THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show took a while to settle, for me, and Show’s chosen ending also isn’t my favorite choice that writer-nim’s made, but by and large, Show had me firmly by the heart during the course of my watch.
Shin Hye Sun is simply outstanding in this, putting in a tour de force performance that makes this show watch the watch, all on its own, and Kim Jung Hyun is fantastic as well, making his character Cheoljong someone that I really wanted to root for, both as a king and as a person. The chemistry that our leads share is of the deliciously cracky variety, and I found watching their burgeoning connection a true delight. Aside from this, there are also a nice handful of supporting characters that I found myself growing very fond of, as well.
Not perfect by any means, and Show does require some hefty lens adjustments, but still so worth it, in my opinion.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Sometimes, you just can’t tell how deeply a show will end up getting under your skin – until it’s crept its way into your heart, and suddenly you realize that Show has your heart helplessly in its grip.
Coming into this one, I’d actually felt quite uncertain about whether Show’s brand of humor would work for me, and whether I would take to Show’s fantasy set-up. At one point, I even wondered whether to start on this one at all, since there was some less than positive feedback floating around during the early part of Show’s run as well. So color me very happily surprised, at how thoroughly I ended up enjoying myself during my watch, and how wistful I felt, even, as I approached Show’s final stretch.
I guess it’s true that sometimes love shows up in unexpected places?
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Overall, I found the OST tracks enjoyable and quite pitch perfect for our drama world’s alternating zany and heartfelt scenes. I find that I have a soft spot for Track 3, Here I Am. There’s something plaintive and poignant that really appeals to me, in that refrain “Here I am,” like our protagonist So Yong is declaring this statement out loud, in the hope that others will see her, but also, so that she can see herself.
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review. Or, if you’d prefer to loop just “Here I Am,” here it is too. Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.” 😊
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Your mileage may certainly vary, but here are a handful of things that I think will be helpful to keep in mind, in order to maximize your chances of enjoying this show.
1. Expecting a possibly slow start should be helpful. Personally, it took me about 4 or 5 episodes to really get into this one.
2. Suspension of disbelief is a must, because there are a lot of things in this drama world that wouldn’t be acceptable in a normal sageuk world.
[HIGH LEVEL SPOILER] For example, it’s hard to believe that the people around So Yong (Shin Hye Sun) are that tolerant of her crazy antics; I feel like in a more serious sageuk world, she would’ve already been imprisoned for lunacy, for good. But in this drama world, everyone is much more tolerant, and as a result, So Yong gets to flounce around as she pleases, while her court ladies and maidservants wring their hands and shuffle about furiously. Also, nobody seems to mind too much, that she’s not using courtly language, and is even using modern slang. Again, that’s not something that would be acceptable in a normal sageuk world, but is par for the course in this drama world. [END SPOILER]
Being able to roll with it is helpful.
3. Show’s sense of humor leans on the broader side of things. Also, on occasion, Show likes to dwell on the funny more than on plot movement. Knowing to expect that helps, I think.
4. Show doesn’t spend much time exploring what it’s like for our protagonist to find himself in a new, female body. So there aren’t hijinks like in 2011’s Secret Garden, where Hyun Bin had to learn how to live in a woman’s body. Calibrating your expectations around that would be helpful, I think.
5. There is a good amount of politicking that goes on in our drama world.
On the upside, the way Show gets us situated regarding the political situation is much more fun than average, since we get Bong Hwan’s (Choi Jin Hyuk) sarcastic droll commentary, as he processes all the information he gets. I find this efficient and effective, since Bong Hwan basically analyzes everything for us, in simple, easy-to-understand terms.
6. Show keeps a pretty loose grip on the history related to this period. This might bother you if you have strong feelings about Korean history. I found that it helps to think of our characters as completely fictional; ie, not related to actual historical figures.
I know that some viewers, particularly viewers with personal ties to Korean history, were offended by Show’s irreverent approach, but personally, I thought it was quite entertaining – given the right irreverent lens, of course.
[MINOR-ISH SPOILER] For example, I found Show’s playfulness around the idea of history vs. reality quite interesting, like with how Cheoljong is represented as something of a sex maniac in the annals of history, but doesn’t seem to be that way at all, in reality. So Yong (Shin Hye Sun) then categorizes the history books as mere tabloids, ha.
And then later in our story, we see how something So Yong says about Cheoljong’s, er, friskiness, might have actually gotten recorded as fact, in the historical annals. I thought that was quite a clever twist, which, while irreverent also raises an interesting question about what is actually fact, in the history that we now know. [END SPOILER]
7. Show is pretty liberal in its interpretation of palace decorum.
[MINOR SPOILER] For example, it always continued to surprise me, how disrespectful Byeong In (Na In Woo) is allowed to be, towards Cheoljong. In any other sageuk world, he wouldn’t be able to get away with his audacious words and actions. [END SPOILER]
Learning to close one (or both!) eyes to this, is helpful.
SHOW’S MANAGEMENT OF ITS FANTASY WORKINGS
I thought it would be helpful to discuss Show’s fantasy workings upfront, because I realize that this is a potential point of struggle for viewers.
I’ve got the two main topics in bold, in this section. If you haven’t seen the show, my suggestion is to just glance at the headings, and then save this section for later, for if / when you need them, because discussing this would entail diving into some spoilers.
1. What happened to Original So Yong?
Show isn’t very clear about what happened to Original So Yong when Bong Hwan takes over her body, and it’s only until much later, in our final episode, that we get some implied answers.
For a long time, I’d assumed that Original So Yong had died, because of circumstantial evidence that Show serves up, like how, in episode 7, we see that while Bong Hwan is back in his own body in the present, So Yong’s body is in a vegetative state, until he returns to the Joseon timeline, which revives her. This led me to hypothesize that Original So Yong was possibly in a vegetative state while Bong Hwan’s in control of her body.
Show never does confirm or deny this, but it’s implied, with Original So Yong’s changes in temperament and behavior during our finale, that she’d been present all along, and had absorbed at least some of Bong Hwan’s sassiness, in the process of letting him borrow her body.
2. What do we make of Show merging Bong Hwan and So Yong into a single character?
At the episode 8 mark, Show starts to take steps towards apparently merging So Yong and Bong Hwan into a single character.
At first glance, it did feel rather weird to my eyes, because it does feel like Bong Hwan’s losing himself. At the same time, though, keeping in mind that his body is in a vegetative state in the present timeline, it’s not like there’s any quality of life that awaits him, in his own body. He’d essentially be trapped in his own body, if he were to go back.
Which leaves only two other options: be trapped in So Yong’s body, always being acutely aware of the differentiation between himself and So Yong, or, be merged with So Yong, so that he becomes a new version of So Yong, for real. Given that we appear to be looking at a long-term outcome for Bong Hwan, it does feel like perhaps it’s not such a bad thing, for him to find So Yong’s memories, skills, knowledge and sensibilities becoming a natural extension of himself. Kinda like, love the skin you’re in.
In episode 11, So Yong’s session with the royal doctor, talking about her struggle with identity, might make some viewers uncomfortable, with her confusion over why she’s feeling certain feelings, and whether those feelings are hers, or are simply an expression that belongs to the body she’s inhabiting, being essentially dismissed, albeit in a gentle manner and with the best intentions. I think if one were to see this in the light of those who struggle with gender dysphoria and how their fears and conflicts are often dismissed, this would be a scene that doesn’t sit comfortably at all.
However, if we take a simpler approach to this, and just see it as So Yong being encouraged to accept herself for who she is, I think this lands a lot better. Also, I do think it’s a very valid idea, that we continue to change and evolve over time, and as we do so, it’s important that we learn to embrace ourselves, rather than fight ourselves. And, it’s true that So Yong and Bong Hwan are now in the process of merging to become one self. If Bong Hwan is to be truly comfortable and content while inhabiting So Yong’s body, he does need to accept his new self, for what it is.
Some viewers feel it’s unfair to Bong Hwan, that he’s dragged into a relationship with Cheoljong (and vice versa), but I think it’s worth something, that So Yong herself – the newly merged Bong Hwan and So Yong that is – does not seem truly grossed out or disgusted at the thought of developing feelings for Cheoljong. Yes, there’s some initial suspicion and mortification, which So Yong mostly blames on Original So Yong, and which is played for comedy, but by and large, we see that So Yong is curious to explore what this burgeoning thing with Cheoljong is about, like when she jumps on the excuse that she needs to sleep with Cheoljong a second time, in order to verify whether or not the first time’s enjoyment was just a fluke.
CLEVER WRITING TOUCHES
Generally speaking, there were quite a few times when Show served up developments which I didn’t see coming, which I found quite refreshing and delightful.
Additionally, there were also a lot of writing touches that I found pretty great, which I thought showed a nice amount of creativity and careful planning.
Here are a few examples which stood out extra for me.
E9. How clever of writer-nim, to have the boisterous sounds of the royal make-out session give reason for Byeong In to order the guards to retreat from the house and stand watch at a distance, thus giving Cheoljong the space he later needs, to do his snooping around. I don’t think this was at all in Cheoljong’s plan, so it’s not like he was intentionally kissing So Yong with a view to having the guards retreat; I think it was more like a happy accidental result, for him.
E9. I am suitably amused by how Show redefines modern terms to mean something else entirely, when So Yong finds ways to explain things to Cheoljong. First, it was “no touch,” and this episode, it’s “fan club” and “anti-fan.” It’s so incongruous to hear the words used in their new contexts, and amuses me greatly, especially when they’re paired with Cheoljong’s appreciative expressions. “An even more powerful spirit guide. I do not deserve such feelings you have for me.” Hee. How creative!
E12. I loved all the little notes that So Yong writes to Cheoljong, to explain the dishes to him, so that he can announce it to the guests. I laughed out loud at her naming one of the dishes MacDonald’s, which Cheoljong completes with an appropriately rational and dignified explanation. Pwahaha. Freaking brilliant! The fortune-telling popsicle sticks at the end of the meal, which So Yong uses to send pointed tongue-in-cheek messages to all the schemers, is just icing on the cake. So well done!
STUFF I LIKED
Shin Hye Sun as Bong Hwan / So Yong
Shin Hye Sun is – in a word – magnificent in this show. If you can’t find any other reason to check out this show, this is reason enough, because Shin Hye Sun knocks it out of the park, playing every iteration of So Yong in our story. Whether she’s playing the gentle, demure pre-body swap So Yong, or the much sassier, brassier So Yong post-body swap, Shin Hye Sun is absolutely convincing, and never leaves any room in my mind about which So Yong I am seeing before my eyes.
For much of our story, Shin Hye Sun plays a modern man trapped in a Joseon lady’s body, and she is nothing short of pitch perfect at it. I have to admire the no-vanity, all-in way in which she throws herself into every scene, even when said scene includes awkward elements like her character bending over to gaze between her legs, looking for her missing male bits. Eep. Okay, I did cringe a little from the secondhand embarrassment, but happily, Show doesn’t go too ham on it, and I found myself able to roll with Show’s punches quite well, to the extent that I even began to enjoy the funny around those punches, eventually.
For a good chunk of our story, the funny is enhanced by Choi Jin Hyuk’s ultra deep voiceovers, which directly contrast with Shin Hye Sun’s feminine visuals, and I really am completely and thoroughly impressed with Shin Hye Sun; the way her delivery matches the tone of the voiceovers is so good that I often find myself forgetting that these aren’t her actual thoughts. Wow. 🤩
E4. So Yong – well, Bong Hwan, in this particular case – is turning out to be a decent person too. The way he rails at Cheoljong indignantly, telling him that he’s a jerk for thinking that there’s any good reason to kill his wife, and this, while under the influence of the truth potion, says a lot about him too. Bong Hwan’s not as selfish as he portrays himself to be. He can and does feel righteously indignant on someone else’s behalf.
E4. Ahaha, I’m amused at So Yong’s ability to sweet talk the Grand Queen Dowager (Bae Jong Ok), even after letting slip an unhelpful remark, that it would be troublesome, if the Grand Queen Dowager only wants to eat her cooking – by adding on that it would be troublesome for her, if the Grand Queen Dowager benefits so much from the healthy meals that she starts to look younger than the queen herself. Ha. I found this very amusing.
E4. While the things that So Yong demands of her palace staff are hard on them, like running with her palanquin, or filling up the lake faster than they feel is reasonable, I do like that she thinks of rewarding them with cool drinks, and I also like that she’s nice to the little girl with the puppy, and that she plays games with Hong Yeon (Chae Seo Eun), and generally doesn’t carry herself in an aloof manner, but feels down-to-earth.
E4. I’m amused that Bong Hwan grudgingly admits that Cheoljong is cool for stepping in to save Hwa Jin (Seol In Ah). I’m also amused that the reason Bong Hwan steps in to save Hwa Jin and Cheoljong, is because he wants to look cool too, and thinks that there’s nothing to lose, since he plans to leave via the lake, by that night. While it would’ve been nice if Bong Hwan had stepped in out of a pure desire to help set the record straight, I appreciate that he steps forward, because he could have just as easily just stood by and watched, while things went down. After all, he’s not invested either way.
I am tickled that in Bong Hwan’s own words, needing to look like the coolest person in the room, is his kryptonite. HAHA. It’s amusing to me, that this is his Big Trigger Button, and it’s so easy to activate, too. Funnier still, is how he’s so perfectly cognizant of it, but falls for it anyway. Also, how interesting, that besides wanting to out-cool Cheoljong, he also wants to impress Hwa Jin. This is so misguided, but the irony entertains me.
E5. I have to admire So Yong’s ability to see the palace politics from a macro view, while she’s in the thick of it. For example, in that scene when Grand Queen Dowager is confronting So Yong, along with Minister Kim (Kim Tae Woo), So Yong’s able to quickly ascertain that they’re not actually interested in deposing her, but instead, want assurance that they have her under their control. I like that quick-thinking, diagnostic sort of mind that So Yong’s got.
E6. Based on So Yong’s findings so far, it does seem like returning to his own body is a fast-diminishing possibility. If So Yong hadn’t been breathing when she was first pulled out of the lake, it’s quite likely that she’d died by the time Bong Hwan had arrived in her body. And if that’s true, there may be no option for further swappage available.
So Yong’s attempts to circumvent all the various theories around this, are hilarious. Shin Hye Sun is so in character, and so on point in her delivery of Bong Hwan in So Yong’s body, that I simply forget that Choi Jin Hyuk isn’t actually on the inside, acting out her scenes.
E8. There’s a fair bit of comedy around Bong Hwan discovering that he now has So Yong’s memories and skills, and I do find it quite amusing. The way s/he so casually plays the gayageum, while frowning over the mechanics of regaining So Yong’s memories via the sense of smell, is quite funny.
It’s also quite funny how Bong Hwan starts to feel swooned out feelings for Cheoljong, because of merging with So Yong, only to react with spurts of horror, as s/he tries to shoo away all of So Yong’s soul remnants, so that s/he won’t be afflicted with the feelings. Ha. It’s ridiculous, and Shin Hye Sun manages the tonal shifts so seamlessly.
Speaking of which, now that we no longer have the voiceovers in Choi Jin Hyuk’s voice, but in Shin Hye Sun’s, she’s got the tone and cadence down pat. I can totally believe that these are thoughts from the same person, just with the voice changed.
E8. It’s quite funny how So Yong’s just being herself, and everyone around her – in this case, Hwa Jin – reads all kinds of meaning into it. So Yong’s advice to Hwa Jin to come clean to Cheoljong, so that he won’t hear the truth from someone else, is received as a threat, but it’s pretty clear that So Yong didn’t mean it as a threat. All this unintended wrong messaging amuses me.
E10. I really like seeing that Bong Hwan’s a really decent, compassionate person, in spite of all the bluster. When the Grand Queen Dowager offers to put the Royal Chef (Kim In Kwon) to death for annoying the queen, it’s actually really heartwarming to see So Yong – well, Bong Hwan – being considerate of him, and thinking about the struggles he must have, in supporting his family. In fact, So Yong looks for an excuse to convince herself to teach him her recipes. And then, while she’s teaching him, she even asks him about himself. That’s awfully decent and kindhearted of her.
E11. I continue to be impressed by So Yong’s wisdom in managing the political situation around her. When her father (Jeon Bae Su) tries to ask her about any unusual goings on during her visit home, she is quick to protect Cheoljong by being vague, and she is also smart to suggest that her father visit Cheoljong, so that the parties involved can figure things out on their own. Dad doesn’t take up her suggestion, but I just like her hands-off, understated facilitative approach.
E11. Lol. I’m quite tickled that So Yong essentially gets the highest points for a single shot in the hunting game, just by sitting down under a tree. Ahaha. That’s so like her.
E13. I appreciate the idea that with each regained memory from the original So Yong, our So Yong becomes more strongly empathetic of what she’d gone through, and speaks on her behalf, like the way she responds to So Yong’s father about why she’d first jumped in the lake. Her words are impassioned and full of hurt, and come out in a torrent of truth and fire.
“You sold your only daughter to satisfy your greed. Why did you always tell me to become the Queen and the pride of the family and you? Why did you tell me that I can do anything if I become the Queen? To me who was struggling with the guilt about my mother’s death, why did you keep saying your dream? Do you know what I was thinking when I threw myself into the lake? “The life that I thought was mine was all lie.” “Even the dream I had was not mine.” “I failed at everything.” That is why I threw myself away.” … “The day when your dream came true, I lost the person I cherish the most. Myself. It is you who pushed me into the lake.”
Oof. It’s no wonder her father can’t stop thinking about it, and looks so downhearted.
E14. Dam Hyang’s (Kang Chae Won) our little heroine this hour, not just noticing the danger in the ice cubes, but personally defying intimidation to throw a stone at So Yong’s drink, to stop her from consuming the arsenic. That takes a great deal of courage, and it’s clear that that courage is fueled by her good feelings towards So Yong. So ultimately, it’s So Yong’s down-to-earth nature, which had allowed her to bond with Dam Hyang despite others’ efforts to ban Dam Hyang from the royal kitchen, which had ended up saving her.
E15. It’s pretty great to see So Yong take charge and stare down her enemies one by one, with a glint in her eyes.
So Yong taking steps to confront the Grand Queen Dowager, the Queen Dowager, Hwa Jin, and even the guy who’d sneaked into the kitchen to contaminate the water, is entertaining to watch. She’s not outright hostile about it, but she’s clear in showing them (especially the two dowagers) that she’s unafraid of them and will absolutely fight back, if she’s trampled on. I love that So Yong does this in a style that is so quintessentially her; it bewilders the dowagers as much as it aggravates them, which I find quite amusing.
E15. I very much agree with So Yong, that she’s a better person than Hwa Jin. That’s such a great point that she makes, that when she’d fallen into the water before, Hwa Jin had made no effort to help her, whereas here, in the now, So Yong is the one who catches Hwa Jin and prevents her from falling into the water, despite Hwa Jin’s antagonism.
E15. On a slightly different note, I love how So Yong keeps a good handle of the big picture. The way she asks Cheoljong what his goal is, so that she can see where they can align as allies, is very shrewd and intentional. Most people might not even think to ask the question to have this conversation, but it’s so important.
E15. It’s interesting that So Yong so naturally reaches for a phrase that original So Yong had used, about dying with a smile on her face. This is a small but effective way of demonstrating to us that the two So Yongs are definitely merging into one.
E16. I love how smart So Yong is. When her father regrets his corrupt actions, she takes the opportunity to not only have him get clean, but also build up his reputation, by giving away the wealth that he’s accumulated. Not only that, she has him recreate the ledger that was stolen, thus giving Cheoljong ample ammunition to use against his enemies. And how shrewd of Cheoljong, to have So Yong’s dad help collect evidence against all the guilty parties, so that he can gain merit as the whistleblower, to earn his pardon. I kinda love it.
E16. I was wondering why So Yong would want to attend the royal conference in disguise, but then she goes and basically threatens all of her clansmen that if they continue to make things difficult for Cheoljong during the royal conference, she will take them down one by one. Oooh. Gauntlet, thrown. And when the Left State Councilor gets taken down by Cheoljong’s hand, thanks to the recreated ledger, all the clansmen suddenly start toeing the line, because the Queen’s living up to her word, heh.
E17. So Yong’s disbelief and dismay at the news of her pregnancy, laced with rueful resignation, is perfectly played by Shin Hye Sun. It’s so pitch perfect; I can totally believe that this is Bong Hwan, still gruff and shaking his fist, completely blindsided and discombobulated by this new piece of information, yet deeply cognizant of the fact that there is really no way of escaping it. I do feel rather sorry for So Yong, but remembering that this is Bong Hwan on the inside, I can’t help also feeling a small sense of satisfaction on behalf of all the moms the world over, because finally, a man (well, his soul, anyway) has to face and understand the trials that come with pregnancy. I guess this counts as schadenfreude? 😝
E17. I’m amused at So Yong’s abrupt change of mood, once she realizes that once her child gains the throne, she’d wield all the power, instead of the Grand Queen Dowager, but more than that, I like how focused and intent So Yong is, in writing down life lessons for her baby. This is the first glimpse we’ve had, that So Yong cares about her unborn child, and it’s really quite touching.
Kim Jung Hyun as Cheoljong
Y’know, I’d loved Kim Jung Kyun quite a lot in Crash Landing On You, and I’m thrilled to say that I love him in this show even more. 🤩
When Show first started its run, I’d heard some rumbles of discontent around Kim Jung Kyun’s performance; essentially, some viewers felt like (and I paraphrase) he was sleepwalking his way through his role. I do think that having Cheoljong as a character come across as pretty deadpan, at least at first, is deliberate on Show’s part, though.
From the beginning of my watch, I felt that Kim Jung Hyun plays Cheoljong with an even sense of restraint that I rather enjoy. To my eyes, it’s a nuanced performance with subtle cues, and Kim Jung Hyun does very well at giving us a sense that there’s more to Cheoljong than meets the eye. Clearly, Cheoljong’s only playing dumb, and has more complicated thoughts that he’s keeping close to his chest. I actually found Cheoljong’s fake persona quite intriguing; perhaps more so than our queen’s body swapping troubles, even.
And, as we grow to know Cheoljong better over the course of our story, I couldn’t help but love him more and more, not only as a king, or our romantic male lead, but as a human being. Win, win and win. 🤩🤩🤩
E2. I’m definitely curious to know more about Cheoljong, who’s a clueless king by day, and fierce ninja by night. It’s clear that he wants to find evidence of corruption so that he can clean up the court, but what is all this about his feelings for his Royal Concubine, and what does Prince Youngpyeong (Yoo Min Kyu) mean when he tells Cheoljong not to let his personal feelings get in the way, with regards to the queen? I’m curious to know what the real story is.
E4. I kinda love that right away, So Yong triggers some serious introspection in Cheoljong, with her declaration that at the heart of it all, he’s attacking her because she is weaker than he. I love that Cheoljong takes it so much to heart; his conscience pricks him so hard in the moment, that he needs to leave the room, while his mind whirls.
That does say something very significant about Cheoljong: he’s not one to allow himself to hide behind excuses. Even though Youngpyeong rationalizes everything for him and makes excuses for him, Cheoljong won’t accept any of it. I feel like that’s very honest and decent of Cheoljong.
E5. One of my favorite things in our story right now, is how Cheoljong is basically rethinking everything that has to do with So Yong. He’s questioning all his previous assumptions about her, ready to formulate new conclusions, if he feels they are warranted. I like this open-mindedness about him, and I appreciate that he doesn’t allow his past assumptions about So Yong to get in his way of seeing in a new light. He doesn’t seem to have that stubborn pride that won’t allow him to change his mind, and I like that. He strikes me as fair-minded and just, and that appeals to me.
E7. I must say that Cheoljong’s show of intense concern for his queen, when he hears about her condition, is very satisfying to watch. The look in his eyes, as his processes the news; the way he suddenly takes off running; the way he gathers her up in his arms and asks, eyes blazing, what happened to her; the way he personally carries her back to her chambers, and then chooses to stay and watch over her through the night. I love how all that concern comes pouring out, and I love that this is a result of So Yong changing Cheoljong’s mind, without even realizing it.
E8. We see more of Cheoljong being a fighting ninja badass this episode, and I have absolutely no complaints about that. First, the opening, where he goes to spar with his hidden ninjas, and then, when he gives Kim Hwan (Yoo Young Jae) a flying kick to the face, when Kim Hwan dodges Byeong In’s men to approach Hong Yeon.
And then, of course, there’s how he spars with Scar Face (Kim Bang Won), who’s at So Yong’s father’s house to steal something. It’s quite funny, though, how the shadows from the fight look like two people dancing the tango, to So Yong’s tipsy eyes. Pfft.
E12. I felt really bad for Cheoljong when, after the whole ordeal of the fan fight AND the banquet, Kim Jwa Geun defies him in front of everyone and is legit disrespectful, telling him to wake up to reality. UGH. This was so hard to watch. I really hate that the courtiers in this show are so blatant in their disrespect for Cheoljong.
I also hate that Cheoljong ends up swallowing his pride and going along with Kim Jwa Geun’s demands, in order to save his royal guards who have been falsely accused. Worse, that entire offering of incense turns out to be a legit terrorist attack, with the incense setting off an explosion, which throws Cheoljong to the ground a good number of feet away. Ack. I so did not see that coming! 😱 I really wonder whether Cheoljong had any idea, when he was offering the incense, that this was in store, and proceeded anyway? If so, then his tears while reading out that prayer for the nation, lands with an even deeper pathos. 😭
E13. With all the investigations going on about the attack on Cheoljong, I’d suspected that it was Byeong In who had planned it all, so color me surprised, that it was Cheoljong himself who had planned everything, in order to corner Kim Jwa Geun. Say, what? That was a big risk, and yet, he’d taken it boldly in order to create a situation where he could remove Kim Jwa Geun from the court. Let no one say that Cheoljong’s a coward, eh?
And what a fierce, badass vibe Cheoljong emanates, as he comes back in to take his throne, still wearing some of the bandages on his face, and with fire blazing from his eyes. So strong, and so magnetic. Daze. 🤩
E13. Guh. Cheoljong so bold and undaunted, as he stands up the Grand Queen Dowager, before whom he’d always deferred. And the way he presents the situation as a deal that works in her favor, is very clever. Sure, it’s rather sly, but given the scheming, slippery ways of the Grand Queen Dowager’s entire clan, it seems like Cheoljong has no choice but to play their game.
E15. It’s really great that Cheoljong not only saves Dam Hyang, but even reunites her with her mother. Aw. Talk about turning a bad situation around for good. And I love that Cheoljong takes the trouble to do this – even though it means putting himself at risk, as Youngpyeong reminds him – because he feels it’s important that he’s able to protect his people. I find that I’m liking Cheoljong more and more. 🤩
E16. I kinda love that even though So Yong and Hwa Jin both attempt to keep up the ruse that it was Hwa Jin who had saved him from the well 8 years ago, Cheoljong manages to see through both their feints. I really appreciate that he doesn’t make a fuss about it, even though he actually knows that both of them are not telling him the truth. He assumes that they must have their reasons for wanting to protect the ruse, and plays along – at least for a while.
What strikes me most, though, is the kind manner that Cheoljong keeps towards Hwa Jin, even though he knows that she’s been lying to him for 8 years. Instead of confronting her with the truth and demanding to know why she’d lie to him, he tells her that he doesn’t like her because she’d saved him from the well; that he would’ve liked her whether she’d saved him from the well or not. That’s so gracious and loving. Wow.
So Yong and Cheoljong together
The connection between So Yong and Cheoljong was one of the biggest highlights of my watch, personally.
From the very beginning, when it’s just a matter of working some kind of truce between Bong Hwan and Cheoljong, to later on in our story, when the connection between So Yong and Cheoljong starts to evolve into something romantic, I found a lot to enjoy in how their growing closeness and mutual understanding is teased out.
Considering the various complications that stand between our lead characters, not least the facts that (a) So Yong is actually Bong Hwan, a modern man who just wants to go back to his own body, and (b) Cheoljong is already deeply in love with his Royal Consort, I feel that Show does a very nice job of parsing through it all, to make the growing connection a believable one.
Of course, this is with the caveat that appropriate lens adjustments are made – but we’ve already talked about that earlier in this review.
I love love love the crackly chemistry between Shin Hye Sun and Kim Jung Hyun, and my fangirl heart was very pleased indeed, that our royal couple is given so much space to explore their, uh, growing desire for each other. Ahem. 😋
Mutual suspicion giving way to mutual empathy
E2. I found it very entertaining when Bong Hwan pits his player skills against Cheoljong, like during the wedding night, when they try to get each other drunk. It’s quite fun to see player pitted against player, each trying his darndest to outwit the other.
E3. I realize that Cheoljong being so suspicious of his queen is quite important to our story, because, as a result, he makes it a point to spend time in her orbit, not only having meals with her, but sleeping in her quarters every night. This definitely creates opportunities for bonding, thanks to the forced proximity, and I’m interested to see what Show does with this. So far, So Yong already becomes privy to Cheoljong’s nightmares, which I’m sure is a very private matter, as far as Cheoljong is concerned. Will he come to receive comfort from her presence, thus giving rise to bonding?
E5. I have to admit I kinda love the scene where Cheoljong tries to apologize to So Yong, and is completely taken aback by her torrent of angry words explaining exactly why she ought to be mad at him. YES. I love how articulate and precise So Yong is, in laying it all out, and I love how silently shocked and flabbergasted Cheoljong is, as the ramifications of her words hit him.
E5. That underwater scene, where So Yong tries desperately to bat away Cheoljong, who’s equally desperately trying to save her, is quite funny. The annoyance and exasperation is so clear, in her arm movements and facial expression, even underwater. I have to admit that Cheoljong’s look of horror and concern, when So Yong passes out in the water, and the way he grabs her face, before he grabs her around her shoulders to bring her to safety, is quite melty. At this point, I half don’t care that this is Bong Hwan who’s really got Cheoljong in a twist; I just like the fact that Cheoljong now cares about So Yong, and is showing it.
E6. At this point in the story, the main hook for me, is Cheoljong reconsidering everything he’d ever believed about So Yong. I love that Cheoljong is openminded enough to do that, especially since So Yong is someone that he’s always regarded as one of the enemy; it says a lot about Cheoljong and what he believes to be just. I find it funny that all of So Yong’s actions, which are primarily focused on getting Bong Hwan into his own body, are perceived so differently, through the lens of political context.
All Bong Hwan wants to do, is go back to his own body, which is why he’s so intent on filling up the lake and jumping into it. But from Cheoljong’s perspective, it is a very profound statement of how miserable So Yong must be, to be so determined to end her life.
The way he puts it at the end of the episode to Youngpyeong, is a perfect summary of everything that So Yong’s done, from his perspective:
“She risked her life to save her husband, who had tried to kill her, as well as the woman her husband is in love with. Not because she is boundlessly merciful, and not because she has forgiven me. She did it because she could not turn away from the truth. She never even expected me to apologize or thank her. She quietly did what she thought was right for justice’s sake, and this crisis has befallen her now. So how could I not waver?”
It’s absolutely a deeply persuasive case, despite it being none of So Yong’s intentions, and I love it. I almost feel bad that Cheoljong’s under the complete wrong impression, but somehow, that idea that he’s completely changing his mind about his queen, towards whom he’d had all kinds of misconceptions and prejudices, just gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I also love that Cheoljong is being more sincere towards his queen than even he himself intends.
What makes it funny, is how So Yong wants none of Cheoljong’s earnest efforts to live in “no touch” harmony. So Yong’s horror at Cheoljong’s sincere attempt to declare that this is their first day of “no touch” is hilarious, and Cheoljong’s confused consternation at her response, makes it even funnier.
So far, Cheoljong says that he doesn’t see So Yong as a woman, but my drama instincts tell me that this is going to change – and it’s also going to make Hwa Jin nervous and unhappy.
E8. I think Show’s doing a pretty nice job of bridging the gap between Cheoljong and So Yong, by making the both increasingly protective of the other person. We’ve seen Cheoljong get all concerned for So Yong’s wellbeing, but this episode, we start to see more of So Yong feeling sorry for him, and protective of him, like how she comes out of the room with that fancy chamber pot and tries to smash it on Scar Face to save Cheoljong – only to miss and hit Cheoljong with it instead. Oops. But at least Cheoljong sees her concern.
I’m pretty sure that kiss at the end of the episode, is not a romantic one, but more of a diversion tactic, to throw Byeong In off (since Cheoljong, is, after all, wearing servant’s clothes). Still, I’m almost certain that this initial kiss is going to give rise to more confused feelings and increased hyperawareness, and I do think that would be quite fun to witness.
E9. Well. The way that closing scene in our previous episode unfolded this episode, definitely wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Tee hee. I felt like my eyes were about to bug out of my head, with the way Cheoljong and So Yong were so into snogging each other. I totally didn’t see that coming.
But, with the way Show plays it, as original So Yong’s desire for Cheoljong taking over, I can roll with. As for Cheoljong.. well, I’m still certain that he’d reached out to kiss So Yong in order to throw off Byeong In. And being more drawn to So Yong than he probably realizes, he probably was caught up in the moment and instinctively went with the flow without thinking about it too much, when she reached out and started making out with him in earnest.
The way Bong Hwan comes to, mid-kiss, and starts a fight with So Yong for not controlling her desires, is too funny. I love the way Cheoljong braces himself to be slapped, only to be dumbfounded when So Yong slaps herself. Ahaha! I didn’t see that coming either.
E9. I’m definitely shipping Cheoljong and So Yong, since I find myself looking for signs that Cheoljong is sweet on his queen. And so, even though he knocks So Yong out in order to carry out his snooping, I’m distracted enough by the gentleness in his gaze, and the gentle way that he handles her, as he lays her down to rest, to not mind too much. Plus, there’s the way he touches her cheek to adjust her sleeping position, and then looks at her and quietly tells her to forget her bad dream. There’s almost a tenderness about it all, which I’m intrigued by and want to see more of.
E9. Every time we get a glimpse of So Yong being kinder and more righteous than I’d expected, I find myself liking her more – which is probably what’s happening with Cheoljong too. The way she flies into a rage at the eating house in defense of the king, because Cheoljong is incognito and can’t fly into his own rage, is so thoughtful and considerate, honestly. I totally understand this giving Cheoljong pause for thought.
E10. As Show ramps up the story around the political machinations, my interest in what it means for our characters does grow, but I have to admit that primarily, my interest is in the burgeoning connection between Cheoljong and So Yong.
I find the connection moving because it feels pure, in an almost incidental, I-can’t-help-myself sort of way. Cheoljong’s never had any interest in his queen, and So Yong – well, Bong Hwan – has certainly never had any interest in growing closer to Cheoljong. And yet, as they encounter each other and observe each other, their understanding and appreciation for each other grows, thus giving rise to a sense of protectiveness, even before romance comes into the mix. I love that.
Of course, I am certainly not complaining about the hints of romance, and the indications that Cheoljong is absolutely falling in love with his queen despite his resolve not to. I’m also nicely amused by original So Yong’s feelings for Cheoljong jumping in and overtaking Bong Hwan from time to time. Bong Hwan’s disconcerted reactions to that are hilarious, and while I feel a little sorry for Bong Hwan, I’m rationalizing that given time, as his consciousness merges with So Yong’s, eventually these feelings will be organic to him?
Part of my brain niggles at me, on the question of whether this is fair to Bong Hwan, since his consciousness is basically changing and evolving whether he likes it or not, but I realize that if I allow that to bother me too much, there’s basically no way for me to continue enjoying this show. Also, it helps quite a bit, that Bong Hwan is shown to relish the advantage s/he has in showing up as a perfect queen, with his soul combining with So Yong’s memories. I mean, if Bong Hwan is finding something to gloat about in all of this, maybe he doesn’t need our pity?
Our early opening scene, where Cheoljong holds So Yong to himself, after semi-waking from his nightmare, is very poignant to me. From So Yong’s point of view, she’s just agreeing to be a stand-in for Hwa Jin, because Cheoljong’s eyes had played tricks on him, and he’d thought it was Hwa Jin in front of him, and had called out Hwa Jin’s name. But the reality is, Cheoljong had realized it was So Yong, and then knowingly pulled So Yong to himself, and even opened up about what he’d dreamt about. He knew it was So Yong, and still wanted to take comfort in her presence. Aw. How bittersweet, that he knows and is acting on his feelings, but she has no idea, and believes him to be thinking of Hwa Jin.
E10. Aw! Cheoljong deals with his nightmares, by self-soothing via creating a dictionary of all of So Yong’s unique turns of phrase? That is so surprising and so endearing, even though it’s also sad that he suffers from these nightmares so regularly. He’s definitely growing a soft spot for So Yong, regardless of his determination that he cannot fall in love with her.
E10. And what is this about So Yong having sexy-romantic dreams about Cheoljong? I’m absolutely curious to see where this goes. 😆
E11. Aw. It seems that after creating the queen’s dictionary as a way of self-soothing, Cheoljong managed to sleep like a baby through the night. That’s sweet. The contented pleased look on his face, which I take to also extend towards So Yong, since the dictionary is in her honor, is really gratifying to see as well.
E11. I am very amused that So Yong’s efforts to exchange secret letters with the new concubines turns into a series of uninhibited flirtations with Cheoljong. Tee hee. This totally gives me “You’ve Got Mail” vibes, where So Yong has no idea that the person with whom she’s having such a great time exchanging secret notes is, is actually Cheoljong. The difference, of course, is the fact that Cheoljong totally knows that he’s exchanging notes with his queen, and is becoming increasingly drawn to her. I have to admit that I love that.
E12. Cheoljong does cut a fine figure in that fan fight, trouncing Byeong In and all. I like badass Cheoljong. And it was hard to watch Cheoljong’s earnest efforts to assert himself at that event, be faced with obstacle after obstacle. I really felt the pathos of that, especially since so many other people present are just waiting to gloat over his failure. 😭
I love that So Yong steps in to help Cheoljong by saving the banquet with her creative cookery, even though she advises him to just give up and not fight. I’m glad for Hong Yeon, for pointing out so helpfully that So Yong’s only saying that because she doesn’t want to see Cheoljong hurt and disappointed.
E13. For a start, it’s not that I didn’t expect So Yong to react to Cheoljong getting injured in the explosion; I just didn’t expect her reaction to be so.. visceral. Her horror at the sight of injured, passed out Cheoljong, comes across as something that she feels deep in her soul, and her desire to go to him, feels instinctively sincere and very, very urgent. Her desperation is so palpable that I can’t breathe, watching her efforts to get near Cheoljong. This isn’t the kind of reaction I’d expect from someone who considers Cheoljong a convenient strategic partner; this is the kind of reaction I would expect of a queen for truly cares for and loves her king. Ahhh! I feel like I’m clutching my non-existent pearls with breathless anticipation.
So Yong’s voiceover rings true; often, we don’t appreciate the miracle of what we have, until it isn’t there anymore. Perhaps the prospect of losing Cheoljong is galvanizing So Yong into becoming more cognizant of her feelings for him?
It’s true that So Yong makes the decision to abandon Cheoljong in order to secure her own safety, but at the same time, it’s clear that she is unwilling to do so, and feels conflicted about it. With the palace being as dangerous as it is with all the scheming and politicking, and with Cheoljong appearing to be in such a bad state, it does look like, pragmatically speaking, this is So Yong’s better option. With each step that So Yong takes towards abandoning Cheoljong, though, her concern for him continues to shine through. When she hears that he’s regained consciousness, she immediately goes to visit him, and it clearly pains her to see him all bandaged up like a mummy. Also, there’s how she’s unable to sleep well, and then makes carrot porridge – a most tedious dish – as a way of doing penance.
I do love that So Yong’s first reaction to hearing that Cheoljong’s recovered, is to literally trip over herself in her haste to see him, hee. Afterwards, though, we see that she’s actually reluctant to go and instead drowns herself in wine in the royal kitchen. I think that this is because she feels guilty for her decision to betray him, and that’s why she doesn’t feel able to face him.
E13. I’m surprised that Cheoljong only makes the connection now, that the notes at the banquet were written by So Yong, when he compares the handwriting on the notes to the handwriting in her letters. I’d have thought that he would have recognized her handwriting and roguish style right away, since it’s so distinctive. I’m rationalizing that he was possibly too preoccupied with the issues at hand to make the connection, but honestly, I had expected more from Cheoljong.
Also, what a twist, that So Yong ends up sleeping with Cheoljong, after drunkenly mistaking him for Hong Yeon. 😳 I mean, I’m all for sexytimes between our king and queen, since they clearly care deeply for each other. I just.. feel a little wistful, that So Yong had been drunk and therefore participated while thinking that it was Hong Yeon with her, and not Cheoljong. That feels.. kinda wrong? That said, another part of me is admittedly quite thrilled at the thought that we are seeing significant progress between our king and queen. Squee~? 🤭
E14. What a fun episode, with our king and queen communicating and getting closer, in spite of So Yong’s every effort to prevent it, heh.
I think how much you enjoy the love scene between Cheoljong and So Yong, depends on how well you’re able to switch off the part of your brain that protests that So Yong technically doesn’t want to take the relationship with Cheoljong any further, because she believes that this isn’t her true self. I do think that some viewers would struggle with how So Yong’s initial horror and chagrin is played for laughs. But then again, I do think that taking too serious of a lens to almost any kdrama would likely ruin it for you. I personally find that it’s helpful to think of So Yong’s chagrin as part of her journey of coming to terms with who she is becoming; her journey to accepting and embracing herself for who she is becoming, if you will. I find that that satisfies my brain enough, that I’m able to just sit back and enjoy the feels, and it all works out to a pretty great time, from where I’m sitting.
I find that I am melting and swooning all over the floor, with the way that Cheoljong’s looking at So Yong these days, particularly in the bed scene, where he caresses her cheek. The way he looks at her, it feels that he’s almost kind of hypnotized in the moment, like he is entranced by her, and can’t see anything or anyone else. It’s completely swoony, and I flail. And, not gonna lie, the way he then leans over her, with his outer robe coming off in swift strokes, is pretty hawt. 🔥 And, the fact that all of this is triggered by a glimpse of tenderness from So Yong, is really gratifying. 🥰
The morning-after hijinks are really funny (once you’ve got your brain on the right setting, like I mentioned), and I really applaud both Shin Hye Sun and Kim Jung Hyun for their fantastic comic timing. It’s their delivery that takes it from funny to wildly hilarious, and I love it. So Yong’s horrified attempts to stay away from Cheoljong, while trying desperately to convince herself that she hadn’t enjoyed their sexytimes as much as she did, and Cheoljong studiously running after his queen, completely befuddled, while full of a solemn desire to connect with her, is altogether hysterical. I love it.
I love the scene where So Yong realizes that she’s been writing to Cheoljong all this time, while Cheoljong realizes that he’d been receiving the letters due to a mistaken delivery. Tee hee. I love that while Cheoljong’s reciting lines from So Yong’s letters, all their attendants think that their king and queen are royally flirting and bickering in their presence.
A love confession
Also, despite the light and humorous way the bickering is portrayed, I appreciate that a good chunk of things get laid out in the open, because of this one conversation. And, that moment, when So Yong gets all upset with Cheoljong for doing something as dangerous as subjecting himself to the explosion, and Cheoljong responds by taking her in his arms, is so gratifyingly melty. “All of this disallowing.. is disallowed.” Somehow, the way Cheoljong says that, with a slight growl in his voice, and a clear desire to be close to her, makes it very swoony.
We even get a love confession from Cheoljong, which feels both natural yet unexpected, at the same time. Credit to So Yong for bringing their entire context back to Cheoljong’s attention, and explaining why original So Yong had told him that he needed to love her. This isn’t the first time that So Yong has spoken up for original So Yong, and I appreciate that empathy and respect that she shows for original So Yong and her feelings. Also, it’s interesting to note that in So Yong’s voiceover to herself, as she walks away, she reminds herself that she’s not the real So Yong, and that’s why this love with Cheoljong cannot be. How interesting. Does this mean that So Yong is admitting that she does have feelings for Cheoljong?
It was also pretty gratifying to see Cheoljong be so concerned for So Yong’s wellbeing. The panicked manner in which he rushes back to the palace, and the way he desperately searches for her, is such a great expression of his care for her. And how significant, that So Yong reaches for Cheoljong, and earnestly asks him to save Dam Hyang. This is the first time she’s asked him for anything, and I feel like this open vulnerability in front of him, is very significant.
And what a great twist, at Dam Hyang’s death by poison scene, that Cheoljong uses the crossed fingers sign that So Yong had taught him, to signal to her that all is not as it seems. Eee! I just love that Cheoljong’s been paying attention all this time, when So Yong’s been rattling off her various turns of phrase and other little quirks of expression. Now it feels like they are on the same side, and in on the same secret, and I love it.
E15. I love that So Yong’s actively reaching out to Cheoljong to form an alliance. This is a vast improvement over her previous efforts to avoid him all the time. I can’t help but notice that in this conversation, Cheoljong’s first response, at So Yong’s proposal, is that she will make enemies of her clan, if she forms an alliance with him. I find that considerate; he’s concerned that she doesn’t understand the implications and will regret alienating herself from her family. Aw. That’s thoughtful of him, yes?
Also, yay for handshakes, the removal of the “no touch” rule, and love shots, hee.
What makes this scene even better, to me, is the fact that once they’ve drunk to their alliance, So Yong’s first order of business, is an honest conversation, to understand why Cheoljong had tried to kill her before. That’s so healthy! I love that Cheoljong doesn’t attempt to avoid it, but instead leans into it and tells her the truth, and apologizes. I also love how readily So Yong accepts his answer, and simply tells him that he owes her one, now.
E15. Tee hee hee. I’m very tickled by how the sight of Cheoljong’s bare chest discombobulates So Yong. And it definitely helps, that So Yong’s very cognizant of how attractive she finds Cheoljong, and her main beef with it, is how it hurts her pride. Heh. Her subsequent attempt to maybe-possibly seduce Cheoljong with ramyun, thrilled to hold onto the rationalization that she needs to try [sexytimes with Cheoljong] again, in order to figure out whether her enjoyment of the experience was just a one time thing because she was drunk or if this is a real thing, is breathily hilarious. Cheoljong’s confused bemusement is just bonus. Such a great little scene, truly.
And last but not least, YESSS, Cheoljong finally makes the connection that the person who had saved him from the well in his youth, wasn’t Hwa Jin, but So Yong. I am chomping at the bit to see how this affects both his relationship with So Yong, and his (now disintegrating) relationship with Hwa Jin.
E16. I am digging this new development, that So Yong teaches Cheoljong about the future, because she wants to help him achieve the Joseon that he dreams of – even though she knows that it isn’t the way history worked out, and therefore, the odds are stacked against Cheoljong. The look on her face, as she thinks the thought, “I want to put everything on the line for this man who is bound to lose,” makes me feel like she’s quite entranced by him. So Yong does love her king indeed.
I love the fact that Cheoljong listens to So Yong’s stories of the future with rapt attention and a serious mind, even though he admits that he can’t quite believe that they are true. He takes her seriously, and accords her words with deep thought, regardless of whether he thinks it’s fact or fantasy. How swoony is that??
Their regular chats through the night, resulting in them falling asleep right there over the table, is such an endearing thing. It’s no wonder the palace maids are all saying that the king’s head over heels for his queen. 🤩
How meaningful, that Cheoljong makes it a point to return the book from the well to So Yong, this time, with her name written on it. I love the way he puts it, “You can hurt someone by not knowing the truth. It took too long… for me to return this to its owner. I am sorry… for not recognizing you.” There’s so much thought and heart in those words. I love that he realizes that his not knowing the truth had resulted in hurt for So Yong.
I also love that So Yong apologizes too, for not being honest with him for a long time. Aw, it really feels like these two are growing in their understanding of each other, and I really like that.
E16. Pwahaha.. I’m quite surprised by this new development, that So Yong’s pregnant. I can see that she’s totally blindsided by this, even though everyone else is jubilant at the news. How will our reluctant rebel queen deal with pregnancy and all the challenges that come with it, and will it prevent her from achieving her goal of saving Cheoljong?
E17. Even though it’s played for laughs, I find Cheoljong’s happy-tearful response, as he realizes that he’s going to be a father, heartfelt and moving. I love that he’s so happy about So Yong’s pregnancy.
While there’s silly comedy around Cheoljong asking for advice on how to appease his upset wife, I appreciate his conclusion, that he’s the one who knows her best, and therefore, he’s the one who knows how best to make her happy. Aw. His conclusion, that So Yong would enjoy some time at the royal villa, where she’d be able to revel in a bit of freedom. Cheoljong’s right; he does understand So Yong well. Freedom really is one of the things that she values the most. Aw.
Also, how cute, that they’re holding hands! So Yong acts all awkward about it, but she clearly does like it, especially given the way she swoons on Cheoljang’s hand and caresses it, without even realizing. 😆
E17. Like I mentioned earlier, I am highly amused at Cheoljong’s and So Yong’s efforts to show public affection, so that they can quench the rumors about them. I love the fact that both of them are equally proactive in increasing the skinship levels between them, with So Yong even hiking her leg around Cheoljong’s waist, to Cheoljong’s delight – and the blushing awkwardness of all their attendants. Tee hee. These two can be so flirty with each other. This was great. 🤩
E17. It’s a testament to how much Cheoljong loves So Yong, that he would agree to Byeong In’s demand, in order to protect her – even though he knows that this will put his own life in danger. I hate that Cheoljong leaves without saying goodbye to So Yong. I mean, was this even a condition that Byeong In had laid out? I rationalize that he’d probably have found it even harder to leave, if he’d allowed himself to say goodbye to So Yong, but.. that’s just too cruel to both of them, no? 😭
Cha Chung Hwa & Chae Seo Eun as Court Lady Choi & Hong Yeon
I absolutely loved Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon; they brought so much extra fun and warmth to our drama world.
Hong Yeon’s sweet, earnest, wholehearted love for So Yong is like a ray of sunshine, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to Hong Yeon’s sweet spirit. And Court Lady Choi’s a delight, with her fantastic comic timing, and her often deadpan expressions of consternation.
[MINOR SPOILER] For example, in episode 5, Court Lady Choi’s gasping, heaving sobs are so funny, and her wailing remorse over how she’s made the queen miserable with her continuous nagging is so sad-cute; the woman deserves an award. 🤩 [END SPOILER]
Lee Jae Won as Special Director Hong
I really enjoyed Lee Jae Won’s turn as Special Director Hong.
Even though Cheoljong and Youngpyeong are also putting on on a dummy act by day, so that they can ninja by night, Special Director Hong’s ridiculous slacker act is extra amusing to me. His shallow, petulant act is perfect for causing the people around him to roll their eyes and not take him seriously – especially that thing in episode 3, about how he picked his trainees for their faces instead of their abilities. Pfft. That kinda reminds of Hwarang, which was a breathtakingly bad idea. 😆
I was also very tickled that Hong Yeon develops a crush on Special Director Hong, and he even gets a garment-swishing slo-mo hero moment, and the heart-eyes to go with. Tee hee. So cute.
Choi Jin Hyuk as Bong Hwan
Generally speaking, I have to confess that I am not a huge Choi Jin Hyuk fan 😅; I find his delivery a little stiff, in general. However, this role suits him perfectly, and I especially loved his voiceovers; his deep voice provides such a fun contrast to Shin Hye Sun’s ladylike visuals. 😆
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Seol In Ah as Hwa Jin
My feelings towards Hwa Jin went through quite an evolution, because her role in our story evolves quite a bit as well.
From simply being the royal consort who’s deeply in love with her king, we start to see from about episode 5 onwards, that Hwa Jin’s keeping some dark secrets from Cheoljong, and isn’t as pure and innocent as she portrays herself to be.
We don’t find out what that secret is for a good chunk of our story, but in the meantime, as the connection between Cheoljong and So Yong grows stronger, so does Hwa Jin’s evil streak, because hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Hwa Jin has no political agenda for her actions; for her, it really is all about Cheoljong.
I rather like the simplicity of that, but the problem is in how Hwa Jin turns her fury towards tearing down So Yong by any means possible. That was not very endearing at all, certainly.
In the end, Show does give Hwa Jin a redemption arc, which is arguably rather simplistic in the grand scheme of things, but which I much prefer to Show making her outright evil. I’m glad that Hwa Jin eventually makes peace with So Yong in episode 17 before leaving the palace, and that she also speaks honestly and kindly to Youngpyeong, admitting that she’d knowingly used his feelings for her.
The scheming matriarchs in our story are basically a necessary evil in any sageuk world. I mean, what’s a royal court without schemers and manipulators, right? I’m glad that Show chooses to play them kind of large and theatrical, while occasionally being comical. That definitely added levity to machinations that were otherwise cruel and self-serving, and therefore a potential downer to have in our drama world.
Between them, I was more entertained by Bae Jong Ok, whom I feel has got just the right kind of condescending, scheming, matriarchal energy, meshed nicely with some very solid comic timing.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Na In Woo as Byeong In
For the record, I did not think Byeong In as a character made a lot of sense, honestly.
It occurred to me partway through my watch, that Byeong In feels like a character from a completely different world. It’s like he doesn’t realize that Cheoljong is his king, and therefore, even if he’s a puppet king, he needs to accord him with a reasonable degree of respect. The way he swears under his breath to kill Cheoljong during the fan fight in episode 12 feels jarring, and I realize that that’s because Byeong In doesn’t actually have his eye on the throne.
In a sageuk, it’s not that kings don’t get killed; it’s that they only get killed if it’s for the throne. And here, Byeong In’s obsession with So Yong feels like such a petty reason to want to kill the king. I mean, he’d known that So Yong was going to marry the king, and had still harbored feelings for her. What did he expect, that she wouldn’t marry Cheoljong? Or that she’d marry him, but not have relations with him? Or that she’d have relations with him, but not feelings? None of those options makes sense to me, and Byeong In’s petulance and blatant disrespect for Cheoljong made me roll my eyes quite often.
Suffice to say, I didn’t like Byeong In very much. 😒 Which is why, in episode 8, I actually felt very gratified at the sight of Byeong In’s distress, in response to hearing the sounds of the royal couple boisterously making out and knocking things down all over the place. The more Byeong In looks like he’s about to lose his mind, the more I gloat, heh. (I’m sorry for being mean! But also, gloatgloatgloat~) 😆
That said, Show does give Byeong In a nice redemption arc in our last episode, and for what it’s worth, it did effectively make me feel more kindly towards him.
Yoo Min Kyu as Youngpyeong
I don’t have very strong feelings about Youngpyeong, but I just wanted to say that through most of the show, Youngpyeong looks like he’s literally on the verge of tears.
I don’t understand. Is this directed by PD-nim, or is this Yoo Min Kyu’s own interpretation of the character? Either way, his constantly woeful expression, which consistently makes him look like he’s about to cry at any moment, did not work for me. 🤷🏻♀️
SPOTLIGHT ON EPISODE 18 [SPOILERS]
Dang. That was a rollercoaster of an episode; I.. need a moment.
Even though Show’s general tone and vibe have given me the expectation of a happy ending of some sort, I can’t help fearing for Cheoljong’s life, because, 1, this is a sageuk after all, and people do die in sagueks, and 2, this is a fantasy story as well, so it’s also quite possible that Cheoljong could die (and be somehow resurrected later? I dunno; I mean, Bong Hwan’s own body is in a deep coma, so I feel like anything is possible).
Because of this, I found that this episode’s initial stretch, where Show is treating So Yong’s worry for Cheoljong with a relatively light touch, I couldn’t really get into the bits that were intended for funny. I really felt for So Yong as she struggles with her worry for Cheoljong, and that scene where she breaks into tears on the excuse that she’s pricked her finger on a needle, her bright, tear-filled eyes really moved me. I also couldn’t shake the dread gathering in my chest, as I wondered what had actually happened to Cheoljong.
I found the faking of Cheoljong’s death despicable at every level, and I wish I could wipe the smug look off the Grand Queen Dowager’s face, while all this is going on. It really seems that it doesn’t matter what the truth is, as long as Cheoljong can be written off as dead, and her regency can be resumed. Ugh.
So Yong grieving for the loss of Cheoljong is so sad to watch. The scene where she discovers that Cheoljong’s written an entry in the baby diary that she’d started, is especially bittersweet, as we hear Cheoljong promises his unborn baby in voiceover, that he will be there to welcome him, when he’s born. 😭 And, how thoughtful of Cheoljong, to ask the baby to come out quickly into the world, so that he doesn’t put his mother to a lot of trouble. So sweet, and so sad, all at the same time. 💔
I did feel pleased, though, when So Yong starts to realize that all is not as it seems, and starts to investigate. The way she sneaks in to examine the body that supposedly belongs to Cheoljong, and determines – after feeling him up, er, thoroughly – is so like her. I do love how So Yong’s able to piece the clues together, to conclude that there’s a good chance that Cheoljong is alive. Huzzah!
And, how compassionate of So Yong, to call Hwa Jin out of exile, to tell her the news that Cheoljong isn’t dead. I do find Hwa Jin’s relieved tears, as she kneels to thank So Yong, touching; she does indeed sincerely love Cheoljong, to the best of her ability. Also, it looks like So Yong might have plans for Hwa Jin to be part of the plan, in bringing Cheoljong back to the palace, though I can’t figure out what they might be. I do like the idea of So Yong and Hwa Jin finally working together on the same side, though.
I love how gung-ho So Yong is, in sneaking out of the palace to save Cheoljong, because, as she puts it, she’s the only one he has left. How bold of her, to tell Byeong In the naked truth, that the So Yong that he thinks he loves, is no longer there. I also feel that there’s a sense of indignation in her words, like she’s genuinely aggrieved at Byeong In’s ignorance and thoughtlessness, on Original So Yong’s behalf. I feel like it’s about time Byeong In gets shaken up, but I’m also nervous at the implication of what his new knowledge might mean, for So Yong.
It’s very cute how Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon insist on going with So Yong to save Cheoljong, and their girls’ adventure is warm and wholesome – until it isn’t.
I’m horrified that Court Lady Choi gets sliced down while trying to protect So Yong, and not only that, Hong Yeon then dives ahead as a decoy, in order to buy So Yong some time. Gah. Did we just lost both Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon, in one fell swoop?? 😭😭 Tell me it ain’t so! I love those two ladies. 😭
While it’s something of a relief to see that Cheoljong isn’t dead, his safety is still in question at the end of the episode, since his rescuer finds him snooping around. On top of that, Byeong In’s literally dangling So Yong over the edge of a cliff, and I find myself feeling very concerned for the safety of our royal OTP indeed. 😬
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
What a solid, solid penultimate episode this turned out to be. Not only do we get a lot of plot movement, we get some surprising turns, lots of feels, as well as a good helping of nail-biting uncertainty, as we prepare to go into our finale. Very nicely done, I thought.
First of all, given how Byeong In’s been something of a loose cannon in recent episodes, I didn’t expect him to give up his life protecting So Yong – whom he’d been trying to kill, just last episode. But – and credit to Show – his actions actually do make sense, given his characterization. He’s always loved So Yong, to the extent of being rather obsessive about it. And so, when it occurs to him that the original So Yong might still be alive, somewhere in her overtaken body, he chooses to give all he has, to protect her.
I mean, make no mistake; I still don’t exactly like Byeon In as a character, but I do think there’s something poetic and moving, about someone being willing to give up his life, for another. And that’s what he does this episode, for the woman that he loves, even though there is no guarantee that she is still alive. And yet, he dies for the possibility that she might still be alive. Wow. That’s pretty mind-blowing, isn’t it?
I honestly didn’t think that Show would be able to make me feel sympathy for Byeong In, after all the nefarious things that he’s done. And yet, with this one move, I find myself feeling rather sorry for him, for having lived such a misguided life. I’ll say that’s pretty impressive.
I’m glad that So Yong and Cheoljong have the grace to give him a proper burial, later on. And, I do think that it says something about our royal couple, that the way they treat Byeong In in death, is so gracious and full of gratitude.
Second, I love how it’s Cheoljong who finds So Yong, because that quells her fears on two levels, at the same time. 1, she is assured of his safety, because she can see him and touch him for herself, and 2, she is now safe, and won’t have to wander the mountains on her own any longer. Their reunion is so full of emotion; So Yong’s bawling, her eyes bright with tears, and Cheoljong’s palpable relief – just watching them cleave to each other made my heart swell. I’m just so happy that they are together now.
AND, I’m so, SO relieved to know that both Court Lady Choi and Hong Yeon are alive and well. AUGH. Show really had me going for a while there. Part of me wants to give Show a bit of a stink-eye for toying with my feelings like this, but I’m so relieved that they’re ok, that I’ll let it pass. The reunion of the three ladies is so emotional and so full of warmth and love, that I feel like my heart’s going to burst. I’m just so happy that they’re ok, and they’re together again. ❤️
Ok, so it’s a bit of a stretch that So Yong would feel fine enough to be frisky with Cheoljong after being stabbed in the shoulder by a sword, but I rationalize that her feelings at being reunited with Cheoljong are so strong, that the physical discomfort fades in comparison.
And while the kisses that our royal couple share are full of feeling, to me, it’s the way So Yong cradles Cheoljong face with her hand, and the way that he instinctively leans his face into her hand as she does so, that gets me in the heart the most. There is so much intimacy and tenderness in this one single moment. So much.. belonging. I love. ❤️
I was hoping that Hwa Jin would continue to act in partnership with So Yong, and I am very pleased to see that Hwa Jin is busily putting up posters everywhere in the city, proclaiming the truth that the king lives. YES. I love the idea that So Yong and Hwa Jin are on the same side now, and working together for a common goal. 😍
At the same time, I am amused and quite thrilled that our Head Royal Chef feels the loss of the king and queen, and his beloved Court Lady Choi so much, that he quits the palace and ends up finding them in the mountains. Huzzah! I love this hodge-podge reunion, and I am supremely tickled by all the little romantic moments that he ends up sharing with Court Lady Choi. Kudos to Show, for making it possible for me to go from mourning Court Lady Choi’s death one episode, to squeeing at her holding hands with Head Royal Chef the next. The emotional rollercoaster was worth it, I say. 😆
How neat, that Head Royal Chef’s arrival also means that our little rogue royal team gets important intel on the wagons that are allowed into the palace, even when everything else is closed off. I mean, that took some advanced planning by writer-nim, to make it all seem plausibly organic, and Show pulls it off very nicely. I’m impressed.
When Cheoljong asks So Yong whether this is a fight that he will win, since she says she’s from the future and therefore already knows the outcome, I actually felt a little disappointed, to be honest. I had hoped that Cheoljong would have a chance to actually change the course of history, simply because in his timeline, he hasn’t lived it yet. However, Show goes with the more fatalistic way of thinking about things; that there is no way that history can be changed, because somewhere, sometime, it has already happened.
What I do like about this scene, though, is how So Yong tells Cheoljong, without a hint of irony or regret, that even though this is a fight that he loses, she will bet everything on him. What a long way our Bong Hwan / So Yong has come, and this is all because of her love for Cheoljong.
I also really like how Cheoljong takes her statement about his loss in his stride, and simply focuses on the fact that she’s gone all-in with him, and is heartened enough by her support, to be able to sincerely say that he will do his best, even if he is destined to lose. There is so much earnest, honest passion in here. I love it, and also, it just makes me want even more, for Cheoljong to defy history and win this thing.
The way Cheoljong and So Yong take the chance to snuggle up while they’re being transported in the secret compartment in the wagon is so full of tension and.. desire. Ahem. I am amused that our royal couple consistently has the hots for each other, even when they are in an uncomfortable and dangerous situation, ha. Their whispered flirtations are so suggestive and naughty; I almost expect them to actually start making out right then and there. 😆
How worrying though, that Minister Kim stops the wagon upon its entry into the palace, and is suspicious enough of it, to stab his sword at the false bottom. Eep. That can’t be good. Will our royal couple be able to get out of this unscathed? 😬
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
So I’d heard that reactions to this show’s ending have been very mixed, and I’d wondered how I’d feel, when I got to see Show’s chosen ending. Would I be a happy camper like many viewers seem to be, or would I hate it, like some of my friends?
Now that I’ve experienced Show’s ending for myself, I gotta say.. I don’t love it. I mean, I get Show’s rationale (I think), but this is not the ending that my heart wanted. 😭
Let me back up.
First, let me summarize the key events of this finale episode. Mainly, Cheoljong and So Yong make it back into the palace, and, after they are both shot by Sniping Scarface, Bong Hwan finds himself back in his own body, and original So Yong finds herself in control of her own body again. So Yong’s learned a thing or two, after having watched Bong Hwan navigate things while in her body, and she’s now stronger and sassier, even while retaining much of her original ladylike essence.
Bong Hwan, on the other hand, finds himself no longer trapped in a vegetative state, because Cheoljong’s managed to change the course of history enough, that Bong Hwan’s reality in the present is changed too. Bong Hwan is happy for Cheoljong, and smiles fondly while thinking of Cheoljong. Meanwhile, Cheoljong is still madly in love with his queen – and only occasionally feels like he’s lost something. But they still live happily ever after. End.
I.. think I get where Show was going with this, in that, I do understand that this is the path that puts people back in their rightful places, and gives the maximum number of people a happy ending. This is the choice that allows original So Yong to have her body back, and receive the love of Cheoljong, whom she’s always loved. And it allows Bong Hwan to return to his time, and have a functioning body.
Bbbut.. my struggle is, this means that Show essentially swops out the OTP, in our last minutes, after spending hours upon hours of screen time building up the connection between Cheoljong and somebody else. 😳 This feels like the drama equivalent of being catfished, and I gotta say, it’s not sitting so well with me. 😥
I mean, since Show was already going so ham with playing with history anyway, what would have been the harm in allowing Bong Hwan to continue to live as New So Yong, which Show had already established as a meshing of Bong Hwan and original So Yong, so that they are both represented? That would have retained the integrity of the relationship that Show’s been working to build over the entire length of our story, and I think, would’ve given us a happy ending that would have felt much more satisfying.
Sure, Bong Hwan wouldn’t be able to go back to his body in the present, but if we see that, 1, he doesn’t have much of a future in the present anyway because of his body’s vegetative state, and 2, he – well, now she – is much happier to stay on in Joseon with Cheoljong, wouldn’t that be enough?
I’m guessing that part of the reason that Show chose this ending, is also to stem any homophobia arising from the fact that New So Yong is part male, but HEY, Show’s already had New So Yong sleep with Cheoljong and be impregnated by him, so what’s the actual difference, honestly? 🙄
For the record, my headcanon says that this is Show’s OTP, and I’m sticking with it. 😑
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little rough with its takeoff and landing, but so solid in-between, that it’s completely worth it.
FINAL GRADE: B++
BONUS EPISODES – WHERE TO WATCH
The production released two 30-minute special episodes titled Mr. Queen: The Secret, which are designed to be a fun collection of B-side vignettes from our drama world.
If you’re geo-restricted, you can use Opera’s free, built-in, unlimited VPN to get around geo-restrictions. A tutorial on that can be found here, and an article on why it’s not illegal to use a VPN to access legal streaming content can be found here.
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Mr. Queen, is Oh! Master. I’ve taken an initial peek, and I’m cautiously optimistic! 😄
If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️