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Saimdang, Light’s Diary: Series review

For a lot of people like myself, Saimdang, Light’s Diary was supposed to be the triumphant return of dramaland’s much-loved Lee Young-ae. Her last drama, the enormously successful historical drama Dae Jang Geum, really needs no introduction—but in case you’re unfamiliar, it was one of the earliest and most successful dramas to be exported overseas, and helped popularize Hallyu. It was a veritable phenomenon, and producers have been eager to re-create its success and lure Lee back to dramas in search of it.

With all its baggage, it’s not really that surprisingly that once the show failed to meet those sky-high expectations, the broadcast station (SBS) and its production team panicked, which we all know always ends well. After airing the first two episodes back-to-back on the first day, the immediate netizen reaction was predominantly negative. The biggest complaint was that the show spent much of its premiere in the modern-day timeline.

That wasn’t necessarily a huge problem, but SBS had decided to tap into the nation’s Dae Jang Geum nostalgia and heavily promote the drama’s sageuk storyline, with lush period costuming and promo pictures mostly featuring Lee as beloved historical figure Shin Saimdang. (I think another reason SBS chose this marketing strategy is because Song Seung-heon is largely absent from the present storyline, so it made sense to promote him equally, but more on that later.) As a result, few were prepared when we barely saw much of Saimdang in those initial episodes, and it felt like a confusing choice.

Eventually, the producers decided to make major edits to the drama, even though it was entirely pre-produced, in order to focus on the past storyline and hopefully salvage their ratings. However, cutting out nearly half of the story obviously creates some major pacing and narrative issues, and resulted in a last-minute two-episode cutdown. The show finished a few weeks ago in single digits with an 8.2% rating, which if you’re SBS and were expecting a ratings giant, is certainly disappointing.

I wrote up a first episode recap when it aired, if you’re interested in acquainting yourself with the premiere. Otherwise, I’ll cover the plot in very broad strokes, and my thoughts on the show as a whole. Also, warning: major spoilers.

 
Historical Context

In the Episode 1 recap, I briefly touched on the reasons why Shin Saimdang is an important female character in Korean history, but it would probably be useful to mention some notes on the political climate during Saimdang’s lifetime.

The current king in this era is Jungjong, and he’s also one of the main characters in this story. What’s important to know about his reign is that he comes into power after his half-brother, Yeonsangun, is overthrown. Yeonsangun is regarded as one the most ruthless tyrants in Korean history, which fans of the concurrently aired drama Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People, will be familiar with, and though Yeonsangun himself isn’t in Saimdang, Light’s Diary, his life and mistakes do contextualize this drama.

(Another note: Jungjong is the main character in the upcoming drama Seven Day Queen, which will chronicle his tragic romance with his first wife, Queen Dangyeong, but that part of Jungjong’s life isn’t important for our purposes.)

Therefore, the Jungjong in this story is haunted by the fear of also being ousted by his subordinates, and is a weak king since his government is tightly controlled by the nobles in an effort to prevent a second Yeonsangun disaster. Jungjong’s paranoia is a major driving factor of this story and informs many of his actions that directly affect our main characters, so it’s helpful to have that imagery and understanding when watching this show.

Another factoid: Jungjong is also known for appointing the first and only female royal physician, Jang-geum, as in Dae Jang Geum. Bearing all of this in mind, let’s move on to the plot.

 
The Present

I’m not going to overlap too much with the setup established in the first recap, but the main thing you need to know is that most of the characters in the present storyline are reincarnations of characters in the past. I found it fun to see how characters/actors popped up in unexpected ways, because overall the show made a point of not being too obvious with the parallels, which I appreciated.

Lee Young-ae’s character, SEO JI-YOON, is an art lecturer who gets screwed over by her advising professor, MIN JUNG-HAK (Choi Jong-hwan), after doing all the research on a recently discovered 500-year-old painting, which Professor Min believes was painted by a famous artist named An Gyeon.

After Professor Min basically leaves Ji-yoon for dead, she finds a different ancient painting of a woman who turns out to be Shin Saimdang (and of course, it looks exactly like Ji-yoon since she’s her reincarnation) and Saimdang’s diary. Ji-yoon gets help from another one of Professor Min’s former students, HAN SANG-HYUN (Yang Se-jong), in translating the diary, which chronicles Saimdang’s life and the storyline of the past.

Eventually, Ji-yoon discovers that Professor Min’s painting is a fake, and the painting she found of Saimdang has the real An Gyeon painting in the back of it. Thus, most of the modern story is a battle over acquiring that special painting. This painting also serves as a symbolic centerpiece in the love story between Saimdang and fictional character LEE GYEOM (Song Seung-heon).

 
The Past

Gyeom is a relative of Jungjong’s and thus part of the royal family, played by Yang Se-jong in his younger years, then later by Song Seung-heon. He and Saimdang meet as youths, fall in love, and promise to marry, but because of some political stuff that I’m not going to get into (you’re welcome), Jungjong forbids the union.

Saimdang, trying to protect Gyeom, rejects his marriage proposal, marries someone else, and never tells him why. So Gyeom spends the next twenty years pining after her, feeling confused and wronged, while Saimdang goes on to have four children, but carries a torch for Gyeom in her heart.

The man she marries is completely worthless and so, after he leaves his family homeless, Saimdang must figure out how to feed her children and decides to go into paper-making. It makes sense for an artist to make paper, but it turns out that despite being a prolific and talented young artist twenty years ago, because of an incident Saimdang has stopped painting.

She reunites with Gyeom, and he tries to help her repeatedly whenever she’s in trouble, but she is determined to keep her distance. Unable to stand by when she’s struggling, Gyeom delivers his help in indirect ways or without her knowledge, and mentors her children in various ways. My favorite was when Gyeom and his buddy spend the entire night helping her make paper, like helpful little elves who fight the entire time.

Slowly Saimdang picks up painting again, and of course, we get to see the show’s interpretation of how some of her most famous paintings (and poems) came to be. A section of the story focuses on one of her young sons, who later becomes a renowned Confucian scholar.

There’s also a plotline about some drifters who help Saimdang build her business, and a rivalry with an influential noblewoman named Whieumdang who is also a very talented painter. (Coincidentally, Whieumdang’s abusive husband serves as Gyeom’s main political and personal rival.) After investigating on his own, Gyeom learns the truth of why he and Saimdang cannot be together, and though he remains a loyal and effective servant, he partially resents Jungjong.

Sometime later, Saimdang’s husband takes a concubine, and though her husband knows that she never loved him, she refuses to get divorced. She also competes to draw the king’s portrait, and Jungjong who is slowly being overtaken by his delusions, begins to view Gyeom as an enemy and actively tries to torture both he and Saimdang in order to display how Gyeom is under his power. Things culminate into Jungjong secretly ordering Gyeom’s murder, and it results in a final confrontation between vassal and king.

Gyeom is forced to escape Hanyang, and he meets with Saimdang on a secluded mountaintop where they fulfill their twenty-year promise to paint together there. Saimdang admits her feelings to Gyeom, but chooses to stay with her family. In the end, Gyeom is sentenced to exile. Before he leaves, Saimdang meets with Ji-yoon in a dream, and the latter tells her to help Gyeom escape to Italy where he will paint the portrait of Saimdang on the back of the real An Gyeon painting, and leave it for Ji-yoon to find. Heeding the warning, Saimdang secures an escape ship for Gyeom and the two separate.

That’s the bare bones of the whole plot, but I’ll leave the final ending a mystery for those that may want to watch the show later.

 
Review

After I got over my initial disappointment about the show, I adjusted my expectations and accepted it for what it was. For me, while cutting out much of the modern storyline made for muddled storytelling, I think in a funny way that decision actually served the show for the better. Everything about the present storyline was done in such an absurd makjang way that it was hard to take anyone seriously, which is a shame since I thought the concept was interesting.

The past storyline sometimes crept into makjang territory, but overall it was much better at building the world of the story, and making the characters less like caricatures (although that wasn’t always the case). I want to say that the reason is because the rules and expectations are different in each era, and as someone living in the modern era I am more inclined to forgive makjang-like storylines in sageuks; when the modern characters often acted in glaringly illogical and naive ways, it was hard for me to overcome.

What I liked about Saimdang’s storyline is that the conflicts and stakes were sometimes small (but not insignificant) and that meant the gratification came quickly. I enjoyed seeing the characters face challenges on a daily basis, like her son’s struggles at school and Saimdang’s low-stake tensions with the Joseon PTA.

Above all, my favorite parts were whenever the artwork took center stage. Gyeom is also an incredibly talented artist, and since he isn’t based on a real person he could express himself artistically in several interesting art styles. It made me happy to see how passionate both Gyeom and Saimdang were about art, and especially how much he loved hers.

That aspect of their relationship connected them together on a deeper level and helped round out their love story, when sometimes in sageuks I’m not always sure why the star-crossed lovers need to be together, or why they’re so hung up on each other. But here I felt like I understood.

There were times that I think Gyeom acted like an unrealistically perfect man, but his love for Saimdang was informed by his great adoration for her talent, which he viewed as unparalleled and that motivation made sense to me. They expressed their love for each other through their art and poetry and that was lovely.

The past storyline was very nostalgic for me, and brought me back to a time when I used to watch very long sageuks that were 50-plus episodes. Most of the appeal of those shows was seeing an interpretation of what life was like for the people who lived in that era. I wasn’t devouring each episode of Saimdang like a starving person sitting at the edge of her seat, but rather I took small bites, while discovering the new and sometimes bitter or synthetic flavors.

These days, sageuk dramas tend to concentrate their screen time on fleshing out the political intrigue, and/or the romance aspect of the story. And while I enjoy those, I miss the time spent learning about the more mundane details of life back in that era.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have many articulate criticisms on the series while I was watching it, mainly because I had a low investment. I took long breaks between sections of the story and only finished it when I felt like it. But once it ended, suddenly my mind flooded with complaints.

One of the issues I had was with the concept of reincarnations. As I said earlier, I liked seeing the show recast characters in the past, into the present and vice versa. Some characters were worse than their other selves, and some better. The villain in the past and the present were played by the same actor (Professor Min, Jungjong), and while we could generally assume that the good guys wouldn’t be evil in their other lives, sometimes the show played around with those expectations, especially with characters whose motives we weren’t supposed to understand fully just yet.

However, while all of that was done well enough, there is one glaring issue I found with this entire setup, and that’s the fact that Yang Se-jong and Song Seung-heon played the same character of Gyeom in the past, but were reincarnated into separate ones in the present. Just think about that for a second. What are the cosmic implications of that creative choice? This revelation occurred during a time when I seriously contemplated dropping the show, and it immediately piqued my interest.

Unfortunately for me, the show wasn’t trying to make any statements about the bifurcated nature of souls during reincarnation, because we are never given an explanation as to why this happened. I think the show just wanted to give these actors bigger roles, but it felt like a missed opportunity.

Gyeom was one of the better characters in this show, and in time I did care about his undying love for Saimdang, but I wish we explored his backstory and origins because that seemed interesting. I could have used one less swordfight if it meant a longer scene about his upbringing as a commoner and transition to royalty.

I loved his warm yet bickering relationship with his great-aunt, who desperately wanted him to forget Saimdang, get married, and be happy more than anyone else in the world. Gyeom mostly wanted to do the opposite, so she would half-jokingly/half-seriously threaten to kill herself, to his exasperation. It was an atypical relationship filled with a lot of love and I wish they had more moments together.

The fact that Gyeom was portrayed as the perfect man in every way made it difficult for me to comprehend Saimdang’s problematic marriage and her final decision to stay in it even after her husband impregnated another woman. I’m sure it was to make their unrealized love with Gyeom more tragic, but I don’t know if it succeeded in doing that.

Saimdang cited her children as the main reasons, which I understand, and it’s consistent with what we know about Saimdang’s real life story, but it upset me when she apologized to him for making him feel lonely and inferior after he confronted her for never loving him as a man.

It’s one thing if her husband wasn’t a complete buffoon that frequently caused problems for his wife and family. I mean for god’s sake he left them homeless, stole all of Saimdang’s paintings and sold them under his concubine’s instructions, and spent twenty years studying for the civil service exam that he never passed. I don’t know what the average amount of years is, but I imagine it isn’t twenty.

If I squint hard enough, I can see the point that the show was trying to make about women’s lives in that period, since getting divorced wasn’t really an option. But to me it seemed like a weak attempt at having Saimdang conform to Confucian ideals, when pretty much the entire plot of the show has her doing the opposite. It’s sad because the show had the opportunity to update Shin Saimdang’s legacy to the public (which I think would be the only reason to tackle this story at all, especially since where women and marriage are concerned, the values of that era are otherwise obsolete), but it wasn’t self-aware enough to do that.

It isn’t only Saimdang who is guilty of these bizarre and antiquated decisions where the woman chooses family over self, where she sees past flaws no matter how hopeless her husband is. Ji-yoon’s decision to stay in her marriage was also confusing to me, since it seemed like she only did it because her mother-in-law and son accused her of wanting a divorce. It just seemed as though the show had Ji-yoon do that because Saimdang made the same decision, and that is probably the perfect analogy for the show’s lack of understanding of how dramaland’s treatment of women has changed over time, ironically, and in part because of shows like Dae Jang Geum.

It many ways, Saimdang, Light’s Diary was a rehash of Dae Jang Geum without the daring. The parallels were as clear as day, from Saimdang’s rival Wheimdang, to the focus on the lives of common people, and the king’s interference in the main love line. But to me, the most glaring similarity is the era in which both shows are set in.

This leads me to perhaps my biggest grievance with this show, which is the decision not to show or acknowledge Jang-geum. If the show wants to evoke Dae Jang Geum in so many ways, I would argue that it should at least address the elephant in the room.

Going into this show, I was very curious to see how they would deal with this challenge. Especially after Jungjong become the show’s big villain, and having him appoint a female royal physician would undermine any sexist objection he may have to a female artist painting his royal portrait—since depending on who you are, one seems a lot more important than the other.

Looking back, I can’t say I regret watching Saimdang, Light’s Diary, because it had some interesting ideas and some aspects that I really liked a lot. I do think that it had too much pressure to be this huge and great thing, though, so the writers threw a bunch of underdeveloped elements into the pot, and the results fell far from the mark. It’s kind of like asking for a perfectly medium-rare steak, and getting instead a steak-shaped ground beef patty that’s raw in the middle. If you close your eyes and use a lot of imagination, they’re almost the same thing, right?

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I honestly didn't even try to watch this drama.. It just didn't hit my drama sweet spot... ??‍♀️

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I already download it, but I have no intention to watch it anyway.
eventho I loved young ae since like in elementary school

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That explains the low ratings, the drama failed to capture the attention of the audience. And suffered from being boring. It's one thing to figure a prominent person in history, but the story itself has to be interesting.

Dae Jang Geum wasn't just the first female royal physician, the drama introduced viewers in and outside of Korea to what life was like in the Joseon era.

Saimdang felt and looked old in the plot, the direction and how the drama was shot. It also had a mediocre opening episode, which these days is the death knell of many dramas.

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You know, that reminds me of some comments I read/heard about Uncontrollably Fond, namely that it felt like a dated drama that would have been a huge hit 10 years ago but just didn't hit the right tone for a modern audience.

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I found Uncontrollably Fond to be more interesting than Saimdang.. I just didn't watch it because I don't like sad dramas..

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As I discussed in a comment below, SLD had poor ratings in Korea, but it was a major hit in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. (SLD is also scheduled to be aired in the Philippines.)

Possible reasons for the poor ratings in Korea:

(1) SLD is a family drama and was originally scheduled to be aired on Saturdays and Sundays. But SBS moved it to Wednesdays and Thursdays. I believe that if SLD had been aired on weekends, it would have done better in ratings.

(2) Demographics.

Korean teenagers and young adults seem to rule when it comes to TV viewing in households. Just think of “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds” starring young stars Park Bo-geum and Kim Yoo-jung. One episode of “Moonlight” reached 20% viewership.

“The Flower in Prison” starring young adults like Jin Se-yeon and Seo Ha-Jun (the gorgeous King) reached 20% viewership by its 2nd episode and had 20% viewership in about a dozen episodes. And yet a much better drama like “Six Flying Dragons” never reached 20%.

An article titled “Arms wide open? Big stars cold-shouldered in recent TV comebacks” from Yonhap News Agency states that current dramas starring veteran (older) stars have done poorly in the ratings. Besides SLD, the article cites as examples "Ms. Perfect" and "Chicago Typewriter."

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And the fact that we dont have recaps per episode proved that Saimdang is a failure.

I also downloaded the pilot week episodes but it didnt catch my attention. didnt even finish ep1.

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"And the fact that we dont have recaps per episode proved that Saimdang is a failure."

Dramabeans recapped "Perfect Wife" (aka "Ms. Perfect"), and yet it was a ratings failure.

In the Seoul Capital Area, Ep. 7 got 3.6% (Nielsen) and 2.8% (TNmS). Its highest rating (Ep. 10) only got 6.6% Nielsen. Its average rating per episode was 5.4%.

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I watched it all the way through. It's funny cause - aside from the girl who play young Saimdang not being so good - I actually thought their short storyline was very cute. I too admired how he value her artistic talent when they met.

I like sageuks and star-crossed lover thing - even first loves. I agree the modern storyline is really jarring and I guess it's in part because of the cuts. I agree that the concept sounds really interesting but poorly executed between modern & sageuk parts. LYA was a treat to see but sadly the story wasn't all there.

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I actually enjoyed this drama; definitely not perfect but a good watch...the ending rather fell short though. Felt the acting was good, writers could have been better.

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One of the things I liked about this drama was that they fell in love because of their shared interest and talent. Many drama couples have no logical reason to like each other.

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I just saw the introduction with the korean man yelling in the middle of a Renaissance celebration and decided it was trying too hard to get my attention. I inmediately dropped it.

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Thank you!! I stuck with this one until the end, but there were so many things I found problematic. I couldn't take the meekness at all and tore my hair out half of the time.
I'm glad DB is covering this.

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Unpopular opinion: I loved it. Probably because I didn't go into it expecting anything amazing, which is how I got to enjoy the actual drama instead of thinking about what it should have been. Yes, there were some things that could have been different (modern-day husband's non-death and lack of Lee Gyeom), but I'm not going to let such minor details detract from my enjoyment of the series overall.

It's a common frustration for me, when people complain about a series not being X or Y. Ignore what you think it should have been, and just enjoy the thing actually on the screen. Having high expectations is a surefire way to disappoint yourself.

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I never watched Dae Jang Geum. I had no prior experience with the main actress. I'm not familiar with the historical context. I had no expectation whatsoever and just tried out a new drama for fun. And I found the drama terrible and boring beyond words. There's a certain loveliness to the main actress and I can see why she may be famous. There's not much to the characters and absolutely nothing intriguing about the story lines.

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Will the series review become a regular thing? Or will it be for shows that aren't recapped?

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I hope it will regular for series that aren't recapped.

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Yea it would be great if it was a thing, there are so many shows I'd like to watch but are unsure of. This would be a great way to give people a tiny introduction to them.

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I agree!! It would be awesome to read reviews of dramas that weren't recapped. This series review was so well written; I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

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Thank you @murasakimi for this review ?

I still want to finish this drama. Need to find time. I think this drama could do better if the storyline was all in the past, and the episode is much lesser. Like 20 epi only, so the pace will move faster.

Lee Young Ae is a treat. The OSTs are nice too. Yang Se jong did well too in his role.

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I watched for some time but when it seemed to turn into the Joseon PTA with all the parents squabbling about their kids, I lost whatever interest I once had in it. I actually liked the modern timeline, and the Saimdang/Gyeom as teens storyline, better than the Saimdang as mature woman, which became really boring. Also, romantically, it would have been nice if we thought there might be a pay off in the modern timeline, but I could tell early there wouldn't be, and it seems I was right. Anyway, it had some good elements but not enough of them to get the ratings they aspired to, I guess.

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I was one of the many that was hyped for the premiere and promptly disappointed. I'm your average viewer. I wanted the sweeping sageuk and received a makjang-esque current storyline instead. The acting for young Saimdang really was bad, enough to make me question the adorable feelings I had for her in Age of Youth.

I checked back in half way, and was swept up enough by the paper making and the Love That Cannot Be to watch some of the interesting bits. I actually think it was frustrating to have Lee Young Ae in this role, because I was just seeing her Jang Geum self superimposed much of the time. Song Seung Hon is attractive and definitely earnest, heh.

I'll have to check in for the ending though!!!

Thanks for the review.

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@murasakimi, thank you for revisiting Saimdang!

i started it late, enjoyed the first few episodes and became committed to the series because of the artwork and painting... i didn't think i would like it, based upon the story synopsis -- but the visuals kept me watching, especially when they showed someone actually painting.

i agree, the story failed to be cohesive between the two timelines, the makjang factors bordered on ridiculous at times... yet, i kept watching to see the artwork.

so, if for no other reason -- i'd say if you love art and painting, then watch it for that.

i watched Painter in the Wind for the same reason -- to enjoy seeing someone actually doing the paintings! the story in that drama wasn't the draw for me, either...

i enjoyed it, if only for the artwork and painting! it should've been better, i agree... i wish the story (editing?) was cohesive and interesting, as was intended.

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Hi Spazmo, it also happened to a friend of mine. She watched it because of the artwork, and she learned a lot. I watched the first four episodes but decided to drop for unknown reasons, maybe because it's too draggy and some tragic stories. To save me from a heartbreak and cry for buckets of tears, I decided to drop despite my friend's "couragement" to continue.

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ya know, you'd expect it would be a "buckets of tears" type drama... but it didn't end up being that. it was supposed to be sad at times, but the storyline just didn't hold up.

and sadly, Song Seung Hun, as handsome as he is... he still disappoints when it comes to emoting...

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@10 spazmo May 23, 2017 at 10:22 PM:

Thanks for mentioning PAINTER OF THE WIND. I loved watching the process of painting in that drama, and also the interludes of traditional music. The OST was lovely.

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"i watched Painter in the Wind for the same reason -- to enjoy seeing someone actually doing the paintings! the story in that drama wasn't the draw for me, either...

i enjoyed it, if only for the artwork and painting!"

1. I don't now if you have watched "Yi San, A Wind in the Palace" (2007), but this drama's lead female character is a damo who became a Royal Artist.

The painting contest between Saimdang and Hwieumdang in Ep. 18 (SBS version) reminds me of Ep. 20 of "Yi San".

In this episode, female lead character Song Yeon joins the painting competition involving the Royal Artists. But one of the officials of the Bureau of Painting (Dohwaseo) doesn't want a woman to become a Royal Artist. And so this official tampers with the pigments given to Song Yeon. The only pigment that hasn't been tampered is the black pigment, but the assigned topic is to paint the colors of autumn.

2. I also watched "Painter of the Wind" and enjoyed the paintings by Joseon artists Dan Won and Hye-won. It might interest you to know that several paintings by Dan Won were featured in SLD. For more information, please surf to the Soompi discussion on SLD or search Google for Campus Connection blog synopsis Saimdang Light's Diary (look for the topic Historical paintings depicted in Saimdang, Light’s Diary).

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I watched this drama half way and decided that if Saimdang is really not going to choose Gyeom in the end (same thing in the past and present), I aint gonna spend another hour watching the drama. It takes longer for me to get over the heartbreak and confusion for not choosing the person you truly love (and love you in return), than to find other dramas, so I decided to quit. I mean, what's the point of having modern plot in parallel with the past ones, if you choose the same thing all over again? It would console me better, perhaps, if modern LYA character choose to leave the dimwit husband and start anew.

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It was not what I expected at all and droped the drama before finishing it; However, I did see the ending and was still disapointed.

I honestly didn't get why they included the modern day at all. At the begining I thought they will make a reverse "Queen in Hyun's Man" where Ji-yoon ends up in the past; but after a brief instance of this it was dropped. The fact that they drew pararels between the present and past didn't help it either.

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Oh MAN!!!! that would have be a cool idea!!!!

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I also was interested in this drama but after I read some reviews and the problems it had, I decided not to watch.
Thanks for the review.

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I think this show is artistically beautiful. Every scene is done carefully, in detail. The story in the present is full of makjang focusing on how evil is professor min and all the shenanigans relating to the conspiracy of the painting but the connection in the present between Ji Yoon and Rade (assuming that was SSH) was too flat. I thought they were the main character but where are their story in the present.
I am glad I actually finished it as the saguk part is actually good.

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i honestly watch this drama from the very beginning untill the end.
i love the story in the past than the story in the modern era.
the love story between Lee gyeom and saimdang is sooo beautiful. i love how SSH potrayed the character of lee gyeom.
i hope they can be reunited in the modern era, but when i know the character LYA played is already married and have 1 child, i think it is impossible to make them to be together. Huff...

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I always wonder why K-dramas don't bother with getting a good writer. They spend tons of money on good directing, casting and everything else but the writers of such a big projects often are....lacking?

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Thank you so much for reviewing Saimdang. I guess you are right.

While I enjoyed watching this show, I did have a lot of starts and stops. I was not compelled to watch the next episode, but once I started watching again after a month, it was easy to go on to the next episode.

It tries so hard to do so many things, but some of the characters were not well developed. I did not mind the present day events, since it was interesting to see how they uncovered the past.

I guess people were trying to so hard to see whether the leads would get back together in modern day, and were disappointed with SSH's brief appearances. Heck, they did not even speak to each other.

I also agree that there are conflicting messages. If the king could have a female physician, then why couldn't he have a female painter? He seemed to be evil for the sake of being evil.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing the artwork, and the feelings evoked.

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i enjoyed this drama alot.
it wasn't perfect, but as murasakimi said, the bitter-sweet love and unspoken connection between Gyeom and Saimdang kept me glued in.
the art pieces were also beautiful and i enjoyed the art history element in the story.
most of all, song seung-heon was super eye-candy on screen. :-)

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Thank you so much for the review. My main interest was Shin Saimdang, it seems that expectations were too high with this series but I will give it a try.

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1. I suggest that you watch SLD's international (original) version, rather than the SBS version. As I posted in a comment below, this drama's international version was a major hit in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, and Hong Kong.

2. To better enjoy watching this drama, please read the spoiler-free synopsis by episode of this drama; search Google for Campus Connection blog synopsis Saimdang Light's Diary. (There's a link to the synopsis for this drama's international version.)

The synopsis includes numerous backgrounders: Why was Saimdang obsessed with climbing Mount Geumgang?; Was Lee Gyeom a historical or fictional character? Historical paintings depicted in "Saimdang, Light's Diary"; Saimdang's legacy of excellence in her children; etc.

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I first watched this live, but stopped at ep. 15 because the plot felt so slow to me and at times just plain uninteresting. I thought I would pick up the rest of the episodes once it's finished airing, but I'm still stuck at 16, and now after reading this I'm seriously in doubt whether to continue. For those who have watched till the end, does it worth continuing, at the very least for the entertainment value of it? One factor that really, really grated my nerve was Saimdang's husband, the man is a total buffoon ?

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"For those who have watched till the end, does it worth continuing, at the very least for the entertainment value of it?"

(1) To help you decide whether to continue watching or not, please read the spoiler-free synopsis by episode of this drama; search Google for Campus Connection blog synopsis Saimdang Light's Diary.

I also suggest that you watch SLD's international (original) version, rather than the SBS version.

(2) Read the comments in the Dramacool website and in the Viki page of SLD. You'll find out why lots of people love this drama.

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yeay! Way to go @plainenglish! Sometimes it takes the opposite view in order to take that step to watch and then like the drama... I watched it for so many reasons... and I am loving it... somehow this drama was underrated *please I am only stating my opinion and please don't flame me here or being haters to me or the drama* depends on the perspective of the viewer who has a different perception towards it versus others...

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Ah, thanks for the recommendation @plainenglish ? I'll look them up. And I will read the rest of the comments here as well.

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Thanks for the review, it's actually really helpful. I started this drama when it began airing because I found the synopsis was original. But then I don't know why (maybe because the plot was dragging? Or maybe because I didn't truly understand the female lead's actions?) but watching the drama became something I was doing without having any joy. I was hoping it would get better but it didn't and I eventually stopped watching because I didn't have enough time (I already had so many dramas to watch). And I think I made the right choice after reading your review on this drama. I never understood why she stayed with her husband since we live in the 21th century. I understand about Joseon era (it's sad but well that's how it was) but no now! If you're unhappy just get a divorce. I know that it's easy to say that when you're not living the life. But I guess I'm a bit of a feminist and I would not have enjoyed watching what happened in the past happenning again in modern time. It just doesn't make any sense to me: if you made a mistake you should learn from it. Anyway I won't pick it up again but I'm glad I read your review because from it I know I would not have liked the drama

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Thanks for your series review and summation, murasakimi!

I watched the entire drama and enjoyed most of it, although I found the academic politics at the start to be makjang to the max. It was a turn-off, but I've gotten used to letting Kdramas unfold for a couple or half-dozen episodes as they get underway, so eventually I was able to enjoy the sageuk portions.

I couldn't understand why 21st-Century Saimdang's mother-in-law was such a harridan. She was horrible, and even beat up her grandson. The poor kid was a basket case. All I could think was the art historian must have gotten a lobotomy while no one was looking. I can't abide Long-Suffering Doormat-itis, especially when it is passed off as filial piety.

What I did enjoy very much was the making of art, be it painting, or mixing pigments, or making paper -- which I found to be particularly interesting. My summer job during college was in a related industry, so I already had an idea of the process. Finding out that wisteria bast was the secret ingredient in Goryeo paper that added wet tensile strength and durability was fascinating. YMMV. ;-)

The various artworks were treats to the eye. In particular, the "Water Moon Avalokitesvara" painting was gorgeous to behold. (The genuine piece was returned to Korea last year.) Lee Gyeom's home and art gallery/academy was another artistic gift, along with gorgeous seasonal landscapes. In the live eye candy department, Song Seung-heon was top-notch and exuded a suitably aesthetic vibe, but I have to admit that Yang Se-jong was much more expressive when portraying both his characters. To be fair to SSH, the adult Lee Gyeom was depressed for decades after being stood up by Saimdang, and later betrayed by his kinsman, King Jungjong. The monarch became erratic and unpredictably jealous. If I were in Lee Gyeom's shoes, I'd have been depressed, too.

SAIMDANG, LIGHT'S DIARY came off second-best in comparison to sageuk REBEL, and felt more like a static art piece. Despite its stars, it really couldn't hold a candle to the superior script by Hwang Jin-Young and the solid performances by the ensemble cast that included many veteran character actors. Young leads Yoon Kyun-sang and Chae Soo-bin rose to the occasion and turned in nuanced, affecting performances. REBEL featured magnificent traditional music and dance in addition to a dynamite OST, beautiful sets and costuming, and lovely landscapes. Its writer and director had a clear sense of the story they wished to tell, and went ahead and did it with a minimum of fuss – and oodles of heart. SAIMDANG, on the other hand, had a split personality. It had some truly lovely interludes in the Joseon era interspersed with unrealistic melodrama in the present timeline. SAIMDANG tried to sell a love story that spanned centuries and continents, but couldn't pull it off. REBEL, on the other hand, examined love and loyalty in various contexts, and left me exhilarated at the end of a long and...

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-- continued --

REBEL, on the other hand, examined love and loyalty in various contexts, and left me exhilarated at the end of a long and eventful journey.

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I watched, dropped, watched, dropped (rinse and repeat) Light's Diary throughout its run. And I did (eventually) watch the entire show. Mainly because at the same time (sort of) I was hooked on Rebel and wanted something to watch while I was impatiently waiting for the next episode. There were parts of Light's Diary I found excellent, and parts that were not good at all. But I am glad I watched it. And I liked the historical part better. And in the historical parts, I liked the younger versions of Saimdang and Gyeom than the older versions. (But this happens to me a lot in Sageuks.)

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So glad to see you, Wag_a_Muffin! ;-)

I mostly enjoyed watching SAIMDANG. I loved the artistic stuff, including seeing handsome gentlemen strutting around in Joseon hanbok. In the long run, however, for all the scholarly posturing, it felt empty.

I appreciated the HYENA reunion between Yun Da-Hun (Mr. Saimdang) and Hong Seok-Cheon (Joseon adult Lee Gyeom's fanboy Lee Mong-Ryong -- in a tip of the gat to the "The Story of Chunhyang"?!).

Unless I'm mistaken, peasant rebel Im Kkeokjeong even put in an appearance as a friend of the wandering Lee Gyeom.

It was a bit odd to deal with historical characters who overlapped even if we didn't see them together in the same time and place. I'll be watching SEVEN DAY QUEEN. There's overlap between SAIMDANG, in which King Jungjong's former wife appears as an old lady, and 7DQ, which will depict her in her youth.

Looking forward to crossing paths with you again. I'm currently watching RULER, and can't wait for Joo Won to encounter the Joseon SASSY GIRL. I could use some more lighthearted frivolity right about now. ;-)

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Thanks for the welcome.
I found myself wanting to take a Korean painting class. (But I probably would have been more like the King's daughter--than Saimdang, or even Whieumdang Choi, (who I always read to myself as Whiffle when I saw her name on screen.) I did like that her son turned out to be a good kid.

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Oh PakalanaPikake, thanks so much for adding your comparison and short review of Rebel here; I wasn't able to watch it while airing and probably would have missed it altogether. Now I know it belongs on the "to watch" list.
I tried to start Saimdang but it didn't have enough "oomph", somehow. Thanks very much for the whole series review, murasakimi! I'm strangely thrilled to know that there appears to have been no more logic to Gyeom going to Italy, as opposed to say maybe China, than probably a sponsor contract with someone like Alitalia LOL.

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"What I did enjoy very much was the making of art, be it painting, or mixing pigments, or making paper -- which I found to be particularly interesting. My summer job during college was in a related industry, so I already had an idea of the process. Finding out that wisteria bast was the secret ingredient in Goryeo paper that added wet tensile strength and durability was fascinating. YMMV. ;-)

The various artworks were treats to the eye. In particular, the "Water Moon Avalokitesvara" painting was gorgeous to behold."

You can better appreciate the art and paintings in SLD by reading the in-depth discussions in Soompi; search Google for Soompi forums Current Drama 2017 Saimdang, Light's Diary. Look for the comments of someone named "gerrytan8063".

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@plainenglish May 24, 2017 at 4:28 PM:

Many thanks for the pointer to the art discussions in the Soompi forum. ;-)

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This drives me crazy. When there is actually an interesting person to write about and they muck it up. I feel the same way about Hwarang. Those flower boy warriors actually existed and writers still end up messing it up. This is all very doable. There is only a tiny bit in the history books about the gal from Jewel in the Palace and they made a wonderful 50 plus episode drama. C'mon writers.

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"This drives me crazy. When there is actually an interesting person to write about and they muck it up. I feel the same way about Hwarang. Those flower boy warriors actually existed and writers still end up messing it up."

1. I wanted to watch "Hwarang" because of my interest (intellectual rather than physical) in Korean martial arts.

But when I started watching bits of some episodes and reading the comments (which were mostly about how cute the actors were), I got turned off. I was expecting some real martial arts stuff.

I don't know if you have watched "Queen Seondok," but it features the "Hwarang" much better and more extensively.

2. SLD's writer is Park Eun-Ryeong. Her previous dramas are "Saving Mrs. Go Bong Shil"; "Thank you My Life"; "Second Proposal"; and "Lady Next Door."

Park Eun-Ryeong has written a novel based on SLD; it is available in Korean and Chinese.

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The modern mother-in-law mistreating her daughter-in-law, pissed me off so much. It was her son who caused all their problems yet she is attaching the DIL

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For me, I could not get over my resentment towards a show that had in its hands the life of what history seems to say was a great woman and they reduced her to this pale and inaccurate figure. Not even basic facts of her life were adhered to. They showed 5 then 4 children in several different scenes...she had 7! I found nothing in the few historical articles on her that suggested her husband was such a loser and a couple articles that actually said he was quite proud of her. For a woman who has such a place in Korean history, surely they could have been more respectful of that and created a story rich with her real life struggles and successes, and most importantly devoted more time to her real success which was her family and her art. Instead they turned it into a totally fake love story with its usual cliche Romeo and Juliet tragedy. Ugh...what a waste of time. I get more angry every time I think of it. :(

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Cannot agree more. They set themselves up for big failure the minute they came up with this imaginary lover Lee Gyeom character. On the one hand, there was this historical image of Saimdang as a virtuous wife and wise mother that they could not deviate too much from unless they wanted to provoke public outrage. On the other hand, they could not come up with anything fresher than a handsome, genius, self-sacrificing imaginary lover figure to draw in viewers. Instead they should have worked with the real events and people in her life to make this work.

I won't be surprised if the descendants of Lee Won Soo (and Shin Saimdang) want to sue the producers for denigrating their ancestor's image. Shin Saimdang was a daughter of a daughter-rich family without any male heir in Joseon and her parents had a real need for her to act as a stand-in son for the family. At the same time, marriage and motherhood for a Joseon woman was not an option but a necessity. Therefore they needed to marry her to a family that was okay with her spending much of her time besides her own parents. I think her parents made the best choice when they chose Lee Won Soo for her. He may not have been as smart and talented as their daughter. But he appreciated talent where he saw one and he was a loving, respectful husband to Shin Saimdang all his life. And his family was willing to allow Saimdang to live at her parents' house. They say behind every great man is a great wife. But in this case, I think there was a great husband behind a great artist and successful family woman that was Shin Saimdang. Just see what happened to Heo Nanseolhun, in comparison, with a jealous, narrow-minded husband and in-laws.

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Good to see you, O_o. ;-)

Thank you for the background on the real Shin Saimdang and her honorable husband. This would have been a more compelling story, especially as her son went on to have a distinguished career of his own.

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Her husband gave Saimdang heartache by having affair.
[Wiki] According to what is written in DangGyeManRok, Saimdang was upset about her husband's affair, and she insisted him not getting re-married after she died. Lee insisted that some old Chinese wise re-married too, but Sin cleared that up with her knowledge, and reminded him about manners and children's education to resist her husband's re-marriage and affair ("We already have 7 children, why do you need more?" etc). Her husband Lee Won-Soo met Kwon ssi (inn owner like in the drama) and lived together, and eventually took her as wife after Saimdang died. Kwon was carefree and had very bad drinking habits. Once Saimdang found out about affair, her relationship with her husband went sour and she even went to GeumGang mountain (like in drama). It seemed children didn't have good relationship with step mother. It said that her son YiYi (famous scholar) lived yearning for happy family all his life.

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Your take is about the same as mine. My biggest problem (among several) was the gross historical inaccuracies of the plot. 95% of the Joseon era stuff never actually happened to Saimdang. And while the art forgery thing could have been a series all by itself, it also was marred by numerous plot holes, "who the f*** would ever actually DO that?" tropes.

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The historical personage Shin Saimdang was in the back of my mind the whole time. It would have been far better to have made the heroine a totally fictional character to go with the non-existent Lee Gyeom.

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"It would have been far better to have made the heroine a totally fictional character to go with the non-existent Lee Gyeom."

From the Soompi discussion on SLD:

Lee Gyeom is loosely based on renowned Joseon artist Yi Am (1507–1566.) Yi Am was the grandson of the 4th son of Sejong the Great.

In the drama, Lee Gyeom painted “Mother Dog and Puppies” (Ep. 6) and “Falcon on a Perch” (Ep. 13). Both paintings were done by Yi Am.

“Mother Dog and Puppies” is on display at the National Museum of Korea, Seoul, while “Falcon on a Perch” is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA.

An interesting note from the discussion: Yi Am was a Royal Portrait Painter, and he lived at the same time as Shin Saimdang. So the conspiracy theory is that maybe, just maybe, Yi Am and Shin Saimdang painted the Royal Portrait together.

The Soompi discussion on SLD is 89 pages long, and it might be difficult to find the in-depth discussions by gerrytan8063 on the historical paintings depicted in SLD. For a start, you can surf to the Campus Connection blog's synopsis of "Saimdang Light's Diary" (among others, the synopsis features discussions on Saimdang's style of painting known as “Chochungdo” and "Saimdang and her children: a legacy of excellence in arts." Besides Saimdang's youngest son Woo, her daughter Mae-chang (and her own daughter) were also accomplished artists.

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"They showed 5 then 4 children in several different scenes."

In what episode did you see Saimdang with five children?

In the drama, Saimdang has four children (Sun, Hyun-ryong, Mae-chang, and Woo), and they are first seen in Episode 2 (SBS version) at the 35:29 mark. They're last seen in Ep. 28 (SBS version) at the 34:09 mark.

If you're referring to Ep. 22 (SBS version) at the 34:59 mark where Saimdang is having lunch with five children, the fifth child in that scene is not her son. That fifth child is Ji-gyoon, the eldest son of Hwieumdang.

(Because of the time skip of two years near the end of Ep. 19, the child actor playing the role of Saimdang's youngest son Woo was changed.)

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They lost me at Song Seung-heon. He is terrible in sageuks.
I tried to watch for Lee Young Ae but couldn't get past the first episode.

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I'm so mad when she decides to just take her Cheating husband back in her household like nothing happen (what her thinking?? to teach her children that cheating is okay??) and later on saying sorry to him for not being the 'ideal' type of wife suited for him. Whaaaaa... I'm so speechless watching that scene. This drama is so, so, so deserve its low, declining rating!

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"I'm so mad when she decides to just take her Cheating husband back in her household like nothing happen (what her thinking?? to teach her children that cheating is okay??)"

1. You have to keep in mind this drama's historical context; during Saimdang's time (or under the Joseon Dynasty), men could have as many wives and concubines as they could afford. Also, only men had the right to file for divorce (based on the so-called "seven ins").

2. If you're wondering about Saimdang living in the same house as Lee Won-su and his concubine, the article "Marriage and tears in the Joseon era" from Jeju Weekly tells us:

" ... most of these marriages were arranged and had little to do with love, but if a man was rich enough he often had a concubine — a woman he chose and often loved much more than his wife. The concubine may have had the husband’s attention but it was the wife who ruled the house."

3. Other information about the relationship between the wife and the concubine during the Joseon Dynasty from "Women in Korean History" by Lee Bae-yong (Ehwa Womans University Press):

“Conflict between wives and concubines was sometimes so fierce as to invite state intervention. In case a concubine, out of confidence in her man’s love for her, slandered or beat his wife and her children, the husband was punished by the government for failing to maintain order between his women. The concubine also faced punishment commensurate with her crime and in more serious cases, the husband was ordered to stay away from her. On the other hand, wives who abused their husbands' concubines faced relatively milder penalties. It was because their relationship as servant and owner was considered to outweigh one as concubine and wife.”

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I understand it should be viewed from Joseon contex. But it doesn't make me to feel less mad. Lol. That's why I'm kind of dislike romance sageuk, especially if the drama tries to potray romance between a king and said his queen consort or whatever and called it romantic while he still has concubine number 1, 2, 3, etc. That romance doesn't seem believeable at least for me. I can't keep those other women who are anxious for just waiting for him to stay the night, to talk even one word to her, to just steal a glance, from the back of my mind. These kind of dramas should be viewed from Joseon POV, I absolutely understand. But what can I do? I'm just gland I'm not born in joseon era and doesn't have pretty face to be picked as a king's wife. Lol.
They can make any kind of drama that they want, other viewers can like any kind of drama that float their boat, for me this just doesn't make me feel comfortable. Now I even wonder why I could finish the drama till the last episode. Ha, ha, ha. I kept my positivity too high perhaps. ☺
I feel sorry for Shin Saimdang, because the drama is not good dramatization of her story, for all her accomplishments and arts. BTW I read somewhere that her husband in real life is not that bad like the way they potray him in the drama. That makes the drama even worse. Thinking about romancing the face on the national currency with man other than her legal spouse is bad idea (yed sexist I know while if it is a king, it is okay) from the start. They want to make it tragic and dramatic all, they can smear the historical figure face, but if they want to keep the historical figure face clean, the romance becomes flat and the viewers like me can't invest our emotion. I think a good romance story has too keep that small window of posibility that the romance can be worked out, open, although we all know it probably, wont.

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@plainenglish May 24, 2017 at 10:06 AM:

Thank you so much for those interesting items of historical background.

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"... and later on saying sorry to him for not being the 'ideal' type of wife suited for him. Whaaaaa... I'm so speechless watching that scene. "

Are you referring to that scene in Ep. 28 SBS version (starting at the 23:40 mark) where Saimdang and Lee Won-su are having lunch?

1. I beg to disagree that Saimdang said she's sorry for not being a good wife to Lee Won-su. Rather, she said sorry for not loving him as a man.

Here's the dialogue between Saimdang and Lee Won-su over lunch:

Saimdang: "You've been through a lot after meeting someone like me. In some ways, I feel bad for you.You were an amazing father for our children. Please don't ever change in how you love them. Thank you for everything."

Lee Won-su: (tears start falling and then remembers his question to Saimdang in Ep. 20 on whether she ever loved him as a man)

Saimdang: (as if she could read Lee Won-su's mind, bows, and can't look directly at him at first) "I'm very sorry."

That's when Lee Won-su's tears really start falling, realizing that Saimdang has always and will always love Lee Gyeom and no one else.

2. SLD has previously used this device (two people looking at each other and conversing in their minds, understanding what the other is saying despite no words being actually said).

Examples:

Ep 18 (starting at 26:54 mark): Min Chi-hyung and the court official who sabotaged Saimdang's pigments

Ep. 28 (starting at 23:17 mark) flashback from Ep. 24 (starting at 9:57 mark): Hwieumdang and Saimdang

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@murasakimi: thank you for this article!!!! You discussed plots, characters, and what you like/don't like about this drama. I love your writing.
I hope to see more of Series review like this, for the dramas that dramabeans do not recap.

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There was one thing I loved about this show and that is when the producers and SBS borrowed Min Chi Hyeong's mouth to dish out a lot of abuse and curses at the Chinese (for not letting this drama air there at the same time). What a perfect villain character to deliver those lines!

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Thanks for that meta insight, O_o! This is the kind of stuff that flies right over my head. Now that you mention it, I can chuckle over it. ;-)

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"There was one thing I loved about this show and that is when the producers and SBS borrowed Min Chi Hyeong's mouth to dish out a lot of abuse and curses at the Chinese (for not letting this drama air there at the same time)."

I beg to disagree.

SLD is a 100% pre-produced drama. Filming ended sometime in June 2016, while the ban was imposed by the Chinese government sometime in October 2016.

Hunan TV (the Chinese distributor) had already paid SLD's producers in full and despite the ban, didn't ask for a refund. (Please read the Yonhap News Agency story titled "'Saimdang' earns net profit, recoups 75 pct of budget from overseas".)

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1. Some people don't seem to be aware that SLD has two versions:

(a) the SBS version, otherwise known as the "butchered" version; and

(b) the international or original version broadcast via cable TV to Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, and in Hong Kong.

2. Ratings may have gone south in Korea, but SLD is popular in Asian countries where it was broadcast.

A. From Yonhap News Agency article titled "'Saimdang' earns net profit, recoups 75 pct of budget from overseas"

“The show is the most viewed program on Taiwan's GTV since its premiere. It's also maintaining the lead and No. 2 positions on various platforms in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia," a company official said.”

B. Here are the stats for Youtube views for SLD's Bahasa Indonesia-subbed videos (Khanzaa Claris channel):

Ep 1 - 395,953 views (1,686 likes, 96 dislikes; 153 comments)
Ep 2 - 206,260 views (633 likes, 53 dislikes; 36 comments)
Ep 3 - 198,578 views (642 likes, 62 dislikes; 47 comments)
Ep 4 - 175,501 views (425 likes, 50 dislikes; 54 comments)
Ep 6 - 164,313 views (461 likes, 41 dislikes; 47 comments)
Ep 7 - 168,217 views (450 likes, 42 dislikes; 45 comments)
Ep 12 - 210,364 views (884 likes, 42 dislikes; 319 comments)
Ep 13 - 181,821 views (889 likes, 42 dislikes; 241 comments)
Ep 15 - 169,634 views (913 likes, 48 dislikes; 306 comments)
Ep 16 - 200,793 views (1,108 likes, 58 dislikes; 489 comments)
Ep 17 - 173,175 views (936 likes, 47 dislikes; 292 comments)
Ep 19 - 178,938 views (1,059 likes, 51 dislikes; 331 comments)
Ep 21 - 173,449 views (1.049 likes, 46 dislikes; 338 comments)
Ep 23 - 235,914 views (1,328 likes, 54 dislikes; 817 comments)

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@28 plainenglish May 24, 2017 at 9:33 AM,

Another case of SCARRED HEART. ;-)

Now it makes me wonder what the international version is like -- but not enough to actually sit through it again. Once was enough, and there are other dramas that I really want to see.

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"Now it makes me wonder what the international version is like -- but not enough to actually sit through it again"

1. The international version is currently available only on iflix.

2, You don;'t have to re-watch the whole drama to find out about the differences between the SBS version and the international version. Search Google for Soompi Current Drama 2017 Saimdang, Light's Diary. Look for the comments of someone named "liddi" (she has posted comparisons between the two versions, plus videos of the scenes deleted from the SBS version).

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I pretty much gave up on this around ep9. Watched most of the last episode. If you are looking for any kind of historical accuracy, this is not it. Many sageuks are pretty loose with history, but this was supposedly based on an actual person's real life, which is fairly well documented. And too much makjang for me.

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@29 windsun33 May 24, 2017 at 10:41 AM:

I agree about the makjang elements. I got my whole year's quota of makjang, thankyouverymuch.

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And that's what's so jarring to me... In my earlier comment (below), what I expected of the drama (i.e., serious, historically-accurate, heavy) seems so different from all the reactions viewers had to its...makjang (??!!?!) elements. Not what I expected at all.

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I only watched till episode 6. I liked the modern aspect. As one comment said, it would have been better if the story was separated. I lost interested when were getting deeper in the past...for some odd reason.

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Sounds like this drama ending up being like a 25 hr long version of the last 70 pages of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Thank you for the write up! I'm glad I didn't stick around but I was kind of curious how things would turn out.

I dropped it a couple episodes in after doing a little research and learning that her husband was actually fairly open-minded by Joseon standards, which left a pretty sour taste in my mouth, considering. To me, it would have been a lot more interesting to explore how she might reconcile being a wife and being her own person, whether compromising with her husband would be dissatisfying and disingenuous in the end considering the power relations between men and women, etc. But it's unrealistic to expect sageuk to be sageuk anymore :P

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@31 juniper May 24, 2017 at 2:32 PM

To me, it would have been a lot more interesting to explore how she might reconcile being a wife and being her own person, whether compromising with her husband would be dissatisfying and disingenuous in the end considering the power relations between men and women, etc.

That would have been an interesting show to watch.

Alas, the real life Lee Won-su ended up undergoing character assassination.

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/tears at your last sentence.

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1. As a counter-balance to this review's neutral (if not negative) take on "Saimdang, Light's Diary", I suggest that you read the comments in the Dramacool website and in the Viki page of this drama. You'll find out why lots of people love this drama. (You'll notice especially in the Viki page that a lot of the comments come from Spanish speakers, which may mean the drama is popular in South America.)

If you surf to the Soompi discussion of this drama, you'll find lots of historical and cultural information that will enrich your understanding and appreciation of this drama. You'll also find comparisons of the SBS version and the international (original) version.

2. Don't judge this drama on the basis of the SBS version that you have watched.

Here's a timeline on why SLD came to have two versions:

(1) SLD was originally scheduled to be aired last October 2016 with simultaneous broadcast in Korea and China (the most lucrative market for Korean dramas). But because of the THAAD missile crisis, China banned Korean dramas, among other things. SBS decided to reschedule SLD to January 2017 hoping that the political crisis would be over by that time.

(2) By January 2017, SBS abandoned the simultaneous broadcast to China and instead decided to air it in Korea and via cable to several Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, and in Hong Kong. SLD also decided to edit SLD for the broadcast in Korea and in Asia. This edited version has come to be known as the original or international version.

(3) In Korea, SLD reached 16% viewership in Ep. 2. But beginning Ep. 3, ratings began dropping and hovering at around 9 to 10%.

SBS panicked and decided to re-edit SLD’s Korean broadcast. This re-edited version has come to be known as the SBS version, and it started to be aired by Ep. 5.

SBS, however, left the international version as is, with 30 episodes.

(4) Despite the re-editing, ratings continued to fare poorly. For example, Ep. 24 received one of SLD’s lowest ratings, And yet, as a lot of people would say, Ep. 24 (when Saimdang and Lee Gyeom finally got together in Keumkangsan) is probably one of the best episodes.

(5) On or about the first week of April 2017, SBS announced that it will cut SLD from 30 episodes to 28, supposedly because the cut scenes were not necessary for the drama’s completion.

Again, SBS left the international version intact with its 30 episodes.

Differences between the SBS version and international (original) version

(1)The sequence of events are different in the two versions. For example, the episode where Saimdang confronts Hwieumdang and the other mothers and paints on the silk skirt is Ep. 13 SBS version. But these scenes are in Ep. 16 or 18 (if I remember correctly) in the international version.

(2) The SBS version focuses on the historical timeline, while the international version has an equal balance between the historical and modern timelines.

(3) The...

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plainenglish, thanks so much for all your comments! Super informative.

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Good to see you here, bbstl!

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@32 plainenglish May 24, 2017 at 4:04 PM:

It sounds as if the differences between the SBS and international versions of SAIMDANG are even bigger than the variants of MOON LOVERS. I might as well have been watching a different drama.

Thanks for taking the time to document the divergence. It sounds like BICHEONMU / THE DANCE IN THE SKY (2008) with Joo Jin-mo all over again. The Korean version had 14 episodes to the Chinese version's 33.

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-- continuation of the cut-off comments --

(3) The SBS version cuts so many scenes that are integral to the story and character development.

Examples:

1. The SBS version doesn’t show us why Lee Won-su brazenly brought his concubine to Saimdang’s house. But the international version shows us in two episodes that Lee Won-su has found out about Saimdang and Lee Gyeom’s affection for each other.

These two episodes are (a) when Lee Gyeom holds Saimdang's hand after they watched Min Chi-hyung being sent into exile, and (b) when Lee Won-su brings food to Saimdang after she was appointed as Royal Portrait Painter, and he sees Saimdang and Lee Gyeom having dinner together.

2. In Ep, 27 SBS version, Ji-yoon gives to Saimdang the bracelet that her son Eun-soo gave her. Ep. 26 SBS version does not tell us the bracelet’s significance, but the international version does (in the dialogue between Ji-yoon's father and her son Eun-soo as they're buying the bracelet).

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Thanks so much for sharing this..

I guess SBS really botched things up, and that the international audience got the better drama. But I'm sure it doesn't make a difference now. Korean viewers who really enjoyed the drama would do well to go searching for the original to watch, but otherwise, that's the version the majority of Asians are stuck with.

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I enjoyed the drama and thought that the two leads were excellent actors. I miss it. I am not Korean, so it was very interesting to me.

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My issue with this drama was that it felt like too-specialized a topic that I assumed would be handled in a serious, somewhat heavy way... I was excited that Lee Young Ae was returning to drama-land, cos I like what she represents--e.g., classically-trained actress, natural/pristine well-preserved beauty--but I wasn't particularly thrilled about a painter's life, or the mystery behind a painting, etc. I do remember commenting that I would watch it, esp. when news first broke out about the drama, and I learned who was cast...but, alas, all the pretty visuals couldn't make me watch.

It may not be the drama's fault; I've been in a drama slump lately. Oh Hae Young Again was my last crack drama. Since then, I've enjoyed dramas, but haven't felt compelled to marathon any.

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actually, I think Lee Young Ae's acting in this drama totally fail. I have try to follow it until mild way but I cannot stand it anymore.

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The one thing that makes this show worth watching is, and forever will be, Song Seung Heon's acting. He was brilliant here, and he had very little to go on.
When I started watching it I commented it to my korean teacher during my weekly class; she'd just come back from her mother land and told me not to have many expectations about it, as the show was about to be a flop --given Koreans weren't too happy about Lee Young-ae private life per-se; it still amazes me how someone's personal life can make or break their work life. I told her I didn't give a hoot, I was in it for the beautiful artwork and feel good scenery. I really couldn't care less if it was true to history or not...asian kings and concubines mean nothing to me except if it is Ji Chang Wook sporting those hilarious head pieces. I came out a happy person because I got everything I was looking for. Song Seung Hunk was a real hunk, the art work was fantastic, and Young ae behaved as any well to do chaebol wife should...beautiful and distant, but I wasn't in if for her, so. :)

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What personal life problems? You mean it really affected the prefessional life of her? I can't understand. But that's not the case. I agree with you song seung heunis the only reason Im watching. He is wonderful. :D

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I remember watching dae jang guem till the end, it had my full attention.
The problem with me was that I was expecting exactly the same thing from this drama, maybe that's why I lost interest...

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there were some times when I couldn't stand people in this drama, and other times when it was quite ok.

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It is truly a shame that this drama invited poor ratings and disparaging comments and reviews, especially so when these are based on the reedited, weaker SBS version. The international version, which was broadcast in other Asian countries - Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines etc is far more cohesive narratively, giving equal prominence to both timelines, weaving beauty in parallelism between the two. For me, while not perfect, the drama was captivating, the characters' journeys relatable, with gorgeous cinematography and strong ensemble performances. LYA and SSH gave us some of the most poignant, devastatingly memorable deliveries, and their nuanced performances still move me each time I revisit the drama.

I also beg to differ regarding the prevalent misconception of reincarnation being a plot device. While we see many of the same actors in both timelines, they were not the reincarnation of the characters they portrayed in the past. This holds true, even for LYA and by extension, SSH's characters, with LYA's being the only one with an actual link between past and present, but as separate entities. If anything, it was just a novelty to use the same actors in both timelines, which actually was a source of fun, seeing whom we could spot.

Suffice to say that I personally love this drama, and do not regret the 30+28 hours x multiple versions of subs spent watching it. Am now immersed in the official C-translated novel by the scriptwriter, which in turn gives a fresh perspective as well as greater insights and appreciation into the characters and their motivations.

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I watched the first episode and dropped it after. It was boring.

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"Saimdang, Light's Diary" is highly popular as you can see in the Viki page of the drama. It has 7,231 followers and has an average rating of 9.3 by 365 reviewers (with 10 as the highest rating).

You'll also notice that there are numerous comments written in Spanish, which may mean that SLD is popular in South America. Examples of comments in Spanish:

"Demasiado preciosa. Un romance encantador, apasionado, que llega al alma. Banda sonora espectacular, bellísima. Actuaciones excelentes. Fotografía, filmografía, vestuario, referencias históricas, edición artística... incluso los villanos son estupendos, dan mucha rabia! Tiene drama, suspenso, humor, etc."

"Totalemnte increible, un drama muy bien hecho hermosa historia, hermosos paisajes, el arte y el amor que bella combinacion. Song seung heon que hombre tan hermoso mi primer drama fue otoño en mi corazon con el de protagonista, de mas de excelente actor siempre lo admire. Lee young Ae tremenda actriz la vi en una joya en el palacio y de verdad me encanto su actuacion. Ambos interpretaron excelente sus persojanes al igual que el resto del elenco. La historia me hizo llorar por el sufrimiento del personaje de Lee geom tan bello el. El final para mi fue tan triste. Primer dorama de enero del 2017 junto con Rebel... Ambos excelentes!!! 100% recomendable. Le doy 10 estrellas"

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Well, i guess im alone. I found (and find im still watching) Saimdang thoroughly enjoyable and engaging. Maybe its because im marathoning; usually that works against a drama but perhaps the crafting and interweaving of all the timelines, concepts and plot points shine through. I like this better than Jewel (alone again, I bet); the writing and Young Ae's skillset so far ( im at ep 21) seems more sustainable than Jewel at the same point. But maybe im enjoying it because i only recently watched Jewel and didnt expect Saimdang to be its second coming

Is it perfect? No, but what is? I also wonder if Saimdang is sometimes too circumspect and dialogue heavy for todays audiences whose collective attention span is less than the lifespan of a gnat :)

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Saimdang's husband was so frustrating. I could handle him being dumb and useless but once he started cheating and stealing I was over the entire plot. Why watch a stressful drama full of women being doormats? Why make your viewers suffer. Also the modern drama villain was annoyingly and pointlessly evil. I felt similarly about Weimdang for much of the drama, her grudge against Saimdang made no sense to anyone but the writers.

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We have the same view.
They just want to suffer us with stupid things in the show ! Seroiusly what do the writers think?

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This series isnt good at the first episods
But next 5 eps every thing change
The thing that interest me to continue this series was it mystery genre that you cant foretaste it
Even you can see the wonderful act of yung ae and enjot it
My recommend is watch it :-)

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Not really that much of a common comment, but I love watching SLD. I love how LYA portrayed Saimdang (I mean I love everyone in that drama, really). I had eyes on this long before it aired but it was a regret for me, actually. I loved every episode of SLD and like everyone else, I think it lacks present-time scenes. I mean, I don't really mind them tackling about sageuk but I would still prefer SSH appearing in the present time, REALLY PREFER tho. Still, love the series.

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I have a total opposite opinion
I LOVED this drama and I hoped if it was 50 episodes like dae jang geum
I loved both past and present times
I was little wary of song seung heun but I found him likeable and acted his role very well
Lee young as beauty and elegance is really out of this world

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I really like the show and the openning and the love and everything about them two.
BUT I am really disappointed to see that they kept Saimdang whith that husband. They had to change it and stop showing Saimdang as a woman for familly! I got disappointed when I found that Saimdang barely have feelings for Gyeom.
Why should I continue whatching this non sense show anymore??

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So I just finished watching it... and as I came late and with really no expectations (but to see Lee act again) I have to say that I don't understand neither the hate nor the disappointment.

The drama is solid, well acted, with great villains and great heroes that you definitely can root for. Production was amazing, music in place, and historical context on spot. So what is not to like?

Problems for the show? That it was rushed towards the end... you could tell... and that is not the show's fault, it is fans fault. A shame because you are only left to wonder what the writers had in mind and the beauty of it.

Amazing show, up there with the Lee Byung-hoon trilogy.

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Please, explaine the final chapter, I didn't understand what happend

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Thanks for the review & comments. I totally agree with you.

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