Set in Joseon era, a Crown Princess Han gave birth to twins — a girl and a boy. It was an ominous sign. Lord Sangheon had option, kill both babies or save the boy and kill everyone else who knew about the twins. Out of ambition, Lord Sangheon ordered for execution of everyone who knew, including the baby girl. Commander Yoon successfully sneaked out the baby girl outside the palace. The twins, Lee Hwi and Dam-yi, lived their separate lives as a prince and a commoner, respectively.
Several years later, Dam-yi returned to the palace as a court maid. Dam-yi met Ji-un in the palace and they became good friends. They were each others’ first love. Eventually, the twins ran into each other. Realizing their uncanny resemblance, Hwi switched places with Dam-yi to sneak around the palace. Lord Sangheon found out about Dam-yi. Hwi was distraught over his Royal Preceptor being executed. He asked Dam-yi for the last time to switch with him. Royal Inspector Jung, Lord Sangheon’s right hand, executed Hwi dressed as Dam-yi.
Upon learning her son’s demise, Crown Princess Han obliged Dam-yi to assume the prince’s role. Dam-yi witnessed murders to conceal her identity. The three people who knew about this were Commander Yoon, Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong. Two other people accidentally found out about this, too. Prince Jaeun, to which Dam-yo addressed as Hyun and Crown Prince Hyejong. Although Crown Prince Hyejong found out about Hwi’s real identity, he kept mum about. Instead, he poured his affection towards Prince Jehyeon in public. However, he secretly worked on strengthening forces to eventually keep Lord Sangheon from controlling Hwi. (I’m going to refer to Dam-yi as Hwi from this point onwards) Hyejong ascended as king. Naturally, Hwi followed suit as crown prince.
Ten years, later Hwi was able to keep her identity literally under wraps. She’s well-versed in fighting arts, literature and politics. While she was able to instill fear amongst her subjects, there were still people who challenged her position. Prince Changun, Hwi’s uncle, was one of them. During the royal hunt, he shot an arrow towards Hwi. Due to the horse’s sudden movements, she had to fix her chest binding in the deeper part of the woods. Hwi met Ji-un by accident while doing so.
Hwi quickly threw a dagger at Ji-un’s direction. Royal guards started to arrive. Ji-un thought Hwi was a fugitive, he wrapped her with his outer robe and ran with her. They jumped off a cliff and landed on the water. Ji-un woke up in a riverbank, alone. Hwi found her way back to the royal hunt. An assassination attempt was made. Hyun, Hwi’s cousin and friend, saved him. Commander Yoon found a dead body but it wasn’t the real assassin. Queen Dowager assigned an elite bodyguard for the crown prince due to the incident.
Hwi decided to look for Ji-un in a courtesan’s house with the intention to kill him. Ji-un was confused to see Hwi in men’s robes. He was sure Hwi was a woman. Hwi was recognized as the crown prince. Ji-un let go of his suspicions. Hwi didn’t follow her own plan but warned Ji-un to never show his face in front of her again. For political reasons, Royal Inspector Jung blackmailed Ji-un into taking the role of Hwi’s royal tutor.
This got on Hwi’s nerves. She was hellbent on making Ji-un resign. It was rough but Ji-un eventually earned the crown prince’s trust. During these peaceful times, Hwi carried out her royal duties. As they spent more time together, Ji-un grew attracted to the crown prince. Hwi, on the other hand, found it more difficult to hide her feelings for Ji-un. Eventually, Ji-un confessed his feelings for Hwi. Since Hwi prioritized her responsibilities, she rejected Ji-un.
Ji-un also reacquainted with his old friend and ‘soulmate’, Hyun. Unaware that they’re talking about the same person, each men confessed about the person they both like. Eventually, Hyun figured out they were both talking about Hwi. Upon realizing Hwi and Ji-un’s feelings for each other were mutual, he stood by the sidelines and continued supporting Hwi as a crown prince.
Tension in the palace grew when Hwi humiliated her uncle over harming a maid. The king heed the noble families’ request and revoked Hwi’s status as the crown prince. Before expelling Hwi from the palace, the king confessed he knew Hwi was a woman. It implied everything he did for the past ten years was to protect his daughter. Without Hwi’s knowledge, the King, Hyun and Commander Yoon conspired to extract Hwi from Lord Sangheon’s care and let her live as a free woman.
While Hwi was on the run away from Lord Sangheon’s men, she confessed the truth about her and her twin brother to Ji-un.
Shortly after, the king died from poisoning. The chase didn’t last long. After learning her father died, Lord Sangheon held Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong hostage. Hwi didn’t have a choice and went back to the palace as Lord Sangheon’s puppet. During this period, Lord Sangheon set up Prince Jehyeon’s maternal family as the perpetrator behind the king’s murder. Thus, thee Queen Dowager revoked Jehyeon’s right to the throne. She reinstated Hwi’s royal rights and became king.
King Hwi married Queen Ha-gyeong to produce an heir which was impossible. Hwi would spend the night with Ha-gyeong but only to sleep in the same room, nothing more. Ji-un, on the other hand, begged his father for any job in the palace did everything to spend time with the king. Royal Inspector Jung turned a blind eye to the couple’s relationship. He chose to protect his son in the expense of his loyalty to Lord Sangheon.
While spending time together, the couple worked on a solid case to expose Lord Sangheon’s crimes including the previous king’s murder. Kim Ga-on resurfaced. Commander Yoon convinced him to return and serve King Hwi again. Kim Ga-on confessed as the man who failed to assassinate King Hwi. He also confessed he’s the son of the wrongfully accused royal preceptor ten years ago. Kang Eun-soo (Kim Ga-on’s real name) also declared his loyalty to the King Hwi.
King Hwi was known to keep everyone five steps away from him. Being seen frequently in close proximity with Ji-un even late at night roused the servants’ suspicions. Rumors that the king was gay spread like wildfire. The Queen, the Queen Dowager and Lord Sangheon were quick to take action and dispel the rumors. In order to protect his son, he told Ji-un the truth. Ji-un was forced to accept the arranged marriage with Shin So-eun.
Upon Commander Yoon’s death in retrieving a ledger to prove Lord Sangheon’s crimes, he willingly became a double agent and protected his son and Hwi’s secret. Lord Sangheon eventually found out and sent his men after Royal Inspector Jung. However, his men failed to kill him. Lord Sangheon also found out that Hwi was an impostor. Hence, he worked on helping Prince Wonsan (Hyun’s brother) to take over the throne.
When assassinating Royal Inspector Jung didn’t work, Lord Sangheon went after the inspector’s family. At the same time, Prince Wonsan went after Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong. Just in time, Hwi utilized her power as king and captured Lord Sangheon for high treason.
Hwi planned to abdicate the throne and pass it to her brother Jehyeon. Lord Sangheon was able to escape. He brought Prince Wonsan and a huge army to take over Hwi’s throne. Prince Wonsan killed Prince Jehyeon. Prince Wonsan was heavily injured. Lord Sangheon killed Royal Inspector Jung. Eventually, Hwi surrendered to avoid any more casualties. Her last wish was to have tea with Lord Sangheon. She planned to commit suicide together with him. Lord Sangheon died.
In her sleep before recovering from the poison, Hwi dreamt of what could’ve been. A princess running freely in the palace and marrying the love of her life. Eventually, Hwi recovered from poisoning.
Hyun became the new king. He ordered for Hwi’s records were to be erased as if she never existed. Kang Eun-soo served as a commander under Hyun. Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong remained in the palace to serve the new king. Hwi changed her name to Yeon Seon. Ji-un and Yeon Seon happily lived as a couple.
Dam-yi / Hwi / Yeon Seon
In case I didn’t make it obvious with the GIF above, I love her. She was so adorable! I know I’m not supposed to choose between Hwi and Ji-un but I’m gonna choose, anyway. Obviously, I choose Hwi. But oh, where do I begin? This king could wield two swords at the same time. She loved poetry, excelled at sports and possessed high political acumen. If that’s not worth swooning over, I don’t know what is. Yeah, yeah she’s got royal tutors teaching her left, right, center. But hey, she could’ve given 80% and still get Lord Sangheon’s support, right? Plus, she didn’t abuse her power.
Things that I have slight issues with:
- Ten years was too far-fetched to sneak past Lord Sangheon.
Sure, she could’ve isolated herself and killed servants who found out. However, I can’t help but think what about the physicians? It’s impossible that she hasn’t been sick for the past ten years. What about injuries from sparring? Were the medical check ups in Joseon era always done fully clothed? IDK. It would’ve made sense if there’s another physician (that’s not Ji-un) who knew that she’s a girl. Hiding would’ve been much more believable.
- She becomes a damsel-in-distress when it’s convenient to the story.
– First, when she was adjusting her chest binding during the royal hunt and saw Ji-un for the first time in ten years. I’m sure she could’ve easily overpowered him. C’mon, she spars with three soldiers all at once and wields two swords at the same time. She deserves more credit than that! I just tell myself maybe it’s because she was only wearing her inner robes and she felt vulnerable.
– Second, when Royal Inspector Jung’s men shot her arm with an arrow. When she was on the run with Ji-un. Why did she fall so hard? Tell me the physics behind this. Why did she become helpless over an arrow wound on her arm? She was trained to be a king. Meaning, she was trained for war. She’s so much stronger than this. The arrows weren’t poisoned. If it was on the back or shoulder or leg which would impede her from running, sure. It would’ve made sense to stay the night in the woods.
– Third, I know the main agenda was to flee. However, why didn’t they give her any weapon to defend herself just in case? I would anticipate she would have to defend herself at some point. Sure, a woman carrying a sword in Joseon era was questionable but a dagger would’ve been handy. When she got injured and Ji-un left her alone to look for herbs for her wound, lots of dangers could be lurking in the night including wild animals.
And what was the point of these? So that Ji-un could save her and they could have their “moments”. Was it necessary? I have strongly mixed emotions.
Moving on, her character arc was predictable and her traits made sense to me. Motivated by fear and hatred, she did everything in her power to be the perfect crown prince. Hwi always put her people first. She rejected Ji-un to be the king. She was only willing to runaway when her father made he do so. On her last act as a king, she tried to commit suicide and poison Lord Sangheon at the same time. I’d like to think she did this for the benefit of her kingdom. Nothing would come out of a leader who rules for the sole purpose of power without any regard for his/her people. Even when the Queen Dowager told her to just flee, she chose to expose herself to prevent any more death over hiding her identity.
One of the things that didn’t make sense in the plot was the decision of reinstating Hwi’s rights as the crown prince. The moment prince Jehyeon’s right as the crown prince was revoked. Prince Wonsan was next in line. I don’t get under what grounds could a Queen Dowager could undo the previous king’s decision like that.
I can’t help but feel conflicted with her character’s ending. On one hand, I think she could’ve been of use to King Hyun’s new regime like an advisor or something. Her skills deserved to be utilized. Up until the discovery of her real identity from the Ming situation to Lord Sangheon’s death, she was amazing. On the other hand, she’s a happy and free woman, away from the palace walls. And then what? It does make sense that she didn’t want to be in such a cut-throat environment like the palace. Patriarchy and the history of events didn’t work in her favor. However, she could’ve made a difference, like teach children or educate women outside the palace walls. A woman’s purpose doesn’t end when she gets married. It irks me that her character ended like this. She deserved so much more.
As for her acting, I was a fan of her brand of androgyny. I’m gonna say it again, she’s adorable. The span of her acting skills from being a ice cold prince to being a feisty woman, were all believable. She’s so manly and womanly, I was so confused and attracted at the same time. Watching her on screen was a delight!
Led by his moral compass, this man was comfortable with the choices he made, even when people around him aren’t. Is he gay? Is he straight? It didn’t matter. All he knew was he liked Hwi. Mind you, this was set in Joseon era. People are most probably much more conservative during Joseon era than they are today. Yet, he didn’t even try that much to fight his feelings for the crown prince. He doubled his shifts and openly trailed around the crown prince until Hwi became king.
In terms of character development, there wasn’t much change, really. In the beginning, he was willing to silently sacrifice his principles to save his friends. It must’ve been emotionally heavy for him. Not once did he complain about it, even to Hyun. He did the same for Hwi. I like his relationship dynamic with Hwi because Ji-un was the more emotional one. You don’t see this so often in dramas. At least, I don’t. (This is the fifth drama I’ve seen this year so… I obviously don’t watch too much dramas LOL.) And it made sense. Hwi grew up in an environment where she had to be guarded all the time which balances their relationship.
While I like the fact that Ji-un actively chose to atone for his father’s sins by setting up an affordable clinic in Samgaebang to save people’s lives, I can’t help but wonder about the darker side of Ji-un’s personality. He witnessed murder at a very young age. His father blackmailed him to come back to the very place he swore he would never set foot in ever again, there’s got to be a darker psychological effect to him somewhere, somehow. He mentioned in one of his conversations with his father that there were times where he wanted to kill himself. A glimpse of that would’ve made him more realistic. But I guess because he’s the male lead, he was meant to be perfect.
I didn’t like his acting skills when it comes to drama. By that, I meant slow motion crying, close-up kind of drama. For the most part though, I like his facial expressions. He was manly, charming and entertaining to watch.
Prince Jaeun / Hyun
Hyun’s character was too dry. He had no other purpose than to be a loyal servant and secret protector to Hwi. Ok it did make sense that he didn’t confess to Hwi. Hwi was supposed to be a king and then Hyun knew Ji-un and Hwi’s feelings were mutual. However, how does one coast through life without any other purpose than to protect someone else without reciprocation? His martyrdom knows no bounds. And no, I don’t appreciate that. He’s a prince. I would’ve expected more. If you think about it, he was a willing (and noble) errand boy right up until the very end.
It was good that he became king. His character finally had a purpose. I would’ve loved to see some changes that he did that made him an effective king as a character development. (e.g. better health care, better education system, better roads, new bridge, IDK… something, anything)
But you know what? Hooray for him on being the new king. I didn’t see that coming. I thought the entire time Jehyeon was going to end up ruling the nation. Ok, I was wrong. Hooray to the writers! Haha!
Given his station and the span of his power, I would’ve expected him to find out about Hwi being an impostor earlier than ten years. But I guess, because Hwi was no less than perfect, Hwi earned his trust. The fact that he was blind to Hwi’s ability to manipulate him for the last time was due to the fact that he adored her. He said so himself. Lord Sangheon was greedy and ironically, his weakness was still Hwi. He couldn’t even hide how impressed he was when he found out how Hwi hid things from him to expose his crimes.
Class Discrimination. Patriarchy. Misogyny. Homophobia. The four horsemen of The King’s Affection’s Apocalypse. Sharing a womb with a girl was a source of shame. Ah, the misogyny! The free prize we get at the bottom of the patriarchy. I’m disappointed but not surprised. I’m not even going to discuss class discrimination, patriarchy and misogyny at this point. Sadly, it’s nothing new which was why I only looked forward to the drama’s take on the supposedly homosexual and scandalous relationship between the king and the tutor.
The unique premise of this show caught my attention. I really enjoyed watching this drama. The main characters, the villains and the side characters kept me engaged and interested. I’m easily distracted but the actors and actresses were held my attention.
I have to say, this has been my favorite drama this year.