[Mid-Series Review] Alchemy of Souls

[Mid-Series Review] Alchemy of Souls

Finally, the tenth episode is out! Not to be overdramatic but the waiting part was AGONIZING. My attention hasn’t strayed and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Could it be my penchant for fantasy period dramas? Perhaps. Could it be the world building? Highly likely. Anyway, I will divide this review into the following:

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

Source: Korean___Dramas

S/N: I will collectively call Uk, Yul, Dang-gu and the Crown Prince as Daeho’s F4.

Plot Summary

Jang Uk became Naksu’s disciple. Working cover story: Mudeok is Uk’s maid. Jang Uk single-handedly trained in secret in Danhyanggok with Naksu overseeing his training. Master Heo broke Jang Uk’s gate of energy’s seal and gave 10 years worth of energy. Uk was able to master many techniques in a span of a few weeks / months. Jin Mu is out strategizing how to monopolize Jin family’s power all over Daeho. Mudeok was trapped inside Jinyowon’s mirror. Daeho’s F4 assembled to rescue her. Jang Uk succeeded, of course. Gil-ju’s failed attempt to transfer his soul to Jang Uk’s body led to him running wild. Uk tailed Gil-ju and found out that the real Danju is working in Cheonbugwan. He defeated the Crown Prince courtesy of Mudeok’s blood Tansu agenda. Uk became a mage apprentice in Songrim. Mudeok fights her way to get into Songrim as a maid. 

Plot Review

What I really like:

Not waiting for 500 years before Jang Uk’s gate of energy was broken

This is self-explanatory. I know I would’ve been so bored. Though, the way Jang Uk mastered controlling water is a different story.

Daeho’s history of alchemy in general 

The show doesn’t give the viewers a huge information overload. Rather, we get snippets of its history. I like how the world building was carefully carved out. The information about history is only revealed when relevant to the plot.

Jin Mu’s strategy

I love a good villain. This brings more color to the plot. Jin Mu and the Queen as the real Danju is a powerhouse villain tandem. They have everything to their advantage – power, resources and knowledge. Jin Mu’s strategy to monopolize their power using the Jin family, the royal family and the Head of Jinyowon’s yearning for Buyeon.

What didn’t make sense:

Uk mastering things without anyone teaching him anything.

Naksu taught him nothing. He was just reading books with his other masters. Naturally, every lecture needs a practical application of the lecture. This is why we have lecture and laboratory courses in school. Granted, not all courses have laboratory courses but some form of application is always required at some point. This is why we have internships to practice that. Uk going from zero to hero way too fast is absurd.

Mudeok’s presence and/or interference being blatantly ignored by family heads:

1. Meeting among Jin Mu, Master Heo and Dang-gu to settle the score between the Crown Prince and Jang Uk

Who in their right minds would tolerate such a suggestion coming from a maid? I have nothing against maids but let us not forget this is a very hierarchical world. Korea, in general, have lived in heirarchical social structure. Mudeok outsmarting Dang-gu, sure I’ll overlook that. However, Mudeok put Jang Uk’s life on the line? In a meeting where she has no business other than confirm or deny facts? This wouldn’t be an issue if Uk wasn’t the only heir of Jang Gang of Cheonbugwan. Everyone knows he’s the underdog. By the way, she had no business being there. Master Heo, Jin Mu and Dang-gu didn’t bring a maid. What was she doing inside the room to begin with?

2. Daeho’s F4 being the overprotective master in Jinyowon. 

I’m not saying I didn’t like this but it still logically doesn’t make sense. If it was only Uk looking for Mudeok, sure. She was his maid. However, Yul, Dang-gu and the Crown Prince had no business risking their lives inside Jinyowon for Mudeok.

3. Jang Uk’s blood Tansu agenda

No one’s gonna say it? I’m gonna say it. That was cheating. I wouldn’t be bothered if I didn’t like the Crown Prince’s character but I do. He’s a spoiled brat with a strong of tsundere vibe but he wasn’t malicious. He even advised Mudeok to ditch the duel because he didn’t want to hurt Uk.

Main Character Review

Protagonists

Mudeok as Naksu

Aha! The morally gray Naksu. She’s collecting admirers like their pokemon cards. Her moral compass sways to the direction of survival instinct. I expected nothing less. She’s an assassin, after all. Yet, she always ends up being a damsel-in-distress to be rescued from everything even when she didn’t need to be (Chwiseonru, Jinyowon, Songrim’s entrance test for maids). Being given a cheat sheet for the test was just an insult to Mudeok. She’s clever and it’s been proven countless of times. While I appreciated the team effort of Yul, Dang-gu and the Crown Prince, that cheat sheet for the exam was uncalled for.

Everything that she did, she endured it to get her powers back. I can understand how she grew affectionate of Uk but it’s difficult for me to see her completely falling for Uk. Her survival instinct is clashing with her growing affection for Uk. It’s all fun and games until she gets her powers back. Push comes to shove, Naksu’s loyalty will always be to herself (strategically, of course).

Jang Uk

Despite being the protagonist and Naksu’s main love interest, he’s one of my least favorite characters. Uk is lazy, whiny and a little annoying. This makes his character more believable that he grew up privileged and sheltered. He’s a little sharp, a little innocent and a tad entitled. I like his appeal but not his character. He treats Mudeok based on how he’s feeling at the moment. Uk treats her as his master, when there’s a feat he has to accomplish and he needs to train. He treats her as his maid when he doesn’t need anything. Now, he treats her as his semi-girlfriend because he’s starting to have feelings for her. You see where this is going? It’s all based on his own terms. His feelings might be genuine but it’s selfish. Everything is catered towards him.

Mudeok as a Jin

The blindfold pretty much confirms Mudeok is Buyeon. This actually makes me think she has a good chance of marrying Uk in the future but not as Naksu. I’m starting to get frustrated with her character. Nothing triggered her to fight for her body, not even when she was in Jinyowon. I think she’s just supposed to be the pure, innocent girl who became a victim of Naksu’s soul shifting. Yet, her soul wasn’t driven out of her body because she’s the ice stone or has the energy of the ice stone.

Side Character Review

Daeho’s Gen Z Gang

Seo Yul

Mkay. I’m starting to like his poker face brand of acting. I get it now. He’s kinda dreamy. Out of all the young masters of this show, he was one of the few who hasn’t shown his sense of entitlement… yet. I’m not ruling it out. Obviously, he has feelings for Naksu way back during their Danyanggok days. Even so, he’s proved time and time again that he’s a rational person and he’s able to see through someone’s true motive. He figured out Naksu’s motives every single time. He doesn’t voice it out immediately and this makes him sneaky. Even though he knows Naksu is slowly developing feelings for Uk, he’s low-key hopeful that Naksu would actually fall for him.

Park Dang-gu

For a successor of Songrim, I have high expectations from this character. As part of Daeho’s four seasons, I want to see some sort of talent from him – magic, combat skills, political acumen or textbook knowledge. Yet, it seems his only role for this is to be an emotional support of Uk and Arin.

Jin Cho Yeon

I was expecting her character to play more role in the plot but she didn’t. She’s just a mean and entitled child from Jinyowon. The fact that she was competing with her lost sister after years of being gone, she’s clearly jealous of her sister and is ruled by her emotions. She recently started being moved by Dang-gu’s kindness and I think that would make her a kinder person.

Crown Prince

BROOOO. I have a little bit of a soft spot for this tsundere seja jeoha. I pity him, to be exact. First off, he doesn’t have friends. It has l been established in period dramas that keeping the throne or being next in line to the throne is a lonely place to be. He’s just as entitled as Uk. He never meant serious harm towards people below his station. He may be a good person but he was not a pushover. Threatening to kill Mudeok the next time she interferes was a serious warning. Yet, he even teamed up with Yul and Dang-gu to help Mudeok get in Songrim. His ego is easily bruised and stroked. This makes me look forward to his character. His power and personality makes a good wildcard for his impact in the plot

Uk’s Parental Figures

Maidservant Kim / Kim Do Joo 

Do Hwa is dead while Jang Gang is missing. Yet, she ran the Jang household perfectly. She was the emotional support for Jang Uk and I don’t think she’s getting enough credit for that because obviously she’s not from a prestigious family in Daeho. I think the reason why Uk is a good person is because of her. She even spoiled him a little too much to the point of bribing Songrim official to get Mudeok in.

Park Jin 

He might’ve done cruel things to prevent Uk from reaching his full potential but I understand his intentions and motivation. I can’t say I would have done differently if I was in his place. I really hoped he stepped up in protecting Uk as his apprentice. However, he just planned to keep Uk there for a year. I’m disappointed. He could’ve at least let Uk learn new things other than reading books. On another note, he might be dense with his feelings for Maidservant Kim but damn he’s quick to piece things together. He figured out Mudeok might be Naksu.

Master Heo 

If you give him two yellow maracas, he would look like the older live action version of Mirmo from Mirmo de Pon! He’s so adorable. I think it’s so easy for people to see him as a comic relief which makes him yet another underrated character. I love how, albeit hesitantly, he took the opportunity to unlock Uk’s gate of energy. He even gave ten years worth of his own energy to Uk. When he found out it was absorbed by Uk’s body, he was ecstatic. It seems like it was his plan all along. When Uk performed Tansu, he was the only one to offer apprenticeship without hidden agenda.

Theory Check

I made some theories on my first impression and here’s the list.

Wrong

❌ The original Mu-deok was probably only pretending to be blind.

Correct

✅ Naksu’s parents were probably soul shifters or at the very least, performed a forbidden sorcery.

✅ 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.

✅ 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.

Undetermined

❓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’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.

New Theories

Jang Gang 

You know how some characters disappear in the beginning of the show and we totally forget about them? I’m not about to forget this Jang Gang who skipped being a father to “Dora the Explorer” his way somewhere in Daeho. That being said, I believe he has reasons. Here are my speculations on the reasons and motivations for his character.

Motivation: 

  • He didn’t want his wife’s death to be in vain.
  • He wanted to protect Jang Uk.

Reasons: 

  • I think he’s probably looking for ironclad proof of Uk’s legitimate claim to the throne. The king’s star meant Uk will surely rise to claim the throne. Based on experience (from Scarlet Heart Ryeo), stars don’t lie.
  • I think he believes in the King’s star but wanted to delay Jang Uk’s ascension as much as possible. Hence, he sealed Uk’s gate of energy. 
  • Jang Gang wants to prevent bloodshed and annihilation of Cheonbugwan by the royal family successors.

Ending

  • I believe this would end in tragedy. 
  • Uk will ascend to the throne successfully.
  • After losing Mudeok to Uk, the Crown Prince will be motivated to fight for his throne. As mentioned earlier, he’s not a pushover. Goading from Jin Mu and the Queen will also ignite the fire to fight for his birthright. 
  • If Buyeon ends up taking over her own body, and she probably will at some point, she would have to drive Naksu out. 
  • Naksu will not end up with anybody. She’s a soul shifter. She will eventually be found out. Someone will have to kill her successfully or fight hard to get her powers back. She’s not the type to live out of isolation without her powers.
  • Jang Uk might end up marrying Mudeok but not as Naksu. After all, kings are not supposed to be happy. They’re supposed to put the safety of their people first. Assassin soul shifter as their queen? That’s not happening.

Overall Review

As much as I would really like to rank this show higher because of the plot, I can’t. Its misogynistic approach on characters ruined this for me. All women in this show except for Naksu were just creatures ruled by emotions. I am appalled how all of them needed some sort of rescuing from a man or men. Naksu isn’t exactly shown in the best light here. She’s cool but she’s a fugitive. Again, despite being powerful, they had to weaken her to make Uk’s character and her other admirers seem manly.

Although my interest is still there, my expectations have gone significantly lower.

While I cannot critic on the cinematography, I like how complex and well-thought out the world building is. I like the mystery behind the ice stone, Jang Gang disappearing and Uk having the king’s star. It’s fast-paced and I’m almost never bored. I’m still very much looking forward to what happens in the plot.

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