KBS premiered a new Monday-Tuesday drama this week, Invincible Lee Pyeong-gang (KBS World title: Taming of the Heir), to replace Princess Has Returned. Contrary to the historical costuming above, this drama is a contemporary piece but has sageuk bits woven through it, since the story references the folk tale upon which it is based (“Princess Pyeong-gang and the Fool On-dal”) in a comic way. This, I think, is the drama’s highlight, which I’ll go into more below.
The drama probably won’t make a dent in Queen Seon-deok‘s continuing domination. Still, I love Nam Sang-mi, who I think has a lot of charm despite some middling performances. I find her most winning in comedy fare, and have been wanting to see her try more of it following Bad Family. She was adorable there, and she carries over a lot of similar plucky humor here.
I don’t think Invincible Lee Pyeong-gang is going to be a great drama, but there’s something about it that caught my interest. It’s cute if you like goofy, over-the-top romantic comedies. It’s not the best of the genre, but its fusion-sageuk angle has viewers calling it fresh and fun, and it’s a light counter to the other Monday-Tuesday programming out there.
SONG OF THE DAY
Invincible Lee Pyeong-gang OST – “나란 남자” by MC Mong [ Download ]
CHARACTERS & BACKGROUND
You could enjoy the drama’s characters at face value, but knowing about the folktale basis adds a level of enjoyment to the characters, particularly seeing how it’s reworked to fit the modern scenario.
1,400 years ago when Korea was the Three Kingdoms (Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla), PYEONG-GANG (Nam Sang-mi) was the daughter of King Pyeong-won of Goguryeo. The sageuk parts in this drama are in the year 590, although much of the historical portions are folklore more than fact. Princess Pyeong-gang was the only daughter to the king and stood against her new stepmother queen’s challenge to claim sovereignty.
In the present day in the eastern province of Gangwon, Lee Pyeong-gang sometimes goes by a shortened nickname, which takes the latter half of her name to become “Gang” or “Gang-yi.” (On-dal, likewise, turns into “Dal” or “Dal-yi.”) Pyeong-gang is the upbeat, hardworking daughter to a mother who has grown addicted to gambling following the death of her husband. Pyeong-gang’s father designed the golf course where she currently works, Shine Rose Resort.
Pyeong-gang runs a “minbak” out of her home, which is like a low-rent bed and breakfast, and raises her precocious younger sister PYEONG-ON (or “On-yi”) on her own. She studies at night and dreams of following in her father’s footsteps.
1,400 years ago, ON-DAL (Ji Hyun-woo) was the village idiot. Not actually stupid, he was more like lazy and cowardly, with his priorities all backward. According to the folk legend, it was through Pyeong-gang that he rose beyond his birth and distinguished himself as a general in war, although he died a wrongful death on the battlefield.
In the present day, Woo On-dal is the wayward son of the Shine Rose Resort president who has spent the last half year in the States attempting to break into the PGA as a pro golfer. He spends the rest of his time turning his father’s hair gray, because he’s always getting into trouble. Not on purpose, but he’s like a klutz with fate. Despite his overall collection of talents, somehow they all seem to be at odds with each other.
His mother died of illness when he was nine, and his father is now remarrying. He wasn’t invited to the wedding, but he makes his way back anyway as a good son ought, unaware that his new stepmom and stepbrother are trying to prevent his return.
What I like about this drama’s reworking of the Pyeong-gang and On-dal tale isn’t just the modernization, but the fact that their roles are actually reversed in the modern tale. This adds a dimension of fun, to see how the two timelines weave together and where they’re divergent.
For instance, in the olden days, King PYEONG-WON is Pyeong-gang’s father. In modern days, he’s On-dal’s father. This simple change actually alters the dynamic quite a bit — in the old tale, the fool was poor, the princess was rich. In modern times, the fool is rich and the princess character poor.
President Woo Pyeong-won is marrying his longtime secretary, JE WANG-HOO (Choi Myung-gil). He doesn’t know that she is conspiring with her clever son to take over the company, which necessitates cutting out On-dal. She maintains a calm, modest image in front of her new husband but keeps her shrewd eye on the prize.
Madam Je’s sharp, calculating son is JE YOUNG-RYU, a hot sexy bastard played by Kim Heung-soo. Rawr!
1,400 years ago, he was the son of King Pyeong-won’s second queen. In the current timeline, he works as the manager of the resort’s operations team. Born to a single mother, Young-ryu has had to work doubly hard and prove himself on his merits. After earning an MBA from Wharton, he is his mother’s right-hand man and harbors ambitions to take over Shine Rose Resort. As his mother has been President Woo’s secretary for 25 years, he has grown up alongside On-dal and thinks the careless chaebol son has come into his wealth too easily. It doesn’t help that the woman he loves has feelings for On-dal.
That woman is KWAN JA-RAK (Cha Ye-ryun), a lovely rising model who is the face of Shine Rose Resort. She grew up wealthy and smart, but couldn’t go with On-dal to study abroad when her father’s business collapsed. On-dal went alone, and she worked on her career. She and On-dal like each other but they haven’t yet confirmed their feelings other to make it official.
In Goguryo times, Ja-rak was the gisaeng who caught On-dal’s attention and turned him away from Princess Pyeong-gang.
Episode 1 begins with a sageuk segment, and it appears these will bookend each episode. We’re in the thick of battle, and although this character above has barely any screentime, I had to include him because it took me two viewings before I realized this is actually Park Ki-woong! (After he transformed into an adorable autistic savant for Story of a Man, I didn’t even recognize him as the fierce soldier here.)
The soldier is stuck in a losing battle and runs to call the general. Only, the general has run away.
That would be General (formerly Fool) On-dal, who scoffs that he ain’t gonna jump into a battle where he knows he’ll die. Nuh-uh, he’d rather live, thank you very much!
However, he’s stopped in his tracks when a beautiful woman confronts him and levels a bow and arrow at him. This is Princess Pyeong-gang, and she asks, “Will you die by my hand? Or will you act like a general, prepare yourself for death, and fight on the battlefield?”
On-dal whines and balks, but she kneels at his feet and he grudgingly agrees, although not graciously. He concedes, “Fine, I’ll die!” Then pouts, “Bad princess!”
But he does head back to battle, and as he’s already resigned himself to death, he fights fearlessly. When he’s shot in the chest with arrows, he shouts, “Are you happy, Princess? Can I die now?” But he continues to fight.
And then, we’re in the present day. The opening sequence is framed as a very vivid dream, and On-dal awakens on the plane. To demonstrate some of his luck, he heads to the lavatory for a whizz, but turbulence causes his, um, stream to spray over the seat, and then his pants. He struggles to right himself, but more turbulence launches him out of the lavatory to land in the aisle with his boxers showing and pants down. He’s not really stupid or clumsy, but he’s just that guy who’s always haplessly falling into embarrassing incidents.
On-dal’s father Pyeong-won is getting married today, and although he hasn’t been invited, his model friend Ja-rak has urged him to come back. He speeds along the highway to make the wedding, and along the way cuts off Pyeong-gang on her scooter.
She’s on her way home from the wedding where she was working as a parking attendant, because debt collectors have come to her house and are kicking up a fuss over her mother’s gambling debt. On-dal’s reckless driving pisses her off, so she’s satisfied to see him being cut off himself. Several black cars run him off the road and thugs emerge to corner On-dal and glower menacingly.
On-dal tosses his wallet at them, thinking this is a mere mugging. But they were actually hired to stop him from attending the wedding, and order him to strip off his clothing. He half-complies, then dashes off through the woods and into a ravine across a stream.
He manages to lose his pursuers and comes to a house, where he sees clothes hanging off a clothesline. They’re women’s items and they don’t fit, but he’ll take them. Unfortunately for him, he’s confronted by a little girl (Pyeong-on, aka On-yi), who wonders if he’s a pervert.
Pyeong-gang has had a lousy day, and she hears about the pervert and defends her property from his trespassing. (It doesn’t help that he’s wearing her skirt.) He protests that he’s not a pervert, but she hits him in the face with a chicken repeatedly. She knocks him out, and he lies on the ground until he is carted off in an ambulance. Curious bystanders snap photos and assume he’s a creep.
He’s ushered out of the hospital by his assistant and to the wedding in time to interrupt his stepbrother Young-ryu — who is NOT pleased to see On-dal here. On-dal later admits that his initial intention was to barge in and ruin the wedding, but he recalls his deceased mother and holds back that impulse.
Instead, he makes a big show of how he loves his father and performs a song (Ji Hyun-woo, as you may know, is a singer and musician). His father welcomes him back, the staff swoons, and Madam Je and Young-ryu glower.
Ja-rak is pleased to see him, and is straightforward about her intentions now that he’s back: she intends to marry him. She knows that he’s liked her for a while (which he admits), and she likes him back.
When he starts to respond (possibly protest), she cuts him off with a kiss. For whatever reason, On-dal doesn’t feel they’re suited for each other even though he does like her, and tells himself that he’s not the right guy for her.
With President Woo’s happy acceptance of his prodigal son, Madam Je and Young-ryu feel their carefully laid plans are in danger, so Young-ryu acts to protect his interests. He releases the embarrassing photos of half-naked On-dal, unconscious and covered in chicken feathers, taken when Pyeong-gang had knocked him out.
Meanwhile, On-dal gets reacquainted with the resort and complains to his assistant about the ill-mannered, horrid girl he ran into the day before. At the same time, Pyeong-gang cleans On-dal’s suite and vents to Bi-yeon about that horrible pervert she had to deal with. Naturally, they run into each other, and she realizes he’s her boss’s son.
Now we transition back to the sageuk segment, one that shows how On-dal met the princess (which takes place chronologically before the opening scene). On-dal sets traps in the forest for some animals, only to find that they catch two young women instead — Princess Pyeong-gang and her lady-in-waiting Bi-yeon.
They order him to let them go, and he takes advantage of their position to try to wring a few coins out of it. Letting them go would surely be worth at least 10 nyang, right?
Just then, a troop of men run by, having pursued the two ladies. On-dal cuts a rope to raise the women out of sight while the leader (Young-ryu) asks if he’s seen any ladies around.
On-dal smells opportunity, and when he hears that they’re worth 50 nyang apiece, he happily cuts them down and presents the princess to Young-ryu. Money, please! Therefore Pyeong-gang is brought before her father, the king, and his new queen. He accuses her of leaving their land and crossing into enemy territory, which Stepmother Queen guesses was for love, because she was meeting the prince of an enemy kingdom.
Pyeong-gang admits this is true, and her father is so offended that he orders his guards to strip her of her royal vestments and cast her out. Feeling wronged, Pyeong-gang proudly announces she will take them off herself, and removes her outer garments while glaring in hurt. She fumes that this is all that On-dal’s fault and vows to return the favor.
Now we see the modernized reversal of the above scenario. On-dal confronts Pyeong-gang and tries to intimidate her, now that he’s in the position of power over her. However, it’s at this inopportune moment that his father — having seen the pictures of On-dal being labeled a pervert — bursts in. It looks like he’s harassing a female employee, so President Woo angrily hits On-dal and berates him.
On-dal doesn’t know of the internet pictures, so he’s surprised at his father’s sudden change of heart, and feels wrongfully accused. President Woo is finally fed up with his son’s long career of causing trouble, and says he’s been foolish for putting up with it. From this moment on, his credit cards are cut off and he is kicked out of the resort.
On-dal blames Pyeong-gang for ruining his company’s image, so he goes to her house and causes a ruckus. He settles into her spare room and declares that he will live here until Pyeong-gang takes care of all the problems caused — since she overreacted, it’s her fault the pictures were taken and he was called labeled a pervert.
On-dal’s assistant, Mr. So, convinces Pyeong-gang to put up with On-dal just for a few days. When President Woo returns from his honeymoon, they’ll figure something out. Since she was partially responsible, she reluctantly agrees.
And now for a rather interesting character in Edward Schwarz (Seo Do-young), who was adopted to a rich Swedish family at the age of 7. He’s handsome and suave, and he arrives in Korea eager to meet with Pyeong-gang.
Although the following hasn’t yet been shown, it’s from his character profile: Years ago, her father had come to Sweden to design Edward’s father’s golf course, and at the time Edward had been feeling a desire to connect with his Korean roots. Pyeong-gang’s father had talked a lot about his home in Gangwon province and his daughter, and when he’d returned to Korea, he’d kept in touch. Edward learned of the older man’s death from Pyeong-gang, and since he’d been her father’s friend, she had assumed that Edward was a much older ajusshi. He learned of her dreams to design golf courses and sent her materials and books.
We haven’t yet seen him in the sageuk portions, but 1,400 years ago, he was the prince of a neighboring kingdom who was the reason Pyeong-gang was disowned.
When Edward sends Pyeong-gang a text message saying he he’s in Korea and will see her soon, On-dal intercepts it. He’s using Pyeong-gang’s phone at the moment, and sees the English-language message with annoyance. It’s not jealousy, but general irritation (“What kind of sleazy dude writes English on a Korean cell phone?”). He writes back a rude, childish message, making Edward wonder if he’d gotten the wrong number.
On-dal settles in to Pyeong-gang’s modest home, taking no care at inconveniencing her. He orders massive amounts of new furniture, electronics, and items for his entertainment and forces her to do all the work. She grits her teeth and puts up with it, keeping in mind that this is only for a few days. When he complains that the new king-size bed was left out on the lawn, she retorts that he should take care of it.
On-dal takes that as his cue to check out what she’s hiding in a locked room; he breaks the lock and enters without permission. Not knowing that it contains her father’s belongings which are therefore precious to her, he decides to use this room and clears out all the things. He puts the furniture in the yard so he can move in his nice new things.
This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and although Pyeong-gang has been doing a remarkable job putting up with his immature behavior, disrespecting her father’s belongings is unforgivable. She orders him to leave her house.
Later that night, On-dal realizes that Pyeong-gang was serious about kicking him out and looks on miserably as he is forced to take shelter from the rain. Pyeong-gang is making a futile attempt to bring her father’s large golf course model indoors, but it’s bulky and won’t budge. On-dal attempts to make amends by finding an umbrella to cover the large model, but she’s so angry at him that she yells at him to leave her alone. Thus he spends the night in the chicken coop, and Pyeong-gang is forced to leave the model soaking in the rain. (In retaliation, when the debt collectors come to repossess Pyeong-gang’s belongings the next day — for her mother’s debt — she lets them take On-dal’s new acquisitions.)
President Woo returns from his trip with an interesting business situation on his hands. A foreign businessman is interested in investing into Shine Rose Resort if they put on a golf tournament in his name. He’s a golf nut who has sponsored numerous rising golfers, and this gives President Woo the opportunity to sponsor On-dal in the tournament AND secure a new investor. Because his new bride and stepson are scheming behind his back, they decide that they have to block the competition, because this investor endangers their own plans for the company.
Despite being kicked out, On-dal lingers at Pyeong-gang’s house, pestering her to tell his father that the whole pervert thing was a misunderstanding. She’s not in the frame of mind to be accommodating, and refuses. To demand her attention, he grabs the chicken she’s working on and forces her to chase him around the yard.
Pyeong-gang launches herself at him in a flying kick, which causes both of them to tumble to the ground. On-dal lands on top of her — just as they have a visitor. It’s model Ja-rak, who has traced On-dal to this address.
And now we’re back in the sageuk segment with another reversal: This time it’s Pyeong-gang who’s out for On-dal’s blood.
She arrives at the gi-bang (the gisaeng house) with Bi-yeon, where she finds On-dal spending some of his new money on gisaeng Ja-rak. She’s furious that he sold her out and caused her to be disowned, and wants retribution.
Like the coward that he is, On-dal bursts out of the window — of a two-story building — and lands on the hard ground below. But Pyeong-gang follows, brandishing her whip, and ensnares him with one long flick.
First things first: My first impression was that this is not a great drama. It’s passable, with fun silly moments and some bland ones. I would say it’s on the upper side of mediocre. However, for some reason there’s a quality that engages my interest, and I attribute that to the way that this drama weaves in the sageuk storyline. The modern storyline didn’t strike me as anything special — it reminds me of Hello Miss, albeit a better version of it — and I found myself thinking it would be fun to have the focus on the sageuk rather than the modern.
The format makes me think of Delightful Girl Chun-hyang, which also ended its episodes with little sageuk comedy bits, but the key difference is that Chun-hyang‘s portions were strictly parodies, like skits. Here, they have a continuous narrative that makes me want to see how the two storylines progress together.
The nice thing about this folktale is that it uses characterizations and a romantic dynamic that we don’t often see in kdramas. Their constant bickering may be a trait we see often, but their respective personalities are a departure from the norm (particularly his). I’m pretty tired of the male chaebol falling for the poor but resilient girl (who’s supposed to be ordinary but inevitably played by a gorgeous actress in minimal makeup). I’m also ready to see a male lead who isn’t predictably hard-on-the-outside-but-soft-on-the-inside, or harboring a hidden pain that has made him closed off to love.
I said that Jung Kyung-ho in Smile was like the Beta Male, but Ji Hyun-woo‘s On-dal takes him one step further by being a total anti-hero. Or non-hero. Not only is he cowardly, he embraces his cowardice, because it’s better to be alive than die with honor… right?
As for Pyeong-gang, the role recalls Nam Sang-mi‘s last comic drama, Bad Family, and I mean that in a good way: she’s feisty but not shrill, strong but not grating. She takes charge and makes things work, all while maintaining a sweet and cheerful disposition. I guess in that sense, the two share similarities to Jae Hee and Han Chae-young in Chun-hyang, because he starts out a troublemaker who straightens out under her influence, but the antagonism between them is much more extreme in this drama.
I wish Invincible Lee Pyeong-gang showed more promise as a strong romantic comedy, but even with the flaws, I think it may be worth keeping an eye on.