The closest I’ve gotten to watching a sageuk are The Rooftop Prince and Queen In Hyun’s Man. My first attempt was Emperor of the Sea 10 years ago and I just couldn’t get into it despite the rave reviews so let’s just say I usually stay away from them. Plus it certainly doesn’t help that many of them are like 50+ episodes and who has time for that?
I hadn’t planned on watching this because despite liking bromance, I figured it would be a sausage fest as all primary leads are male. In addition, it’s described on Wiki as a “period, action, romance, melodrama, political” which is not my cup of tea. I like to laugh and not cry watching evil generals kill each other in a bid for power. However, I was bored one evening plus I’d come across some positive reviews of this drama so I decided to give it a shot. If it sucked, I’d just X out of the window like I’ve done a thousand times. My initial thoughts? It’s delightful.
For starters, perhaps it appeals to my taste because it’s a fusion drama – they even played Crayon Pop’s Bar, Bar, Bar with traditional instruments. However, what really got me was the humor. We’re not talking slapstick but funny dialogue and situations. And I sincerely hope this tone is maintained throughout the course of the show.
The episode begins in the future… well, it’s technically still our past but yeah. Anyway, a writer called Park Ji Won – who wrote about Beijing – strolls through a library in that city and comes across The Memoirs of Park Dal Hyang. He reads it from cover to cover and starts to wonder how differently things would have turned out if the king’s older brother had ruled. His friend tells him to stop thinking about it so much because the book is pure fiction and Park Dal Hyang never existed. But he did. Oh yes, he did. Park Dal Hyang was a general in that era but he most likely used an alias to protect his identity.
The legend begins with a 22- year-old Park Dal Hyang leaving his hometown for Hanyang (Seoul) to take the military service exam. Instead of giving him money, his father hands him a letter for the Minister of Finance who is his uncle’s brother-in-law’s cousin. LMAO. This elicited my first chuckle. Given their special relationship, he assures his son that he will be well taken care of. His father had filled his head with stories of his own journey for the exam so he naively expects everything to go smoothly. Luckily for him, his mother is more realistic especially as her son will be riding on a 20-year-old horse and forces him to take some money with him.
Mother knows best and only four days into the trip, his horse collapses. That adds 10 days to his journey as it is nursed back to health. Next are heavy storms that force him to rest in a town. And just as time is running out, a murderous tiger is on the rampage and he has to wait till it’s caught. He eventually arrives in Hanyang the day before his exam. He takes the magic letter to the Minister’s house but the guy is out of town and there’s no space for him because all his other relatives have filled the place.
Country bumpkins don’t often realize how dangerous city life is so he walks through the city center with his purse hanging from his waist which is like placing your wallet on your head in New York City. A thief cuts it off which he realizes just quickly enough to slap it out of his hand which sends the bag into the air, making it rain in the town square. Needless to say, while it’s a sucky day for him, it’s a lucky day for several passersby.
He manages to grab a small fraction of his money and heads to an inn. There’s a long line but his luck turns and he gets a room. He’s expecting to pay 1 nyang but given the demand, it’s been inflated to 10 nyang. He asks for a discount, pitifully showing him all he’s got but the inn keeper couldn’t care less and takes exactly 10 nyang. He’s got two left and when he pleads for a bowl of rice, explaining he hasn’t eaten all day, he’s told it will cost him two nyang. Poor thing.
He is shown his room and to his disappointment, he’s got two roommates. Could the day get any worse?
Yes, it can. In the middle of the night, a group of bandits beat the hell out of his roommate. It turns out that they’ve been paid by some powerful people to beat all promising candidates to give their kids better shots at passing the exam. There’s no 911 and pure-hearted country bumpkins don’t know to look the other way so he chases after them and runs into three horsemen. It’s obvious from their clothing that they aren’t ordinary men but all he’s thinking about that moment is borrowing a horse. They refuse him but he has no time to waste so he climbs behind a rider and tells them what the bandits did.
Luckily for him, these are good people. All three share a look but it’s clear that the middle horseman is their leader. Upon hearing the explanation, he chases after the bandits and the other two follow. They catch them, there’s a lot of fighting and even though it isn’t easy, Dal Hyang catches two on his own. All are soon huddled up and carted away by the police. Even Dal Hyang can tell that it was all resolved a little too easily and immediately concludes that he was helped by powerful people. He introduces himself and asks who they are. The middle horseman tells him that they are The Three Musketeers. Why that name? As they ride away, he reveals that it was the first thing that popped into his head. Who are these people?
Ordinarily, this would become an anecdote one shared at dinner parties but it’s a legend and they must meet again. How? The middle horseman is the Crown Prince. The guy Dal Hyang rode with (Min Seo) is one of his guards and he finds a letter he left behind. He reads it and is shocked by its contents. At this point, I was wondering what shocking thing his father could possibly have written there.
The Crown Prince and his other guard (Seung Po) go into a gisaeng house where a Chinese man fills the prince in on a war taking place. Meanwhile, Min Seo shows Seung Po the letter and an impish look covers his face. Okay, this so can’t be Appa’s letter to his uncle’s brother-in-law’s cousin. The prince reads the letter and a dark cloud covers his face. Does this involve a woman?
Meanwhile, Dal Hyang returns to his room, frantically searches for the letter and we get confirmation that there are two. While he doesn’t find it, he receives a note asking him to meet the musketeers somewhere.
What exactly is this letter? It’s from a woman to Dal Hyang promising her undying love. She tells him to come to Hanyang to take the test so that they can be together. And she doesn’t care how long it takes – she will wait for him till all her hair turns grey. Ah, young love. The letter is signed “Yoon Seo.”
Dal Hyang shows up demanding the letter but is accused of conspiracy. Conspiracy? Yes. How else can he explain being in possession of a love letter from the Crown Princess? Yep, Yoon Seo didn’t wait till she was an old lady and is already married to the Crown Prince. Dal Hyang’s face falls which surprises the prince but apparently, news like this doesn’t get to the boonies. Dal Hyang is heartbroken because he’d held on to this love – with no contact- for five years. The formerly suspicious crown prince unexpectedly feels sorry for him.
The minute a prince learns that he wasn’t his bride’s first love is the minute he needs to talk to her about it – which he does. So far, our prince hasn’t been presented as a brute so it’s no surprise that the meeting is more teasing than confrontational. She’s shocked when he mentions Dal Hyang and stammers out an explanation of stopping in his town when her mother was sick. Her mother asked her to encourage him because he was working so hard for the country and she thinks he misunderstood her intentions. The prince nods then shows her the letter. LOL.
He tells her that she’s denying the man that bet his life on her. This is a man who planned to marry her after passing the test but now that his reason is gone, he has lost all interest in it. Which frustrates the prince because he may have lost a talented, potential general. She asks if he’s suspicious of her because he obviously came to gauge her feelings and he says that he just came to tell her about Dal Hyang who’s got that innocent love lacking in Hanyang men. Before he leaves, he asks her where the bold girl who wrote that letter went.
Meanwhile, Dal Hyang’s life has come crashing down. The girl he loves is a princess! She’s a princess! Which means that she will be stuck in that palace and he will never get to see her again. He really doesn’t want to take that stinking exam but he was ordered by the musketeers to pass it and place first if he doesn’t want to get charged with treason. Apparently, that’s the only way he can prove his innocence. In addition, if he doesn’t succeed, it will be reported to the violent, jealous Crown Prince who will kill Yoon Seo and her entire family. He finds it ridiculous but how would he live with himself if all they threatened came to pass? Besides, who else can he trust but the only people who’ve helped him?
So Dal Hyang reluctantly takes the exam and kicks ass, placing either first or second in most of the contests. 28 applicants pass through to the final round and the king picks the hardest skill for them to get tested on which happens to be Mounted Archery, one where Dal Hyang placed first. It’s all in the bag, right? Well not quite. Because when it’s Dal Hyang’s turn to take the test, the Crown Prince and his bodyguards arrive.
He’s shaken up and stunned, however, it’s time to show off his skill so he gets his bow in position and heads down the course with a million thoughts running through his mind. How can that be? All this while, this is who they were? The bastard who stole his girl played him like a sucker? He can’t take his eyes off the smug prince’s face. However, an archer on a horse not looking where he’s going spells D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R or in this instance, he misses the target and hits a horse instead. The poor, injured animal goes haywire and fucks up the whole place. Logs are thrown everywhere, the generals and king are scared out of their minds and duck. We’re talking grown men crying like babies (why didn’t they try to run, though?). It’s total chaos but what about our Crown Prince? What’s he doing? Does he look guilty or apologetic? Nope. He just sits there and laughs boisterously. Bastard.
Laugh all you want, Monsieur Crown Prince, our country bumpkin is coming for you.
LOL. What can I say? I loved it. We know the Crown Prince doesn’t become king so a tragedy might await him but who has time to cry about things that haven’t yet happened? Right now, the show is funny and I’m looking forward to seeing how Dal Hyang becomes part of the gang. Yes, he’s nursing a broken heart but he dodged a bullet because obviously, Yoon Seo isn’t loyal. The Crown Prince is a nice guy so I doubt he knowingly married her while she was under duress. Maybe she married him out of duty or something. Or perhaps she forgot about Dal Hyang. But I don’t really care much about that: it’s all about the bromance for me.
I’m not sure if Yong Hwa is the lead but the story is being told through his character’s eyes and he had the most screen time in the first episode. He’s known for being a stiff actor but I think he’s improved tremendously or has found a director who knows how to get what he needs from him because he did a good job in this episode. Clap for yourself, Shin Woo hyung.
I first saw Yang Dong Geun in Ruler Of Your Own World and I remember thinking: “My, this guy isn’t very cute.” In in my defense, I was young and immature then… and shallow, I suppose. Anyway, I think I will love his character here since he seems to be a good-natured, cheeky troublemaker and that’s my kind of guy.
I first saw Lee Jin Wook in Someday and I can’t say I’m one of his biggest fans but I think he was well cast as this powerful man who enjoys making people squirm while laughing at them on the inside. I don’t know who the other kid is but at least he’s cute. Bottom line: I think I will have fun with these four men.
On the female side, we only got introduced to the Crown Princess and I hope we get to see the feistiness her husband believes she’s hiding. It’s a fusion drama so they should go all the way and let the women kick ass.
Anyway, this was a very good intro episode that had me wanting more. I hope we don’t get too melodramatic with the romance, the show continues to make me laugh then maybe I’d end up enjoying all the political backstabbing that is sure to come.