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From left to right: Kim Yoon-Hye as Lady Da-Yeon; Joo Won as Master Gyeon Woo; Oh Yeon-Seo as Princess Hye-Myung; and Lee Jung-Shin as Lieutenant Kang.

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Release Date: May 29 - July 18, 2017

Episodes: 16 hour-long (Netflix), 32 half-hour-long (Viki)

Available on: Netflix, Viki

I’ll try to make this quick and painless. This should have been a ‘Dropped’ review. However, for some inexplicable reason, I managed to complete it when it was clear 5 episodes in that this show was not gonna live up to my expectations. The remaining 11 episodes changed the tone somewhat, but confirmed my initial impressions overall. The show focuses on a Joseon scholar, named Master Gyeon Woo, who returns from China to instruct the crown prince, and his encounters with a rude and ill-mannered woman, by name of Hye-Myung, who later turns out to be the Princess. At the same time, there is a plot to overthrow the King which our protagonists naturally have to expose (and survive).

There are many reasons why this show didn’t click for me. The first and foremost happens right at the very beginning when a false accusation of rape leveled at the main protagonist is played for laughs (that incidentally never goes anywhere). Expect him to be called a pervert for several episodes as the writers secretly hope that’ll draw a few laughs. It drew none. Second, the Princess is not at all likable in these first few episodes. She’s rude, prone to violence, quick to level false accusations without looking into the circumstances (what makes her a hypocrite), and utterly irresponsible, never thinking about how her actions will affect the people around her, often with serious consequences. There is one scene where the Princess has an exchange with Lady Da-Yeon in which she basically accuses her of abusing her power to get her own way. Pot, meet kettle, as that’s exactly what the Princess keeps doing throughout the show, with the King punishing anyone else he can get his hands on but her. If that’s not abuse of power, I don’t know what is.

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Perhaps one of the best scenes of the show.

Another thing that bothered me from the first episode was how, well, modern the show felt. Everything from the humor, through how (some) characters spoke and behaved, to the way some rooms were decorated felt odd, out of place. I’ll readily admit I am ignorant about this (or any) period of Korean history, but I just couldn’t shake that feeling (which may turn out to be justified seeing as the show was based on a movie set in the present).

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While I could further dissect this show and complain about things like how they handled the Qing Prince plotline, I am considerably more irked about the twist the show pulls as it draws near the end. During the second half, Gyeon Woo is starting to have nightmares repeatedly, leaving the viewer to guess whether these are visions or something else entirely. It would’ve been extremely odd if they had decided to introduce supernatural elements in the show at this point, but It turns out it’s the latter, as Gyeon Woo is remembering past events he had completely forgotten about and which end up playing a crucial role in exposing the conspirators who plan to overthrow the King.

BUT! And here comes the twist, Gyeon Woo ends up recalling that he was the one who started the rumor about the previous Queen having an affair, ultimately leading to her dethronement. You can imagine this does nothing to improve his relationship with the King and the Princess, and they both immediately shun him and blame him for all their troubles. I’m surprised he didn’t get the death penalty then and there. How very hypocritical of them, for let us recall that the document that misled a ten-year old (I’m just guessing here) into believing this was a forgery was meant to fool the King himself, and did indeed. Should he have turned the evidence to the police? Probably, and he did try, but we’re still talking about a kid who had just witnessed the murder of an entire family. Furthermore, once he realizes this was all a setup, he tries to make amends, although a little too late. So when you tell me that the King, who has been little more than a puppet throughout the show, has the gall to accuse Gyeon Woo, who was a kid at the time, of groundlessly spreading rumors when he himself, an adult and the supposed leader of the country, didn’t even try to investigate the matter further… it just confirms my initial impressions that the King is as useless as they come. The issue is exacerbated when the King once more falls into the trap of believing false accusations leveled against Gyeon Woo and his father, but by this point I no longer cared. Heck, I may have even been half hoping the conspirators would replace him with someone more competent (fat chance of that).

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To drama or not to drama, that is the question!

I can level a dose of hypocrisy at the Princess as well, but I’d rather dispatch against Gyeon Woo a little bit because he clearly has some communications problems. When he confesses to the King he was the one who started the rumors long ago, that’s all he does. He provides absolutely no context for his actions, instead begging, “Punish me, punish me!” Then, when the Princess asks him if the rumors are true, he replies with a succinct, “Yes.” For a supposed scholar, he is suddenly very economical with the truth. I realize this is a kdrama, and having the protagonists suffer from a sudden lack of communication is a surefire way of creating drama, but this was borderline ridiculous.

What else? Ah, yes, the ending. I suppose I can say this show is at least consistent because the ending was just as disappointing. Gyeon Woo decides he wants to propose to the Princess and does so… to be rejected. The reason? The Princess wants to become a physician and travel to Qing in order to do so. Remember how I said this show felt too modern? Anyway, what bothered me about this scene is that only 10 minutes ago (and 13 before the episode ends) the Princess was begging Gyeon Woo not to leave (admittedly, his departure was of a more permanent nature). Then 4 minutes before the episode ends, the Princess leaves for Qing, and 3 minutes before the end she returns. Repeat after me: Pacing. Is. Important. Hasty and sloppy execution is a cardinal sin, I’ll get Meliodas to vouch for me. And we didn’t need to have any of it. We didn’t need to have a proposal, we didn’t need to have the Princess wanting to leave and become a physician. It added nothing to the show and only served to dilute the ending to the point of being unsatisfying.

Verdict: This is not a bad show, but it’s certainly an average one, and I’m putting the blame squarely on the script. Despite disliking the character of the Princess initially, I feel Oh Yeon-Seo does a pretty good job as does Joo Won. I’d like to see what these two could pull off with a tighter script. The supporting cast is mostly underwhelming, save perhaps for Gyeon Woo’s cute kid sister who’s trying to play matchmaker.

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