Part of why STORY OF HYANG DAN works for me is because, although there’s an element of the ridiculous built in (it walks the line between farce and reality), at the center is Hyang Dan, and Seo Ji Hye plays her completely straight. The characters around her may be playing up the joke to whatever extent (the actress playing mean ol’ Weol Mae, for instance, is a hoot if you just look at her as a comic perfomer) — but Seo Ji Hye’s reading of Hyang Dan is entirely realistic, without a hint of meta awareness. And that’s a good thing — it saves the drama from sinking into overt jokiness. Choi Siwon is good too, and they’ve got great chemistry together, but Seo Ji Hye is really the one who holds this story up.
While the first episode was more light-hearted and high-spirited, the second episode gets a little more serious (but not too heavy — there are still plenty of jokes and laugh-out-loud moments) as we get more into the trials and tribulations that befall Hyang Dan.
EPISODE 2 SUMMARY
Hearing of Hyang Dan and Bang Ja’s upcoming wedding, Mong Ryong rushes to the village and angrily asks what she’s doing.
Mong Ryong tries to lead her away, but Hyang Dan resists; this is the path she should take, she’ll marry Bang Ja. Undeterred, Mong Ryong grabs her hand and takes her away.
Weol Mae spies them riding off on horseback, and tells Bang Ja his bride has run off. Bang Ja, who really is in love with her, rushes off with a group of villagers in pursuit of the errant couple.
I.S. (Infinite of Sound) – “미로” (labyrinth) ::
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In the forest, Hyang Dan tries to send Mong Ryong away without her — she doesn’t want a part in this. But he refuses, and they continue onward on foot, when they hear the voices of the villagers following close behind. Hyang Dan knows how futile this escape is, and drops sashes and bits of clothing behind to aid their pursuers in finding them.
Finally, she falls and refuses to continue. Mong Ryong asks heatedly if she wants to be caught (Hyang Dan: “We’ll be caught in the end anyway!”). Is she really willing to marry someone she doesn’t love?
Hyang Dan: “Love? Does love feed you? I’m different from you. If I’m chased out of my Lady’s home, I have to worry about how to survive the very next day. My blind father only has me, while he waits for the day he can open his eyes.”
Hyang Dan tries to run back to their pursuers, and Mong Ryong detains her, asking incredulously, “Are you in your right mind?” She retorts, “The one who’s out of his mind is you!”
With that, Hyang Dan shakes off his grasp — but the force causes him to fall backward and slide down a steep hill. Alarmed at causing him injury, she helps him limp along with his hurt leg.
Back at the village, Bang Ja returns empty-handed and dejected, while Weol Mae stews in frustration. For now, she keeps the details from Chun Hyang, because she still wants to marry her off to Mong Ryong and isn’t ready to declare that mission over.
Hyang Dan and Mong Ryong come upon an empty cottage in the woods, where they take up temporary refuge that night as she tends to his wounds. He lightly jokes that it’s nice where they are; what if they just set up house like this? She answers, also lightly, that she could be persuaded if he promised to provide her with comfort and luxury. He asks seriously, “Then, would you marry me?”
Startled, Hyang Dan stutters her answer:
Hyang Dan: “What? Perhaps in the next life… if I’m not a servant then, or if you’re not a nobleman… maybe then…”
Mong Ryong: “It’s heaven’s will.”
Hyang Dan: “What?”
Mong Ryong: “I said it’s heaven’s will that I met you like this. And so, we can’t be separated.”
Hyang Dan: “How do you know that? Can you make the sun rise from the west?”
Mong Ryong: “That just means I’ll have to make the impossible possible.”
Hyang Dan: “You mean, for instance… like passing the civil service examination in first place?”
She doesn’t mean it entirely seriously — especially considering that we’ve seen how he spends his studying hours. Initially daunted at the seeming impossibility of achieving that task, Mong Ryong then makes a deal with her — if he passes the exam in first place, she’ll marry him.
She doesn’t agree to his promise, but she doesn’t resist when he takes her hand in a pinky-swear.
I.S. (Infinite of Sound) – “자연스러워” (It’s natural), reposted from Episode 1.
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Mong Ryong will still have to leave soon for his studies, but that’s not a concern for tonight. He asks her, “Today, you’ll be my bride, won’t you?” and pulls her closer (with their interlocked pinky fingers). The scene fades out and we’re left to fill in the rest with our imaginations…
(It’s this show’s version of “marrying” the young lovers early, as in the folktale. If not in law, then in spirit.)
The next day, Hyang Dan faces a furious Weol Mae, who’s ready to kick her out of the household after guessing correctly that she was out all night with Mong Ryong. Hyang Dan begs for forgiveness, insisting she won’t have cause to see him anymore. Weol Mae orders her to say nothing to Chun Hyang, who doesn’t know any of the details.
Hyang Dan tells herself with a heavy heart, “If it can’t be, it can’t be. If I don’t see him, if I don’t meet him, I can forget.”
Still, she can’t stop herself from rushing to see Mong Ryong one last time as his caravan leaves the village, sent off by his father.
Hyang Dan: “Please don’t remember me. Please forget. Erase it all.”
A new magistrate arrives in Namwon, BYUN HAK DO (whose role, if you will recall, was played much more coolly by Uhm Tae Woong in Delightful Girl Choon Hyang). With his awful, irrational temper, he’s feared by everyone — particularly young ladies, since the lecherous ol’ guy is still single. But HILARIOUSLY, nobody can understand his thick accent, so they quiver in fear while asking, “What did he say?” HA! I love it.
Wrongfully killed ghost-sisters Jang Hwa and Hong Ryun make a reappearance to wonder if the new magistrate will be able to understand them (when they ask him to bring justice to their killers. In their lore, they ask every magistrate to right their wrong, but they’re unsuccessful for a long time because they scare them to death). But no worries, as younger sis Hong Ryun has been perfecting her southern accent. BWAHAHA.
Mong Ryong studies diligently, now that he has a goal. Even when the other scholars are asleep at their tablets, Mong Ryong pays close attention — and thankfully, his lessons pay off. The national civil service examination asks a question that was taught on the night everyone else was asleep (hehe). Well, vigilance pays off.
Thus Mong Ryong earns the distinction of passing in first place, with a medal to prove his achievement.
Mong Ryong travels back to Namwon for two reasons: (1) naturally, to rush back to Hyang Dan’s side; and (2) now that he’s passed the civil service exam, he’s been appointed as undercover government official, whose job is to inspect the administration of local governments. Upon arrival, he finds that certain events have transpired in his absence…
The wicked Byun Hak Do’s reign of terror has him imprisoning and torturing villagers for the most trifling offenses. Furthermore, he’s fallen in love at first sight with the lovely(ish) Chun Hyang, the sight of whom turns him into a babbling fool. Or at least, more of one. He becomes determined to make her his mistress, and orders her to spend a night with him…
…and naturally, Chun Hyang and Weol Mae are not pleased. But they fear what would happen if Chun Hyang refuses — judging from his quick temper in torturing other villagers, there’s no doubt he would do the same to Chun Hyang. Chun Hyang bemoans her cursed beauty like a professional martyr: “Being beautiful… is a crime!”
And so, motherly instincts prompt Weol Mae to save her precious daughter with the sacrifice of one less-precious, less-daughterly figure: Hyang Dan.
She instructs Hyang Dan to take Chun Hyang’s place in spending the night with the magistrate, and to hide her face so that he doesn’t realize the switch. Weol Mae guilt-trips her, reminding her that Hyang Dan owes her, and Hyang Dan has no choice but to submit to her miserable fate.
The same night, the band of rogues led by Mong Ryong’s friend make another raid. (I’d initially thought the friend might a reference to Hong Gil Dong, but he isn’t — because Mong Ryong jokes to him early on, “Who do you think you are, Hong Gil Dong?” Heh.)
Outraged at the vices of their magistrate, they’re targeting Byun Hak Do — and thankfully for Hyang Dan, they arrive just as he comes upon her in the darkened room, eagerly anticipating a night with his beloved Chun Hyang.
But relief is short-lived, because the magistrate discovers Hyang Dan’s identity, and is furious that the three ladies had attempted to trick him. He brings them before him, intending to punish them severely.
…at which point Mong Ryong arrives as the inspector, having heard reports of the citizens’ misery.
Mong Ryong demands to know the ladies’ offenses, and Magistrate Byun wildly constructs a story to cover his ass, saying that Hyang Dan sneaked into his quarters at night and tried to seduce him. Weol Mae admits that it was all Hyang Dan’s idea. Chun Hyang had so faithfully awaited the return of her “husband” (Mong Ryong) that they couldn’t give her up to the magistrate — so Hyang Dan offered to take her place.
With no proof of the three women’s “crimes,” Mong Ryong orders them to be freed, against Byun’s protests. Likewise, Mong Ryong has no proof against Byun’s crimes (extorting his citizens), because his bandit friend had chosen that night to rob him — terrible timing for the bandits to get rid of the evidence against him! Still, Mong Ryong is determined to bring the magistrate to justice asap.
Hyang Dan seeks peace in the bamboo forest, remembering Mong Ryong’s advice that told her to walk along with closed eyes, listening to the wind. She complies… and bumps right into him.
He gives her his medal — it’s hers because she’s the reason he studied hard to pass the exam and become a government official.
Another hysterical bit — and there are so many! — occurs when the bandit leader then RETURNS all the stolen loot to Magistrate Byun (so that he can then be caught!).
However, Byun knows what he’s trying to do and tries to refuse the return. So at one point, the loot flies back and forth in the air, crossing paths, as both sides actually fight over who DOESN’T keep the goods — HAHAHA.
Magistrate Byun is out to get Mong Ryong — because he’s a threat to him politically, and also romantically, seeing that Chun Hyang is set on marrying him. He sees what’s going on between Hyang Dan and Mong Ryong, and figures that the way to get the man is to bring down his woman. So he sends someone to ransack her quarters — where he finds Mong Ryong’s bandit clothing from the very beginning of Episode 1, which he left behind when she gave him a disguise to wear.
Thus Hyang Dan is brought before him for punishment, but she refuses to reveal whose clothes they are. Mong Ryong watches helplessly, and before he can say anything, Hyang Dan lies and says they’re hers (that she’s one of the bandits), and she’s thrown into prison.
Mong Ryong asks why she’s lying, and she answers that she can’t have him brought down because of her. He should understand now that they can’t be together. All Mong Ryong wants is for them to be happy together, but she tells him that’s impossible:
Hyang Dan: “Truthfully, for the briefest moment, I dreamed in vain that I could be happy for the rest of my life with you. But you saw what happened. We were only together a short while that other time, but it’s ended like this. It’s as though it’s a crime for us to be together.”
Mong Ryong: “Love is a crime? Who says it’s a crime for us to love? Whatever it takes, I’ll save you.”
Hyang Dan: “Have you forgotten? You’re a nobleman.”
Mong Ryong: “None of that matters. If I can save you, I don’t need any of that!”
I almost decided not to include this next bit, because it was such a hysterically laugh-out-loud, silly moment that caught me completely off-guard, and I didn’t want to spoil the joke for everyone. But then, I also figured most of you might not watch the show anyway… so here goes.
Hyang Dan has a cellmate, Seok Ho Soon, a historical figure whose story I don’t really know, who mentions how she was going to sell herself for a large amount of rice in exchange for throwing herself into the sea. (But at the last moment, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.) In the middle of the night, her brother, Seok Ho Pil, arrives to break her out of jail. During his entrance, I thought I recognized the background music, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until…
It’s a Prison Break parody! It’s effing great. I swear, the first time I saw this, I burst out in a laughing fit until I remembered I was watching this at 2 a.m. and had to shush myself.
After escaping, Hyang Dan asks where she can meet the fisherman to offer herself as the ocean sacrifice. Ho Soon refuses to tell her, saying she has too much life to live to give it up like that, but Hyang Dan is insistent: “My life is as good as dead anyway.” With the money, she can at least pay to restore her father’s sight before she dies.
And so, Hyang Dan makes a deal.
Mong Ryong turns himself in to the magistrate, identifying himself as the true owner of the robber’s clothes, so Hyang Dan should be let go. Just then, the magistrate hears of Hyang Dan’s prison break (hehe… that’ll never not be funny).
Jung Mina – “무엇이 되어” (whatever it becomes) :: [ zShare download ]
In the meantime, Hyang Dan has gone to offer herself in exchange for the fee, and because she’s a fugitive, she gives a false name — instead of Shim Hyang Dan, she says she’s Shim Chung — and boards the fishing boat. Mong Ryong hears of this and immediately goes to find her, sneaking aboard the ship in disguise.
Prodded by the fishermen, she jumps into the water…
…and while nobody else is watching, Mong Ryong jumps in after her.
He pulls her out of the water, safely in a boat rowed by his bandit friend.
Hyang Dan: “If I’m seeing you… am I dreaming?”
Mong Ryong: “We won’t be parted anymore. Promise me that. Promise that you won’t leave me now.”
This time, Hyang Dan can make the promise.
Some time soon thereafter, Hyang Dan’s father (presumably having received the payment for his daughter’s sacrifice) regains his sight at the hands of Heo Jun (a famous court physician).
Even the magistrate is able to win over Chun Hyang after repeated attempts to woo her with poems and pictures. Ah, Love Actually, your reach is far and wide.
(Even though Byun Hak Do is crude and scary, he does really have a soft spot for her, and she’s moved by his romantic gestures. They deserve each other?)
And finally, Mong Ryong has disappeared, but in his place we see the birth of yet another legend with the appearance of darkly disguised Iljimae (aside from Hong Gil Dong, he’s another vaguely Robin Hood-y type who, as a young man, seeing the suffering of the commoners at the hands of a corrupt regime, led them to fight back against their oppressors).
I.S. – “Juliet,” reposted from Episode 1 :: [ zShare download ]
He raids some corrupt rich people (“Aish, who’s the bandit this time?”), and then comes home to his happy life with……!
Ah, what a fun short series! It was a total surprise, but I’m so glad I stumbled on it. Romance and laughs, what more could you ask for? Part of me wishes the series had been longer, but another part of me recognizes that this was probably the perfect length.
I really like the direction they took this idea — instead of a mere Shim Chung parody, The Story of Hyang Dan has actually created an origin myth (actually two, if you count Iljimae). It’s got elements of folklore and legend, but is rooted in something more realistic than the fairy tale (in which she’s rescued from drowning, and sent back to land in an oversized flower blossom, and everyone lives happily ever after?).
The Story of Hyang Dan isn’t attempting historical accuracy, or to rewrite a familiar tale — it’s just giving a fun alternate version of the well-known story. So I appreciate that we can see how, in this universe, the story of Mong Ryong and Chun Hyang had its foundation, but still allowed for Hyang Dan and Mong Ryong to live their happy lives, in relative obscurity — the dutiful “Shim Chung” sacrificed herself, the official record of Hyang Dan’s life trailed off, and the real Hyang Dan got to live happily with her man, away from the prying eyes of history.