THE SHORT VERDICT:
A well-plotted, solid story from start to finish, The Crowned Clown is a show that has quite a bit to offer.
The palace intrigue isn’t always the most compelling, but on the upside, there’s a real king, a fake king, a forbidden romance, all the complications that arise from it all, a touch of levity to lighten things from time to time, and a stirring OST to score it all.
Our main cast is excellent all-around, but it’s Yeo Jin Goo who knocks it out of the ballpark and then some, playing both king and clown.
I’ve always considered Yeo Jin Goo an excellent actor, but Yeo Jin Goo has never been more amazing to my eyes, than in this show. Some minor lens adjustments are necessary, but once you’ve got that down, Show is such a good ride.
Meaty enough to chew on, yet affecting enough to deeply engage the heart.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Even after a pretty solid 12 years of regular drama consumption, I don’t consider myself a sageuk connoisseur.
I enjoy a good sageuk, and have been known to sometimes get pretty deeply sucked into a saguek on occasion (like Chuno, The Princess’ Man, and The King Loves, to name a few), but I’m no expert on them, and therefore, I’m no purist either.
I just wanted to put that out there right upfront, because with this show, I feel like beyond the viewing lens, personal context counts, too.
It’s completely possible that a sageuk purist might find fault with this show and how it weaves its story; I personally was pretty happy with how writer-nim chose to craft this story, and I think with the right lens (which I’ll talk about shortly), it’s very possible to enjoy this one.
I also wanted to say that this one leans on the intense side of things. It’s not light, fluffy or fusion in the vein of Moonlight Drawn By Clouds or Sungkyunkwan Scandal, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that right after episode 1, I was ready and eager to see more.
This one felt intense and strong right away, and I felt rather hooked, right away too. Very happily for me, that feeling of being sucked in and ready to see more lasted me all the way through to the end.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS [VERY VAGUE SPOILERS]
I will talk about this in a more detailed and specific manner later in this review, but for now, let me just say that it really helps to think of this show as having two acts, with Act I lasting from episode 1 to 8, and then Act II running from episode 9 to 16.
Essentially, there seems to be a fair amount of viewer discontent with Something that happens in episode 8, and the main complaint is that after this Something happens, a lot of dramatic tension is lost, and Show becomes a lot more like a regular sageuk from episode 9 onwards, and therefore feels a lot less interesting to watch.
I get where these viewers are coming from, and personally, I agree that there is some loss of dramatic tension.
At the same time, I found that by adjusting my lens to regard Act I as almost a standalone story, and Act II as almost a sequel, it helped a great deal.
Additionally, I found that by trying to understand writer-nim’s approach and Show’s construct from a more macro level, I appreciated the direction of Show’s narrative a lot more.
I’ll share more of my thoughts on this in my spotlights on episodes 8 and 14, later in this review.
As with any sageuk, we have a pretty sprawling cast in this show, and it’s not quite possible for me to talk about all our characters.
Instead, I’ll be shining the spotlight on a handful of key characters.
Let me just say upfront, though, that all the actors did solid jobs of their roles.
The baddies are the kind that you’d love to hate, and as with just about every sageuk I’ve seen, our baddies’ motivations are even rather.. understandable, to some extent. A job well done to all, I say.
Yeo Jin Goo as Lee Heon / Ha Seon
Yeo Jin Goo
You guys. Yeo Jin Goo is flippin’ amazing in this. I mean, I fully expected Yeo Jin Goo to be excellent, because he’s always excellent, but he blew me away, right in the very first scene.
Just, so much intensity as Crown Prince Lee Heon, that I felt like I could already see in his expression, just how complicated his feelings are, towards his father (cameo by Jang Hyuk! <3 Eee!) and the throne.
From beginning to end, Yeo Jin Goo continues to blow it out of the water; he’s just head and shoulders above other actors his age, I think.
From the big expressions to the micro ones, to the entire way he carries his body, to the way he uses his voice, you can tell that Ha Seon and Lee Heon are two different people.
Yeo Jin Goo literally has two completely different sets of everything, from body language to micro-expressions, so that each of these characters is separate and unique.
For example, the scene in episode 1, where Lee Heon first sees Ha Seon, and gets him to try on his robe, and then gets him to try saying the words, “You fool!” is so good.
When Lee Heon flares up, “You fool! Can’t you play your role properly?!,” Ha Seon immediately repeats the same two sentences with the exact tone of voice, but still manages to sound like a different person parroting Lee Heon. Wow.
I mean. I’ve admired other actors for playing dual characters before, like fairly recently in Are You Human Too?, but Yeo Jin Goo really is in the elite leagues on this. Seriously, how is he only 22?!?
From just episode 1 alone, I was already getting an idea of just how demanding it is for Yeo Jin Goo to play these two roles.
It’s always demanding playing dual roles, but this is a saguek, and saguek is infamously more demanding than a modern show, with costuming, court dialogue, and having to contend with harsh weather conditions while in costume.
On top of these expected sageuk-related challenges, one of Yeo Jin Goo’s roles is of the clown, who leaps and dances and basically uses a lot of energy for his performances, and who also jumps walls and runs, when he’s being chased down.
Usually all this would be done by a show’s other lead, so that the lead playing king would be able to rest during those scenes. But in this case, Yeo Jin Goo probably has little rest all-around, as they move from court scenes to clown scenes and then back to court scenes again. Just, Wow.
We learn pretty much right away in episode 1, that Lee Heon is a very troubled individual, and as king, he does some very terrible things.
To Show’s credit, Lee Heon is not passed off as a one-note evil character, but is painted in shades of grey.
By episode 4, I found myself feeling sorry for Lee Heon, because he’s so addicted to the opium that he’s losing himself and even hurting himself, and it’s so awful because he never knew he was being manipulated into getting hooked on the opium to begin with.
Plus, from the various hints given to us, he’d used to be more kind and humane than the version of him that we first meet, and the thought that a reasonably normal and good person became so unhinged and almost deranged as a result of being drugged without his knowledge, is just heartbreaking.
Because our story is mostly told from Ha Seon’s point of view, Lee Heon functions almost like a plot device (albeit a very effective and efficient one), and also, a foil for Ha Seon, who is our real protagonist.
In a drama world where the court politics can occasionally lean boring, Lee Heon’s very presence brings excellent dramatic tension to the screen.
His dangerous, unhinged aura consistently lifted Show’s vibe to something more edgy and, well, alarming, and that worked really well to keep me interested and engaged.
To writer-nim’s credit, as terrible as Lee Heon’s behavior often was, I could often understand his perspective and reasoning for his often cruel decisions.
For example, in episode 7, Lee Heon overturns decisions made by the court that were overseen by Ha Seon, even though the decisions themselves are sound.
He feels that he’s been replaced by Ha Seon, be it in the decisions made or in the relationships with others, like the Queen (Lee Se Young) and he strongly feels the need to assert himself, even if he is undoing good that the court has done.
Nobody likes the feeling of being replaced, and I could understand him feeling that way.
On a personal note, I got a thrill every time Lee Heon came onscreen, because seeing Lee Heon in his delusional, unhinged state reminded me all over again, just how good Yeo Jin Goo is.
I literally saw and felt Lee Heon and Ha Seon as two people, and I might even have been persuaded that Lee Heon was simply played by Yeo Jin Goo’s twin.
Technically, Ha Seon isn’t as riveting to watch as Lee Heon, by virtue of the fact that he’s not unhinged nor on the verge of insanity. Ha Seon leans a lot more conventional, in that he displays all the good traits that one would expect of a story’s hero.
That said, I found Ha Seon very likable as our underdog fake king, and I found it easy to root for him, all the way to the end of our story.
I enjoyed watching Ha Seon consistently follow his heart and his moral compass, even if it meant disobeying orders and suggesting things Lee Heon wouldn’t, and therefore acting out of character.
I loved too, that his innocent-rogue sort of approach actually secretly pleased the officials who were reprimanding him for it.
From early on in the show, Ha Seon shows himself to have a clear and just approach to things.
Although he’s under strict orders, his sense of justice and of right and wrong is strong, and he can’t help but protest things that he deems unfair.
This, combined with his partial power due to his resemblance to the king, makes things interesting, and I wanted to see him succeed at being king.
Here’s a sampling of Ha Seon highlights:
E3. I respect Ha Seon’s point of view regarding why he chose not to kill Shin Yi Geom (Choi Kyu Jin); that if he killed him in secret, he would be burying his crime against his sister; that he wants to seek justice in a proper way that would bring his crimes to light.
E3. Ha Seon’s belief that he will almost certainly die in the palace posing as the king, is so poignant. Despite this belief, he’s fighting for justice for the people, and actively protects the Queen. I can’t stop my heart from going out to him.
E4. I like how quick-witted Ha Seon is. Left with only hours till Royal Secretary Lee (Kim Sang Kyung) is supposed to return with the real king, which would mark his own departure from the palace, Ha Seon manages to find a way to save the Queen, just as he’d promised.
E5. Ha Seon besting Ho Geol (Lee Kyu Han), the self-proclaimed perennial winner of bets, is a fun touch. Ha Seon may be new to politics, but he’s got a few streetwise tricks up his own sleeve, which I dig.
E6. Wow. The way Ha Seon rails at Left State Councillor (Kwon Hae Hyo) for his hypocrisy is so passionate and moving.
I can’t help but think he’s got the makings of a good king. And the way he dismisses the Left State Councillor, angrily and curtly, saying that he doesn’t wish to hear anymore, is so full of authority. I would never guess he was not a real king.
E10. Every time Ha Seon gets all regal and righteous, speaking from his heart about protecting the innocent, or helping his people, and Royal Secretary Lee looks on with a bit of stunned surprise in his eyes, it just makes me feel so proud of him.
His fiery words are right from his heart, his empathy born of having lived the commoner life, and it’s just moving to see. And I feel really proud of him, for holding himself well and being bold to speak words of righteousness, even without instruction from Royal Secretary Lee.
I felt quite emotional this episode, with Ha Seon’s fight to allow Ho Geol’s promotion, and to allow the special state exams, both turning out successful purely on the strength of his passion in action.
E12. I love when Minister Shin implores Ha Seon to send troops to Ming, and Ha Seon rises up in righteous anger. His words cut to the heart, and are so moving. As a father of this nation, how could he send his sons to their death? Hear, hear.
Even more, I love that when Minister Shin is all upset at Ha Seon’s decision to decline the Emperor’s request, that Ha Seon basically dares all the ministers to personally go to war for Ming, if it’s so important to them.
The looks on the ministers’ faces are just priceless. Of course they wouldn’t personally go to war. Ha Seon’s cornered them real nice.
I love too, how Ha Seon marches right into the Queen Dowager’s (Jang Young Nam) chambers, and basically blackmails her into accepting So Woon back.
He’s so sharp that way. As much as she threatens to reveal the Queen’s sin, he knows that it will be much worse for her, if he reveals that she had demanded his seal while he was away, and that he’d just happened to be attacked too.
E12. It sucks that Gap Soo and Dal Rae (Yoon Kyung Ho and Shin Soo Yun) are caught in this trap that’s been set for Ha Seon. I’m also concerned for what it means, that Minister Shin knows Ha Seon’s true identity.
But seriously, the way Ha Seon throws those coins in front of Minister Shin and informs him that he’s the one that Minister Shin had once paid two nyang, is pretty badass.
Lee Se Young as the Queen / So Woon
I’d only ever seen Lee Se Young in bubbly roles before, like in The Best Hit and The Gentlemen of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop, so seeing her be so pitch perfect as our quiet, graceful Queen was quite a lovely revelation.
I thought Lee Se Young was wonderful as the Queen. So gentle, sweet and dignified, and yet, at the same time, passionate and earnest, in how she stands up for what she believes in.
Here are few of my favorite highlights featuring our gentle, dignified Queen.
E2. I found it poignant and bittersweet that when Ha Seon was shivering in shock and fear, and wouldn’t even let the serving ladies clean the blood off him, that it was the Queen who was able to do that for him.
This, even though at this point, Ha Seon isn’t actually properly acquainted with her yet. There’s just something very calming about the Queen, which I like very much.
E7. So Woon is really sweet. I love her happy and surprised reaction at how good the humble pork heart and intestine soup tastes, and her sweet reasons for choosing the smallest house if she were to live as a commoner – so that she and Ha Seon would be much closer, and so that they’d have the longest walk to get to it at the end of the alley. How can one not be charmed by her?
E12. I find it fitting, that So Woon would want to mourn Lee Heon for three days, before returning to her chambers.
It feels right and in keeping with her honorable character, that she would want to send him off properly, despite their strained non-relationship.
Kim Sang Kyung as Lee Kyu / Royal Secretary Lee
I found Royal Secretary Lee a rather fascinating character. Painted in varying shades of grey, Royal Secretary Lee sometimes comes across almost like one of the bad guys, because of the reprehensible things he’s willing to do, to further his cause.
Having someone like him be Ha Seon’s mentor in the palace definitely made things more interesting, because I sometimes wasn’t sure whether to trust him.
It’s only in Show’s later episodes that we gain more concrete insight into Royal Secretary Lee’s mind and motivations, which I’ll talk more about in the late-episode spotlights later in this review.
In the meantime, here are just two early-show impressions of Royal Secretary Lee:
E5. This episode reveals that Royal Secretary Lee’s gone undercover for years, literally, waiting for an opportunity to act on his rebel faction’s ideals. That’s dedication.
E7. Royal Secretary Lee is risking his life to protect Ha Seon, by going back to the palace. That speaks to the kind of person he is, as well as how much Ha Seon has proved himself to him as well, I think.
Jang Kwang as Eunuch Cho
OMG, I LUFF Eunuch Cho!! *hearts in eyes*
He’s just the sweetest, most sincere, most adorable, most endearing marshmallow of a character, and I found myself genuinely looking forward to scenes where Eunuch Cho got a bit of the spotlight.
I’ll talk more about Eunuch Cho later, in relation to his friendship with Ha Seon, but for now, here are two little highlights that I remember fondly.
E7. Eunuch Cho’s deep concern for Ha Seon’s safety is really heartwarming. He’s such a sweetheart. He feels everything very deeply, and his sincerity is so genuine.
E11. Eunuch Cho bashing furniture around, pretending that the King was being violent, is so funny. I couldn’t help giggling out loud. Hee.
Yoon Jong Suk as Officer Jang / Moo Young
Even though Officer Jang is more of a secondary character, I really appreciated his presence on my screen.
He’s so quietly stoic and loyal, and as we progress deeper into the show, it becomes clear that there’s a very good heart, a good amount of humanity, and a whole lotta loyalty underneath that reticent surface.
I loved seeing more of Officer Jang’s character peek through his restrained royal guard persona, particularly in relation to Ha Seon.
Here are a few of my personal favorite moments involving Officer Jang.
E8. By this point, we can really see how much loyalty and goodwill Officer Jang has for Ha Seon. Officer Jang even gives Ha Seon the chance to kill him, that Ha Seon might live. That’s really deep.
E9. Moo Young being unable to look away from the poster issue, even though he’s resigned and left the palace, is a strong indication of the kind of man he is, and also, the kind of person Ha Seon is, for having this effect on him.
E10. I’m beginning to really enjoy the private interactions between Moo Young and Ha Seon. Moo Young keeps a stoic expression all the time, but it’s still clear that he has a lot of respect and affection for Ha Seon, and is firmly on Ha Seon’s side.
The way Ha Seon teases him, “You’ve fallen for me too” is so funny.
Jung Hye Young as Woon Shim
Woon Shim is more of a supporting character, but I just wanted to say that I enjoyed her quiet elegance very much.
Even when things might be spiraling out of control, Woon Shim always acted with a great deal of grace and restraint. A very lovely presence onscreen, I felt.
Lee Kyu Han as Ho Geol
I found Ho Geol a nicely amusing character, who often provided our story with touches of lightness and humor.
In particular, I very much enjoyed how smitten Ho Geol becomes, with Ha Seon.
The way Ho Geol looks at Ha Seon with hearts in his eyes is really cute, and the way Ho Geol expresses envy in episode 10, that Moo Young gets to spend all day with Ha Seon, is so funny too.
Ha Seon and Lee Kyu [VAGUE SPOILERS]
I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying the dynamic between Ha Seon and Royal Secretary Lee.
From being a very strained and reluctant partnership where Ha Seon is expected to simply carry out orders made by Royal Secretary Lee, we see this relationship evolve over the course of our story, as Ha Seon finds his footing in the palace.
The ironic thing about Ha Seon’s masquerade as the King, is that even though Royal Secretary Lee lords it over him and is stern with him and gives him orders in private, in front of everyone else, Ha Seon totally has the power to do as he sees fit, because, well, he’s the king.
That irony is quite delicious to watch, especially as Royal Secretary Lee seethes with frustration.
Over time, though, that frustration gives way to grudging acknowledgement, when Ha Seon does something smart &/or kingly without being told, and Royal Secretary Lee can’t help but be impressed.
I personally found this evolution very satisfying to watch, and I cheered on the inside every time Ha Seon managed to do well as king and impress Royal Secretary Lee.
In the end, I was very moved by where Show eventually took this relationship, which I’ll talk about later, in the spotlight on episode 14.
Ha Seon and So Woon
Even though this is basically Ha Seon’s story, I found Ha Seon’s burgeoning loveline with So Woon a delight to watch.
The interactions between this OTP ranged from sweet and cute, to gentle and restrained, to thoughtful and poignant, and I thought it was all quite lovely, all the way through.
One of my personal highlights of watching this show, is seeing how Ha Seon and the Queen fall for each other. Rather than a loveline that’s powered simply by chemical attraction, or suave grand gestures, this loveline has a distinct flavor of grace, restraint and genuine appreciation about it that I enjoyed very much.
The way they are considerate of each other’s positions; the way they realize how much the other person cares; the way they try to protect each other.
As I see them think upon each other, I can see how moved they each are, by the other person. Ha Seon instinctively recoils from anyone who makes the Queen uncomfortable, whether it’s the Queen Dowager, his consort or his chief court lady.
And the Queen can’t help but treasure every token that comes from him, whether it’s an order for her to stop her daily greetings to the Queen Dowager, or a handful of hazelnuts from the palace grounds.
It’s a very sweet blooming of genuine care and affection, and I just really enjoy it a lot.
Here’s a map of my responses to this lovely couple, over the course of their journey.
E3. The scene where Ha Seon helps the Queen to throw wishing stones from the bridge is sweet.
He just sincerely wants her to be happy, and that shows not only in how he volunteers to throw the wishing stones for her, but in his own wish, that he wants to see her smile brightly. Aw.
E4. Ha Seon is really thoughtful and sweet. When So Woon trips over the pebbles but claims nothing’s the matter, he doesn’t press further, even as his eyes notice the pebble near her feet.
But then, as he turns around to keep walking ahead of her, he quietly kicks all the pebbles out of her way so that there will be nothing to obstruct her path. Aw, he’s such a sweetheart.
E4. So Woon letting her guard down, and starting to feel almost freely toward the king, is very sweet to witness. He’s penetrated past the guarded fence she’s put up around herself, and is succeeding in bringing out the life in her.
It’s almost like he’s reviving her from being almost dead, and I do love that idea.
E5. The Queen falling for Ha Seon is sweet to watch. The way she’s been seeking him out and blossoming in his direction, is so pure and innocent.
Considering how she thinks that this is Lee Heon, and how she had refused to receive a kiss from him not so long ago, the fact that she’s making the first move and kissing her husband as he sleeps, is huge.
And that is all Ha Seon’s doing. It was his warmth, kindness and consideration that moved her.
E9. Oh my. What a sweet confession that Ha Seon makes to So Woon, when he receives her gift.
Quoting her very own words when she’d made her confession when she’d believed him to be sleeping, he tells her that he’s in love with her, so much that he feels like his heart would explode, and he wouldn’t even mind it.
The tears glinting in his eyes; the tears sheening in hers. Augh. So very sweet.
E9. Hurhur. Beauty is stuck on your face? Ha Seon’s note to So Woon is so flirty. But how sweet, that he leaves a treasure trail of notes for So Woon to find, each telling her sincerely how he feels about her.
E10. It’s really sweet to see So Woon and Ha Seon becoming close and holding hands, and because of that, it hurts all the more, when she discovers that he isn’t her husband.
Her shock and horror, his fear and dismay, both of them frozen to the spot, reeling from the impact of the moment of realization. So much pathos.
E11. So Woon’s reaction to finding out that she’s been romancing a man that is not her husband, is understandable and fully in character.
Her withdrawal, her decision to leave the palace and remove herself rather than remove him, her choice to visit her father one last time, her belief that her only way forward was death.
It all meshes with the upright woman she is, full of integrity, who would rather die than tamp down a guilty conscience. Ha Seon’s reaction is fully in character too.
His refusal to depose So Woon, his determination to follow after her and convince her to come back, his conviction that she would visit her father at this time. It all speaks of who he is, and also, of how much he understands So Woon.
E11. Ha Seon standing watch from a distance, just gazing at the house in which So Woon was, was moving to watch. So much intensity and conflicted emotion in his eyes, and he gazed with hope and with worry, in the direction of his Queen.
And the way he extended the visit to an overnight one, even when Moo Young reported that he would fetch the Queen in an hour, because it’d been a long while since she’d seen her father.
He’s very understanding and considerate of her, and he knows that this is something very important to her, and wants to honor that.
E11. Ha Seon’s instinct to protect her is so keen; in that split second, seeing that arrows were being shot their way, Ha Seon’s reflex is to shield her with his own body. It speaks so deeply of how much he cares for her. He literally treasures her life above his own.
E12. I find So Woon’s turnaround quite nicely done. I find it believable that she would have been determined to die for her sin, and that the one thing that could have jolted her out of her mindset, would be seeing Ha Seon in mortal danger.
She truly does love him, which is why she feels the need to pay for her sin, but facing the very real possibility of losing him, right before her eyes, would be the one thing that could persuade her to rethink her decision.
E12. I found it moving to witness Ha Seon and So Woon retracing their steps back to each other, making their acquaintance anew, telling each other their names.
Their eyes and hearts are so full, as they now make a new promise to love each other, this time fully sharing in Ha Seon’s secret.
E14. I like how the relationship between Ha Seon and So Woon is developing. I like that with Ha Seon’s understanding, So Woon no longer expresses guilt for not being able to bear him a child, and I like that she doesn’t speak of leaving him in spite of this either.
I like that he takes her to the beach, to see the ocean, and then proceeds to make plans to see more stuff with her, with each passing season. I like how he is so matter-of-fact about it; to him, she’s not someone who ought to be confined to the palace – she deserves to see the world.
I love that. They are building this relationship as equals, agreeing to share every joy and every pain. When she perceives that the deposition of the Queen Dowager might endanger Ha Seon, she makes the first move to seek out the Queen Dowager.
And I love that Ha Seon asks So Woon to help him with reading the reports, a task that Eunuch Cho had been helping him with. To him, she’s not someone that belongs in the inner court and therefore has no business reading court reports.
To him, she’s someone who belongs by his side, and I love that he’s willing to learn, and I love that she’s willing to coach and encourage him. It’s lovely. <3
Ha Seon and Eunuch Cho
Very quickly into my watch, I became enamored with the growing bond between the adorable Eunuch Cho and our earnest clown-king Ha Seon.
The gentle growing affection between them is the cutest thing ever, and I loved that in the austere environment of the palace, these two found ways to enjoy each other’s company – and the occasional mild joke.
I never could get enough of this pair of friends, and I’d love a spin-off series focusing on their relationship alone. <3
Here are some of my favorite moments between these two.
E3. Eunuch Cho really doesn’t want Ha Seon to die and advises him to opt out of the hunt. That comes from a personal place, for sure. And that scene where they share the king’s night snack is really endearing.
That shared snack, along with a bit of honest sharing, and a bit of gentle ribbing, is just the thing to water this blossoming bromance.
E8. Eunuch Cho is so tearful and grateful, to see that Ha Seon is alive. It’s really moving to behold.
E9. This episode, the way Eunuch Cho snacks from the same bowl as Ha Seon while they work, is so endearing. He would’ve never shared a similar moment with Lee Heon.
And the way Eunuch Cho assures Ha Seon that his knees have never failed him, in predicting the weather, is simply adorable.
E12. The whole thing with the dried persimmons is so cute. Eunuch Cho presenting the case, practically drooling over the persimmons, and then Ha Seon taking a bite, declaring it delicious, then taking another, before asking Eunuch Cho to gift the rest to the Queen.
Eunuch Cho looks crushed and gives Ha Seon a reproachful look – which is when Ha Seon calls him back and gives him the other persimmon that he’d taken.
Aw. He’d taken that for Eunuch Cho to begin with, and Eunuch Cho beams like the sun, while sinking his teeth into the treat. How cute! <3
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
There wasn’t a lot that I didn’t like in this show, but here’s the very short list, for the record:
1. [MINOR SPOILER]
In episode 2, Royal Secretary Lee lets Ha Seon take on the role of king and gives him instructions to simply approve any time permission is asked of him, and then takes him to task for following exactly those instructions?
And only tells him after the fact, that he needs to be wary of the Left State Councillor? Information that would’ve been useful before they let him act as king, no? I thought this was really quite dumb.
2. Generally speaking, the politicking and poisoning is pretty old hat for court intrigue, and can be quite boring, to be honest. Whenever Show leaned heavier into the politics, things tended to feel slower and less interesting.
The only reason I continued to pay attention to it was because I wanted to know how this all affected Ha Seon. It was Ha Seon’s earnest sincerity and So Woon’s pure heart that kept me interested in the goings-on.
I didn’t want them to get hurt, and that kept me going, when I found the politics too dull for my taste.
EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS [SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
The episode 8 beach scene
Yeo Jin Goo is amazing. Lee Heon’s death scene is so brilliantly delivered. There’s so much that he needed to convey:
Lee Heon suffering the shakes from his addiction, the shock of realizing he’s been poisoned and is dying, the denial and the determination to live, the pain and agony as he coughs up blood, the strength seeping out of his body, until he’s breathless, unblinking and still.
The whole scene gave me shivers.
The shivers also are because of the unusually gentle and caring way death is administered. It’s almost as if Lee Heon had asked to die, and Royal Secretary Lee was carrying out the deed, with love and respect.
It’s so dissonant with the betrayal that actually happened. Lee Heon had been invited by the person he trusted most in the world, to visit his favorite beach, where he was promised a birthday toast, which turned into death by poison.
What a deception, taking Lee Heon from a happy emotional high, to.. well, pain and death. It’s awful.
I can understand why Royal Secretary Lee felt it was necessary to do this, in the sense that Lee Heon was becoming more and more erratic and dangerous.
His determination to overturn sound court orders just to assert himself had lasting consequences, and his threats to kill people were very impulsive and very real.
I can see how Royal Secretary Lee was convinced that the safest thing to do would be to eliminate Lee Heon. But.. how awful, still.
The final scene, from the poisoning, to Lee Heon’s death, to Royal Secretary Lee’s tearful final bow to the king that he’d sworn allegiance to, is brilliantly filmed. It’s so.. haunting, as the camera pans away to show that final, silent bow.
This would’ve been a great final scene to the entire series, but it’s still a very impactful final scene to Show’s first act.
Episode 13: So much excellent dramatic tension
This was a great episode. Lots of excellent dramatic tension all the way through, while drawing on different sources for that dramatic tension, so that it feels like we get a good sampling of the different threads in our story. Really well done.
First, I love the twist on how Ha Seon turns the tables on Minister Shin.
After kneeling as instructed, and agreeing to Minister Shin’s demand that Ha Seon call for an interrogation, naming Royal Secretary Lee as the criminal, I really wasn’t sure how Ha Seon was going to get the upper hand in the situation.
But, right in front of everyone, Ha Seon calls Minister Shin as the criminal instead, and when Minister Shin starts shouting that the king is really a clown, it just looks like Minister Shin is committing treason by insulting the king.
And by using language and phrasing that he’s always used in performances in the past, Ha Seon makes sure that Dal Rae recognizes that he’s her brother, and she immediately knows what to say, to corroborate with him.
It’s so ballsy and brilliant, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Ha Seon. And he came up with all of this on his own, in the moment, when stuck between a rock and a hard place. Wow.
Then, Ha Seon deals with the case between Gap Soo and Shim Yi Kyung, and manages to be just, and even somewhat merciful, even while getting his revenge.
He manages to punish Gap Soo in a merciful way that would put Gap Soo in a safe place, and then teach Shim Yi Kyung a major lesson without actually taking his life. And, he does this while establishing a new law that will protect the common folk in the future as well.
That’s some good king-ing, I say.
Afterwards, the reunions between Ha Seon and Gap Soo, and then with Dal Rae are so full of emotion. Gap Soo, so uncertain, and then, so tearfully happy and proud, to know that the king is indeed Ha Seon.
And then Dal Rae, so worried and uncertain, eager to leave until she realizes her brother cannot come with her. And finally, there’s Ha Seon, so glad to see his kin, so relieved that he is able to send them so a safe place, yet so torn, because he doesn’t know if he will ever see them again.
The final goodbye is truly heart-tugging, with Gap Soo and Dal Rae both being strong and looking happy for Ha Seon’s sake, while Ha Seon looks on, fighting back tears, at what might be his last glimpse of two of the most important people to him in the world. Augh.
Just when I feel like it’s time for a narrative breather, So Woon discovers that the flower tea that she’s been prescribed is actually working to make her infertile.
So Woon’s heartbreak; Ha Seon’s concern, followed by his fury, as he tracks down and confronts the culprit: the Queen Dowager. The confrontation between Ha Seon and the Queen Dowager is full of tangible tension; she glibly pushes for So Woon to be deposed; he, barely containing his wrath, shoots back that he will depose the Queen Dowager first.
It feels almost like a battle of swords, not wits.
And right when I think we are out of narrative bullets this episode, Show deals out one more. The joy and relief of So Woon’s dad being reinstated is short-lived. Royal Secretary Lee hurries to escort him home, only to find him stabbed to death. Oh my.
Episode 14: A fitting lead-up to the finale
Even though I’d heard whispers that many viewers were upset with this episode, I actually really liked episode 14. Narratively, I felt this was a very good episode, and a fitting lead-in to prepare for Show’s finale.
I think the trick is to look at this entire show from a more macro perspective. Although I felt the loss of Lee Heon after episode 8, it does make narrative sense to me, that we see the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one, in a manner of speaking.
I see the first 8 episodes as Act I, where we see Lee Heon and Ha Seon face to face, and sometimes even head to head. The dramatic tension between them is of the crackling variety, and it was great while it lasted.
But in order for Ha Seon to fully settle into being king, we need to see how he manages, once Lee Heon is fully out of the picture, and Lee Heon can only be fully out of the picture after his death.
In Act II, the focus is all about Ha Seon making the transition from fake king to real king, and in order for that to happen – in order for him to no longer be someone else’s puppet – all the puppet strings need to be cut.
Royal Secretary Lee needs to exit the stage, so that Ha Seon no longer has someone telling him what to do, even if he wanted it. He needs to rise to the occasion and make the decisions now, and only by doing so – and surviving – can he truly be king.
Given that this is Show’s trajectory, I actually really like how writer-nim handles these narrative pieces. Lee Heon’s exit in episode 8 was hauntingly surreal, and now in episode 14, the lead-up to Royal Secretary Lee’s exit is handled with a lot of heart.
The confrontation between Ha Seon and Royal Secretary Lee, where Ha Seon asks about, and Royal Secretary Lee admits to the murder of Lee Heon.
This scene is just really beautifully played. Royal Secretary Lee, tears starting to form in his eyes in a moment of reckoning, extending a resignation letter, prepares to pay for his sins, and Ha Seon, tears forming in his own eyes, tearing up said resignation letter, extends grace, empathy and acceptance.
Royal Secretary Lee is so stunned and so moved, that with tears in his eyes, he thanks Ha Seon, apologizes for not trusting him fully before, and pledging to fully trust and serve Ha Seon thence forward, bows low to the floor, to show his gratitude and respect.
In response, Ha Seon bows low to the floor as well, reciprocating fully Royal Secretary Lee’s gratitude and respect. It’s a beautiful moment of mutual regard, and my heart just swelled to witness it. This was such an important scene, truly.
It shows us the moment when Royal Secretary Lee changes his perception of Ha Seon. It’s from this moment onwards, that he truly sees and treats Ha Seon as king, and it’s momentous and important in every way.
We also finally get concrete acknowledgement from Royal Secretary Lee to Woon Shim, of his feelings for her.
All this time, she’s been silently and graciously supporting him without complaint. She’s been wearing her heart on her sleeve, and does not deny her feelings for him. But he’s the one who’s appeared to be ambivalent, never admitting to having any sort of feelings for her – until this episode.
I feel it’s a lovely scene, where he finally asks Woon Shim if she would go to the border with him, if he asked.
For Woon Shim, who had always longed to hear words from him indicating that he feels for her the way she feels for him, but who had never allowed herself to hope, this is enough to bring her to overwhelmed tears.
Episode 15: a solid penultimate episode
I found this to be a very solid penultimate episode. Yes, it was an episode dedicated to putting things in place for the finale, but it was well done.
Most notably, we see Royal Secretary Lee’s end, something that I could guess was coming, by virtue of how Ha Seon’s puppet strings need to be cut in order for him to stand on his own feet as king. And if we were to have Royal Secretary Lee bow out, this was a fitting, satisfactory exit.
Not only does he get to speak with Ha Seon one last time, indicating in code how he would like Ha Seon to proceed with the matter of the rebellion, and reminding him of what he hopes Ha Seon will do for the nation and his people, but he also manages to take out traitor Jinpyeong (Lee Moo Saeng) with him.
More than the exact mechanics of Royal Secretary Lee’s death, it’s the burgeoning of deep, heartfelt emotion that hits me most.
Ha Seon, wholeheartedly determined to save Royal Secretary Lee, and Royal Secretary Lee, moved to tears by his king’s steadfastness and refusal to use Royal Secretary Lee’s invitation to sacrifice him for the greater good.
I could feel that Royal Secretary Lee’s final move, triggering his own death by taking a sword to Jinpyeong, was one prompted not only by his allegiance to his nation, but also, by his devotion to Ha Seon.
For a man who’s always been driven by his loyalty to his nation over his loyalty to any one person, this is huge.
Another moment worthy of mention, is Ha Seon’s confrontation with the deposed Queen Dowager. I love that he doesn’t cower before her big words, but stands so firm and speaks with so much conviction, on a completely different plane than the Queen Dowager.
While she speaks of social status and royal blood, he speaks of heart and behavior, and effectively lifts himself above her level, as he does so.
It’s telling, that the deposed Queen Dowager doesn’t act on her threats to him, and instead retreats to her lackeys to put pressure on them instead.
Also, I kind of knew that Ha Seon wouldn’t get the letter back, if only because it would be too easy, and Show would likely be looking to create more dramatic tension.
But, it’s significant that Seon Hwa Dang (Seo Yoon Ah) wanted to give the letter to Ha Seon instead of her uncle, and that this was purely because of the way he treated her.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
I came into this finale with a distinct sense of wistfulness; I hafta admit, I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this show and its characters. Now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I must say, what a stirring ending.
But for a minor time-skip related quibble which I’ll talk about later, I was solidly satisfied with the finale that Show delivered.
Yes, it was definitely very bittersweet in spots, but our plot points this hour mostly felt organic and true to the story that Show’s been working to tell, and I appreciated that a lot.
Let me attempt to tackle at least the various major angles.
Royal Secretary Lee literally dies for Ha Seon. That is the ultimate show of loyalty and allegiance. If there was any doubt that he truly regarded Ha Seon as his king, that is erased by his sacrifice.
Show’s treatment of Royal Secretary Lee’s death works kind of like an echo of the mutual bow between him and Ha Seon in episode 15.
Royal Secretary Lee demonstrates his loyalty and allegiance by giving up his life, and Ha Seon demonstrates his, by forgoing the chance to humiliate the deposed Queen Dowager and kill Jinpyeong and Minister Shin, in order to give Royal Secretary Lee a proper sendoff.
I found this all quite beautiful, even in its sadness.
Later, as Ha Seon moves to deal with Minister Shin, I got chills, a little bit, when the doors close behind Minister Shin, and he’s left to face Ha Seon on his own. Ha Seon will have none of Minister Shin’s grovel-bargaining, and slices him down without a flicker of hesitation.
It’s significant to me that when Ha Seon kills Minister Shin, it is purely for his part in killing Royal Secretary Lee. There is no mention of Ha Seon’s personal grudge regarding his sister. I found this quite moving, as we already know how much Dal Rae means to Ha Seon.
This tells me that right here, right now, Ha Seon really is acting as king.
Jinpyeong is left to bleed out and die alone, while the Queen Dowager is deposed and ordered to drink poison, which she does, while basically promising that her death will be a curse on Ha Seon’s reputation.
With the baddies dutifully dealt with, Ha Seon promises So Woon that he will never become an animal who abuses his power for personal gain, and So Woon assures him that she will always be there for him.
Afterwards, we see a montage of Ha Seon’s reign, with a highlight reel of Ha Seon being a wise king who rules for the good of his people. It’s so gratifying to see that Ha Seon, without a drop of royal blood running through his veins, is such a wise and respected king.
I have to admit I was a little surprised at Ha Seon’s decision to abdicate the throne, but I appreciate his perspective, that he never intended to be king forever, and that he also never intended to pass the throne to his own blood.
So Woon supports his decision, and together, they make plans to leave the palace; she will go ahead of him after he relieves her of her position as Queen, and he will follow, once the abdication is complete.
I was on board with all of this, even though it meant a heart-tugging goodbye between Ha Seon and Eunuch Cho. I so love that Eunuch Cho actually pleads to be given permission to leave with Ha Seon.
AW. How sweet is that, seriously? The love is real between these two, and I was gutted that they were parted. Sob.
I also really loved that Officer Jang ran after Ha Seon, essentially asking him, “Did you think I’d really let you leave without me?”
AW. How sweetly moving, that Officer Jang is demonstrating his allegiance to Ha Seon in such a big way. As a royal guard, his allegiance is to the throne, and it’s so significant, that in his eyes, Ha Seon is still his king, even though Ha Seon is leaving the palace.
And then, stuff happened that I just.. didn’t like so much.
I can understand that the ex-Queen Dowager’s followers would seize the chance to attack Ha Seon, but really, why would anyone allow Ha Seon to leave the palace all on his own? And why did Officer Jang have to die while fighting off the attackers?
I know he said his dream was to die in the line of duty while protecting the king, but seriously, did Show really have to kill him off? Sob. Bawl. Blubber.
Ha Seon gets felled by two arrows, AND THEN DISAPPEARS FOR TWO YEARS. Why, Show? I just don’t get that.
I mean, yes, Ha Seon and So Woon eventually reunite and walk off into the sunset together, but was this really necessary?
I get that writer-nim wanted Ha Seon to disappear within the pages of history, and that’s why we are told that the king deposed the queen, then abdicated, then suddenly passed away.
But we’re never told what happened in the two years, and why Ha Seon took so long finding his way back to So Woon (some netizen remarked that Ha Seon went and completed his Military Service, which, snerk).
Writer-nim is very, very vague about this, and all Ha Seon says is that he wanted to run like the wind, but his gait was too slow. Uh. What is that supposed to even mean?
Still. I am relieved that Ha Seon is alive, and that he and So Woon are finally reunited, and will now be able to set up that little house at the end of the alley, and take many long walks together, for a long time to come.
And our clown, who became king, can now live in the better Joseon that he used his reign to build. I do like that thought very much.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Solid and satisfying with the right lens, but really, worth it for Yeo Jin Goo’s phenomenal performance alone.
FINAL GRADE: A
After loving The Red Sleeve, I decided to try another historical drama that KFG had A-rated. Using the suggested viewing lens, it was easy to enjoy both acts. Yeo Jin Goo’s performance was amazing! Agree with all points of your analysis–thanks for sharing.
I just want to give a round of applause to the author of this post. Such dedication wow. Please keep up the great work!
Yeo Jin Goo was definitely amazing and very believable at making you see two complete distinct people who just shared the same face. He was super impressive. I was also impressed with the queen and her decision to stand by him. I could already feel in the very beginning that he would need to trust her. So at the end I think his missing two years made sense to think he had a bad concussion or was in a coma and so that’s what took so long. This is what I gathered based on what he alluded. I’m not sure who else saw it that way for the ending.
While I watched TCC for the first time, I visited this page only to check your review on Yeo Jin Goo’s character delivery (missing out the spoilers) in this series. And I was more than thrilled that you find YJG phenomenally amazing! On my second visit was to check your full review and what was your thought about the ending of the series but you were also unsure of the meaning of TCCs ending. Yesterday, I watched the ending part again and was able to get this:
Ha Seon said when asked by So Woon if seeing him was a part of her dream, “It’s not a dream. To come to you, I walked endlessly IN A DREAM. To see you, I DREAMT a DREAM I didn’t want to wake from. When I finally awoke, so much time has passed.” – which I think that this happened while he was in a coma and it took him a very long time to recover from his wounds.
“I wanted to run like the wind. I guess my gait was too slow.” – the writer wants us to think that Ha Seon’s wounds could have given him major health problems which could have affected his recovery and eventually slowed him to find So Woon.
I hope this helps.
Another awesome review (that I somehow missed). While I really liked Masquerade, the movie this is based off, the drama is actually better! I felt the movie just left me feeling like “What? That’s it?”
Kfangurl expressed everything so well, especially about Yeo Jin-Goo’s performance. Although I’m not surprised when you add up his years of experience. Such a cutie.
Aw! Thanks for coming back to this review, even though you’d missed it before, beez! I have to agree that I enjoyed the drama more than the movie as well (though my memory is hazy over the details of the movie). I just found the drama much more interesting and satisfying to watch, overall. I guess the greater amount of screen time enabled them to tell a more interesting story?
I must say, you have done a very good job at your review of this drama. Very excellent! Kudos for you😁.
We agree on almost everything. My highlight of the show was the relationship between Royal Secretary Lee and Ha Seon. It was simply amazing…. *Smileslovingly* like you, there were times I didn’t know if i should trust the Secretary or not but then again, that was part of the show’s tricks I think, to keep us guessing as to what would happen next. I totally appreciated the way their relationship unfolded on unto the point of mutual respect and sincere affection for each other, more also on Secretary Lee’s side. That scene in ep 14 when he bowed down and was willing on his own accord to accept Ha Seon as HIS king and from hence forth to serve him deligently was something that warmed my heart very much. I had looked forward to it from the moment Ha Seon came onto the scene as king. And when Ha Seon reciprocated the gesture, I just tightened my seatbelt and got ready because then, I couldn’t wait for the two of them to take on the world, or specifically, the palace and kingdom as one solid phenomenal pair! To me, that was a very meaningful scene. And am grateful to the writer for it.
Let me stop here, cause there’s just so much I would like to say, but may not finish now😁 Once again, nice review you have there 👏👏👏👏
That was my favorite scene, too! I got goosebumps all over when that happened! And everybody’s shocked expression when Secretary Lee addressed Ha Seon with full formality on one of their in-the-gang meeting …. it’s a mix between laughter and tears, really…..
Hihihihi ‘in-the-gang meeting’ I like😁
Hihihihi ‘in-the-gang meeting’ I like😁
Hi there Jermena! Thanks for enjoying the review! <3 And hi5, that we feel so similarly about this show. 🙂 I agree, the relationship between Royal Secretary Lee and Ha Seon was a big highlight of the show, and so meaningfully handled, especially in the later stretch where their relationship dynamics truly shifted. <3
🖐️ hi5 to you….ooo 😍
This was a truly wonderful drama! Yeo Jin Goo was at his best and phenomenal with his dual characters. I enjoyed the romance as well as the palace intrigue. The story was solid and executed so nicely. The Crowned Clown was just so well done overall. I thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂
I’m glad you loved this one too, Kay! 😀 Yeo Jin Goo really is so fantastic in this. I mean, he’s always excellent, but this role really showcased his talent in a new way. He blew my mind, so much. ❤ He deserves all of the accolades and more!
Having seen Masquerade with the inimitable Lee Byung-Hun (in one of his finest roles, imo) previous to watching The Crowned Clown, it does not necessarily surprise me that some folks might have been put off here and there with this show. The film is terse, the relationship between the clown and queen far more muted; there is a willingness to accept a somewhat realistic fate of the clown, given (spoiler alert) the King is not killed off and perforce returns to the And all of those things make the film in some ways quite attractive by contrast.
The serial drama (albeit in our busy world we are going to be seeing shorter series with shorter episodes as few people have the time to binge) has for several years had this single advantage–the time to develop characters. It was hard for me to imagine someone doing a better Job than Lee Byung-Hun, a very good actor playing a very good role. But Yeo Jin Goo, probably in part because he is younger and naturally communicates an innocence, does not so much outshine Lee as make the role entirely his own. Sometimes plot complications and reversals in serial dramas work; however, sometimes they do not. The same director went on and on and on with The Money Flower, which certainly could have been pruned down several episodes, and as you note some of the political intrigue, without which there would be no plot at all, nor Ha Seon’s heroic quality, diminishes some of the emotional content. And of course it is the emotional content that keeps one engaged.
But the delights of the genre, the costumes and settings, not to mention the folkloric quality of the story, are just wonderful.
You’re so right, BE, this show is its own creature, even though it shares the same premise as Masquerade, and Yeo Jin Goo’s interpretation of the dual roles is therefore also very different from Lee Byung Hun’s. I love that this drama didn’t try to just be a copy of the movie, but decided to be its own thing. It makes the watch experience so fresh, even for someone who’s seen the movie. 🙂
OMG!! While reading your review, I was like, “Yeah! Totally! I thought so too! I felt that too!” I even posted it in my IG story and mention Yeo Jin Goo’s (I tagged him, btw😌) superb performance! Every episode was heartstopping! And really. All your reactions and thoughts are on point. I literally agree on every sentences you made. 😂
Thank you for this excellent and on point review. Btw, I always find and read your reviews on K-dramas I have watched. And I’m really happy we somehow share the genre we like in K-dramas. Lol. Thank you! Please continue to write your reviews as sometimes I depend on your reviews if one k-drama is worth watching or not. 😝 Lots of love! ❤
Aw, thanks for enjoying the review (and the rest of the blog too!), and I’m glad we feel so similarly about this one! <3 Yeo Jin Goo really is amazing in this; even though I already thought he was an excellent actor, I was still very much blown away. So good. 😍
I was on a break from dramaland for a couple of weeks, and now I am getting back! It seems like 2019 is a great year for sageuks. It has already given us The Crowned Clown and Kingdom. I have Haechi on my list, but my streaming service membership does not include it yet. I am seriously thinking about membership upgrade…Then there is Nokdu Flower, Different dreams, and couple of other promising sageuks coming soon.
The Crowned Clown did a great job of developing the relationships of Ha Seon and those around him. The movie did the same thing, but not in much detail, so the show clearly has an advantage over the movie. The dynamic between Ha Seon and Secretary Lee was the highlight of the show. The scene in Episode 14 where they bow to each other was, in my opinion, the most memorable and powerful scene in the show. I also loved the death scene of the real king.
I think in the movie the royal guard did die for the fake king, but his death felt more organic to the story of the movie. The show had so many memorable moments, so I am willing to forgive it for its handling of Officer Jang in the end…
Watching Circle was like piecing together a giant puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. Plus, I like the topic of the slippery morality of social engineering. Another great drama with sci-fi overtones is Duel. It focuses more on bioethics rather than social engineering. I loved both dramas.
Welcome back to dramaland, Snow Flower! <3 I'm glad to see you back! 🙂 Yes, 2019 does seem to be a year for period themed shows. I'm pretty sure Haechi isn't my kind of show, but I've got my eye on Nokdu Flower and Different Dreams. 🙂
I'm so glad you loved Crowned Clown – I thought it was very well done too. And indeed, the relationship between Ha Seon and Sec Lee really was a highlight. The mutual bow literally brought tears to my eyes, it was so touching and it felt so.. deep. <3
Yes, watching Circle does feel like piecing together a big puzzle. I get more questions the more I watch, and so far, I'm having a pretty solid time of it. I'm just crossing my fingers that all the questions I currently have will be answered in a satisfying manner in the end. I haven't watched Duel, but it does sound different from the average kdrama. 🙂
Thank you for the excellent review! I agree with every word in it. Sageuks are my favorite kdrama genre, and this one had it all: high stakes romance, political intrigue, likeable (if flawed) main characters, scary villains. Have you seen Masquerade, the 2012 movie this show is (sort of) a remake? I enjoyed both. I liked that the show did not follow the movie, and yet created an equally compelling story.
Besides the acting in the show (excellent and memorable), I also enjoyed many of the director’s choices. The show featured the king’s robe (without anyone wearing it) pretty much in every episode. This made me think about what it is to be a king and who is worthy to be a king.
I have some minor problems with the ending (Officer Jang, why did he have to die?), but overall the whole show was very well written and satisfying.
I see that you are watching Circle, another show with excellent acting performance by YJG. I found it very well written and thought provoking.
And now I am off to finish SKY Castle!
Hi Snow Flower! Great to see ya! 😀 Thanks for enjoying this review, I’m so glad you liked it! I do remember your favorite genre is sageuk, so I hoped that you liked this one. 🙂
I did watch Masquerade some years back, and while the details are hazy in my memory, I do know enough that this drama is a very different take on the premise. I liked the movie quite well, but I think I prefer this drama.. I think the drama grabbed my heart more. <3 That's a great point about the king's robe. I did notice that the camera would often pan over the king's robe, and we see that even in the opening scene, where Jang Hyuk cameos as the dying king. Like you, I had issues with the ending, and wished Show had a stronger ending to give us. And yes, Officer Jang's death felt weirdly shoe-horned in, like, Oh, we need to kill him off to fulfill his dream of dying for the king. Let's just.. put that here. 🤪
Overall, though this was a show I enjoyed quite thoroughly, and I'm glad for it. Also, yes, I'm watching Circle now – it's so twisty! I never know where Show will take me next, and I'm nicely engaged so far. I'm about halfway through, and curious to see where Show ends up! 🙂 Enjoy your watch of the rest of SKY Castle! <3
I skipped most of your review to get your grade. I actually ended up skipping this drama because I saw the movie it is based on several years ago, and I wasn’t really in the mood to re-visit the premise. Also, Haechi started with Jung Il Woo and one historical at a time works better for me. At some point when k-dramaland doesn’t put out a historical I’m interested in, I’ll give this one a go.
I did really enjoy Crowned Clown, though it didn’t work for everyone. I would love if you’d give this a go.. although I will say, it’d be probably helpful to keep your analytical lens slightly blurry, and also, to think of the show as having 2 acts. That helped me a lot, and I ended up loving this one. 🙂
First off, excellent review. Well thought out and written. Your comments on YJG summed up why he is such an outstanding talent. I thought the show’s directing, editing, cinematography, acting was top notch.
I was one of the ones who was dissatisfied and let down by the second half. When ep 8 finished, I was shocked, I was sad we’d see no more of Lee Heon, but I was so impressed with a show for taking that bold step. It was brilliant. I was excited to see where we’d go next. But then by the end I was just happy it was over.
I was able to see the story on the macro level. I saw what the writer was trying to do, and the story they wanted to tell. I just didn’t find the story believable or compelling. Mostly because Ha Seon was a one note character. YJG even seemed bored playing him. He was without real flaw, and did not really grow throughout the show. From the first moment he was completely noble and completely unwilling to sacrifice his own sense of what was right. In the real world, being noble comes with a heavy price. Yet in the end, everything worked out just fine for him. Every time he stubbornly stuck to his own convictions on what was right and moral, it seemed like there would be consequences, yet every time he somehow managed to turn things around and even end up better than when he started. He thwarted all the bad dudes, set the country straight, and even got the girl.
This is especially jarring when you compare him to his foil, Lee Heon. Lee Heon started out, from what we can tell, very much like Ha Seon, and yet the weight of the crown and the danger of the court lead him down a very dark path. Ha Seon was put in the same environment and became a great king. Why? We’re not really shown why, except that Ha Seon for some reason made all the right choices cause he was a really good guy. He never actually got tested. He never had to make a choice between his own sense of morals and what would be best for the country. What would he do if him putting his desire for the Queen over the country had resulted in her death? Or his family’s death? What would happen if he had to let his sister’s rapist go unpunished to keep the political peace? What if he disagreed with Minister Lee and was forced to break with him (or even imprison or kill him?) . Those are the types of moral quandaries those in power at that time faced constantly, and yet he gets to be viewed as a real king without ever really earning it.
I also didn’t like how other characters devolved in the end. The strong, independent Queen became defined only by her love and relationship to Ha Seon. The wonderfully grey Minister Lee became sloppy and sentimental in the end, and died just so he could finish his tragic character arc.
So it wasn’t just a matter of not being able to see this show as two parts, or not understanding it on a macro level, it was that the character writing was seriously lacking, and the execution of that story did not ring true or honest because of that.
Different strokes for different folks, of course. I know many who felt like you and enjoyed it from start to finish. And what you laid out in your review makes sense in that perspective. But those of us who didn’t like it had actual, justified reasons. It wasn’t just because we were being unnecessarily negative or not able to see the show for what it truly was.
Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective and experience of The Crowned Clown, jc1124. I’m sorry this show didn’t work for you, but like you said, different strokes for different folks.. Your comment did make me think a little bit, in terms of trying to figure out why the show worked for me when it made you and others so upset. This is what I’ve got so far.
I guess i was willing to believe that good would prevail, somehow. That’s Show’s idealistic streak, perhaps, and it does resonate with me because that’s what I would like to believe, even in these dark times in which we live. I also like to believe that a person like Minister Lee, while grey in so many ways, had a strong emotional drive behind all that he did, and I wanted to believe that he only did the traitorous things that he did because he truly had his country’s best interests at heart, and that when he looked at Ha Seon, he finally saw the kind of king that he could release full control of the nation’s destiny to. I suppose I also didn’t think too hard about the questions you raised, about why Lee Heon couldn’t have achieved the same good result, despite not having been a bad person to begin with. Perhaps I just accepted that Lee Heon was too far gone to be saved from himself (though it was still treason for Minister Lee to have killed him), and that Ha Seon’s fresh slate was a chance for some kind of reset for the nation.. 🤔
“This is especially jarring when you compare him to his foil, Lee Heon. Lee Heon started out, from what we can tell, very much like Ha Seon, and yet the weight of the crown and the danger of the court lead him down a very dark path. Ha Seon was put in the same environment and became a great king. Why? We’re not really shown why, except that Ha Seon for some reason made all the right choices cause he was a really good guy.”
Interesting point, but I think that the show did show us why Ha Seon became a great king and Lee Heon didn’t. I think that these two characters actually started out from very different places, even though they may have had some things in common. Ha Seon, although poor, was raised among people that he loved and who loved him, he was not raised in constant fear for his life, he was not raised by a father that seemed to hate and fear him, and he has the point of view of someone who is not born into power and privilege.
Lee Heon lived in terror of losing his life (which is understandable because he did face serious threats) but they led him to do incredibly dark things, and focus only on himself. Ha Seon was very fearful at first but ultimately he was willing to sacrifice everything because there were things that he believed were more important than his own life, like his sister and the Queen. And even in in the midst of everything that was happening to him he cared about people in general, not just the ones that he knew, and was willing to act to make their lives better.
There are people who make better choices because they’re good people. Tragically, it doesn’t always work out, but sometimes it does. Ha Seon chose to enter the palace to get justice for his sister, he chose to spare the queen’s father, he chose to be guided by Minister Lee and to help him enact policies that would benefit the people, he chose all of these things knowing it would probably cost him his life but he did it anyway, which led him to being a better king.
Thanks for sharing, Pallas, I really like your take on this! 😀
Unfortunately this is the first drama I decided to drop once I discovered that historical fiction wasn’t really my thing. I just recently started to watch sageuk dramas and till now finished only two of them “Queen for seven days” and “Rebel thief:who stole the people” both whom I really enjoyed. Another thing I noticed is that “The Crowned clown” is visually beautifully the way the scenes are shot for example feels like it came from a movie but when it comes to its storytelling its rather lackluster.
Anyways, story & acting is much important to me than showing me a beautiful scenery. Yeo Jin Goo was good when he played Lee Heon but when he played the clown he was…. I don’t know if bland is the right word I’m looking for but I guess his character did little for me. Which is why I stopped watching this drama till episode 5 when I knew I didn’t want to watch it anymore, though I read the recaps from Dramabeans site in case I made a mistake for doing so.
I’m still on the fence on giving it another try maybe one day though I doubt it will ever be one my favorites or even will remember it fondly. This is of course is only my opinion.
Still I’m glad that you enjoyed it and the other people out there who maybe saw something in this drama that I didn’t see 🙂
O.O I LUUURVED 7DQ and Rebel! Especially Rebel! Those two top my chart of Best 20-30 episode Sageuks.
It’s okay. I too felt like Crowned Clown could’ve performed a LOT better.
But still in the end, I got Yeo Jin-gu and Lee Se-young in Dragon robes, which is a treat by itself! Especially the flower-bud-like Lee Se-young😍😍😍😍.
Rebel truly was fantastic especially the music the costumes and yes even the characters.
I’m still to this day mesmerized by Honey Lee portrayal of the royal concubine Nok Su. Thanks to Honey Lee, I wanted to know more about Nok Su and her relationship with the king. And casting Kim Ji-suk as King Yeonsan was definitively a good choice. Oftentimes King Yeonsan is portrayed as a mad king at the start of the movies.
So, it was refreshing for me to see that Yeonsan in Rebel was more than just a tyrant king, and the actor Ji-suk managed to convey the king’s inner pain and madness in such a natural way that I was beginning to worry for his mental state. I hope Kim Ji-suk is doing well.
Yes to the Rebel instrumentals, all the Ahn Ye-eun songs, all the traditional songs by Honey Lee, and the Palace Courtesan hanboks.😍😍😍😍
I’m mesmerized to this day by Chae Soo-bin’s performance as Ga-ryung, probably to the same level I was charmed by Honey Lee’s Nok-su. The way such a young and inexperienced-in-sageuk actress held up JUST fine against a veteran degree holder on traditional Korean arts? WOW.
Oh yes Kim Ji suk was wonderful as Yeonsan and I enjoyed him (and his deeeep, honey voice!) MUCH more than 7DQ’s Yeonsan who came off as a bit too vulgar to me.
Aw, bummer that TCC didn’t work out for you, Verity Rose. :/ But it’s true that not every drama is for everyone, so maybe this one just wasn’t for you. If it was a mood thing or a lens thing, tho, you could possibly consider giving it another chance some other time. But I perfectly understand if you feel it just isn’t for you. Lots of folks loved Six Flying Dragons, but try as I might, 31 eps into Show’s 50, I just knew it wasn’t for me, and I still haven’t finished it to this day. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. 🤷♀
Oh my…how wonderful this show was! Fangirl, your review was spot on with all of my sentiments and feels. The characters were amazingly well written and executed by the cast. Can we say once again what a superb actor YJG is? I fell in love with this boy’s smile in his first scene in my first drama…Moon Embracing the Sun… and have been an ardent fan ever since.
I can be forgiving of the last episode only because the prior 15 were so magnificent. My take…perhaps it took our Ha Seon two years to recover and afterwards he wandered around looking for SoWoon as a member of the clown troup? Remember the scene where we’re shown GabSoo and DalRae and the clown dressed in red ….and SoWoon is in the crowd? Because the next scene she hears the children singing and then follows who she thinks is HaSeon….then the reuniting scene in the field? Well, that’s how I remember it…lol.
After some years of KDrama watching..I believe..often the ending is vague because writer-nim is also unwilling to say a final goodbye to their characters. I know I will always remember our Crowned Clown as in my top 10.
Hi Georgia Peach! Thanks for enjoying this review, and YAY that we feel so similarly about the show! <3 And OMG YES, YJG really is a talent! I could hardly believe he's only 22, he manages to pull out such a range of emotion, and with so much gravitas and nuance! So very impressive! 😱
I like your take on the ending, except that I can't buy that the clown in red was Ha Seon, because his voice was completely different when he spoke, and that's also why So Woon's face fell. I think she was hoping that it was Ha Seon as well. But, I do buy your take that he took two years to recover. Some people say that he died, and they met in the afterlife.. which could work too, but I’d rather have them happy and alive. 😛
Thank you so much for this lovely review. I really looovvee it. I love this kind of style (remind me of my own style,hehe…) So, once again thanks to give ur time to write this review.
I’m not a sageuk fan n wasn’t really YJG’s fan but tho only watched 2 dramas when he was a child n teenage. I knew this boy is a talented one. N Yes, the main reason why I want to watch this drama coz of him followed by LSY n then the story.
I always love watching a dual role. So, that the thing I was looking for n especially coz it’s from sageuk (I don’t know whether it’s the 1st dual role in Historical Drama or not? ). I think the “weight” of historical drama is more heavy than the modern one. So double role is double weight. But before I watched the 1st eps, I put aside all the thought n watched it with a clean n open minded.
N there U go…the 1st eps, love the pace of the story n the DUAL roles is Brilliant. N I give 2 Thumbs Up for his acting at the end of the 1st eps.
N the 2nd eps when he was hiding from our Queen n we only could see the top of his hat n made me officially became his fans. Hahaha..
n because U’ve already written a wonderful review n I’m agree with most of it so I only want to add about numbers that we got from TCC.
The numbers are 1 (from 1 year he became the King) & 2 (from 2 years separation). The Circle of Yin Yang like the symbol from 2 dragons on the opening title.
Number 1 (The Father of Numbers)
The YANG means for the beginning. 1 Actor. The 1st Role – The King
Ep.01 – At the end of the eps – The beginning when he should play his role properly.
Ep.10 – At the end of the eps – The beginning when his role questionable with “WHO ARE YOU?”
ACT 1 ended with the death of YH. Tho everytime his appearance always give me chill – curios about what he wanna do but yes, even it’s so cruel..he should die. It’s a proper time. On the 1st half of the drama n the beginning of the making of The Man Who Became The King.
Number 2 (The Mother of Numbers)
The YIN means for the Union. The Couple . The 2nd Role – The Clown.
Ep.02 – The encounter of our couple.
Ep.12 – The acquaintanceship when finally both know each other names.
I love HS’s confession. It’s cute and kinda creative, haha…n I like that their kiss happened after Yi Heon passed away. It all happened on the Act 2.
Regarding the Finale, I have already written about it. U can read it in here.
I’m that kind of person who prefer to take everything I could get from the drama that I love & make it reasonable. hehe…
Opppss….sorry, double comments….
Hi there 6002srk, thanks for enjoying this review! <3 Thanks, too, for your interesting sharing about numbers – that's totally the kind of thing that I would miss, but would make the watch more interesting. 🙂 Also, no worries about the double post – I'll remove the repeated portion right away! 🙂
Ah, yet another insightful review. Loved reading it, even though Drama itself did not manage to draw me in and I dropped it early on. A pity, that but I’ve learned not to push it if I’m not feeling the story or it’s characters. Hence I’ve passed a number dramas that have undoubtedly been very good and worth all the attention they got. Just not my thing.
I may not have had much luck with sageuks lately but I’m still getting my fill of historicals as I’ve almost done with The Legends (one of the better xianxias out there, though a tad too long). Lu Zhaoyao is my new ‘girl crush’. 😀 I also picked up The Plough Department of Song Dynasty, which so far has a pretty entertaining romp.
Hi there Timescout! <3 Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for enjoying the review, even though Show didn't work out for you. That's wise, to not push when you're not feeling a drama. That's something that I'm still learning, because often, I just really hope that the show will get better, if I just give it a bit more time.
I've heard good things about Legends, so it's on my list. Pity that it sounds like it drags a bit.. sigh, that's the problem with many C-dramas, they tend to get bloated coz of money issues, and we get way more episodes than actually needed, to tell a story. :/ I've also heard good things about Day and Night, I wonder if you've seen it? 🙂
Oh, as you know I’ve long since lost any inhibitions for dropping dramas that don’t work for me, regardless of how god they potentially are. With the limited dramatime I have these days, there’s no room for ballast. 😉
Unfortunatly the latter part of Legends went to pot, so I’m stuck at epi number… can’t even remember anymore. 🙁 It started out so strong, so I’m really miffed. As per usual the extension by some 10 or so epis totally messed up the flow of the story. I’ll probably skip watch it to the end at some point. If I have time.
I tried ‘Day and Night’ when it first came out but didn’t really like it. It’s a well made drama though. ‘Burning Ice’ is more my cup of tea, I just have to be in the right mood for continuing with it. I got as far as ep 3… I think. It’s been a while. 😀 My next cdrama is quite likely going to be ‘All Is Well’, now that it has subs.
That’s true, I need to learn to be more ruthless with the dropping. I always get so curious, though, when I see people raving over a show that I am pretty sure is not to my taste. For example, I’m pretty sure He Is Psychometric will be too OTT for my taste, but everyone raving over it on Twitter has got me intrigued. And folks are also raving over Possessed, so that’s making me sit up and wonder whether I ought to give it a try. 😅 Maybe I need to give myself blinders, so that I won’t get so distracted, haha!
Aw, sorry to heart that Legends went downhill.. that’s so often the case with C-dramas, sigh. I wish they’d stop paying by the episode, so that production companies wouldn’t be tempted to bloat their dramas just to wring more episodes out of ’em. :/ Ah, I’ve heard good things about All Is Well! From the little that I know about it, it does sound like a promising fit for your viewing tastes! 😀
But then, sometimes being curious pays.^^ I’ve no interest in Possessed but I’m enjoying He’s Psychometric quite a bit. People were expecting cute fluff but Drama turned out to have a darker underbelly. And the lead is no geeeenius but rather an adorably dumb mershmellow. I luffs the kid. 😄 It’s not a high school drama either but just starts out there.
Yes, the trajectory of Legends was a shame, it could have been a better than average cdrama otherwise.
True! Sometimes my curiosity pays off, and I think that’s what’s preventing me from being more ruthless about the dropping. 😅 And now that I know you’re enjoying Psychometric so much, I really think I ought to give it a try! 😉
Mental note to self: Legends is no longer a priority! 😆
Oh, the secret is to let go if the ‘try out’ proves to be a dud after all. 😎 I have no qualms at dropping dramas even half way through if I loose interest. Mostly I can tell early on when something isn’t working, which saves me from wasting time on ’em.
I’d say, you could watch the first half of Legend, up till the marriage and pretend the rest does not exist. Seems to work for plenty of people. 😅 The beginning is totally worth it.
I liked the show; however, I did wish for a better ending. Don’t get me wrong, the ending was not bad, it was a good closed ending, but it could have been cleaner.
Hi there Andy! Always great to see you around the blog! 😀 I agree with you, I feel that Show could’ve done more with the ending and made it cleaner and stronger. It’s kinda too vague and rushed, and I feel it doesn’t quite do justice to the rest of the show, which I thought was really good. I’m glad you still managed to enjoy your watch tho! <3
Hi Kfangurl – I have literally just finished watching episode 8 and up to that point agreed with your review. So far, this has been a very enjoyable sageuk for me.
I noticed you have enjoyed Romance is a Bonus Book. I hope you will do a review on it soon.
Have you checked out The Story of Minglan? It was really awesome for me. I would like to read your review on it. 😀
Hi there D, thanks for checking out the review even before you’ve finished your watch! I’m glad you’re enjoying The Crowned Clown.. it’s really one of the most enjoyable sageuks I’ve watched in a while. I’m guessing that you’ve probably finished it by now, since it’s been a while since your comment. How did you like it overall, in the end? 🙂
As for Romance is a Bonus Book, I’m 12 eps in so far and enjoying it a lot. It’s so thoughtful and warm. <3 It shouldn't be too long before I manage to get to the end and write it a review. Minglan is on my list, and it's something that I hope to get to soonish. I've heard so many good things; I hope I'll love it as much as everyone else has! 😀
Yeah. I guess you’re correct on saying some shows need to be watched thru a macro lense.
The thing is, when it’d been a Sageuk drought and I was ALL ready to enjoy a Sageuk thru micro lenses, they give me a macro-requiring show. When I’m tired enough to watch a macro show, they give me a micro show!😭😭😭
The fault’s with me. And my bad timing.
Amazingly written as always, kfangurl!😃 But…no screenshots? Waae?
Ugh what’s with the italics…not my doing!😅
And I JUST saw all the screenshots. Somethings wrong with my phone😅😅😅.
Eep, looks like WordPress is trolling you a little bit today, Peony! 😛 If it makes you feel better, I’ve now fixed the italic issue on your comment! Sorry to hear you didn’t see the screenshots till after – I hope the late appearance of the screenshots didn’t dampen your enjoyment of the review too much! What I can say is, I always have at least a couple of screenshots in every post, so if you don’t see ’em, it’s likely that either WordPress or your network is being a bit glitchy. 🙂
Your comment about micro- versus macro-lenses made me pause for thought. I think TCC is best viewed using both lenses. The macro lens helped me understand the general flow of the narrative and where writer-nim wanted to go with the story, and therefore it helped me adjust my expectations in terms of what kind of plot points to prepare my heart for. The micro lens was great for appreciating character development and relationship development among our characters, and I enjoyed that perspective a great deal as well. I think if I didn’t apply both lenses, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the show as much as I did. I hope that helps, at least in terms of approaching future shows. 🙂
This looks some REAL serious glitch, for I wasn’t notified about this reply via Email until today!! *gasps in horror*
Sorry I was late to reply!
Yes, actually that was quite a helpful advice. I too should try both lenses on my next sageuk. I now think I micro-lensed The Crowned Clown way too much.
I’m waiting for Mung-bean flower & Asadal (SUCH pretty titles! *Heart eyes*), and I hope against hope they would FINALLY be that PERFECT sageuk we all were waiting for nearly half a decade now, so I won’t have to use any lenses and just sit back, chill, watch and marvel.
Because I honestly am little worried that by trying to use both lenses at the same time, I’d get ditzy, for I have not tried that method in my recent memory. 😉 Lol!!
It’s been a long time, kfangurl!! Hope you all are doin’ well. Looking forward to your next review, espescially a Sageuk review!
Aw, sorry I’m late to reply, Peony! In my case, it wasn’t a glitch, I’ve just been preoccupied with Real Life – and a little bit of a blogging rut. But, I’m back now, yay! 😉
I’m looking forward to Mung Bean Flower as well, and I’m curious to see what Asadal serves up. I’m hoping they’ll be good as well, I feel like it’s not often we get really good sageuks. 🙂
Ooooooh yeaaaaaaaaaaay!!! Loooooove it that you loooooooove it! And another yeaaaaaaaaaaaay for writing such eloquently wonderful review, as usual. I am really happy I stumbled upon this show as I was surfing my television, coz somehow I missed epi 1 and 2 on tvN. I won’t comment much. Nodding to everything you write here. And nodding some more when you write about epi 14 coz that one particular episode was also my favorite. And the scene when Secretary Lee bowed to his King, and Ha Seon just bowed back as low? Oooooooh goosebumps! And before I knew it, I got teary eyes. I also had to pick my heart that just dropped to the floor 😜
PS1: I had to confess, I stopped at epi 14. As many good sageuk always did, somebody good WILL die for a noble cause around this time, and I’ll be damned if I can’t guess who. Will pick up the last two epi when I wear my heart of steel later on.
PS2: Got really interested in Kim Sang Kyung. I learned that he had acted as king in various dramas before, no wonder he got this royal air about him that made him standout in the palace hehe. Did you watch the drama King Sejong? 80-something episodes long, but I am really curious about it. Should I watch it?
Ah! I’m so glad you loved this one too, Widya! 😀 With so many viewers being turned off by the events of E8, the more love I see for TCC, the happier it makes me! 😀 Hi5 that we seem to have such similar feelings about this show.. it really is worth the watch, and some of the moments (like the one in E14, and the one in E8) are just.. poetic, really. <3 I got goosebumps too, and had more than a handful of tears constricting my throat! 😭
I can understand why you'd pause at E14, but Show does a good job of E15, and even though there were things I would've preferred Show to have handled differently, all in all, the finale was a satisfying one. Don't miss it! <3
I'm sorry to say I haven't watch King Sejong (80 eps! Wow!).. If you can find it, why not give it a try, though? Kim Sang Kyung really does have a regal air about him, and my guess is that he'd make it worth the watch 😉
I can pretty much understand why people got so down-hearted at epi 8. However, that’s not my case. I did not know what’s gotten into me, but at that epi I can hear myself said, “Okay, prologue just ended. The real story is just about to begun. Brace up!” Maybe I did what you did. Adjusting my lens, with a renewed interest. All hail Yeo Jin Goo!!! 😍
Aw! I love that you just KNEW in your bones, that Show was changing gears into a new part of the story! 😀 I can understand why folks were upset with E8, and I can also understand why writer-nim chose that direction. I guess it’s all about being able to adjust expectations to flex with the flow. I’m glad you loved this one Widya, it really is one of my favorites this year. <3 And yes, Yeo Jin Goo is WOW. 😍😍
Hello Kfangurl, another wonderful, and in this instance, broad ranging and breathtaking, review. The Crowned Clown deserves no less. I like very much how you applied the “two Act” lens to deliver such a balanced outcome. Alas, for me though, my lens regarding the second act remains that of an oyster irritated by the grain of sand. However, that being said, the resulting pearl for me was definitely the first half and the stellar acting throughout the show as a whole.
Thanks dear Sean, for your kind words and encouragement! <3 I'm glad you managed to enjoy this review, despite your own quite different experience of watching the show. Also, I'm glad to hear that you stuck with this one to the end, despite your disappointment with Show's narrative trajectory. I personally feel that this one is worth the watch for Yeo Jin Goo's amazing delivery alone (so much nuance, it's mind-boggling where he manages to pull it all out from!), but everyone else did excellently as well. Such a treat, to watch such a solidly acted piece, with such a sprawling cast, and yet no real weak link among the actors. <3
Yeo Jin Goo’s delivery was amazing and he is a delightful young man. His recent interview with Soompi highlights how he went about his performance and also provides an insight re his next project with IU:
On the drama front I finished Romance is a Bonus Book (a big tick), managed to throw in Pasta along the way, and have kept enjoying Touch Your Heart (but, boy oh boy, the writers almost blew it). Haechi is going okay and as for Item, well I keep watching it for Kim Kang Woo (PS not a show for those who have clown phobia).
So, now I am watching Kill It (Blue Eyes) – it is ooh la la awesome. Then there is Doctor Prisoner – ooh la la (a welcome return to form for Nam Goong Min). Possessed gets a thumbs up (our lead pair are delightful), The Fiery Priest is funny, as is I Picked Up A Star (Celebrity). He Is Psychometric is not too bad as well. I Hate You Juliet is worth a look too. Have I done any work lately? Most definitely – perhaps too much 😂😂😂
Aw, thanks for sharing the article Sean! I really enjoyed reading it, and I’m kind of gobsmacked that Yeo Jin Goo isn’t completely satisfied with his performance in TCC, because he’s done amazingly well, and I feel like he’s broken new personal frontiers, in his delivery of both characters. I just love that he’s so passionate about his craft, and has such a conscious awareness of wanting to be able to tackle any genre effectively. I’m becoming a bigger fan by the minute! 😍
OMG I am amazed all over again, at how many dramas you manage to watch at any one time, Sean! Wow! What a list! 😱 Of your list, I am loving Romance is a Bonus Book, which I’m super glad about, because I wasn’t even sure if I was into the premise at first. I did enjoy Pasta very much way back when, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about it now, with Lee Seon Kyun’s character being so shouty and domineering. 😛 I’m still enjoying Touch Your Heart, but I’m still in the early eps, and I’ve heard some dissatisfaction from viewers, regarding the later eps. I’m vaguely considering Haechi and Item, but not with a great deal of enthusiasm, heh.
I AM excited about Kill It, so I’m glad you’re liking it so well so far! 😀 Other than that.. I haven’t made plans to check out anything else you’ve mentioned, lol. I’ve heard good things about He Is Psychometric, so I might give that one a try. I’m just drowning in potential dramas to watch – and I have yet to start on Minglan! 😱 I will, though, soon!
With regard to Minglan, I decided to explore further the poetry by Li Qingzhao, who lived at the same time this drama is set. In fact, one of her poems is used in the beautiful song played at the end of each episode.
Minglan accurately reflects the Song period, which can be seen when examining the life of Li Qingzhao and her poetry. The story of Li Qingzhao is one of a noted poet at the age of 18 (who lived until she was 75). In fact, it was said at the time that if she had been a male she would have already qualified to be a court official. Likewise, Minglan is portrayed as a very clever and astute young lady that could be more than equal in a “man’s” world.
Li Qingzhao did marry quite happily at the age of 18 to a poet who was also a calligrapher and antiquarian. Her husband to be (the son of the future prime minister) had a dream that he was going to marry a great poet and asked his father to find her. So, the father discussed this with his good friend at court who was Li Qingzhao‘s father, and the rest they say, is history. Li Qingzhao went on to be considered one of China’s greatest poets.
Zhao once said that Li was ‘my teacher, friend and wife’. He said to her that he could never come up with the lines of poetry that she wrote. As husband and wife they lived a simple life, seemed to ignore the pressures of the social standards and class of the day, and by all accounts, enjoyed doing things together. Some of Li’s poems to her husband were considered quite racy for the times, but seemed to be accepted. In otherwords, she didn’t appear to be bound by the social mores of Song society.
Although Li Qingzhao had a difficult life in her later years, she is clearly a woman for the ages and wouldn’t have had a problem fitting in with today’s world. Much of the Story of Minglan tackles the place of women in Song society and throughout the drama there are wide ranging discussions by the women regarding their lot in life (and yes, there’s also plenty of storylines re the women using their wiley ways as well, and that the men aren’t too smart hehe!). Li’s poems depict some wonderful imagery eg the willow sprouts like a young girl’s eyes. Then there is her poem Naïveté:
Stepping down from the swing,
Languidly she smooths her soft slender hands,
Her flimsy dress wet with light perspiration-
A slim flower trembling with heavy dew.
Spying a stranger, she walks hastily away in shyness:
Her feet in bare socks,
Her gold hairpin fallen.
Then she stops to lean against a gate,
And looking back,
Makes as if sniffing a green plum.
When watching Minglan you say to yourself: yep, they have captured the essence of what Li Qingzhao portrayed at the time. Delightful.
Wow, Sean. You never cease to surprise me – even when I think you ought to be out of surprises by now! 😂 I’m just amazed that you’ve been exploring Chinese poetry!
Li Qingzhao sounds like an amazing woman for the ages, and I’m equally impressed by the translator of her poetry! It’s hard to translate poetry in a manner that accurately reflects the lyrical vibe of the original, and the poem that you shared sounds so elegantly expressive! <3 I confess I've been putting off Minglan because I'm a little daunted by the episode count, but it's still high on my list, and I should soon be suitably immersed! 😉
I found with Minglan, the episodes flew by. In fact, by the end of this fine show, I remember thinking to myself that it was all wrapped up way too quickly 😂
Well, I do have a vast interest in anything cultural etc. With Li Qingzhao I tracked down an academic paper that contains all of her surviving poems. Not only was the translation more fluid than some of the other translations I had come across re some of her works, the author also explained much of the imagery used and what certain depictions and terms meant at the time eg “when the wild geese return” refers to love letters going backwards and forwards. Sublime 🤗
My sister had a different experience with Minglan than most. Most folks seem to love Minglan, but my sis had a strong start, and then lost interest at around the E50 mark. She said that things just got too melodramatic, to the point where she felt like the later episodes had been written by a different writer! 😱 It’s amazing how her reaction is so different from almost everyone else, who seems to think of Minglan fondly. Of course, it’s just made me more curious to see how I will respond myself! 😁
The person who wrote that academic paper sounds like a treasure! It’s so rare to find good translations, particularly of poetry and other lyrical writing. I mean, my Chinese is halfway decent now, I’d like to think, but I had no idea that “when the wild geese return” referred to love letters going back and forth! 🤯 I have much to learn, methinks! 😅
Your sis is right, there was a change, but I had the momentum behind me of the snowball rolling down the hill gathering layer upon layer and nothing was going to get in the way of my viewing experience 🤩 As phl1rxd suggests: make it a binge watch.
It would seem Jiaosheng Wang had the ability to translate and keep the lyrical form of Li Qingzhao’s works. He is always referred to with very high regard. His final aim in life was to promote worldwide understanding of Chinese culture.
Ah, I see what you mean, Sean! 😀 Yes, there are times when you’ve just got so much momentum and love for a show that Nothing is going to get in the way of you rooting for your characters all the way to the end. Also, now that I’ve got that information under my belt, I can adjust my expectations accordingly, and hopefully, that will do nicely. 😉
Jiaosheng Wang sounds like a national treasure indeed. I mean, to not only have the desire to promote understanding of Chinese culture, but have the ability to do so, is just so rare! I’m suitably wowed. 🤩
@ SeanK and @kfangurl –
Sean – that poem is beautiful and thank you for digging it up and posting. It just made my day. If you had asked me which episode of Minglan I was watching on any given day I would not have been able to answer you. I was so deeply engaged in that drama that I lost track of time and when it was over I could not believe that it was 70+ episodes. They flew by too fast.
KFangurl – You may want to save Minglan for a vacation week binge as I believe in my heart that you will love it and will not be able to stop watching. Liu Jun’s character was fascinating and he played it to perfection as did all the cast. Find the right time for this as it is so worth it.
Thanks for the suggestion, phl! A marathon does sound like a good idea, especially for a very long show. I fear that I might lose momentum and just stray away indefinitely otherwise. 😅
“Clown Who Became King” – what a nice combination of the drama’s official English title (The Crowned Clown) and its actual English translation (The Man Who Became King). 😀
Thank you very much for this long and in-depth review of this show! I enjoyed every bit of it, and I actually found myself nodding along as I read every sentence, thinking, “YES!Exactly!!!” You totally nailed everything.
The title alone has been very clear that this drama is about Haseon’s journey to becoming a king. Yes, Yi Heon is a very enjoyable character to watch on-screen and his death is a very painful thing to watch. At the same time Haksan becomes a very suspicious character at this point especially when he makes a promise to protect Haseon with his life, but he then goes on to kill Yi Heon whom he’s given a similar promise previously. Nevertheless, even if Yi Heon’s character is someone who gives fire to every scene he’s in, it’s still important to note that the main purpose of this drama is Haseon’s growth. A lot of people have simply refused to look at the actual story and simply b*tch about every single moment after Yi Heon’s death. It was unbearable to say the least, next thing you know everyone is just riding aboard the hate train. A lot of them legit just wanted to finish the drama just so they can nitpick it.
Like you said, looking at this drama as 2 separate acts is really apt. It’s also most likely the writers’ intent for this drama, given the actors’ thoughts on this. Yeo Jin Goo said how he was actually thrilled at Yi Heon’s death because Act II finally gets to start. When Ep 8 ended, Kim Sang Kyung also mentions in a special episode that the viewers should look forward to the drama’s second act now that the first act has ended.
Ep 14 is an absolute highlight for me. The development of Haseon and Yi Kyu’s relationship brings tears to my eyes. When Yi Kyu finally bows to Haseon and addresses him with courtesy and Haseon bows down back to him. My heart!
With that said, I’m also not entirely satisfied by the very rushed execution of the ending. I expected Mooyoung’s death but the events leading up to his death doesn’t have enough weight on it. I also think it would be better if Haseon gets to spend a few more years in the throne before abdicating. A year feels too short. And that two year absence. The conversation between Haseon and Sowoon is just SO VAGUE a lot of people took it as a dream or after-life sequence. The two year absence can be easily explained, I know. It’s possible that Haseon wouldn’t want Sowoon to get implicated so he goes in hiding for two years until he’s sure he can safely go back to Sowoon. I mean I understand the writers want to make his return poetic or whatnot, and it makes sense for Haseon the king to die on paper so Yi Heon’s death can also be finally official… but yeah. It’s not executed as well as I’d hoped. Personally, I think extending the drama at least up to 18 episodes will allow room for a more proper resolution.
All the same, this drama has been a very enjoyable ride for me. I love it so much! As a fan of Yeo Jin Goo, I’m so proud of how far he’s gone in terms of talents and I’m sure he’ll just keep improving in the future. He’s truly passionate about acting.
Hi there, circulate9oo! 😀 I’m so glad that you enjoyed this review as much as you did. <3 Coming from a serious fan of the show, that makes me very happy indeed. Also, I'm suitably stoked that we seem to feel very similarly about this show!
I agree with you, that the title of the show itself is a big clue in terms of where our story's focus lies. I always thought of this as Ha Seon's journey, and that's probably why I didn't get as upset as everyone else did, when Act I ended. I'm sorry to hear that there are so many disgruntled fans who are rage-picking at the show. That feels like a huge pity to me, because with some adjustments of my expectations, I found this one to be a better sageuk than average (well, based on the ones I've seen, and I admittedly haven't seen 'em all!). In my mind, it would be a huge pity to miss out on this one because of differing expectations. :/
Oh, I had a similar experience as you – E14 brought tears to my eyes as well! It was such so well done, I thought! The mutual bow was such a beautiful idea, and executed with so much burgeoning emotion, that I couldn't help but feel all of the feelings, as I watched the moment on my screen. So beautiful, and so meaningful. <3
I'm with you on the ending.. It felt like Moo Young's death was shoehorned in, and the overall effect was quite rushed. I didn't like that, and felt like he'd kind of died almost in vain. 😛 Yes, a year feels short. After all that he'd been through to become a true king, it would've made more sense if he'd spent more time on the throne, doing a more complete job of bettering Joseon. And as poetic as the dialogue was at the end, between Ha Seon and So Woon, I really would've liked more of an explanation for his disappearance. Even a short montage of him being in a coma, and then waking up and regaining his senses to come to her, would've worked for me. I don't know. I guess it was just too vague for my taste. 😝 I'd be down for your idea of an 18-episode version of this, to fully flesh out the last bits.
Altogether, though, I'm so glad, and so grateful, really, that Yeo Jin Goo got to do this drama. What a great showcase for his talent! It was a pleasure watching him as both Lee Heon and Ha Seon, and I'm not sure any other actor in his age bracket could've done the role justice, to be honest. It basically feels like this role was written FOR him. <3
I’ve watched far less satisfying sageuks than this so the hate I’ve seen for this drama was really mind-boggling to say the least. I don’t know, all of a sudden people were just too eager to prove how detestable this drama is, and for me people were just forcing to look for things that weren’t meant to be in the drama in the first place. *shrugs*
Not everyone was fan of the romance, but I totally LOVED it. I really digged Yeo Jin Goo and Lee Se Young’s chemistry in this. And their off-screen chemistry was off the charts as well. I enjoyed all those little sweet moments they shared throughout the drama. Everyone was like, the romance didn’t make sense how can she suddenly fall in love with a man she just met after spending a long time being cold to the king. But for me, it’s Haseon who brought Sowoon out of her shell. The moment Sowoon entered the palace, she’s been forced to always abide by the rules and never show her true self. Even when Yi Heon was kind back then, I bet Yi Heon’s palace upbringing didn’t manage to make Sowoon’s heart open. They were just never meant to be. But Haseon’s personality is the complete opposite. He’s a carefree person who just doesn’t give a damn about rules. The little things Haseon did for Sowoon made her heart open to him little by little. Allowing her to make a wish when it’s supposed to be “improper” or kicking those pebbles so she wouldn’t trip again. They were just so thoughtful of one another.
I agree with you. It totally made sense to Sowoon’s character how she’d feel guilty upon learning the truth behind Haseon’s identity. But at the same time, she has truly fallen for Haseon that she also wouldn’t be able to bear the thought of Haseon losing his life. When she called him Jeonha by the episode 11. Just a single word delivered so much in that moment. I love how the two of them are always there to talk about sharing the burden together, how they’d always help one another. There was also no second-lead romances to foil the love story throughout. It’s
IKR. I think it would also even be better for Mooyoung to die mid-battle during the rebellion just to give his passing more impact. The finale just brushed on lots of moments instead of fully fleshing it out, which is quite a pity. I get what they’re going for in the ending, but I wish they could have allowed spaces for more scenes that will actually hit the perfect notes for the ending.
I totally agree with you about Yeo Jin Goo. It does feel like this drama is made for him. It blows my mind even more is that YJG didn’t use his normally deep voice in this drama even as Yi Heon or Haseon. It would be easier to have one character have this extra deep voice just to add more difference between the two, but nope, YJG went the extra mile and made use of other elements to skill to highlight the difference between Yi Heon and Haseon, it’s amazing! And YJG has played sageuk royalties plenty of times before and I’ve seen them all and not once has his execution been the same. This drama is a remake and it’s so easy to get stuck following the original but YJG made the roles his own. I’m just in absolute awe.
Hmm.. I think it’s quite possible that viewers were so impressed and so taken with Show’s initial episodes, that their expectations shot up really high – and unfortunately, in a different direction than what writer-nim intended. And so, when Show went in a different direction than they expected, those really high expectations came crashing down, and manifested itself in a lot of upset, prickly comments. I think people tend to be more vicious when they’re genuinely upset, or something has touched a nerve, so I theorize that this might’ve been the case with TCC. They loved it so much that it hurt too much when Show disappointed them and in a sense, betrayed their love. 🤔
I was a big fan of the romance as well. In fact, it was a big highlight for me, and I loved how gentle and organic the OTP relationship development was. I guess not everyone is into lovelines in sageuks, and also, not everyone is into this style of loveline, perhaps. I think some folks might have wanted something with more fireworks, possibly. For me, the little moments, and thoughtful gestures were really a big plus, and I felt like this relationship would last a long time, because it’s built on thoughtfulness and consideration. <3
YES. Yeo Jin Goo is absolutely AMAZING in this. Even when Ha Seon was at his angriest, he never came across like Lee Heon. He really breathed life into each character and made them come alive with their own facets and layers, and my GOODNESS, he had different sets of body language and micro-expression for each of them. Just, so masterful. I don't know if writer-nim wrote this with him in mind, but I'm just so glad he was cast in this. I need more amazing roles for him to act in, so that he can showcase and expand his amazing acting chops. Respect, truly. <3
Yeah, that actually makes sense. It just sucks because I normally enjoy some healthy discourse on dramas that I’m watching and I was enjoying this community’s comment’s section with both its positive comments and legit criticims. Then post-Ep 8 there was a sudden shift with the commenters’ attitude that made the comment section grew more sour with every episode. Anyway, reading your review was such a breath of fresh air, so a huge thanks to you!
I agree.♥ At first I enjoyed their relationship solely for the chemistry but I couldn’t get fully on-board because Sowoon was still in the dark about Haseon’s real identity. She was in love with a person whose identity she thought to be Yi Heon but was actually Haseon. But then it was still with Haseon’s personality she fell for not Yi Heon’s. So I was so stoked when the reveal finally came around at Ep 10 and that it only took one episode for her to realize how much the true Haseon meant for her. And after that their relationship just continued to grow stronger.
I particularly enjoyed Yeo Jin Goo’s performance when he was playing Haseon who was channeling Yi Heon’s personality. Like when he pretended in front of Court Lady Kim and when he turned the tables on Shin Chi Soo when the latter finally found out about his true identity. He was Yi Heon in his speech and actions but then he would have this slight change in his expression where you’d see the Haseon in him. It was fantastic.
Aw, that’s too bad, that the comment section became more toxic than healthy. :/ That’s never fun. I’m so glad that this review has helped to inject some positivity towards this show into the blogosphere, and that you actually feel better reading it! Thanks for that, it makes me feel super useful, heh. 😉
Ah, you’re so right! Ha Seon pretending to be Lee Heon is just one of the best things, in the show. That’s THE thing that blew me away the most in E1, coz Ha Seon was pitch perfect in mimicking Lee Heon, booming out, “You fool! Can’t you do your job properly?!” AND YET. It was still distinctly Ha Seon, which we could tell from the micro-expressions of his face. I’m still in awe of how he manages to come across same-same but yet so different! Truly amazing. 😍