Drama Recaps
Cruel Palace: An Introduction
by | May 1, 2013 | 102 Comments

With traditional sageuk come certain preconceptions, since the images that normally pop into our collective heads probably include (1) lots of bearded monologuing, (2) a very long episode count, (3) all the nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat-thrills you’d expect from PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre, and (4) that this is your mom’s drama.

At least, that’s what I always thought of weekend sageuk, and skimming a few episodes of something-like-but-not-necessarily-Gye Baek and others of its ilk over the years tended to reinforce the notion that there is an audience for these types of shows – I’m just not it. That assertion comes from a totally intellectual and completely foolproof theory based off personal preference: Fusion sageuk tends to be way more fun.

That being said, JTBC’s Cruel Palace – War of the Flowers looks to be the exception and not the norm when it comes to sageuk (and my stuffy preconceived notions) – namely because it’s a darn good drama. The writing is perhaps its strongest point, since we’ve got such a vast array of characters that all feel individualized, fleshed-out, and real, with dialogue that actually makes it seem like actors are listening and reacting to one another rather than waiting for the cue to say their own lines.

There’s obviously plenty of politicking in this drama, but it’s just one part of a cohesive whole – if the political underpinnings are this show’s spine, then the characters and their very human stories are its heart and soul. (And the tendency to shoot at night with low visibility and the somewhat old school look of an otherwise very competent production make up the spleen and gallbladder.)

I’m ten episodes in, and so far the show has proven to be darker than expected, sexier than I was counting on, and intriguing enough to keep me wanting more. This is just a chance to give some first impressions and weigh in, so without further ado, let’s explore the exciting world of Joseon history, now with extra doses of women’s intrigue! Huh. That doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as I thought it would.


There’s no better introduction to understanding the history that serves as the background for our story than the actual series introduction, which throws us in medias res to the moments leading up to King Injo’s submission (technically a surrender, but not quite) to the Manchu Qing Empire, after the second Manchu invasion of 1636.

This is an infamous bit of history that’s popular for at least a passing mention in sageuk (Chuno stands out in recent memory for depicting this scene), because of the humiliating nature of surrender/submission to a people that Joseon had long considered barbarians, made worse by exactly how the submission was carried out, which is depicted in here in a way I’ve never seen before, and to great effect.

We’re introduced to KING INJO (Lee Deok-hwa) as he, the aging king of a nation, is forced to trudge alone through the snow behind a contingent of Manchu soldiers leading him to his place of surrender – a grand platform that the Qing Emperor, Hong Taiji, erected just for the occasion.

What stands out about this entire sequence is that it took all of one minute, with very little dialogue, for me to feel for Injo and his plight. It helps that he’s marvelously acted, since we’re left to interpret his suffering only by his body language and the way pride, helplessness, fear, exhaustion, and determination warp his frost-bitten features – partly because this is something he must do, and because it’s something no king would ever want to do.

This director is sparing with special shots (aka anything that deviates from your usual static shot), so that when he does employ unusual angles or close-ups, it has all the more impact. Better than overuse, I say.

The submission scene is one of these instances, because cinematography is used to such great effect to drive home how terrible this event was at times showing us only Injo’s back as he struggles up the platform to make his nine ritual bows to Hong Taiji, at times close enough for us to see the impact of his forehead hitting the ground reverberating through his face. He bows until his forehead bleeds. And that’s how you open a drama.

As someone who generally dislikes spending episodes on backstory, having this drama start right smack dab in the middle of such a dramatic moment is like a cool drink of water. (It’s also especially unexpected in sageuk, a genre that is one brave writer away from beginning the story before the invention of the wheel. One of these days.) It makes the subsequent history easier to follow, since we just go day by day from the surrender onward and experience everything as it happens to our characters in real time, and chronological order.

Basically, you could go into this knowing nothing of the history behind it and come out fine. It’s a show that manages to be inclusive without treating its audience like children, but it also doesn’t come off smug. All good things in my book.

Our heroine also gets a dramatic introduction, in that she stabs and kills a Manchu soldier attempting to drag her mother away. (At this point we’re in the direct aftermath of Injo’s submission, so the invading Manchu are still raping and pillaging in the capital.)

She’s YAM-JEON (Kim Hyun-joo), the tough-as-nails wealthy daughter of a concubine. Her mother can be a lot to handle sometimes, since she’s a nosy straight-shooter with zero shame, and her relationship with Yam-jeon is refreshingly frank, and they have a great rapport with rapid-fire bickering.

It’s not a mother/daughter dynamic usually seen in sageuk, likely because though they’re low on the social totem pole, they’re fairly well-off, thanks to a noble father that doesn’t even allow Yam-jeon to acknowledge him.

But no amount of money can change their lineage, something that becomes very clear to Yam-jeon and to us through the form of her first love’s viciously petty mother. To understand that, we have to introduce her first love… well, first.

Yam-jeon has to get rid of the soldier that she killed, and thanks to that we get some dark humor that I wish was carried past the first episode. A joke or two like this down the line couldn’t hurt, is all I’m sayin’.

Her journey to bury the evidence takes her to NAM HYUK (Jun Tae-soo), a young and handsome son of a yangban family that’s fallen on hard times ever since his father was executed as a traitor (and unjustly so, if you ask Hyuk).

Despite his circumstances, he still has his noble name, a fact his mother voraciously clings to even though they have nothing to show for it (possibly because they live in a literal shack). She never wastes an opportunity to make Yam-jeon feel small for her low birth, and is unyielding to boot.

Yam-jeon and Hyuk are old childhood friends/sweethearts, which makes for yet another fun dynamic, again coming from someone who’s tired of having every lead couple in every drama ever meet as children. (At a certain point it feels lazy, especially when the childhood meeting is a fly-by-night event that exists only so that narrative necessities can be bypassed much easier when the two have a fated reunion as adults.)

The reason why the Childhood Meet-Cute works in this context and a majority of others is because this childhood meet-cute actually informs how the two act as adults and how they interact with each other. (Who knew, right?) This show already played the childhood card a step above the usual by actually having the children who met grow up together. It also calls for a little more elbow grease on the writer’s part, since that kind of past precludes a different kind of rapport—it’s not a concern here, because a strong point of the drama is the writer’s ability to juggle all these intertwining character dynamics cohesively.

So, having that shared past allows Yam-jeon to call Hyuk out in the dead of night with this romantic gem: “I killed a barbarian and I have nowhere to bury him.” I love that Hyuk’s reaction is all, Typical. Let’s just get this over with. I almost don’t want to say this now because I know I’ll repeat it ad nauseam, but I love these two together.

Also, to be completely frank, having a tall drink of water romantic young lead like Hyuk in a show where we know who Yam-jeon will be sleeping with later (spoiler alert: it’s the king!) is like that last gulp of air you take before a big dive. Funnily enough, that’s exactly how Yam-jeon will come to perceive Hyuk—as that one good memory to cling to when the future seems bleak. Coincidence? Probably. But three cheers for relatable qualities you find in a heroine which only come back to bite you in the butt later, I guess.

Moving on to our key players on the more political side of things, we meet KIM JA-JEOM (fantastically, and I mean fantastically portrayed by Jung Sung-mo) only briefly as the acting commander of the nation’s army, because he takes the brunt of Injo’s blame for not being there to protect him from the humiliating surrender and, as far as Injo is concerned, Ja-jeom purposefully hid himself and his army away until the conflict was over.

Ja-jeom is saved from dying at Injo’s hands and is instead exiled to a deserted island with only the clothes on his back. His tenure there works for the story on multiple levels that are (again) all handled deftly — on the one hand, despite the fact that he’s clearly got a bad streak (he murdered the messenger who told him of Injo’s surrender, for instance), he’s so pitiful in his struggle to survive that it’s almost impossible not to feel something for the poor guy.

And that’s where the show gets you, so that when he becomes so desperate that he considers suicide, you’re with him enough to at least admire the resolve he finds within himself to survive — even if that means he wants revenge on Injo, because he was one of the men responsible for putting Injo on the throne in the first place after a successful coup in 1623.

One of my favorite scenes out of these ten episodes comes from Ja-jeom’s delirium-fueled resolution that HE’LL just become king and kill Injo himself. He does a Cro-Magnon dance on the edge of a cliff as he screams “I am the king!” over and over again, which could have been a disaster of a scene if he weren’t so committed to the role.

Lucky for him, Injo does end up calling him back to capital for protection since he has no one else. Their ensuing rivalry is just their attempts to survive in the wake of the total upheaval caused by Injo’s surrender/submission/whatever helps people sleep at night.

One of the conditions of said event was that Injo had to send his two eldest sons to Qing as glorified hostages, so that Qing would have a kind of safeguard against Joseon backlash. It’s a shame that I can only just touch on these characters, even though they’re becoming my favorites:

Eldest son Crown Prince SOHYEON (Jung Sung-woon) and his wife, Crown Princess MINHOE (Song Seon-mi), are forced to leave their infant son behind in order to go to Qing. They make quite a power couple, though it becomes clear that it’s Minhoe who really wears the crown as she proves herself to be brave, whip-smart, and kind.

The same goes for Sohyeon, though he doesn’t possess the same kind of cojones as his wife. We get a chance to see their relationship grow and change as their captivity brings them closer together, where there was only resentment before. (Long story short: Sohyeon was in love with another woman who killed herself, so his marriage to Minhoe wasn’t wanted on his end.)

Most of their time is spent in Shenyang, the capital of Qing, where they have a civil relationship with Prince Dorgon, half-brother to the emperor. (It’s worth noting that the Manchu in this drama actually speak the Manchu language, a feat in and of itself since the language is on the brink of extinction.)

Dorgon’s aim is to get Sohyeon to take his father’s throne (and thus be a puppet for the Qing Empire), while Sohyeon and his wife’s short-term goals remain simple: To rescue as many Joseon captives as they can. In learning to survive, Minhoe breaks all kinds of traditions by learning to farm and ride horses, the latter being so egregious that Injo bars her entrance to the palace when she later visits on horseback.

Ja-jeom plans to seal Injo’s throne by using a woman he can control, and conspires with a court lady of the highest rank, Lady Kim, to make Yam-jeon into royal concubine material.

And because a concubine’s daughter couldn’t ever hope to rise above the rank of a court lady, Ja-jeom’s solution is to adopt her as his own daughter. That way, if she has a son, she could even become queen. (The former Queen Inyeol died about a year prior, so the seat was empty.)

This doesn’t jive with Yam-jeon’s plans, because her initial hope is to spend her life with Hyuk. Their love story is as sweet as it is riddled with problems, most notably because of the class divide that they can’t surmount.

Hyuk would risk losing everything to marry her, not to mention the fact that his mother is a crazy and stubborn old broad. She even openly uses Yam-jeon’s connections when Hyuk gets arrested (for protecting Yam-jeon, no less), promising all sorts of favors if she would help free Hyuk.

Needless to say, Yam-jeon jumps at this opportunity to hopefully please his mom, only for the woman to turn on her. Anti-Mom finally hems and haws that she’ll accept Yam-jeon only as Hyuk’s concubine, but she’ll have to wait about half a decade for him to be safely married first.

This is the last straw for Yam-jeon, and the situation is only made worse when Hyuk admits that he can’t do anything to help her. (He always talks a big game, being part of a rebel group aligned against Injo, but he always ends up backing down at crucial moments.)

It’s while her future with Hyuk is so uncertain that Yam-jeon is swept up in Ja-jeom’s plans to make her a royal concubine, and though she resists as long as she can through a hunger strike, eventually she breaks down and gives in — not just so she can eat, but because she realizes that she has no other options without Hyuk.

That marks her turning point, and Yam-jeon puts her all into her training. What we start to witness is her sexual awakening as well as her sort of coming into her own, in terms of learning to control her sexuality and use it.

She goes through three major stages in this process. The first is when she meets her adoptive father Ja-jeom for the first time, and loses herself (or rather, learns to let go) as she dances to the tune of his zither. The fact that he allows her to call him “Father” fulfills the desire she’s always had for a dad, which gets her hook, line, and sinker.

The second is when she becomes aware of physical pleasure by standing in a storm in order to “feel” the rain on her body in what can only be described as an orgasmic experience. (For her, anyway.)

The third stage comes when she decides to take control over her body — in what could be her last chance to do so — in losing her virginity to Hyuk. This is a dangerous move for both of them since (1) only virgins were allowed into the palace, and (2) because she was already considered the king’s property, the penalty would be death if she were to be caught with Hyuk.

Hyuk doesn’t want to let her go even though he’s powerless to keep her, and he spends his time wallowing in misery while Yam-jeon begins her life as a royal concubine.

And because Injo knows she’s Ja-jeom’s puppet, she spends her first few nights alone. They both seem to surprise each other when they do finally come face to face — Yam-jeon is pleasantly surprised to find that he’s not as old as she thought, and he’s amused by her bold nature.

It’s not long before Injo is completely under her spell, with things only getting better once Yam-jeon finds out that she’s pregnant. Of course, she knows that the child is Hyuk’s and plans to keep it a secret.

Two others know about her deadly secret: Her morally ambiguous partner-in-crime (and her mother’s lover), acupuncturist LEE HYUNG-IK (Son Byung-ho) and the father, Hyuk, who can’t seem to keep it to himself once he finds out she’s pregnant.

Her grand solution to this problem is the saddest one, in that she sleeps with Hyuk as a sort of goodbye before she sends assassins to kill him. He fights valiantly (and puts that rebel force training to use), and only gives up when he sees Yam-jeon at the scene of the battle and realizes that she’s the one who ordered his death.

He’s then stabbed, and falls over a cliff into the water below. Yam-jeon holds back her tears during the ordeal —which kind of makes you want to hate her as much as you understand the why behind her actions — as she watches him float away, presumably dead. (Presumably.)

She doesn’t win back favors when she actually has the child, because when it turns out to be a daughter (and therefore useless to her), she screams that it should be thrown out. Rest assured, her daughter survives, but Yam-jeon sees her all of one time, and from a distance.

Because she couldn’t move up in status, Injo takes on a new, 15-year-old wife. It’s worth noting that he was all but forced into this marriage, and that his bride, QUEEN JANGRYEOL (Go Won-hee) is sweet and kind, but seemingly unsuited to the rigors of palace life.

Yam-jeon ingratiates herself to the new queen in an attempt to win her favor, all while plotting behind her back, as concubines are wont to do. Her chances of becoming queen haven’t completely disappeared yet — she stands a chance if she can have a son before the queen, since she’s too young to bear children anyway.

Filled with this newfound ambition, mostly because it’s her last chance, Yam-jeon plots to put safeguards in place for the only two things that could derail her plans. She can’t afford to have another daughter, so she secretly pays a slew of couples to get to baby-making to ideally align her pregnancy with theirs (she’s got her own set of problems trying to get Injo to sleep with her again), with plans to swap her baby out for one of theirs if she has a daughter.

Ja-jeom not only condones this plan, he even helps her. After all, his life is at stake too, and I keep wanting to say that it’s because he put all his eggs in her basket — but I can’t make that not sound weird, knowing this drama.

The only other thing standing in Yam-jeon’s way is one of Injo’s playthings by the name of Lady Lee, who’s more or less a puppet of Injo’s two official concubines (he has three, including Yam-jeon). She’s ambitious even though she can’t move up in stature because of her low birth, so even with a child she could still only remain a court lady. Thus she’s still lower in stature than all the concubines.

Still, Yam-jeon has reason to feel threatened when Lady Lee becomes pregnant (so she lies that she too is pregnant, when she isn’t), which forces her to amp up her ever-growing list of deadly and dangerous plots into one of her riskiest yet: She plans to poison Lady Lee just enough for her to miscarry the baby, but not enough to kill her.

On top of that, she tries to hunt down Hyuk’s mother to kill her if she’s still alive, but finds no trace of her at Hyuk’s old abandoned home. She does get an unpleasant shock when a neighbor tells her that Hyuk’s mother has long since been gone – but that there’s someone who comes to the house to cry every night. Which could only mean…

Yam-jeon carries through with her poisoning plan, but she doesn’t count on Lady Lee having a pregnant woman’s appetite. Lady Lee unknowingly digs into the poisoned sweets Yam-jeon gifted her, which seems like a quick ticket to an untimely death.

Likewise, Yam-jeon also eats the poison in order to make sure she won’t be suspected. At least she knows how absurd it is, because by the end of the episode her laughs start to sound like they’re coming from just this side of unhinged.


This was probably the worst kind of show to pick for an introductory post, since all ten episodes are absolutely packed to the brim with plot and very little waste.

That makes it a great show for watching, since every hour is eventful, with no noticeable lulls so far. Again, we’re still very early into the run so anything can happen, but we’re dealing with a writer who’s resume is filled with long-format, fifty-episodes-or-more dramas. I’d venture a guess that he knows how to pace a show of this length, and that there’s more than enough intrigue to go around.

Overall, this show is doing a great job with its characters first and foremost, though I doubt they’d be half as compelling if the plot wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Different character groupings are a must in long-format dramas (things would get pretty static otherwise), but it’s refreshing to be this invested in the alternate storylines, especially when the focus moves to Crown Prince Sohyeon and his wife. And fine, maybe a field of grass doesn’t constitute a farm no matter how many people you have “working” on it, but the show’s heart is in the right place. And surprisingly enough, that counts for a whole lot in a show that I honestly wasn’t expecting to deliver in the warm-and-fuzzies department.

What’s nice about Sohyeon and Minhoe’s story thread is that they’re all heart, so it’s nice to have somewhere to drop a moral anchor in a show where everyone is plotting against everyone else. I was admittedly a little worried when we lost Hyuk, but that void has successfully been filled. For the moment, anyway. Hyuk is a fictional character without any historical basis, so I was disappointed when I thought we lost him, sure that we’d lost the only wild card in this show. But I’m not losing sleep over it, and I’m pretty sure that’s because I’m holding out hope that he’s alive. They’ve hinted at it, at least. That, or I’ve deluded myself into turning everything into a subtle hint that he’s not dead yet.

As far as our resident captive lovebirds go, it really is too bad that history is one big spoiler when it comes to sageuk (I recognize that this is an absurd complaint, but it’s still true), because right now, it’s not that fun to know exactly where one of my favorite characters is headed and that nothing’s going to change it. Minhoe is slowly but surely stealing the show, since we’re seeing her really coming into her own as this fearless amazonian warrior princess/hero of the people with figurative balls of pure steel, and yet her story is just beginning. I have a feeling (darn you again, history!) that her strife with Injo won’t turn out well for her, but I at least hope to see her kicking the ass I know she’s capable of kicking for as long as she’s allowed to kick it.

In short: Rock on, Cruel Palace. Rock on.


102 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Howforwardsale

    Thanks for the intro HeadsNo2. Great selection for the last picture. Looks like she is taking flight in her room, lol.

    • 1.1 midori

      This is such an incredibly well done Sageuk. It’s been a while. I have been so disappointed by the current crop of Sagueks. They just seem to lack polish, gravitas, scale or seem relevant in any way.

      This drama does a great job, right from the opening. Add the fact that the Manchurians are actually speaking Manchu and you know you are in for something new. Most sageuks chicken out and have all foreigners, be it Japanese, Chinese, Mongol etc. speak Korean because they don’t want to bother with subtitles or training actors to speak a different language.

      All in all, I say once again the cable dramas are showing the broadcast channels a thing or two about what a good drama is.

      • 1.1.1 KHJ

        JTBC does have good dramas, i also like another fact that I see more skin from this drama,. people said cause its JTBC so they are not afraid to show skin.
        I love the love scene of Yam Jun and Hyuk, I would like to see them again once he comes back, she better has another son with him, so she could make her own son the King and not someone else’s son.

      • 1.1.2 Dominique

        Absolutely agreed. Especially with your last sentence.

        It took a little too long for Dramabeans to pay homage to this drama, while it bothers aplenty with popular-but-hollow disposables like Level 7 Civil Servants, Goo Family Book or Lee Soon Shin. In 2013, all the action in Korean dramaland is taking place in cable channels, but Dramabeans has been consistent in its absence there.

        But better late than never.

        • javabeans

          Good god, I owe you nothing.

          • mommai

            Amen to that!

          • Rachael

            Such truth you might as well be preaching.

          • sally_b

            Fabulous reply, Javabeans. ❤

            Dominique you add nothing to the community landscape here.
            You whine, bitch and moan. (as if anyone cares)
            Take a chair….pull it to the back of the room…sit your lame ass down…
            NO ONE owes you anything.

          • Hazel


        • anonymous

          That is so rude. I am at a loss for words.

        • Dongsaeng killer

          Could you please stop coming here? For a site that you dont appreciate, you sure spend a lot of time viewing and commenting

        • ilikemangos

          lol Dominque seems to be a troll everywhere she/he goes, so i wouldn’t really pay attention.

          • Kiara

            I’ve said that before so dont feed the trolls.

          • TS

            I agree with not feeding trolls. And I just ate two delicious mangos. 😉

          • Mystisith

            @ilikemangos Amen!
            Her comments are 99% negativity. It’s sad because the few interesting things said by Dominique are so diluted in poison that it’s getting counter-productive.
            Now I just skip these comments…

      • 1.1.3 Kiara

        “Add the fact that the Manchurians are actually speaking Manchu and you know you are in for something new”.

        I was very impressed, this is such a movie quality show. I had a “War of the Arrows” flash back there. Imagine Park Hae-il and Ryoo Seung-ryong doing a cameo appearance. Squeeeeeee.

  2. Ivoire

    Thank you Heads! I don’t know if you have noticed this, but your 1st paragraph in your commentary does not seem to be complete. I just thought I would let you know.

    • 2.1 HeadsNo2

      D’oh! That was a copy/paste error I missed. All fixed now!

    • 2.2 lemonade candy

      Errr~ I think its okay… Maybe the nuance in voice makes it sound incomplete. The clauses and structure is sound to me. A sentence can still be considered a paragraph, especially in introductory.

      Anyhows, I’m watching this! I enjoyed watching sageuk!

      • 2.2.1 Ivoire

        Hello lemonade candy,

        And no, it was not okay… It seems to me, based on your comment that you read the sentence/paragraph that Heads had already corrected, not the one that I first read. Also, Heads posted her comment at 10:23am, and you posted yours at 10:29am, which kind of confirms to me that you must have read the corrected paragraph, once again.

        This is what the paragraph originally looked like (I am posting the first two paragraphs), the one that I read on this page (posted in the commentary section by Heads):

        “This was probably the worst kind of show to pick for an introductory post, since all ten episodes are absolutely packed to the brim with plot and very little waste. In retrospect, there are things that are less important than other things in this show, but the

        That makes it a great show for watching, since every hour is eventful, with no noticeable lulls so far. Again, we’re still very early into the run so anything can happen, but we’re dealing with a writer who’s resume is filled with long-format, fifty-episodes-or-more dramas. I’d venture a guess that he knows how to pace a show of this length, and there’s more than enough to go around.”

        As you can see, the first paragraph is incomplete, which Heads recognized, since as she said, she “fixed” it. I guess it was a good thing I called her attention on that, after all…

        • lemonade candy

          Hello, Ivoire.

          I believe this is the first time we have ever communicated? **virtual handshake**

          In my defense, Heads’ reply has not appeared yet at the very moment I was typing my “opinion” in regards to the paragraph. [When was it again? Oh, yes. Silly me, the date stamp is there…Somewhere earlier than May 1st, 2013, 10:29am, I suppose]

          After the page reloads itself (after in which my comment appear on the thread); TADAH~~~!!!

          Only THEN I saw Heads’ reply on top of mine. However, I feel that there is no need for me to rectify my “opinion” (Who rectifies opinion, anyway?) about the paragraph because Heads had already stated “correction done, thanks for telling”. (I hope you’re okay with my paraphrasing because I’m not so keen on copying and pasting comment verbatim. It’s just my way of expressing I have understood the point written.)

          I have no idea that my decision to just “Let it be” will lead to a long and descriptive reply, accompanied by a complete report of the exact moment of comments occurred, as well as the original and corrected version of the paragraph written by Heads from you, Ivoire. It’s a surprise, really.

          Realization hits me then, the way I verbalize my “differentiated opinion” must have rubbed you in the wrong way; or you won’t even bother to write a detailed reply and make the effort to find the original “incorrect” paragraph just to prove your point.

          You have done a great job in explaining how “it was not okay” for me to assume that the error is caused by mere nuance; and how the sentence is actually correct and the correction was done thanks to your hawkeyed observation and quick response to Heads.

          Thank you for being very legal with me.

          In the future, I will make sure to refresh the page first before commenting in case my opinion has already been said by somebody else; and to ascertain that I barked at the right tree. **self pinky promise**

          P/s Actually, I just want to say “Thanks, you’re right. Great explanation, btw” but seeing how long your reply is to my comment; I figure it would be better if I write a long reply too. Fair and square.

  3. ana

    I’m in love with this drama! This is what a I call a real sageuk 🙂

  4. Ilikemangos

    I knew you had to write something about cruel palace heads, with your desire to recap it, but 10 back to back episodes surely would be deteriorating on your health.
    I liked the first episode but wasnt able to watch the others after because of time constraint. But I thought the first episode was really solid I liked our heroine so after finals week Ill have time to catch up.
    Will you be writing a halfway review?

    • 4.1 ilikemangos

      Also, my heart goes out to hyuk, who had to pay the price just for loving the wrong gal.

      • 4.1.1 Lizzie

        he came back in ep 12, but we still do not know what he has in mind, i hope he takes revenge on her . but since he is a kind hearted man and loves this woman so much, i dont think he will do anything to harm her, i think he will fight and hopes to get her back from the old King.( he said this to her last time when he slept with her before he died that he would not let her go again)

        • TS

          I don’t see why he should take revenge on her. He let her down again and again, and then wouldn’t even shut up about the pregnancy though it could’ve had her killed.

          Talk about a crap boyfriend.

          • Lizzie

            well he is man too, i think men wouldnt sit still hearing their women have their child. so i think i can understand why he couldnt even sit still hearing she was pregnant.
            he loved her but couldnt do anything for her, cause he didnt want to fight with his old mother.

            I thought he would take revenge on her because she killed him. you know mostly in dramaland the dead characters come back and get revenge on their lover.

            I dont know what would happen to him next, so many questions in my mind right now? who saved him? how does he become an officer? who will help him? how would she reacts when she knows he is alive?

          • Kiara

            ” Before the world changes, you should change”.

            After being rejected, humiliated and belittled by his mother. Useless bf gave his usual let me make you feel worse speech. “I’m sorry”…(Really?)..Thats all I can do for you…(What the hell did he do for her again?)… There will be a new world bla bla bla…”. (Riiiight, after they are both dead and buried for hundred of years). I understand his duty to his family but he should be more of a man than a princess.

            Honestly I dont want to see the old Nam Hyuk. He better be a changed man or I’m going to ignore him.

          • anna

            Well, she did try to murder him! That’s revenge-worthy enough for dramaland. Hey, I understand. Most of us have been there, having a crappy bf and all, but I never tried to kill him no matter how crappy he was.

          • Shiku

            I know right? Such a crappy boyfriend. She would have done anything for him, gone above and beyond if only he would have let her stand by his side. She was willing to wait for him, being a wife or concubine never really mattered to her as long as she was with him. But he did nothing, nothing at all. Just said ‘I’m sorry.’ and this is the same guy who wants to change the world yet cannot change his mind or his mother’s mind.

            It wasn’t right what she did to him, but when your back is against the wall, you do what you have to do to survive. One wrong move from her and everyone around her including her mother dies.

            He would probably come back for revenge for what she did though.

          • Kiara

            Joseon was nothing like the world you live in today and this not your typical K-drama romance, revenge or whatever you call it.

  5. dewaanifordrama

    Wow! Thank you so much for doing this! I haven’t yet had the chance to start watching, but hopefully I will soon. Between your posts and Mr.X’s posts I hope that I will be able to manage the subtly of a reali sageuk. Thank you so much!

  6. Kiara

    OMG I love you girl. This show is amazing and my favorite sageuk so far for 2013. I doubt any other sageuk will top it this year.
    Jung Ha Yun,this man knows his history and uses it effectively. I love him since Shin Don and I went back and watch all his other historical work. He is one of a kind, isn’t he?. Everytime I watch one of his sageuks and I felt like I’m actually there in that era with him.
    Thank you so much Heads <333333333.

    • 6.1 KHJ

      is there a chance for the writer and the drama to get some awards though JTBC dramas get lower ratings than other big 3 stations dramas??

      • 6.1.1 Kiara

        Most of these award shows are based on popularity and ratings. Maybe the Baeksang Art Awards but I’m not sure.

        • Peeps

          I heard that the baeksangs are getting influenced politically too though. Not sure how true that is, but if true… *dislike*

          • Kiara

            Sad but true. Remember Kim Soo Hyun winning the best actor award over Shin Ha Kyun and Han Suk Kyu?. That was unbelievable. I dont care to watch award shows anymore.

  7. lemondoodle

    I’ll put this one my list! Sounds really interesting.

  8. gummimochi

    Thanks so much for the introduction post, friend! 🙂

    It was so informative to let us know where history and drama interweaves and deviate from each other. From the little I watched, this series seems like such a compelling work that will surely be an enjoyable ride!

    I know you put so much work into this, so I hope you get some proper rest now! Muah!

  9. Lizzie

    Wow thank you so much for this. So far this is the best seaguk for me. I love everything about this show. the scenes from the 1st 2 eps are so beautiful, I prefer watching this than watching dramas which are filmed abroad( like Iris 2). the first 2 eps showed how beautiful Korean is. The actings are excellent, Lee Duk Hwa, Kim hyun Joo and Jung Sung Mo are soooo good in their roles. Never liked Lee Duk Hwa before, but I have to admit that he is so good as the weak Injo. Kim Hyun Joo, never expect this cute girl would portray this evil character so well. Only from her expression i can know what she is thinking and wanting. love it when she plays sexy. and the lovestory is soooooooo CUTEEEEEE, Kim Hyun Joo looks good with Jun tae su in the first ep, i meant she looked so Young and fit the role very well. Jun Tae su is so freaking handsome, I love their lovestory so much, and yes he is not dead, he appeared in ep 12. wonder if he would revenge her or he will hold hope of getting her back from the old man. I think i need more love scenes of them. well i already read the history from wikipedia so i know what happened, but i am waiting to see how the writer to pull this out with his excellent writing. cant wait till the crown princess is back , it would be interesting to see how Lady Kim vs crown princess vs the young queen fight.

  10. 10 Jillia

    This is really a great show I’m watching only when I have time but when I do it’s all amazing. 🙂

  11. 11 TS

    One point I’ve been really confused about it, where *was* Kim Ja Jeom and his massive army? The Korean peninsula is not so big that his multiple 1000s of men wouldn’t have heard of the Manchu invasion.

    I’m totally torn in my loyalties between the Qing dynasty here, btw. It doesn’t help the divided loyalt that Injo’s an awful king and that Hong Taiji just rocks. So, love the Hong, love the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, and pretty much all the women in the palace and Yam-Jeon, of course, but really, really really want Injo gone.

    • 11.1 Lizzie

      haha me too, really really tired of Injo. it would be cool to see the Hong back to Joseon again and take Injo with them. what an useless King, all he does is playing with his women.

      • 11.1.1 TS

        And have semi-bipolar mood swings.

        • Lizzie

          I thought he was going to have a heart attack in ep 11 when he learnt that there is no one who stands by his side, even his son and daughter-in-law.

          I think I am too tired seeing him making love with his younger ladies, it would be embarrassed to see him playing with the young queen, she is just 15, Oh My GODDDD

          • TS

            @Lizzie he reminded me of my friend’s 3 year old having tantrum – except without excuse of being 3.

            @Kiara Mishil existed: Wikipedia says so. 😉

        • Kiara

          Oh please wikipedia is not the best source for Korean history. I’d believe you if you say that she was mentioned in Samguk Sagi, even that historical records is questionable. Mishil is only mentioned in Hwarang Segi. The authenticity of this record has been disputed for years. It is believed to be a fake.

          • Kiara

            There is also a novel called Mishil based on what was written about her on the Hwarang Segi. I’m guessing Kim Young Hyun’s Mishil was more from the novel. Kind of like the current Jang Ok Jung.

          • TS

            I know, that’s my joke! 🙂

            On a more scholarly note, Thanks for the info re the Samguk Sagi. I’ll look for that as a proper authority.

          • Kiara

            I dont think any of the original records that we would refer to as the proper authority survived through these invasions. Kim Busik wasn’t an eye witness during Queen Seon Deok’s time. He was born much later during the Goryeo era. Thats why I said Samguk Sagi is questionable but because it has been around longer, historians ( me included lol) tend to treat it as a more reliable source than this Hwarang Segi that just surfaced around the mid or late 1900s.

          • Kiara

            Btw I’m not a historian lol. Just a fan of history.

    • 11.2 Shiku

      I like Lee Duk Hwa and he is awesome as King Injo. He is playing his part perfectly. I get that people would prefer to see a younger actor as King but historically most of the kings were older than their concubines. If seeing him romance younger ladies is making you uncomfortable, I dont know what to say as they are just following history.

    • 11.3 Kiara

      Huang Taiji brough 120,000 soldiers and went straight to the capital and blocked Injo from escaping. Kim Ja Jeom was at Hwangju province with only 30,000 soldiers.

      • 11.3.1 TS

        Ah, that’s what happened. Well with those numbers, and, er, “barbarian” discipline, not much Joseon could do without proper preparation.

        • Kiara

          That would be a suicide mission and Kim Ja Jeom wasn’t going to sacrifice his life for his puppet king. Injo was trapped in the capital for over a month before he surrendered. I think Kim Ja Jeom had enough time to gather more soldiers for a rescue attempt but he chose not to.

  12. 12 snow_white

    Thanks for the intro..

  13. 13 Birdie

    This is the best real sageuk in a very long time. What a great production. Those of you who have never watched a really good traditional sageuk, try this one. A very fine example how sageuk should be done.

  14. 14 Lizzie

    ah just wanted to say this , have never seen a grand opening of ep 1 like this one. The first scene, the bow scene is just WOW. I almost teared up watching it.

  15. 15 browncoat_78

    You’ve sold me. Since this is easy to find with subs, I’m definitely going to give it a try. Especially since there is currently a big whole in my heart that should be being filled by Mandate of Heaven, but isn’t because I can’t find it subbed anywhere!

  16. 16 Toystar

    Thanks Heads I’m loving this show. I even got my hubby to watch it with me.

  17. 17 Arawn

    I loveloveLOVE Sohyun and Minhoe! I would love to watch a drama just about these two – with a happier ending, tho. And I want them to maaaake out! I know, there are sexy times in this show and their hugging and loving is so sweet, but there’s just so much chemistry that I would love to see a legit KISS for once here. I mean, these two are married, they make babies and to make babies they have to have sex. Please, make more babies while in China, ok?

    • 17.1 KHJ

      hahaha lol about the babies part.

      Me, I want Hyuk to have more sex with Lady Kim and make her pregnant again, she will be more crazier once she had a baby boy with Hyuk, she will do no matter what to make her son the King( their son).
      hope we get to see more loving scenes of Hyuk and Yam Jun in the next eps. please please writer.

    • 17.2 HaibaraChristie

      OMG. They are totally my OTP in this, and they are already married! Yay! Even that 5 minute hug was like the best thing ever.

  18. 18 John

    Heads ~

    Thanks for taking a look at this show. Out of saguekpalooza of Gu Family, Jang Ok Jung and Cruel Palace, by far Cruel Palace is the one I look forward to.

    YAM-JEON (Kim Hyun-joo) is kicking butt. She’s smart, driven and evil.

    When she’s smiling, you know she’s up to no good. I’ve loved one other villainess, Ko Hyun Jung as Lady Mi Shil in Queen Seon Deok. Move over Mi Shil, there’s a new “bad girl” in town.

    • 18.1 KHJ

      only NH could soften her with his true heart. i want them together so badly.

      talking about Kim Hyun Joo’s acting, its just Wow

    • 18.2 Kiara

      I’d take Yam Jun over Mishil anyday. She is portrayed in a more realistic way, plus she did exist in history. To be honest I wasn’t excited about Kim Hyun-joo in the beginning but she has this amazing team behind her, guiding her. She is lot more comfortable now and totally owning her role.
      I have a love and hate relationship with writer Kim Young Hyun. I enjoyed Dae Geum and Tree With Deep Roots but I can tell when she goes off on fan service mode for the sake of the ratings, especially with QSD. Mishil did not exist in history unless the Hwarang segi is considered a real historical record.. Kim Busik who wrote Samguk Sagi didn’t mention her at all but he is another story. I think QSD should have been called Mishil instead. A villain turned heroine in the end thanks to the fan.

      • 18.2.1 Kiara

        err fans.

  19. 19 Newborn Fanatic

    Awesome~ thanks for the review! I always liked saguek but hate how a lot of them have pretty strong and interesting beginnings but start to get so slow from the middle. For some reason there are WAY too many episodes in these saguek dramas. HOpefully this one keeps going strong! Plus I haven’t watched anything with Kim Nam Joo in awhile~

  20. 20 EX-DF user

    Thanks for the intro. This wasn’t even on my radar but now it is. I’m interested thanks to you.

  21. 21 Lord of the Things

    Wow, that was a really good teaser. I almost wish I hadn’t read it, because now I want to go track down as many episodes as I can. I should know by now that there’s no such thing as “quickly reading a dramabeans post before running to uni.”

    I’m really curious as to where Yam-jeon’s character goes; I mean, she’s killed her lover and thrown away their child, but (just from your recap) I still want to root for her?

    Thanks, Heads!

  22. 22 yukiNYC

    After watchin Nine:9TTT, Gu Family Book looked so same old sameold and so tired. I hope this one won’t be crushed by 9TTT.

    I’ll check this out because of Heads. Why? Because she can see the actors’ faces beyond their hair cuts, how hot they are, cute etc. She wrote about the actors faces acting, ALL while recaping!


  23. 23 Peridot

    I watched the first episode and I must say that the scene between King Injo and his infant grandson was absolutely powerful and moving.

    • 23.1 KHJ

      yeahhhhh I love that scene as well, I thought he was a lovely grandfather and father but he turns out to be a xxxx? (just watch the rest you will understand)

      • 23.1.1 Peridot

        From the comments, I can gather that he is an “xxxx” person, lol 🙂 I do look forward to watching more.

  24. 24 momosan

    Hey Heads! It is absolutely great, isn’t it. And can I give an extra mention of how beautifully shot it is? That opening episode is sweeping, dramatic and beautiful all at the same time.

    • 24.1 KHJ

      also like the Korean landscapes, the shot when Hyuk and Yam Jun were on the mountain , that scene is so beautiful. also the scene when Kim Ja Jum was at the deserted island, all are natural landscapes

  25. 25 Sajen

    so you mean stuff actually happens? I’ve never seen a traditional sageuk where anything happened.

    • 25.1 Lord of the Things

      This is what has put me off them, even though they were the only broadcast korean dramas subbed into english where I live for a while there (now I don’t own a TV, so who knows). I remember trying to watch one where it was like: “High-born lady talking;” “Lord scheming;” “King talking;” “Low born hero fighting;” “High born lady talking;” etc etc ad nauseum.

    • 25.2 Mystisith

      You and me both. I find the sageuks extremely formulaic, even more than rom-coms: Character #1 has power character #2 wants it too and character #3 is a poor victim trying to survive. Also, a lot of talking about secrets and treasons, a lot of torture and unfairness…
      When I see that dama XX is the 6th or 7th one about the same historical character, I wonder how viewers can take some more. I try to imagine if we had 2 TV shows about Louis XIV here: The audience would riot in the streets with “enough!” written on their foreheads.
      Unless a sageuk drama chooses a very special approach and new type of hero, then I’m just here for the aesthetic (palaces, clothes, landscapes).

  26. 26 pokepoke.monster

    It’s a really fast-paced drama that’s worth watching. I’m also really impressed that they found actors who spoke actual Manchurian. (However, it’s also true that during the Qing dynasty, the Manchurians have used Han Chinese in court. It’s not a cop-out for other dramas even if they don’t use Machurian-speaking actors.)

  27. 27 topper

    Best drama on show right now.

    • 27.1 myra

      Yeap totally. Next to The End of The World.

  28. 28 Abbie

    Part of me wants to watch this, and yet another part of me doesn’t, since it seems to be following history really closely. Plus there’s a lot of sexuality and nudity that I’m not used to from a Korean drama. I’m not a prude, I’ve just gotten so used to other dramas not having such things.

    Anyway, this seems really interesting, but I don’t Yam-jeon. I liked her until she had Hyuk killed, now I could take her or leave her. I think she’s gonna go crazy, as court lady’s are wont to do in sageuk. I hope she becomes queen, but at the same time, I don’t. She’s becoming unstable.

    So far, my favorites are Sohyeon and his wife.

    • 28.1 Abbie

      I meant, *I don’t like Yam-jeon. lol

    • 28.2 KHJ

      but it would be more interesting when Hyuk comes back and get revenge on her or works together with her ? i dont know. I cant wait till Hyuk teaches this girl a lesson, the only person she loves is Hyuk, so she will be tortured when Hyuk comes back.

      • 28.2.1 Abbie

        That’s what I’m hoping for. His revenge, if he’s still alive.

  29. 29 Bashful82

    Yes but somehone I don’t see NH actually entering the palace to take revenge on her.

    We should remember he chose not to defend himself when attached:

    – some see that as a sad resignation that he had been betrayed and that life is no longer worth living; or

    – others see that as he recognises that his existence is a threat to the woman he loves and that he must die.

    In respect of her daughter, I think it is clear that she loves her but cannot bear to be bear her because she is her husband’s daughter and she chose to sacrifice him if it meant their son could be king. Obviously it was a girl so by keeping her daughter away from her, she does not have to be reminded of what she lost.

    In any case, I think she considers herself dead already – hence the scene with her mother where she says that she will die eventually and that she does not care in what way, share or form.

    (I think this drama is shaping to be one of the best of 2013 – and it is certainly the strongest of all the sageuks we have had so far. I am glad that we had “Dowager Queen Insoo” last year and this year this. For those who might be interested, the actor who plays the acupuntuarist played King Sejo’s main advisor in the former drama and was so radically different – top class actor. The older giesang who taught YJ also played the role of a Senior Court Lad in DWI and was great in that).

    All in all, a lot of the writers of sageuks on the main channels could learn a thing or two from the writers of the two dramas (and directors) and stop chruning the shape baloney (I am looking at you “Snore Doctor”).

    • 29.1 midori

      Horse Doctor has got to be the most boring drama in existence. It’s like the writer thought what esoteric theme can I base my drama on, all in a try hard attempt and bad casting to booth. Snore Doctor indeed.

      • 29.1.1 KHJ

        totally agree with you.
        YJ does love NH and his daughter, but seeing the baby , the child reminds her of NH and the reality that she killed NH that is why she didnt want to accept the child.

        yes, after watching the lastest eps, I understand what she meant and why she chose to do so many evils thing, she is dead already on the same day when Hyuk died.

        as for Hyuk, i think he chose to dye for the sake of their child and that is what his woman wanted ( his death).

        now since he is back, i dont know what he has in mind?? so i am curious to what happens next.

  30. 30 Florentine Lily

    Thanks for the intro, Heads2No. Your comments and review were spot on. This show has me completely in its grip. I have only praises so far. It’s beautifully written, wonderfully shot and the acting is breathtaking. Not to talk about the directing.

    I hate and love Yam-Jeon. I hate to love her. I love to hate her. The actress, Kim Hyun-joo, is doing an amazing job. Everyone is doing a great job.

    I must say my favorite character is Crown Princess Minhoe (Song Seon-mi is perfect in that role). I love the way she’s coming into her own. I have a feeling it might not end well for her but I can’t keep from hoping that she’ll create her own country and live happily ever after with the Crown Prince and their son.

    I could go on but the main point is that I was blown away by how exceptional the whole drama is. Everything is perfect, from the writing to the directing. I don’t have to tell you how rare this is. Everything is top-notch.

    Thanks once again,

    • 30.1 Florentine Lily

      Sorry, that was supposed to be “HeadsNo2”.

    • 30.2 HaibaraChristie

      I have to agree with you, the Crown Princess is kickass, and I love how her husband the Prince is just as awesome and supportive, even though they once resented each other. I’m literally head over heels in love with those two. It’s a great contrast to the crazy that’s going on back in Korea. This is such a great drama.

  31. 31 katy

    entering palace world = entering fierce battle field for power , whether you kill or be killed !

    Royal families are the most dysfunctional , most disgusting
    families , every member tries to kill each other for power ,
    they kill all their brothers sisters sons wives as soon they grasp power , end up they have nobody , no relatives , then they depend on and be controlled by their Queen ‘ families ………………….corruptions .

    stupid King and Royals

    • 31.1 Kiara

      Cruel Palace is such a fitting title and Jung is not sugarcoating anything. The dangerous thing about power is once you taste it there is no going back. Where there is power there is also corruptions even today.

  32. 32 KHJ

    ahh this is so funny, Cruel Palace actors dance to Psy Gentleman


  33. 33 Autumn


    • 33.1 Autumn

      I mean, our main couple could’ve had this forbidden love thing going on!

      It’s obvious that Yam Jun can’t escape from the palace now; she’s basically the King’s property. So the sooner Nam Hyuk realizes that he can’t have her ALL to himself, he’ll have to compromise and keep his mouth shut about their relationship… or it’ll be off with both of their heads.

      When Yam Jun and Nam Hyuk mutually understand that they can never be “together” together, we’ll eventually get some secret sexy times 😉

  34. 34 Steph

    I’m always looking for good sageuk dramas and this sounds seriously awesome! I will therefore be checking it out as soon as I can. Thank you dramabeans for feeding my addiction! 😀

  35. 35 Aiashine

    This is the korean version of Zhen Huan :))

  36. 36 lilly

    Please make recaps of more episode´s!!! I really like the drama but the story is so loooooonnngg >.< and to be honest im only interested in nam hyuk !!

  37. 37 aicy

    kim hyun joo the yam jun in this drama who portrait as a villain for the first time is really a very good actress.i like all the dramas she is in.like the dummy mummy, esp.the glass slippers which moved me to tears.kudos to you and more dramas to come your way.i like this drama and will continue to watch till the end.i hope it will give us a happy denouement

  38. 38 dreamcloud

    This drama was terrible. Why does everyone, repeat, EVERYONE (except the crown prince and princess) have to shout like crazy and act so evil and selfish? Makes my blood pressure mount simply watching it.

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