Ooooookay. In between bouts of watching intense gymnastics and work, I have successfully recreated the panda look.
By the way, the subs had an additional warning that wasn’t present for the other episodes, so I would guess this one is extra gory. People under 15 need not read ahead.
(Note from the future: But this one is still more tragedy than horror.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Eun-mi – “편지” (Letter) [ Download ]
Episode 4 – Your Letter
The opening sequence is not at night this time, breaking an otherwise monotonous staple of horror films. A royal kitchen bustles with the task of preparing breakfast for the king and his family. Things look to be running behind schedule, and thus when a maid drops a dish, she is roundly scolded and slapped by her superior. The royal family gets their breakfast anyway, and the queen dowager watches the king closely as he eats.
The royal cook retreats to the outside as the king, dowager queen and younger prince dine. Her behaviour runs to the strange and jittery side of things, which gets the attention of a few attendants.
That night, the king chokes to death on his own blood. As he tries to crawl toward his attendant, there’s a sound of nails on wood (though his hands are in the air, clawing for help, so those aren’t his). The watching attendant shrinks back in fear and waits for the king to die.
In the morning, the palace maids and people are all clustered around an entrance, preparing the young princess for a ceremony. The maid who was in charge of the king glares at the assembled people, blood welling ever-so-slightly in her right eye. Shadow bugs stream out of their necks and crawl all over their faces, but the people involved don’t seem to notice.
Out in the main palace grounds, the queen dowager watches a performance put on by palace guards. The new king is really, really young.
Anyway, back to the possessed maid, whose right eye is turning into a wellspring of blood. The shadow bugs crawling all over everyone’s faces get worse. Her eye suddenly clears, and the bugs swarm her now – which makes her go crazy and very into stabbing other people. Pandemonium ensues.
Two officials in the investigative department (think CSI) talk about the recent spate of weird happenings in the palace, which the crown coroner attributes to a ghost… but his colleague laughs at the rather absurd suggestion. Then a rider comes with the news that a palace maid ran off into the bamboo forest near the palace after stabbing other maids.
One official comments that it’s been several times already, and they both run after the stab happy girl.
The maid is pursued by an invisible foe, who then chokes her to death. Funny enough, the people searching for her can’t see her, but they can totally hear her cries for help. The court investigator listens closely and strikes at random – but all he gets is a square of yellow silk with 予 written on it. (In ancient Chinese, this either means ‘I’ or ‘given’, and the yellow silk would indicate royalty.)
A random noble is in the wilds, about to begin cavorting with a gisaeng when they both see the body of the dead maid floating around in the water.
The investigator receives a visit from the chief coroner, who summarizes all the deaths so far: a minister who swallowed his tongue, a royal doctor who had his four limbs broken and a chief attendant was scared to death. All three cases have no credible leads.
The theory is that it’s the work of a ghost, whose tale just happened to be described in a book (Called the Tales of Seol Gong Chan). All the deaths follow the pattern in the story, and they happened in the same way as described. However, the coroner concludes that it must be the work of the possessed maid from earlier.
The queen dowager receives news that the servant girl, Ok, has been found dead.
The coroner examines her corpse, which has livid marks on the neck, meaning she’d been strangled. Her eyes stare straight ahead, which is kind of creepy, because she’s a corpse and the bugging of eyes is just weird. He concludes that she strangled herself, but was alive at the time she fell into the water.
The investigator meets with the head eunuch, who takes him to a nearby tree. It was a gift from the late king’s father to the late king – and he gave it to the investigator, a close friend from childhood, to take care of. The eunuch rambles on about keeping a diary to write important events in, and obliquely hints that maybe he could take a look at the late king’s diary to figure out why the deaths are occurring.
Before he leaves, the eunuch absentmindedly mutters that this death was a self-strangulation, and the next ones will be death by fire. So he knows something but won’t say it.
The new king goes through his coronation with his mother at his side. She notes that the eunuch spoke to the investigator, and warns him subtly about his own frail state of health. That night, the old eunuch is alone in his room when his shutters blow open repeatedly. He hears weird noises out in the corridor and goes to investigate.
It turns out to be one of his own people, checking up on whether he was alright. The eunuch has arranged for something to be done.
The next morning, they interrogate a few of Ok’s stabbing victims (who are fine, apparently). The girls make an innocent remark about so many people asking after her, and that whoever it is have been taking her stuff away. They do find a volume of ghost stories in the mess of her room.
In the rain, a carter uncovers a corpse, covered in black stuff. By the looks of the hat, it’s a noble. (He is later revealed to be Ok’s lover, and was killed for meeting with the head eunuch.)
The investigator is still puzzled by the spate of murders. The new corpse’s body has a jewelry bag with birds sewn on it – matching with the square of silk embroidery work found in Ok’s room. There are, however, still precious little leads to indicate who killed him. Then a chance remark reminds him of the chief eunuch’s cryptic words about fire – he knows the truth. The investigator goes after him, but weird things are afoot, and the queen’s people silence him before the investigator arrives.
He and his team arrives to see the corpse of the old man hanging from the ceiling beams. The coroner is heartbrokenly sobbing over his body, while the investigator goes to check the old man’s rooms one more time.
The queen gives orders to get rid of the eunuch’s servant too. The servant is an adopted son, and begs to be sent out of the palace for his own safety. Before their very eyes, however, the young man is shot and dies.
Fortunately for the investigator, he does have the old eunuch’s diary to read, and finds that on June 25 the queen practically forced the king to eat dessert and sent some to his servants too. (It’s not usual for her to do this.) Uncharacteristically, the king also took a long time in the courtyard where his tree was planted, talking with the queen dowager.
The investigator realizes that the character on the yellow slip was in the king’s handwriting, and bows down at the tree, sorry that he didn’t see it sooner.
He remembers a conversation he had with the young king, discussing his doubts as to his own legitimacy – his mother set fire to the palace he lived in and he was perfectly resigned to die under her orders, being the perfectly obedient son, but his father came to look for him and took him out. He doesn’t know whether this was right, because in obeying one he was disobeying the other… poor thing, to have his own mother trying to kill him.
In the meantime, the queen dowager is enraged that her second son is actually developing his own mind and his own spine. The investigator’s movements are also starting to make the queen dowager extremely uncomfortable.
He finds records that show the late king’s mother’s movements to be very hostile to her older son (if he was her son at all, because it seems more and more likely she gave birth to the current king and not the former one) the day of his death. Furthermore, she was so conspicuous as to remark that he was going to do a good deed that day. (And the fact that he ate with his left hand, which only the dead of the underworld are supposed to do, helps the investigators along.)
The queen opens her mirror to freshen up for bed, but her guilty conscience or convenient haunting reveals her son’s face in the mirror.
The queen’s assassins, meanwhile, peppers the royal archive room with arrows, intending to kill the investigator. It’s another case of distinctly bad odds as both the investigator and his underling are surrounded and forced to fight. Both are slashed across the back. The underling doesn’t make it.
The king’s ghost makes an appearance, but only to haunt the queen dowager’s servant. He force feeds her the same dessert that he ate, but she gets away, only to fall on her own hair ornament neck first and die (which, eerily, has been standing upright on the floor).
If the king was fine with dying under his mother’s command when he was alive, then why is he here bringing death to all these people?
Anyway, he goes to visit his ‘mother’. They rehash ancient history. She married his father after the death of his mother, and adopted him, both promising to be like a real family, but then she gave birth to a little brother for him. He asks her to stop the cruelties, but she replies that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, one that his kindness has never let himself experience.
He actually knew she was poisoning him, huh. He tells her as much and only requests that she send him off in peace, and not a bloodbath.
They share some tears. He promises to pray for her safety in the underworld, and bows to her. She’s really sorry for what she’s done and cries as she says goodbye. (I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. Hopefully there is no other shoe.)
The investigator dude’s still alive! He’s been unconscious for the past few days, and wake up with the king’s yellow silk command in his hand. He realizes the truth of the matter, that the king took the poisoned food of his own will. (Which, if you ask me, is kind of a stupid type of filial duty. If it saves her life, okay, but to give her more control over the country, not so much.)
Then the slip of silk floats away into the sky.
The queen dowager is feeding goldfish in the pond when the investigator confronts her. She’s promised to let him live, and thus will do nothing if he reveals the truth.
But he doesn’t, taking a leaf from the late’s king’s book of mercy. When her son marries, she is relocated to another palace, one less prone to ghosts.
- The king in this episode was king Injong, whose father Jungjong did a lot – he is best remembered of now in pop culture as the guy who gave Dae Jang Geum a job. This king who reigned for just nine months died quickly after ascending the throne, thus allowing Dae Jang Geum and her husband to come out of exile if they so chose. Thought you’d like to know.
- I was so confused during this episode. It did not twig at all until the second half that the queen wasn’t married to the king but instead the mother dowager. Honestly, do the costumes right, people. I assumed from the matching colours in the first frame, but obviously forgot that daebi = dowager. (Ah, where did my Goong vocab go?) This is what happens when the csubs only go with 娘娘 and I’m half asleep, dammit.
- Picture credits to Luv.
- Hometown of Legends: Episode 3
- Hometown of Legends: Episode 2
- Hometown of Legends: Episode 1
- Hometown of Legends / Legendary Hometown