Set in Joseon era, a crown princess gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. It was a sign of misfortune. Hence, the king ordered for the baby girl’s execution as well as all the court maids and guards who knew about it. The crown princess was able to sneak the baby out of the palace.
Several years later, Yi Hwi lived his life as a prince. He ran into Dam-yi, a court maid who looked exactly like him. Eventually, their maternal grandfather found out and ordered for another execution. Royal Inspector Jung assassinated Yi Hwi instead of Dam-yi. Dam-yi assumed the role of the prince Hwi. The only people who knew were Court Lady Kim, Eunuch Hong and the crown princess. As her father ascended as king, Hwi ascended as the crown prince.
I’m five episodes in and the premise of this show is intriguing. The political plot was the same old thing. Depending on which character we’re talking about, it’s a series of conspiracy to get and/or keep the throne. It offered a twist to your usual core trifecta of historical dramas — forbidden love, politics and family theatrics. The consistent thing that I like about Korean dramas is the right pacing. It’s fast enough that it’s not boring. It’s also slow enough for me to understand the story. Plus, the main leads have a chemistry.
From the plot perspective, there were little things that didn’t make sense here and there but these are a few that irks me a bit.
- Dam-yi’s literacy – The original Prince Hwi must’ve had an ample time to study literature at a very young age. The book “Jwajeon” along with other books in the show used Hanja writing system (which was identical to Hanzi of China). Here’s a little bit of background on where I’m coming from. Hanja consists of thousands of characters. King Sejong introduced Hanggul to make his people literate. I’ve read years ago that learning Hanja was a prerogative of the monarchs, noblemen, upper class and scholars at that time. Ji-un wrote footnotes in Jwajeon in Hanggul. If Hanggul already existed during this period, it meant a literate commoner could only read Hanggul. So, it didn’t make sense that a court maid from Joseon era can read Hanja. This is only from a literacy perspective. (I know… I lurk in Wikipedia for too long sometimes.)
- Dam-yi as the new Crown Prince Hwi – Now, let’s shift to her life inside the palace, she must’ve had a glimpse on how monarchs act around each other when she was a court maid. She could’ve fooled everyone by suddenly acting cold. You know which ones I cannot imagine she could fool? Her grandfather, Lord Sangheon. I could imagine Prince Hwi not recognizing family members, having slips in etiquette, not knowing sports rules. Those simple things could’ve given her away. How did he miss Prince Hwi’s charade for ten years?
- Ji-un seeing Dam-yi as a girl. Then, as the crown prince. Sure, Hwi could fool Ji-un that the court maid Dam-yi was dead. When he met Hwi in the courtesan house as the crown prince, he said he was sure when he saw her she’s a girl. I just tell myself that he probably thought the crown prince can’t possibly fool the entire palace if he’s a girl. This part didn’t make sense.
Nevertheless, it was an entertaining watch. It was intriguing, funny and fast-paced. I know this is how they normally lure me in. Somewhere in the middle, things begin to get serious and I’m already too invested in the characters and the plot that I want to know how it ends. I fall for it every single time.
Original Crown Prince Hwi
He wasn’t a well fleshed out character to me. Granted he had a very little screen time and he was Dam-yi’s twin, it’s a shock to me that not a lot of people caught up on the difference between him and Dam-yi, especially Lord Sangheon. Imagine this. If a family member you see and communicate with on a regular basis suddenly switched personalities and forgot people and things he was supposed to know, you’d definitely notice, right? Lord Sangheon had a laser beam focus on Prince Hwi due to his grand political ambitions. How come he was never suspicious?
During the scene where the original Prince Hwi was playing football, he had a sunny and confident personality. How did that change all of a sudden just because he got “sick” or something? Plus, Lord Sangheon would’ve hired a physician to examine Prince Hwi if he was so fragile. It just doesn’t make sense.
Dam-yi / Hwi
Building on what I said earlier, you know how you notice trivial things about your family because you’ve known them for a very long time? There must’ve been a mannerism or an expression or even the way she walks that was distinct from Prince Hwi that Dam-yi did differently. Lord Sangheon was sharp man. He would’ve noticed this within the first few months or maybe weeks. Why? First off, he’s a politician and was good at manipulating people. How can a child fool a shrewd man like him? Maybe, he found Hwi adorable enough to let things slip?
Dam-yi had a different set of challenges as Hwi. As the “new” crown prince, she had to bury her past, conceal her identity, get used to the palace politics and measure up to everyone’s expectations. The way her character evolved from Dam-yi to Hwi made sense. She was initially kind but realized she had to build a cold exterior around her to survive and protect her identity and the people around her. She kept everyone at an arm’s length (OK, I lied. Five steps) except for Prince Hyun and her mother’s trusted servants: Court Lady Kim, Eunuch Hong and Commander Yoon.
Ten years later, Dam-yi adjusted to her life as the crown prince. While she excelled in many things, she was also well-known for being cold and distant. She had to. This was either met with fear or misinterpreted as arrogance. It doesn’t matter anyway. Whatever personality a crown prince have, from the moment he’s born, he’s a target of anyone and everyone vying for his position as the crown prince and the future king.
Anyway, Adult Hwi evolved. Ooh boy, she was the coolest thing in this show. Me: *straight confusion intensifies*
Her insecurities which humanized her character was also depicted in the drama. The fact that her father agreed to kill her when she was a baby was a great source of pain for her. This was magnified when she saw how her younger brother got all her father’s affection her entire childhood. I’m very much looking forward to her character development.
Jung Ji-un had a happy and sheltered childhood up until he witnessed Royal Inspector Jung, his father, murder an innocent girl despite his pleading. Traumatized, Ji-un vowed never to return to the palace. Ten years later, as an atonement for his father’s sins, he studied to be a physician and provided an affordable healthcare in Samgaebang to the less fortunate.
When Royal Inspector Jung blackmailed Ji-un to work as a royal tutor in the palace with the life of his friends, he had no choice but to oblige.
Jung Ji-un’s character was charming. He doesn’t burden people with his problems, even when he really should. Plus, he successfully pursued gaining Hwi’s trust without being a pushover.
I’m tired of the overused and unnecessary first love shenanigans in Korean dramas. However, it works for this plot. Dam-yi buried anything that’s related to her past. She lived as Hwi for ten years. Ji-un was the only thing that reminded her of her old self and tied her to her past life. I look forward to this part of the story because it works.
I also look forward on the approach to homosexuality in the succeeding episodes. A gay crown prince in Joseon era? Scandalous!
Hwi is cold but we all know how this would go. Now that she’s met her first love again, she will gradually be the kinder version of herself. The interesting part is what happens when people find out she’s a woman? How about her affair with Ji-un and the knowledge that the crown prince is gay? Which one will people discover first? My theory is people will find out she’s “gay” first before they find out she’s actually woman. I wonder who will be loyal and who will turn on her. What would be the impact to the image of the royal family? Hmm… I got so much questions.
Jung Ji-un would definitely be attracted to the crown prince. Is he going to date women just to fight his feelings? Or is he just going to accept it? Honestly, I can’t help but think this would make such a great BL drama.
S/N: I’ve been avoiding watching dramas that are non-Mandarin because it impedes my progress in studying and pronunciation (for some reason). However, I’m but a mortal who can be lured by interesting plots with good looking actresses and actors. And here we are.