This show is just gorgeous; it feels like I’m saying that a lot these days, with drama cinematography really stepping it up in recent months/years, but this one really is a feast for the eyes. The period scenes remind me of Joseon X-Files in ambiance (the same starkly beautiful lighting, though without the sci-fi creepiness), and the modern scenes add a cinematic sheen to what could feel like standard rom-com material. I dig it. A lot. Oh, and the story’s not so bad, either.
SONG OF THE DAY
Nell – “Cliff Parade” [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Back in the Joseon-era palace, the two baddies—Red Assassin and the king’s traitorous eunuch—wonder what happened to Kim Boong-do. How can he have simply vanished?
The eunuch is a shrewd bastard, and reminds Red just how high the stakes are, and how much they need to capture Boong-do. Looking around, he surmises that it may be easiest just to blame this all on Boong-do, turning him into the traitor.
In 2012, Boong-do meets Hee-jin, who tells him that he seems a little off in the head (literally, his “taste” has spoiled). He doesn’t react, so she nervously backtracks—she was joking, and doesn’t mean to suggest he’s actually crazy. She turns away for a second to talk to a staffer, and when she turns back, he’s gone.
Boong-do makes his way to the library—or at least, the room that was once the library. He takes out Yoon-wol’s talisman, now blood-stained, and reads the characters: 時道通來間必 救人. Time, road, communication, call, space, need, rescue, man.
Now he looks around, and the space is familiar again. The library that was empty just seconds ago now is now strewn with books and blood from his recent skirmish. Has he called himself back?
Heading outdoors, he finds royal guards stationed at the gates, not that strange film crew. He ducks out of sight when he hears the eunuch exclaiming in (false) outrage that there must be a traitor within the palace, whom they must capture. He finds his exit denied by the gatekeepers, who cite the orders to block off the palace till the villain is caught.
Boong-do gets the guards to let him out and warns them to keep silent about his movements—opening their mouths could endanger themselves. Scared, they agree to keep their mouths shut.
At home, Hee-jin and manager-friend Soo-kyung toast to her new job, speaking cutely in sageuk-speak as they hope for success. Soo-kyung takes back her earlier words cursing Dong-min, saying that he’s such a hot star right now that it’s a lucky thing she got cast opposite him.
Speak of the devil, who should show up on their doorstep but Han Dong-min himself, since Hee-jin’s ignoring his phone calls. Soo-kyung steps out to see what “Dong-min oppa” wants, and he says he’s here about that role. The director wants to give it to Hee-jin and all, but now he’s having doubts… Oh you cheeky cad, you’re just loving having this as a carrot to dangle to get your cute snappish ex back in love with you, aren’t you?
With great reluctance Hee-jin heads out to speak to Dong-min. He takes a while getting to the point, enjoying drawing out the encounter while she fidgets impatiently. Hee-jin snaps that she’s not at his beck and call.
He surprises her by talking not about their relationship but the drama gig: He has reservations about her terrible acting. In a 50-episode sageuk, her lack of skill will soon become apparent. He’s here to conduct a short test to see if they’ve got any rapport, and hands her a script.
He starts acting right away, not giving her a chance to get in a word edgewise, sending her fumbling for the right passage. They get to the point where Dong-min (as King Sukjong) approaches his queen, getting uncomfortably close. Hee-jin blurts, “Just say the lines!” and Dong-min asks, apropos of nothing, “Wanna date again?” Ha.
She looks at him in confusion. He tells her he’s not seeing anyone these days, and they’re going to be seeing a lot of each other, and “This is all your fault. That image of you undressed keeps popping up in my mind and I couldn’t film properly.”
Hee-jin starts to deliver a stern set-down, but she only gets a few words in before he swoops in and kisses her. And declares, “Our rapport seems good. Okay, you pass.”
He gives her a totally unromantic shoulder-tap of approval, and heads off feeling pleased with himself. LOL. Oh, he’s such a frustrating playboy, but damn if he isn’t oozing with charisma. You can see why he’s the hot star, and why she would have once dated him. (And why she’s dead-set against him now. That much charm is dangerous.)
Dong-min runs off to his waiting van, then pops up out of the sunroof to call back at her that the role of the queen is hers. Hee-jin yells after him that it was hers without his approval, thanks.
Dong-min’s manager grumbles over his behavior, warning him that he’ll be setting off new scandals by consorting with his co-stars. Dong-min just has a big goofy grin on his face and clutches his heart, sighing, “I feel butterflies for the first time in a long while.” His manager grimaces, telling him that every time Dong-min feels butterflies, he breaks out into a cold sweat.
Hee-jin brushes her teeth furiously and spits out Taste of Dong-min, griping that good news comes with bad news strings. Then she wonders at that strange man at the drama set—Boong-do—who’d asked her if he was dreaming or crazy. She deduces that he doesn’t seem like a cast member, but he had that sageuk speech going: “He must be a failed actor gone crazy.” You know, the kind who haunts drama sets, dressed in full costume. Heh.
Back to Joseon.
Devious Minister Min Am receives the report that Boong-do was not found anywhere in the palace. He deduces that Boong-do must be acting on orders of the king, which makes sense given the context: Boong-do lost his family when Queen In-hyun was deposed and the line of succession diverted to Lady Jang’s son. In the aftermath of that controversial switch, his family members were either killed by political opponents or stricken down in grief.
Minister Min understands the danger: “The king means to strike me down first.”
Boong-do takes refuge at a temple and ponders his talisman. The words start to make sense: The path of time connects to the future, and that time must save man. But it’s still difficult to wrap his head around what it does, so Boong-do asks for clarification, since one of the monks wrote the talisman.
That particular monk is away, so for now he can only speculate. Boong-do recounts the peculiar experience he had, which made him think he’d died or dreamed it up, only to find that neither was true. The monk says he envies him for his brief glimpse of paradise, where he even met a fairy.
Boong-do laughs, thinking of the ridiculous getup that woman was wearing, with her strappy heels and glittery jewelry: “I did meet a woman, but that can’t be. If fairies look like that, then paradise is not paradise.”
At her gibang, the gisaeng Yoon-wol plays her gayageum through tears, worrying for Boong-do’s safety. She’s visited by Minister Min and his men, who have found an “interesting connection”; they act as though they’re here for a regular visit, but clearly they’re here on a mission.
Minster Min requests a performance, and waits until Yoon-wol is a good way into her song before asking, without preamble, “Do you know Kim Boong-do?”
She’s startled into stopping, but quickly covers up her surprise. She feigns having to think about it before replying that she has seen him a few times. The minister calls her out on the lie, saying that he knows she used to serve Boong-do’s now-dead wife.
Yoon-wol sticks to her lie, saying that he’s mistaken. Her voice gets sharp; in addition to the dangerous connection, it tarnishes her image as a well-established gisaeng to have once been a slave. He says as much, saying that had he known of her origins, he would never have shown her favor, now accusing her of wickedness.
He orders his men to tie her up: She will be bait to draw in Boong-do. After all, it was Boong-do who saved her life by bringing her to the gibang in the first place when she had been marked for death.
Yoon-wol is dragged away insisting on his misinformation, but her pleas fall on deaf ears.
Flashback to five years ago. Under the king’s purview, Boong-do and company had been ordered to admit to their “crimes,” but had remained steadfast for days, enduring torture.
For whatever reason, Minister Min had stepped in to argue for Boong-do’s pardon, as he had no knowledge of his father’s involvement. He’s a mere scholar, and has already lost his family—why not show mercy?
The scheming Lady Jang had fumed, preferring to kill Boong-do off. But Minister Min had his reasons, arguing that the king was quite fond of Boong-do, and if he were forced to do away with him now, he would come to feel bitterness later. Boong-do has already lost his wings, so he is better alive (to soothe the king’s conscience) than dead.
When Boong-do had been released, he had thanked Minister Min for his kindness, promising to repay him one day. But as they had parted ways, the minister had caught sight of a twisted smile on Boong-do’s face that unsettled him.
Now Minister Min looks back at that moment, hindsight telling him what he now knows: that Boong-do would strike back. He must have been training in secret, because they had all assumed the bookworm would be an easy kill, only to find him skilled with a sword.
That’s not the only flashback that carries new meaning: Minister Min recalls the first time he called Yoon-wol to entertain him, having found her face oddly familiar.
He’d made an overture, and she’d answered all his questions with a pretty smile and a smooth reply. A more nervous or naive woman might have slipped up at any moment, but Yoon-wol was able to mask her initial reactions with her glibness. He’d once found her charming, and now seethes. That the two are connected seems to fuel his hatred even more—his favorite gisaeng, aligned with his enemy.
Playing right into the enemies’ hands, a frantic slave girl races to the temple to inform the monk and Boong-do of Yoon-wol’s capture at the hands of Minister Min. Boong-do is shrewd enough to guess that the minister’s people are looking for that incriminating letter, which would expose their treason.
But we’ve got to wait on that, because now we jump ahead to the future, where Hee-jin is being prepped for the drama’s promotional photo shoot. Manager Soo-kyung warns her to be on her toes around her co-star Na-jung, the actress playing Lady Jang, who’s known for her bad attitude.
As the rookie, Hee-jin bows politely and introduces herself to Na-jung, who barely spares her a glance. Na-jung claims Hee-jin’s chair—purely to show her she’s the boss—and Hee-jin defers, moving chairs and taking it in stride.
Then it’s time to shoot with Dong-min, who enjoys grabbing Hee-jin close despite her attempts to keep a distance. I know he’s a total scoundrel, but damn if Dong-min isn’t magnetic; I almost want these two bickering kiddos to work out. Eep!
Dong-min teases her about looking forward to playing husband and wife, while Hee-jin clings to the fact that they’ll only be shooting scenes together for the first part, until the queen is deposed. Dong-min takes a few adorable aegyo photos together, and then he’s off to make way for the rival.
Na-jung arrives in her Lady Jang regalia, nose stuck way in the air and staunchly ignoring Hee-jin’s existence. As the two ladies pose, Na-jung finally speaks, and it’s all derision. Looks like their real personalities mirror their characters perfectly, since Hee-jin’s the pushover and Na-jung the bulldozer.
Na-jung says sneeringly that it must be nice to have gotten the role so easily, insinuating that strings were pulled. Hee-jin has no idea what she’s talking about and looks confused, leading Na-jung to say plainly, “You’re stupid, and it pisses me off.”
After the shoot, Hee-jin mulls this over, thinking there’s something behind Na-jung’s barbs. While they’re waiting for the preview and press conference to start, she steps aside to ask Dong-min if he interfered with the audition process at all.
He plays it off, saying that she and her rival were neck and neck, so he just pushed them in her direction. After all, she has to be on a similar “level” with him (fame-wise) for his fans to accept that they’re dating. Lol. I love that to the hotshot star, the show’s just a tool in helping along his love life.
Dong-min even offers to do what he can to make her overshadow Na-jung in the drama, which just pisses her off more. It also unsettles her mentally, and she finds her vision blurring and her hands shaking as she awaits her introduction to the press. With a few minutes to spare, Hee-jin excuses herself to gather her composure, taking a short walk while giving herself a pep talk.
Suddenly, the wind starts to blow and a disturbance ripples the atmosphere… and then a rider materializes out of thin air, like he’s passing through from a different dimension. It’s Boong-do, galloping straight for Hee-jin, who screams and crouches down instinctively.
Boong-do must be on his mission to save Yoon-wol, but when he registers Hee-jin huddling by the road he manages to stop his horse and pulls up short, though he falls off in the process. He’s unharmed and checks to make sure she’s fine as well—and it’s only now that they register each other’s familiar faces.
But they have little time to react, because someone else has made the time-warp along with Boong-do. An assassin charges him with his sword drawn, and the men clash in close combat.
Boong-do swiftly dispatches his attacker, cutting him down with his sword. Some of the assassin’s blood spatters onto Hee-jin’s dress, and she says shakily, “This is fake blood, right? We’re filming, aren’t we?”
Boong-do kneels beside her and wonders, “What is this the meaning of this word, filming? The last time, you said I seemed ‘off.’ I did not understand your meaning and pondered it daily, but does it not mean that a person is not normal, in the way that food spoils?”
I love the utterly serious, intellectual way Boong-do approaches this conundrum, which contrasts comically with the tone of the moment. He methodically runs through the possibilities, concluding that he is neither crazy nor dreaming: “So where is this place, then?”
Back at the press conference, it’s nearly time for Hee-jin to make her bow, which has Manager Soo-kyung in a fit of anxiety. The MC is told to drag out the introductions, but if she doesn’t show up soon, this will be a problem.
However, she’s dealing with more pressing problems at the moment, and asks nervously, “Then this man is really d-dead?”
Just then, the strange wind kicks up again, and the assassin’s body starts to disintegrate right before their eyes, fizzling away into smoke. Even the blood on Hee-jin’s dress starts to lift, dissipating until there is no trace of the body.
Boong-do says in his measured way, “I saw that. I do not understand it in the least, but is this perhaps a usual occurrence in this place?”
Hee-jin whimpers, “No…” and collapses in a faint, caught by Boong-do just before she hits the ground.
It’s interesting how disparate the tones are between our time periods, though without feeling like we’re necessarily watching two separate dramas. If the rest of the drama is as stylistically and tonally strong as the first two episodes have been, I have a feeling I’ll be following this director around for many projects to come.
Every time we’re in the Joseon era, I want it to stay there, because everything about that half of the show is so well-done: moody, evocative, suspenseful. The characters are interesting and the conflict palpable. I don’t mind the time switches, and in fact every time we jump forward I enjoy the modern scenes as well; it’s more that I can envision the Joseon storyline carrying a whole drama on its own that I miss time spent away from it.
On the other hand, I suppose that if this drama were strictly dealing with that sageuk storyline, we’d lose a lot of the whimsy and refreshing genre-mixing that intrigues me about the show, so in that regard you really do need the modern half to act as counter to the period half.
The political intrigue alone isn’t new, and neither is the modern rom-com stuff, and heck, this isn’t even the only drama currently airing that has this storyline. So what works so well for me so far (aside from the fabulous style and cinematography, of course) is in the characters. Everyone has his/her own appeal and contributes something of their own, whether it’s intelligence (Boong-do), cheek (Dong-min, why so charismatic?), sassiness (Hee-jin, whom I’m finding cute without being too meek—let’s hope it stays that way), or pathos (Yoon-wol).
Boong-do is probably my favorite characterization, in that he’s whip-smart and strategic, and such a pleasure to watch given that dramaland loves to find archetypes and then stick with them, drama after drama. It’s not that Boong-do is a wholly new type of character, but that he’s one who thankfully hasn’t been done to death, which makes it a welcome change. He’s coolly logical but not an icy, reserved person (dramas love to equate cool head with cold heart), and I really liked his reaction to the time-skip. It makes no sense, but he’s not going to panic; he runs through facts in super-speed, always thinking, always moving. I also enjoy that he’s a bit humorless, which makes him more earnest than not. The perfect antidote to the playful, glib actor rival.
I’m intrigued by the time-travel being a recurring thing, and so far the drama’s been pretty good at its portrayal of the shifts. It’s something that got unintentionally funny in Operation Proposal, because that drama’s hero made his time-jumps in such a repetitive way that the skip started to feel silly; it started to feel like He-Man sounding the battle cry (“I…have…the power!”). If this drama can skirt that awkwardness, it’ll have a better chance at retaining its mood of whimsy and suspense. Who knew those could go together so well?