So full disclosure, I didn’t hard drop this show. I just.. wandered off from it, after 4 episodes, and never managed to go back to it.
In the interest of closure, I’m writing a Dropped post, and will describe my experience with the show in this post, just to give you an idea of my impressions of its various working parts. I suppose you could think of this as a First Impressions sort of post; that works too.
If you have more experience with this show than I do (ie, you watched the whole thing, or at least, more than the 4 episodes that I watched), please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, to help everyone else decide if it’s a show worth checking out?
MY TRAJECTORY WITH THIS SHOW
I sincerely wanted to like this show, you guys. For one thing, I loved the poetry of the title, and I liked the idea of Kim So Hyun playing a badass princess, and I also thought Ji Soo was well cast, to play On Dal. I even started covering this show on Patreon, and managed to share episode notes up to episode 4.
But then, as you probably know, Ji Soo’s scandal broke, and that resulted in him leaving the show, and Na In Woo taking over the role of On Dal.
I pulled the show from Patreon coverage, more because I felt all this disruption was likely to impact the drama’s quality and thus make it unsuitable for Patreon coverage (since I always try to pick solid dramas to cover).
I had good intentions of keeping tabs on this one, out of sympathy for the cast and crew, but.. with so many other shows on my drama plate that I was writing about, time just ran away from me, and I never got around to going back to this one.
Admittedly, my interest to keep watching also faded with time, as new and shinier shows came out of Dramaland.
Right now, I’m just admitting out loud, via this Dropped post, that my good intentions of going back to this one are never going to materialize in me actually finishing this show. 😝
STUFF I LIKED
Kim So Hyun as Queen Yeon / Pyeonggang / Ga Jin
I thought Kim So Hyun did a solid job of her dual roles in this show.
In episode 1, we her playing Queen Yeon, Pyeonggang’s mother, and then later on, Kim So Hyun also takes on the role of Pyeonggang, when Pyeonggang’s grown up.
As Queen Yeon, even though Kim So Hyun’s clearly playing above her age, I thought she managed to carry Queen Yeon with a maturity and gravitas beyond her years. Therefore, it I didn’t find it very hard to believe Kim So Hyun as Queen Yeon, despite her youthful appearance.
Having only seen 4 episodes of this show, I realize I haven’t learned a great deal about Pyeonggang as a character, particularly since she spends some of that time not knowing about her own identity.
However, I do have a pretty positive impression of her, because Pyeonggang does come across as very steady and wise, in the face of danger, like in this incident, from episode 4.
E4. When Go Geon (Lee Ji Hoon) calls out to her while she’s in disguise as a palace maid, she considers it a moment, before she turns to face him. I’m surprised that she doesn’t even try to hide her identity, but on hindsight, I realize that she’s very sharp and shrewd to choose this path.
Without revealing her identity, Go Geon would have the upper hand in their interaction, since he’s the Head of Capital Defense, and she’s supposed to be a palace maid. Once she reveals her identity, however, he defers to her instead, because now she is a princess and not a maid. Very smart move.
The way she presents their options to him is shrewd too; that if he lets her go, they will both live, but if he does not, then one of them will have to die. It’s a gamble, but a calculated one. I believe that Pyeonggang also trusts in the allegiance that he’d once sworn to her as well.
Lee Ji Hoon as Go Geon
Go Geon is a gray character who finds himself in an interesting position, because his loyalties are torn between his father, and Pyeonggang herself, and I think Lee Ji Hoon does a really nice job of teasing out Go Geon’s conflicting layers, and adding depth to the character.
E4. What I find interesting, is Go Geon’s conflict around his assignment to kill Pyeonggang.
As we’ve seen in the flashback to their younger days, Go Geon had once told Pyeonggang, in response to her question of whether he would choose to be loyal to his tribe or the royal family, that none of it was important to him; that he would choose her. And so, even though he takes steps to obey his father’s orders, by searching for Pyeonggang and investigating Ghost Valley, he consistently chooses to let her go.
Lee Ji Hoon does a really nice job of delivering Go Geon with nuance, so that we can see that this isn’t an easy decision for him.
His father is strict and his expectations are high, and there certainly does seem to be a part of Go Geon that desires to live up to those expectations. But every time push comes to shove, he is unable to bring himself to do harm to Pyeonggang. His initial shocked wonderment at meeting her face to face, is well delivered too. It strikes me as feeling very raw and palpable, as if he hadn’t realized himself, how much he’d longed to see her again.
What an interesting choice Go Geon makes, in revealing to the king that Pyeonggang is alive.
Clearly, his internal conflict around his assignment to kill her is great enough, that he’s been galvanized into making a decision. And, it seems that this decision will pit him directly against his father, who wants the king dead, and Pyeonggang as well.
I’m very curious to know how this will pan out for Go Geon, who’s living up to his word to Pyeonggang, to choose her above all else. He’s a gray character for sure, but right now, he’s looking to be a rather friendly, warm shade of gray. And, I’m also curious to see whether Go Geon will be successful in his plan to bring Pyeonggang back to the palace as a Princess.
Kang Ha Neul as On Hyeob
I’d last seen Kang Ha Neul as his earnestly dorky simpleton character in When The Camellia Blooms, and so I was quite startled to be reminded that Kang Ha Neul can channel serious gravitas too.
I was suitably impressed with how commanding and dignified he made On Hyeob, in the little screen time he’s given in episode 1. What an efficient introduction and summary of On Hyeob the character, who’s a wise, strict but loving father, a respected warrior, and a fearless and loyal servant to those whom he serves.
In short, I thought Kang Ha Neul was fantastic as Oh Hyeob.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Show tries to do A LOT
From the get-go, Show typically feels very busy, serving up a lot to digest, and a pretty dizzying plethora of characters. It all made my head spin, to be honest.
It did feel a little overwhelming because of everything moving along so quickly, with so many people and moving parts involved, even while I was still trying to wrap my brain around who’s who. However, overall, it did feel like Show knows what it’s doing, and that things would become clearer as I went.
Also I don’t think it hampers the watch too much, even if you relax a little bit with keeping track of the details and who’s who. I’m guessing that you’d still get a good sense of the story, and be able to find your bearings reasonably well, even if there might be a little bit of confusion along the way.
Ji Soo as On Dal
Bearing in mind that I only saw Ji Soo in the role of On Dal, and never got to the point where Na In Woo took over the role, I can only comment on On Dal, in Ji Soo’s hands.
With On Dal being pitched as a simple, earnest, slightly dim sort of character, I actually felt Ji Soo was well cast.
E3. I do think that Ji Soo is perfectly suited to bring out On Dal as someone who’s hiding his skills and smarts in order to play a simpleton. And, his foolish smitten face, as he thinks about Pyeonggang, is so happily earthy and endearing. It’s quite sweet, really, that he knew from the start that she was an assassin, and pretended not to know, so that she wouldn’t be put in a difficult position. Aw.
On Dal’s connection with Pyeonggang / Ga Jin
Overall, from the little that I saw, I did enjoy the burgeoning connection between On Dal and Pyeonggang.
[MODERATE HIGH LEVEL SPOILER] At around the episode 3 mark, it occurred to me that while Pyeonggang is someone who’s trying to regain her lost past, On Dal is the opposite, as he’s living in hiding, trying to leave his past behind. [END SPOILER]
I thought that was a pretty interesting way to set them up as diametric opposites.
I don’t have insight to how this relationship develops, because, well, I never got there, but generally speaking, I did like what I saw, of the growing bond between On Dal and Pyeonggang.
E3. When On Dal realizes that something bad has happened to Ga Jin’s father, he wastes no time in seeking her out, and when he learns that she’s the one in trouble, he doesn’t hesitate to take her on the run. It’s like there’s no need to think, for him, when it comes to her. He’s that invested in her well-being.
E4. Another thing that really stands out to me this episode, is the fact that Dal could have literally freed himself from being hung upside down, at any time, but had chosen to remain Mo Yong’s (Choi Yu Hwa) prisoner for Pyeonggang’s sake.
That’s such an uncomfortable position to be in, even for a short period of time, and to make it even worse, Mo Yong even slits a vein (I think), so that Dal will bleed out slowly, while they wait for Pyeonggang to return. YET, he stays like that, for Pyeonggang’s sake.
That blows my mind – almost as much as the scene of him effortlessly freeing himself blew my mind. That was pretty darn cool, and I can’t blame Mo Yong for looking at Dal with new appreciation in her eyes.
How amusing, that Dal basically makes himself at home in Mo Yong’s household, doing chores and thoroughly impressing the servants, after freeing himself from his upside down prison. I’d expected him to perhaps shake everything off and leave, after the way Mo Yong treats him, but for Pyeonggang’s sake, he stays, and even cheerfully makes the best of it, as he does so. He’s so endearing, seriously.
Dal’s really all-in smitten with Pyeonggang, as his mother (Hwang Young Hee) rightly observes. When his friend Poong Gae (Kim Dong Young) asks him if Pyeonggang is so important to him that he’d make his mother and everyone at Ghost Valley worry, because of her, Dal doesn’t even hesitate a smidge before telling him yes.
And it’s not just lip service either. When Pyeonggang comes back and says that she has nowhere to go, Dal immediately takes her back to Ghost Valley and makes her a home. Aw. That’s really very sweet and caring.
It’s also very heartwarming to see everyone else at Ghost Valley take her in and welcome her warmly, on Dal’s account. It’s really good to see Pyeonggang starting to smile, as she eventually lets down her guard and allows herself to accept the warmth of the villagers.
Because of Pyeonggang’s reserved nature, which seems to have been developed while living as an assassin, her tearful reaction to realizing Dal’s identity leans on the muted side of things. However, her anguish at the implications is clear. The guilt is so heavy that she’s ready to throw herself off a cliff, in order to assuage it.
Conversely, Dal’s reaction to learning that Ga Jin is actually Princess Pyeonggang is much more emotional; the tears in his eyes and the look of torment on his face say so much about the anguish that he feels at the revelation, and his conflict, at the implications. The way he chokes out, “What am I supposed to do now? Your father killed my father and annihilated my tribe,” is so pained and raw. Oof. He sounds so broken, even as he asks why it has to be her.
Importantly, though, unlike Pyeonggang, Dal doesn’t think that death is the answer, and I am glad that he flat-out tells her that her life is not her own to take, because it was bought at such a high price. Even though he tells her now to find a way to live on her own, I have no doubt that his love for her will bring him right back to her path, sooner or later.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Sometimes stuff gets confusing
I have to admit that I spent a fair amount of time during my watch, dealing with feelings of confusion.
I don’t know if I should fault Show for not being clearer on these things, and therefore not being more accessible, or if I should commend Show for assuming that its audience is smart enough to make their own connections.
All I know for sure, is, this made the watch experience feel more effortful than I would have liked. 😝
Here’s a quick list of the things that I found confusing, in the first 4 episodes.
E1. One of the things I found confusing this episode, is the fact that Kim So Hyun plays both Princess Pyeonggang and her mother Queen Yeon.
When we flashback to Princess Pyeonggang’s younger days, where she’s played by Heo Jung Eun, after opening with a scene of Princess Pyeonggang played by Kim So Hyun, I was quite thrown to find that in the flashback, Kim So Hyun is the queen. Because I hadn’t looked up the cast list before my watch of the episode, I was preetty confused about what was going on, even though Show does make sure to introduce Princess Pyeonggang in each timeline.
E3. Show doesn’t tend to be very clear in showing us how things are connected.
For example, it took me a long second to put two and two together, and conclude that Mo Yong is the one supplying hallucinogens to the King, to make him act crazy. And it took me another long second, for me to conclude that it’s Go Won Pyo (Lee Hae Young) – who happens to be sleeping with Royal Consort Jin (Wang Bit Na) – who’s engaging Mo Yong’s services to supply those hallucinogens to the King.
Hmmm.. perhaps that’s the reason that Go Geon can demand information from Mo Yong? Because she’s in his father’s employ?
E3. Another thing that took me awhile to figure out, is that On Dal was aware of Mo Yong’s reputation for selling intel, and that’s why he rigged that elaborate ruse about selling herbs outside Mo Yong’s place of business – so that they’d get her attention, and gain an audience, so that Pyeonggang would be able to ask Mo Yong how she could meet Lady Gong Son (Kim Jung Young).
Kim Pub Lae as King Pyeongwon
From what I saw of him, I have to say, I did not think much of the King, and neither did I have much (or any) sympathy for him.
I mean, in episode 2, the flashback, where we’re shown that the King realizes that he’d made a mistake in assuming Queen Yeon was having an affair with Wol Gwang (Cho Tae Kwan), is kinda sad.
To be clear, I’m not sad for the King, who hadn’t hesitated to have his Queen assassinated over circumstantial evidence. The King deserves to feel guilty and tormented because of it. I’m sad for Queen Yeon, who’d lost her life because of it.
The immediate connection between Go Geon and Hae Mo Yong
Go Geon meets Hae Mo Yong in episode 3, and their immediate connection felt weird, to my eyes.
[SPOILER] They’ve literally just met, and it seems like right away, he’s treating her like his informant who owes him intel. I thought this was oddly managed. [END SPOILER]
On a tangent, I just want to say that I do find Mo Yong quite captivating. There’s a grace and soft power about her, like she’s some kind of enchantress; an interesting vibe, considering her youthful babyface.
Some logic stretches [SPOILERS]
There were a number of times when I felt the need to suspend disbelief because of our story’s logic stretches. Here they are, for the record:
E3. Why did Show go to all this trouble to make Pyeonggang the spitting image of her mother, if literally nobody in this drama is able to recognize her on sight? I would’ve imagined that was the whole point?
I’d thought On Dal recognized her, but he didn’t. Then I’d thought Lady Gong Son would recognize her, but she didn’t, both times. Yes, she eventually pieces together the fact that the young woman before her is Princess Pyeonggang, but that’s only after Pyeonggang gives her important information as clues.
And then, I thought Go Geon would be able to recognize her, but he doesn’t, not when he sees the drawing of her, and not when he sees her face; it isn’t until Lady Gong Son calls out to her, addressing her as Princess, that Go Geon realizes who she is.
Huh. If that was always going to be the case, why didn’t they use a different actress to play Queen Yeon? Then this lack of immediate recognition would actually make sense?
E2. I found it weird that Lady Gong doesn’t actually recognize her face when Ga Jin goes to Magnolia Hall – I mean, Show took the trouble to make sure Ga Jin’s the spitting image of the Queen, and doesn’t use it? – but I appreciate the callback to how Princess Pyeonggang had always arranged the painting and wooden sword just so, in her quarters, and how that’s used to trigger Lady Gong’s realization that the maid is, in fact, Princess Pyeonggang.
E3. The way Pyeonggang regains her memories simply after being told who she is, feels quite far-fetched, unless Show is saying that the Cheonjubang magic isn’t all that good?
To be honest, I didn’t hate what I watched, of this show.
In fact, after 4 episodes, it actually felt like Show was finally getting into its groove properly, after finally being done with set-up. Also, our story does move pretty fast, thus far, so it feels like Show has somewhere to be, and isn’t going to waste time getting there.
However, I have to admit that I generally don’t do very well with shows swapping out actors to play the same character. For example, I was pretty thrown, when Ji Woo took over the role of Eun Jae, in Age Of Youth 2, which had been played by Park Hye Soo in Season 1, and I feel like I never managed to embrace Ji Woo in the role, fully.
Therefore, I had a distinct feeling that I would struggle to get used to Na In Woo in the role of On Dal, after already getting used to Ji Soo in the role. That, plus my overflowing drama plate, and how this show felt more effortful to watch than I would’ve liked, resulted in my wandering off from this one, and just.. not coming back to it.
I’m sorry I don’t have more fangirl loyalty, Kim So Hyun-sshi! 🙈 I know you worked hard on this one.