasn’t aware she could take that step. Until Seonjun came and forced her to do it.
We knew she was a woman when she appeared in gisaengs house where she rescued Choseon from the near rape, or at least from the abuse. So she acted as probably every other woman would act seeing the scene – she put clothes on Choseon’s naked arms. This gesture, coming from an understanding for a woman’s situation, captured gisaeng’s heart. She thought that for the first time in her life she met a man who doesn’t want to see her defiled. A man, who can comfort her with such a small, but terribly signifying move. This also characterizes Yunhee – she saw people in those often seen as not humans. This is why she overcame her turmoil after news of Seonjun’s father. She would do so even if the news were as Jaeshin said and Minister actually was behind everything. This made her real. It wasn’t all happy ending because of the news turned out to be a little bit inaccurate, but because the inner Yunhee. She overcame her anger thanks to her own love and sacrifice that Seonjun came through for her. They both knew that Minister was guilty of covering the murder up. But she decided that even if she severed contacts with her beloved, this wouldn’t bring her father back to life.
And now why Jaeshin and her as a couple was totally a mistake in the fan(girl)s minds. When she met with Seonjun by accident, he exposed her as a cheater. She was a bit pissed off by his righteousness, but this didn’t stop her from cheating again. This pissed off Seonjun then. He quickly appraised Yunhee’s qualities, so he decided to force her to show her talents, because for the idealist that he was, it was inappropriate to waste such talent. And this is another missed fact, my dear, tired readers. Seonjun was mesmerized with her mind. Not with a woman’s hair, face, clothes, behavior, cooking skills. But with her mind and talents. He put all his efforts to polish those, even against her will.
And Yunhee was captured by this as well. For the first time in her life a man appreciated her mind. You see, Yunhee was a bright, highly intelligent girl. For this kind of girls, unless they are in relationship, any compliment about looks is invalid. And it’s not any feminist bullshit. Seonjun believed in her from the start, he showed her support, he praised her skills.
What’s more, he didn’t even treat her differently after his discovery. He still treated her as his partner in study. And here we are back to the night scene (Ep 08) when Jaeshin saw her as a girl in his imagination. This is the difference. If Seonjun saw the same, he could let her win at Hwang Gamjae, just because she was “his girl”. Instead, he set the bar so high she failed. He pointed out her weak spot, and without words prompted to study more. Only after their relationship solidified, Yunhee started to long for looking pretty at least once, not probably understanding how Seonjun saw her with his own eyes. This is also one fine example of the close ties with reality that drama maintained. Smart girls know they have a lot more to offer to the guys who can appreciate it.
In the same time, she didn’t see other men, namely Jaeshin, as her partner. There was only one whom she thought of as compatible one. That’s why she was angry at Jaeshin when he wanted to turn himself in. She said she would do exactly the same thing as Seonjun did, and the reckless action that Jaeshin was a
master professor of, would ruin all his efforts to save him. This few words describe how well they suited each other.
She was the trigger of change among all those men. She solidified even Professor Jeong in his firm beliefs, she showed the King the future of Joseon he dreamed of, she taught Jaeshin that only when you love the world, you are able to sacrifice. She showed Yongha that he’s not just as vain as he wanted to be seen, she showed Choseon a compassion. She showed Blinky how to blink.
And finally, she broke the shell Seonjun was confined in. (Park Min-yeong). About the acting: I liked the way she portrayed Kim Yunhee/Yunshik. She was natural, pretty, but not cute. She didn’t act dumb, didn’t overact. She stayed in her character, and was able to show the whole span of emotions.
Lee Seonjun – the egg and hair strands scene. I said to myself: from now on, I’m his girl. Why? Reason is simple, it was as if I saw myself, hehe. I simply loved the logic that followed the dispersing hair into the wind. Relying on superstitions and luck in matters of study is pure nonsense. I remember my studying days and exams. I had my lucky elephant, lucky not because it actually brought me any luck without my own efforts, but I had it with me on my every lucky event. I got it from my mum and treasure until today. But… if I relied solely on it, I wouldn’t have to study, right? Hoping that somehow it will “enlighten me” during the exam even though I didn’t spend an hour for studying. If I didn’t learn, I wouldn’t pass even with thousands of elephants! So, his attitude toward knowledge just blew me away. Usually, I don’t see those types of characters in dramas. Seonjun was uptight, haughty, direct and dogmatic. To sum up – boring. Not such lively and loud character like the others, not even a clearly evil one. Just a stone. A righteous man without any friends because of that.
He believed that he could be a useful bureaucrat, his father hoped he would be a powerful one. In the end – they both were wrong. Seonjun failed his father in this matter. He didn’t become an official at all.
There is actually so much I could write about this character, but since I’m not a big fan of repeating the same things, and some I mentioned in others’ parts, I will focus only on the rest. When we first met Seonjun, it was easy to read his character. He had this irritating tone of the idealist who is (to our despair) also well educated and everything he was saying was just right.
He met with Yunhee by sheer accident, and ever since that moment he felt he stumbled upon the gem. The scene of discovering the text on his robe was just too good to be true. So he prepared a plan to force her to write another exam (they were in series) but under her true name (her brother’s but…). He wasn’t mad, he didn’t plan to take a revenge for making him a laughing stock, he was more intrigued by someone who apparently had no idea who he was, and was courageous enough to write a fragment of Classics on his clothes. This reminded me of the scene in Chunhyang movie, where Mongryong wrote on girl’s dress his pledge. I know there is no link between those two scenes, but I couldn’t think of Yunshik writing it on Seonjun’s clothes other than involuntarily confirming the ties. There is also another writing scene, Choseon wrote on a piece of clothing a proof for Yunshik, and later on Seonjun wrote love letters to Yunhee, but this time not on the fabric. He kept the robe in the same state, it wasn’t washed, and this took him back to the times where his feelings were asleep. It was when Seonjun was completely lost in his own growing and hungry feelings, and left SKK to seek help.
It was because of Yunshik that Seonjun violated first, but not last, rule. He chose the Eastern Dorm, instead of the Western one traditionally tied to Norons. He wanted to be close to his first friend. And here the first trouble was about to start, because this very room a rogue of SKK held in his possession. Everyone expected a huge blast and Seonjun rocketing back to Western Dorms, but both men managed to find their own space in the tiny room. Well, if Seonjun was a bit less sedated as he was at the beginning, I bet some of the furniture wouldn’t survive the “discussion”. They started to live together, study together, eat together. It was all Jaeshin’s fault he wasn’t around all the time, but even if he was, I think Yunhee wouldn’t be swayed. From the beginning the relationship between Seonjun and Yunhee was based on friendship. She knew she could count on him, and Seonjun knew he would be helpless now without little Namin, no matter how hard he tried to push back those sprouting thoughts. He attached himself to Yunhee to the degree when severing the ties would mean pulling out those hooks with his flesh. He tried that once though. They were able to sort out their bickerings and different views within one or two honest talks. They were honest between themselves. But as the story progressed, and Seonjun had growing problems with keeping his awoken feelings under his leash, he started to display hostility. He wanted badly for Yunhee to hate him. He even proposed to Hyoeun, using the poor, stupid girl as the last resort against his own love. This behavior led him to lying to himself for the first time in his life. And when he couldn’t do this any longer, he said to Hyoeun that he couldn’t keep the promise to marry her because of other promise he had and wanted to keep.
And he confessed. On the street, broken, helpless, knowing his love was impossible. Yunhee was both happy and desperate as well. She was now sure of his feelings, she was sure of her own, but… Seonjun knew her as a guy. Perhaps she was afraid a bit of his anger about concealing the truth. It might be because she didn’t fully understand the degree of his feelings. I guess no one except for him understood them. Well, he found out on his own later on.
And nothing changed. I love how they showed their relationship after the discovery. Seonjun didn’t throw a tantrum, he didn’t take any offence, he never scorned her once because of that. He knew about her reasons, he just took them and accepted. He just didn’t feel guilty for loving Kim Yunshik. Well, actually, he didn’t feel that even before. He knew the relationship between men was against the social norms, but he couldn’t help it. I could imagine without any problems another situation. If Yunshik was a real man, and responded to Seonjun’s love with own love, he was ready to leave everything behind and start living with him. This was my impression of his love.
As I mentioned earlier, the crucial moment was the archery contest. Yunshik, who couldn’t even hold a bow, was a champion. Because of different reasons – she put all herself into it, she had a good start made by triple bull’s-eye shots by Seonjun and finally, because Blinky failed on purpose. Seonjun, hurt on the arm, became more determined to go for the victory, not for himself, but to lead Yunshik there. I liked his words about the miracle. He said that if Yunshik needs a miracle, he will create one. This was typical of him, showing what kind of person he was. He didn’t wait passively for things to happen. He could do everything to make them happen. And the small, unimportant fact that Yunshik never held a bow, was just a trifle. It was good he didn’t know about the pressure she had on herself (Professor Jeong said: she has to win the contest so he’ll allow her to stay in SKK), so he could proceed with things how he pleased. Ad he created the miracle. This little fact I admire. If we want a miracle, we have to roll up our sleeves and make one, not idling our precious time around and wait till star will fall from the sky. If we’re not lucky enough, the star may turn out to be a meteorite and kill us^^. He had also kind of cockiness about hi, he could speak in a manner that put people off, and what made him look like an over-proud guy. But this is the same basic trait of him – a defiant self-esteem. When he put his mind onto something, nothing and no one could stop him from achieving his goal. He had an adamant will, even though he looked compliant sometimes.
I liked his talks with his father, the Great Minister. Both son and father shared one common trait – they were stubborn and strong-willed. But Minister never saw that in his son, he thought of him as of obedient boy who doesn’t see anything around his books, and even a marriage has to be decided in his stead. But in that time of marriage talks, Seonjun was already drowning in his feelings and Yunhee’s presence. I think the moment when Seonjun finally decided to severe any ties with his father and to defy him, was the talk about the happiness. Minister simply laughed off his son’s wishes. He was crushed by that laugh and his father’s attitude. He realized that whatever his father taught him, meant nothing more than a nice fragment from the Classics. And the young man, feeling a blood in his veins, wanted to be happy. Also Yongha mocked him whether he would really be happy after marrying Blinky’s sister and leaving SKK. This triggered Seonjun to the confession. His relations with father worsened, Minister couldn’t recognize his son anymore, because he didn’t teach him to feel. He said that he found Seonjun’s befriending Soron and Namin profitable for his future career as the official. He just didn’t take under the consideration something like friendship. Because Seonjun felt it for Jaeshin no matter what.
What else I admire in Seonjun? The answer: “all” is inappropriate here. Along with few others… Ekhem… I love his resolve. He could come up with the solution with the same stoical manner. When Yunshik was accused of thievery, Jaeshin’s reaction was typical for hi: Find’em! Crush’em!! The reaction of Seonjun, despite of the anger of Jaeshin and Yunshik, wasn’t of “Oh yeah, save him! Save him! Hurt them! Hurt them!”, but he demanded the proof. And this was more useful that grabbing a log and wanting to beat everyone in the 20 paces perimeter. Another example of this was when he learned his father was behind Yunhee’s father death. He didn’t sob in some dark corner, but decided to go to the bottom of this. Everyone around him knew that would mean going against his father. He challenged his father by saying he seeks to be his enemy. But this didn’t stop him from begging for saving Yunhee. The last scene of Seonjun crying and begging on his knees made Minister both amazed and disgusted in my opinion. He couldn’t believe this young man was his own son.
The change of Seonjun wasn’t sudden. It wasn’t overnight. He became a human being. He experienced pain, loneliness, hardship, friendship, and love. It was all because of love that he has done things he never imagined they exist. He was ready to go on a war with the King, he virtually smashed the King. He gradually was losing the splinters of the shell he was living. He grew up as a man, he was able to show his true value. I liked the way he showed his love to Yunhee. It was, without any doubts, a great love. But he didn’t overwhelmed her. True, they were both innocent in this, and when Yunhee said she is concerned that someone may see the next kiss, he started to write love letters. His behavior around her was so charmingly awkward, he was looking for the slightest possibility to touch her hand, to see her face, to just be around. This came also when he was in prison. When his father came to visit him, he tried to look neat, and properly, so he smoothen his clothes, but when Yunhee came, he just jumped up without paying any attention to anything except for her.
His change was shown in a realistic way. He changed for the person he loved. I say person, because at first it wasn’t a woman he loved but Yunshik, a scholar in SKK. This is why he treated her exactly the same as before. He was her partner and at the same time a lover. This I find the most beautiful part in their love. They were equal in each other’s eyes. He didn’t treat her as women were treated back then, she was a scholar, she was the one who fascinated him from the start because of her qualities. And likewise, she never treated him as the Minister’s son. He was the pillar of her existence and he was a scholar. The best stimulant for her. And for the writer here as well. (Park Yucheon). About the acting: let’s say it like this. Few years back I saw one music video. Of the band I have problems with remembering the translation of their name. Hmm, I know, I’m no fan. And since I’m blessed with astigmatism, when I look straight ahead, I see the image blurred, but everything on the rim of that is crystal clear. This way, and maybe even because of the low, deep voice of that “rim”, I discovered Mr. Park. A doll. I never called him by the nickname which I find stupid. But even with all this, when I heard he’s starring in a drama, I was ready to devour him, pouring him with poison beforehand. Apparently, I can digest poison well. I was so Aw, hell naw!! But I started to watch and first episode made me think (oh, finally, after 30 years!!) that there is some nice material for the future, IF only he improves. He did. Actually it was the puking scene and his retarded image after that that totally convinced me of his talent in acting. Yes, I have the weakness for stupid faces, everyone knows about it. With every episode he was better and better. I smiled when he smiled, I cried when he cried, I winced when he was in pain/troubles. His expressions varied almost endlessly, subtle changes on the face, the dimming the light in the eyes… So many, many more.
Yes, I have to say, I was oh so ready to slate his acting, but I can’t. I’m simply astounded by the huge improvement in just one drama. Some others don’t achieve it in few in a row, hehe. And some deteriorate.
I would like now to propose to disband and more offers for Mr. Park Yucheon.