[When I asked for potential recappers of The Painter of Wind (or Painter of the Wind), I was lucky enough to get Dahee Fanel onboard for recaps, so I hope you’ll all enjoy her write-ups! Another reader, heejae, will also be weighing in on her very insightful thoughts of the first episode in another post. Thanks Dahee and heejae! -javabeans]
I admit that I wasn’t really expecting much from Painter of the Wind, mostly because I’m not exactly a fan of either the PD or Park Shin Yang. But it turned out to be a lovely, enchanting surprise, and I am happier than I can say. Ahhh, sageuk. You make the cockles of my heart go all warm and gooey.
Especially when it’s a sageuk that plays around with the notion of gender! Oh, the possibilities…
SONG OF THE DAY
The Painter of Wind OST – “바람의 노래” (Song of the wind) by Jo Sung-mo [ Download ]
The year is 1777, in the first year of King Jeong-jo’s reign. Jeong-jo was the subject of many other sageuk in the past, notably the Lee Seo Jin hit Yi San, and 2007’s beautiful masterpiece, Conspiracy in the Court. So some of you should be familiar with his life story by now, but I’ll repeat some things, just in case, as it’s important to note such historical facts (if history can ever really be “factual”!) for this particular drama.
Jeong-jo became king under heartbreaking conditions – his father, Prince Sado, was executed by King Yeong-jo, Jeong-jo’s grandfather, thanks to some deep misunderstandings and Sado’s unstable mental state. And er, let’s just say that he and his stepmother, Queen Mother Jeong-soon (King Yeong-jo’s second wife) did not exactly get along. In fact, they were political enemies. (The best enemies are always the people who are related to you, I say.) And this drama is already laying out their relationship beautifully. Huzzah!
Two of Korea’s greatest painters lived and worked during this period. And they undoubtedly knew each other, as they were both at the Dohwaseo (the Royal Bureau of Painting) at the same time. They also had very similar subjects for some paintings, such as the ones with more *ahem* “mature content” (you’re going to google them, aren’t you?). They are, of course, this drama’s protagonists: Danwon Kim Hong-do, played by Park Shin Yang, and Hyewon Shin Yoon-bok, played by Moon Geun Young.
Painter of the Wind starts deviating from history a bit (or a lot?) in its handling of Moon Geun Young’s character. Shin Yoon-bok was a man, but in this drama, which is based on the novel by Lee Jung Myeong, we take the “What if Shin Yoon-bok was actually a woman pretending to be a man?” approach. Which is an interesting stance to take, considering how very fond Shin Yoon-bok was of painting women. It also makes for lots of crossdressing opportunities, but also makes an interesting statement, in terms of both feminism and historical commentary.
So, now that we’ve got all that out of the way…
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Episode one starts out with a hint of what’s to come in future: In an absolutely gorgeous opening sequence, Park Shin Yang’s character, Hong-do, heads up to a kind of shack on a mountain, and in voiceover, he tells us:
“I am now going to tell you about one person.
Right now…I am happy, yet I am suffering.
I am happy that I remember him…And I am suffering because I am going to lose him.
He was my student…my teacher…my friend…and my lover.”
As he narrates, we get glimpses of Yoon-bok painting in the shack. One minute she’s dressed in men’s clothes, and the next, she’s dressed as a woman – so right from the get-go, we’re informed that she’s a woman who’s cross-dressing as a man. This show don’t hedge around no bushes, yo!
Hong-do enters to an empty shack, however, and there, faced with the painting of a woman (Shin Yoon-bok’s ultra-famous “Beauty”), he cries his little heart out. Obviously, something really terrible has happened. I can’t wait to find out what! (Although I have a hunch.)
Aaaaaand…We’re off! Leaving the foreshadow-y opening sequence behind, right away we’re introduced to the art students, who are passing their time in what is clearly a very productive way (…not), by having a kind of competition in which two people (Yoon Bok, and her obvious (sleazy) rival, Jang Hyo-won, the dude played by Park Jin Woo) drag their giant brushes dipped in ink across paper. The one whose ink lasts the longest wins. Yoon-bok is the victor, naturally.
And then the writer and PD get to add in what we’ve all been waiting for: the obligatory breast-binding scene! Seriously, girl-dressing-as-guy books/comics/dramas/films are waaaaaay too fond of this scene. It’s my theory that it’s really just a chance to add in some fanservice for those who are fond of the ladies, since the actress can’t exactly show a heck of a lot of shoulder or chest skin if she’s dressing as a man. And yet they all want to see a little something-something anyway. Peeeeeervs. (Kidding!)
We move on to the outdoor class the students are having, which is briefly interrupted by a small group of kisaeng who are passing by, and making come-hither looks at the openly drooling boys. We even get a bit of a lesbian moment here, as one of the kisaeng and Yoon-bok lock gazes, and a strange, chemistry-filled connection becomes evident. I’m guessing that Yoon-bok’s just interested from an artistic standpoint, but whatevs. This makes me happy.
Meanwhile, a high-class woman meets secretly with a mysterious (and probably tall and handsome, too) man. The two are obviously ex-lovers who haven’t seen each other in years, but whose passion for each other has certainly not faded. As evidenced by the strategic slow-motion dropping of his hat on the floor. Ooooh.
The students all go off to draw whatever they want, as this is a kind of free drawing day, and they have to hand in their paintings by sunset. One of the students, Young-bok, who appears to be Yoon-bok’s adoptive brother, and the teacher’s son, follows her, and sweetly tries to give her tips on what to draw, etc. Yoon-bok is annoyed by his overprotectiveness, however, and sends him on his way.
She happens to sit atop a pile of logs, and also happens to glance over into the courtyard of the house beyond the wall she’s sitting beside. There, she sees the woman we met before, thoughtfully walking around, and holding the straw hat behind her back. Inspired, Yoon-bok whips out her drawing pad, and sketches the woman as she stands by the tree – producing another famous Shin Yoon-bok painting, titled “Wait”.
Unfortunately, the woman notices her, and orders her lackeys to chase after her. We get the requisite chase scene through the market, and Yoon-bok winds up hiding in a fabric shop, where she encounters, quite by chance, the kisaeng she’d shared the lesbian moment with before.
And now the lesbianness (is that a word?) grows even more obvious, as the kisaeng and Yoon-bok exchange a very flirty conversation in which Yoon-bok compares the two of them to a flower (that being the kisaeng) and a butterfly (that being Yoon-bok). Then those lackeys who were chasing Yoon-bok earlier run by, and Yoon-bok hides again, her cool flirtines shattered. The kisaeng, being a bit of a Sassy Sally, pretends to call the lackeys over, and Yoon-bok falls for her trick. Embarrassed and annoyed, she says “As you’re so full of thorns, you’re not a flower, but poison!” and stalks off. But the kisaeng watches her go, and I’m thinking she’s warm for this pretty boy’s form. Ooh la la.
King Jeong-jo is being coronated in a fancy pantsy ceremony. The only thing I really took away from this scene is this thought: “Daaaaaamn, Bae Soo Bin is kinda hot.”
And then! The straw hat-holding woman we saw before? Turns out she’s Queen Mother Jeong-soon! Oooh, scandalous. She’s desperate to find that painting of her that Yoon-bok made, afraid that Yoon-bok had drawn something that would rat her out. Because, of course, it ain’t exactly “proper” for a queen mother to be consorting with a man in such a manner.
Once she finds out that the “mysterious artist” is from the Dohwaseo, she orders all the drawings that the students had drawn that day to be brought to her. She sorts through them one by one, until she finds Yoon-bok’s work…And she’s furious. She demands that the artist be found immediately. (The students don’t write their names on drawings they made during free drawing period, so they have no way of knowing whose it is.)
All the higher-ups of the Dohwaseo get together for an emergency meeting, and condemn the painting as being scandalous and pornographic (they dislike the sexual hints they see in it, as it’s a drawing of a woman holding a man’s hat, etc). Shin Han-pyung, Yoon-bok and Young-bok’s father and teacher, recognizes the drawing as being from his class, and is ordered to find out who the culprit is.
So the students all get punished with some literal butt-whooping as they try to find out who it was. Yoon-bok looks guilty, and seems on the verge of telling the teacher it was her – but he purposefully ignores her, and orders all of them to come to his room one by one for interrogation.
Thus follows a light and comedic interrogation scene (a little too light and comedic for my tastes, but whatever). When it’s Yoon-bok’s turn, it seems as though she’s going to confess again, but as soon as she mentions the drawing, her father asks her if she has any idea who the culprit might be. He goes on to say that this is a very serious matter, and that the queen mother herself is involved. This frightens Yoon-bok enough to make her clam up, and thus the interrogations end with them unable to find the artist.
That night, Yoon-bok asks Young-bok if it’s really so wrong to make a painting of a woman – after all, every time a woman even just passes by on the street, men start drooling openly. She comments on the hypocrisy of acting that way, and yet being forbidden to add those parts of life into painting. Yoon-bok then asks Young-bok if he likes any woman himself, and his over-exaggerated reaction (“What?! NO!”) makes it obvious that yes, indeed, he has a crush. And that crush is on…Yoon-bok! Seriously. I am too delighted for words.
The Dohwaseo officials have another meeting, and lament the fact that they haven’t been able to find Mr. Culprit. Then one of them suggests that maybe the currently-banished Kim Hong-do might be able to ferret him out. A couple of them go into an uproar, insisting that Kim Hong-do can never be called back from his banishment. I don’t know what he did wrong, but it seems he was pretty naughty, because Jang Byeok-soo, the grumpy man in charge of the Dohwaseo, and Yoon-bok’s dad in particular, seem strongly opposed to his return. Nevertheless, the official in charge declares that all their necks are on the line, and that he’s going to make sure Hong-do gets called back, no matter what they say.
King Jeong-jo discovers what the queen mother’s been up to with the Dohwaseo, and he asks her why she’s been making all these orders. She replies that she was shocked to see such an erotic painting coming out of the Royal Bureau of Painting, and that the culprit must be found and punished. I don’t think Jeong-jo is swallowing any of her B.S., but he plays along, and agrees with her. He adds that he’ll even help her, and informs her that he’s releasing the banishment on Danwon Kim Hong-do, and that he’s sure that, if anyone can find the culprit, it’s him. Jeong-soon is not pleased, but she’s torn by her sense of urgency in finding the one who made that painting, and gives in by silent consent. King Jeong-jo: 1, Queen Mother Jeong-soon: 0.
Aaaaand, we’re introduced to Hong-do! He’s decked out in his best Hobo in Greenery outfit, and, like the crazy wildlife man he is, is sneaking up on a tiger in order to draw it. He’s wary of the tiger at first, but he eventually gets so into his drawing that he doesn’t notice when the tiger is about two feet away from his face…and staring right down at him.
The tense moment is broken when he drops his chalk, and the chase begins! I don’t know how on earth he’s managing to outrun a tiger, when the animal could clearly catch up with him in two pounces, but hey, those stalks of grass on his head are pretty damn ridiculous, too. The tiger chases him all the way to a waterfall, and after pausing for a moment, Hong-do leaps off the cliff, and into the waters below.
In the water, he seems to lose consciousness for a second, and we get an image of a woman (we don’t see her face), and two hands reaching out to each other…And then, miraculously, he’s saved, by a vine that a government official tosses down to him. When they got there, and how they expected him to grab it, I do not know. There are a lot of things about this introductory scene that I don’t understand. But I guess we’re just supposed to go along with it? Bah! Humbug.
Anyway, the officials read out a royal declaration to him, ordering him to return to the capital.
So he does. He and the officials separate in the marketplace, as they want to get a bite to eat, and he needs a new pair of glasses (he lost his other pair in his impossible leap off the cliff). He wanders around, and happens upon a painting that he himself made (“Drunken Student Under the Pine Tree”). He reaches out to look at it more closely – only to find that Yoon-bok wants to look at the painting, too. The two of them engage in a bit of a tug-‘o-war, both physically and verbally, but of course, in the end…The painting rips in half. Tsk tsk. What a mature first meeting.
Turns out that the painting was worth 300 yang – which shocks them both – and Yoon-bok offers the enraged vendor to paint an exact duplicate in its place. So she gets to work, and Hong-do looks on, offering some advice and continually annoying her with what she sees as unnecessary pestering. Impatient to get him off her back, she even claims that she knows Kim Hong-do herself, and that’s why she knows what his drawing style’s like. Hong-do is amused by her lie. How embarrassing for Yoon-bok.
Hong-do goes to see Byeok-soo, and after exchanging some fake pleasantries, he learns what his mission is: To find the student responsible for the painting. Looking at it, Hong-do comments that the artist is quite talented, enough that it’s hard to believe it was made by a mere student. Byeok-soo, ever the tightass, is insulted, and insists that it’s an erotic painting, since the woman is holding a man’s hat, and the symbolism of the tree, yadda yadda shut up. Hong-do finds his words to be ridiculous, but he lets it go, and asks what will happen to the student once he’s found. It turns out that he’ll have his hand cut off as punishment. Ouch. This makes Hong-do uncomfortable enough that he doesn’t seem to want to take part, but with the threat of being banished again, he grabs the chance and asks how much time he has. Five days.
Some noblemen, including Byeok-soo – clearly the antagonists – have a get-together, during which they worry about Hong-do’s return. All order must be kept in the Dohwaseo! Etc, etc. Suddenly, some peasant guy comes around, calling the host, Kim Jo-nyon, “Jo-pal” and begging for someone’s life to be saved – Soo-jung? No idea who that is. Jo-nyon, who appears to be a very clever (and eeeeeevil) businessman, gets up and deals with the peasant properly, in the form of a merciless beating. It looks like he has a less-than-noble past? And he even has a boyish female sidekick! Interesting. So there’s more than one cross-dresser in this show? Sweeeet.
The students learn that they’re going to receive lessons from the great Danwon Kim Hong-do himself, and they discuss rumours, like the one where he stabbed himself after a friend of his was stabbed to death, or the one where he killed the friend himself. Most of the students dismiss the rumours as hogwash, however.
And then Yoon-bok and Hong-do actually run into each other at the school. Yoon-bok immediately insists that he pay the 300 yang, but Hong-do refuses. Yoon-bok then tells him to leave, thinking that Hong-do’s here to sell a screen to someone, but Hong-do simply makes a taken-aback Yoon-bok carry the screen for him. It’s kind of adorable. As they walk along, they encounter a group of painters, who recognize Hong-do for who he is. Yoon-bok’s shocked, of course, and she slips on the stairs, falling. Hong-do catches her just in time, and then stops the screen, that was tipping over, from falling, too. End episode.
This is just a really gorgeous and complex show, with lovely music, beautiful visuals, and a breathtaking elegance. Add some exciting political intrigue into that, along with some interesting historical and social commentary, and I’m dancing like it’s 1999.
Plus, there are some real gems in the acting department. True, some of the side characters are annoyingly comedic, but at least their scenes have actual weight in the storyline. And Park Shin Yang doesn’t seem to suit sageuk, especially since he’s really not acting like he’s in a sageuk at all (and dude, what’s with the glasses?). He’s certainly not as bad as Eric was in The Strongest Chil Woo, but he’s not brilliant, either. His character ought to be really fascinating, what with his interesting mix of contradictions and lightheartedness/OMGgenius, but I’m just not feeling it right now. It’s a bit worrying, since he is a major character and all.
Still, I’m really excited to see how Bae Soo Bin and Im Ji Eun will continue to develop their characters, ’cause they’re just two really kickass actors. And have I mentioned Moon Geun Young? Seriously, she’s absolutely wonderful. She gets that whole androgynous vibe down pat, and she manages to be endearingly boyish and spunky without going overboard. She also maintains a perfectly subtle atmosphere of cuteness and youth, which isn’t easy to do. I’m thinking this is going to be the turning point in her recently lagging career. Watch out, Korea, ’cause your little sister is all grown up!