[First Impression] Pilot Episode: Alchemy of Souls

[First Impression] Pilot Episode: Alchemy of Souls

I saw the full episode 4 before I watched the pilot episode. My siblings were watching it. They were hyping up the Cha Eun Woo look-alike in the supporting cast. I was like meh. However, after they explained the synopsis, I watched out of curiosity. Apart from the historical fantasy setting which primarily caught my attention, here are the reasons why I’m watching the show:

  1. Aebong from The Sound of Your Heart. I wouldn’t be half as interested as I am if I didn’t see her there. I like her acting skills. She’s funny.
  2. Naksu. OMGOMGOMG! She is so cool. I know she’s dead but I wanna see her flashbacks. I’m invested in her storyline and survival. 
  3. Lastly, K-pop aesthetics meets Sageuk meets Wuxia meets romcom meets anime. Sign. Me. Up.

The only thing I don’t like about this is that all the episodes aren’t fully released yet. Ugh! Why do bad things happen to good people!

P.S.: There are random Naruto references in this first impression. If you haven’t seen Naruto, why haven’t you? It’s a classic anime. TF?!

Premise

A mage and shadow assassin, Naksu, transferred her soul to another body, Mu-deok, a blind woman. Jang Uk is a powerful mage’s son whose gate of energy was locked by his father. He dismissed himself from masters who refused to unlock his gate of energy. (Gate of Energy is the equivalent of golden core in CQL / The Untamed world) This prohibited Uk from practicing spells. When Jang Uk recognized Naksu hiding in Mu-deok’s body, he took her in as his servant. 

Pilot Episode Recap

Note: For the easily confused people like me, here’s a character guide.

Source: Korean___Dramas

In the opening scene, a mother bribed peasants with food and trapped them in a house to feed her soul shifter son. A soul shifter consumes human energy to return to “normal”. The soul shifter failed to consume human energy when Jang Gang intervened. The peasants escape and the soul shifter accidentally consumes his mother’s energy. What did I learn from here?

  1. Soul shifters are zombies but instead of human flesh, they need to constantly consume human energy. 
  2. Being a soul shifter is a product of forbidden sorcery
  3. A blue bruise below the left collarbone meant the owner’s soul left the person’s body.
  4. A soul shifter’s corpse turns into a rock.

Jang Gang was a mage who served the king. The king was dying. He commanded Jang Gang to perform the alchemy of souls. Meaning, the king’s soul would be temporarily transferred to Jang Gang’s body (Freaky Friday style). The king’s aim was to produce an heir.  Though alchemy of souls was a forbidden sorcery, Jang Gang obliged. Upon waking up in the king’s body. Jang Gang found a note from the king that he intended to impregnate Jang Gang’s wife. Jang Gang, in the king’s weak body, wasn’t able to do anything about it.

Twenty years later, an army led by Park Jin pursued Naksu, a shadow assassin, for killing mages around the city. After being heavily injured, Naksu escaped. She grabbed a servant and performed the alchemy of souls. She missed the body she targeted and wound up in Mu-deok’s body, a blind woman she pushed earlier.

Naksu’s corpse was brought to Songrim. Yul recognized a bird-shaped whistle attached to Naksu’s sword belt. He gave it to a friend in his younger years. Naksu was his friend but didn’t recognize her. He kept quiet about it. Master Heo was worried that another soul shifter would run wild and kill people the way it did twenty years ago. 

Dang gu rushed from Chwiseonru to meet Master Heo and Park Jin. He was curious about Naksu being a soul shifter. After a scolding from Park Jin and being sided by Master Heo, the conversation shifted to Jang Uk.

Jang Uk is Jang Gang’s son. The king succeeded, after all. Uk jumped around places to learn from Yeongchundang to Gisan. He dismissed himself from all the training which didn’t benefit him. He even caused a ruckus because his last master told him no one will teach him spells. No one would dare to unlock his gate of energy because his mother had an affair and his father abandoned him. He announced that he will find a stronger master who would be willing to teach him spells, wouldn’t care about going against Jang Gang and unlock his gate of energy.

Meanwhile, Naksu entered the body of Mu-deok, a blind girl from the countryside. She was surprised to recover her sight but not her strength. She was too weak to escape the people who bought her. Moreover, her new body does not have the blue bruise. 

Mudeok was sold to Chwiseonru, a brothel. She found out about the four children of the main families – Jin Cho-Yeon, Park Dang gu, Seo Yul (Naksu’s first love) and Jang Uk. Naksu’s parents were executed for some reason by the fathers of these four people. She swore to kill many people but this one was serious. Naksu wanted to avenge her parents’ death.

Songrim’s mages as well as Naksu’s master were on a hunt for Naksu. Jang Uk recognized Naksu in Chwiseonru and took Mudeok to his house as a servant. After being Uk’s servant for a very short time, Mudeok stole the spirit plaque to enter Songrim and steal her sword to get her power back. At the same time, intruders attacked Songrim. Yul and Dan Gu defended Jeongjingak. It was empty. Naksu’s body was missing. Most likely retrieved by Danju, Naksu’s boss.

After Mu-deok’s failed attempt to retrieve her sword, she fled the scene and was almost caught by Yul. One wrist grab later, Mu-deok was safe and Uk was staring at her eyes shining blue under the moonlight. 

I didn’t expect anything less. This is not a Korean drama if there’s no wrist grab to save the leading lady from something, anything (gutter, bad people, grass, etc.).

First Impressions

The show was chaotic to say the least and I love it. There are many storylines to watch out for. The show’s pacing is faster than Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan. I can’t believe the first episode contained that much information. Not to mention, there were cool fight scenes in between. I’ve already seen episode 4, so some questions I have are answered. The places and territories were confusing. I’m not Dora, I don’t have a map of Daeho. The relationship map above helped.

I have high expectations for this show. Mainly because the ahjusshis in the show were veterans and if you see them you know the drama is gonna be good.

Premise

The sageuk drama trifecta of politics, forbidden love and family drama landed on this drama with interesting twists. A king who’s heir was produced in a different body? How are they going to prove that? And even if they do, biologically, Jang Uk doesn’t have the right to the throne. Very intriguing.

Things that didn’t make sense to me:

  • I find it far-fetched that Uk was able to recognize a person he hasn’t met yet because she pointed a crab leg on his neck. Bruh, she could’ve been some feral lady who escaped the brothel or a wounded assassin.
  • Uk recognized how Tansu works but was surprised when Dang gu mentioned the neck is a vital point. I know, I know it’s a small thing. But still!! How’d you hit a damn person without knowing what to target?! It would’ve definitely been mentioned in the books. He memorized hundreds of books, remember?
  • Naksu being unfamiliar with the Four Seasons gang. Jin Cho-Yeon, Park Dang gu, Seo Yul and Jang Uk were basically the celebrities of Daeho. She’s got to be aware of who’s who. If she had been living under a rock, this wouldn’t have been surprising. However, she’s an assassin. Further, her interaction with Yul in her teenage years suggests they were each other’s first love or at the very least, friends. She would’ve known a thing or two about him being the heir of the Seo family. C’mon! They weren’t five-year olds.
  • Yul was unable to recognize Naksu. Again, they weren’t children when they first met. They were adolescents. Google the people you became friends with in your teenage years and haven’t spoken to for at least a decade. Heck! Grab an old class photo. I bet you dollars to donuts you’d still recognize them. What first love dumb trope is this?

For what it’s worth, Uk’s “beautiful eyes” agenda made more sense in terms of recognizing Naksu. I liked that he dragged it out to see Mudeok scamper around Songrim to get her sword back.

Characters

Naksu

Alright! I have a bone to pick with Asian dramas, why do cool girl characters always die? Or they go soft and drop everything else because they “found love”? Orphan turned badass. That’s the formula of making superheroes and protagonists in the fictional world. None of them started out as dead. 

Okay, she didn’t exactly die because her soul is still hosted in Mudeok’s body. However, the storyline still found a way to weaken her. And why is that? To make the male lead appear “manlier”. *eyeroll*

Anyway, I’m still gonna watch it. She’s so cool. I just wish she’s still in her original body.

Jang Uk

I love Jang Uk’s character. He’s an underdog but not really. He doesn’t even know he was the heir to the throne. How was he gonna prove it? Is he even interested in being the king? Uk is going to fall in love with the most wanted assassin in Daeho who’s also his servant and his secret teacher. So many tropes in one sentence! What in the AO3 is happening here? 

Also, all this complicated family story and locked gate of energy is giving me a Naruto – Kurama vibes. I mean, why would his father seal his gate of energy? What else was sealed together with it?

Mu-Deok

What happened to her soul? She might be the wild card we’re waiting for to spin this whole thing around.

Theories

  • Naksu’s parents were probably soul shifters or at the very least, performed a forbidden sorcery.
  • Naksu and Yul’s first love trope will not work. First love has always defined the endgame for many K-dramas. Quite frankly, it’s overdone. 
  • Naksu winding up in Mu-deok’s body wasn’t arbitrary. She’s probably a mage in hiding or something more significant than a blind peasant.
  • The original Mu-deok was probably only pretending to be blind.
  • Master Heo told Yul blue bruise meant the soul left a person’s body. The reason Mu-deok doesnt have a blue bruise is because her soul never left her body. It’s just dormant for whatever reason.
  • Naksu’s soul overtook the control of Mu-deok’s body because she probably has a stronger will to live compared to Mu-deok.
  • At some point, Mu-deok and Naksu would have to fight over who would take control of Mu-deok’s body.

Stuff I’m curious about & look forward to the show

  • How long before a soul shifter needs to consume human energy again? It could be that there are soul shifters hiding in plain sight who have access to an endless supply of humans. I’d love a plot twist like that. Or probably not since I was able to guess it.
  • Who started this alchemy of souls thing? Are they able to trap a soul and be able to use it whenever they need to? I’m thinking of the way Orochimaru summoned the Hokages.
  • Original Mu-deok’s identity. At this point, we know more about Naksu than Mu-deok. Was she really blind?
  • Naksu’s backstory. Ok so she’s an orphan. And then what? What’s her dream? What motivated her?
  • What’s her backstory?
  • Where the hell did Jang Gang and Do-hwa disappear to?
  • Who is the current king? Is it the weak king? He couldn’t have lasted 20 years in that condition. I saw a crown prince in episode 4, whose son is he? 
  • Will there be bloodbath for the throne?

I’m about to press pause on Mouse because this one is so good.

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