100 Days My Prince: Episode 1
100 Days My Prince, tvN’s newest prince-is-also-a-pauper story, starts off with a lot of backstory angst, but there’s also enough lighthearted humor and to make me think that this is going to be really fun. It asks what happens when a doom-and-gloom prince finds himself trapped in his own scheme to get out of his marriage duties, and with its stellar cast and beautiful setting, I expect this story to be as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A young king stands contemplating a storm, then rides out with his men intending to join a battle. He’s met by one of his generals, who refuses to allow him to fight for fear he’ll be killed. But the king says firmly that he knows he’ll die, and continues on.
We go back several years into the past, where a brash little noble announces to a crowd of children that he’s a brave Joseon warrior, then sends them off to battle with a loud war cry. He knocks down one “barbarian” (a slave boy) with a stick, but then he gets bopped in the head from behind.
He turns to see a little girl with a fierce expression on her face, accusing him of bruising up her friends. The noble boy insists he’s not a bully, but the girl tells him that people who hurt others aren’t warriors, they’re just dumb.
The noble boy puffs up and tries the old Do you know who I am? line, and she retorts that he’s a dumb kid who beats slaves because he has a rich daddy. He raises his stick, but she’s faster, and she levels hers at his face as she warns him never to hurt kids and call it “playing” again. She storms off hand in hand with the slave, leaving the noble boy to tell his friend Dong-joo, “Next time, we’ll play detectives.” HA!
Elsewhere, Minister of the Left KIM CHA-UN brings an unusual rock he found to Prince Neungseon, the current king’s brother. The rock has the character for “dragon” written on it, and Minister Kim says that he thinks it’s a sign that a new “dragon,” or king, must be found. Prince Neungseon looks frightened, but Minister Kim says serenely that justice need not be discussed in the dark.
He offers the crown to the prince, but adds pointedly that his current wife is not an acceptable queen. The prince refuses to set aside his wife and steal his brother’s throne, but Minister Kim tells him that “one who fears a tiger would not let the tiger’s cub live.”
The noble boy, whose name is LEE YUL (and who is Prince Neungseon’s son), is chastised by his mother for playing all day and neglecting his studies. He argues that his father told him that being smart will only get him on the king’s bad side, and that the suffering people should be his first concern, which makes his mother smile.
She sends Yul inside, and on his way, he runs into Minister Kim. Minister Kim tells Yul to always be careful because you never know what life will bring. He leaves with a nod to Yul’s mother, who nods back, but looks nervous about his visit.
Yul learns from his friend Dong-joo that the girl who bested him is YOON YI-SEO, daughter of the former Commander of Palace Guards. Yul objects to the suggestion that he likes her, insisting that he only wants to make her pay for hitting and insulting him.
The boys tell Yi-seo that they saw a cannibal take her slave into the woods, and they lead her to a spooky cabin. Ha, Yul looks more freaked out than Yi-seo when the scary-looking owner steps outside carrying an ax. He approaches Yi-seo, who trips and falls, and the boys hightail it out of there, leaving Yi-seo behind.
It storms that night, and Yul, feeling guilty, runs out into the storm and all the way to the cabin. He creeps into the yard and accidentally steps on a discarded bone, and the cabin owner throws the window open. Yul falls, startled, but suddenly Yi-seo’s head pops through the window and she chirps, “You must be lucky with food! Do you want some chicken?”
Yi-seo ties back the cabin owner’s hair and coaches him how to smile so as not to look so ferocious. Yul is mesmerized by her smile, and as he walks her back to town, he notes that she’s brave for a girl. He asks why she ignored custom and ate with a peasant, so she tells him that her father taught her, “A swordsman learns swordsmanship to protect the people, but ‘the people’ does not mean only the nobleman.”
Yul scratches his head in confusion, and she affectionately calls him dumb. But when she slips in some mud, Yul grabs her arm and snaps that she’s dumber. Yi-seo notices that Yul’s arm is bleeding from a fall, but Yul brags that it doesn’t hurt, then squeals and whines when she pokes it, hee. Yi-seo uses her hair ribbon to bandage his arm, and Yul looks smitten again as he watches her.
He asks why she’s not mad at him for luring her to the cabin. She casually tucks a cherry blossom into her braid as she says it’s not right to be mad at someone who is already repenting. Yul tries to guess which philosopher wrote that, but Yi-seo can tell he never read Elementary Learning and she calls him out on it, grinning at him.
They keep walking, and as the cherry blossoms fall around them, Yi-seo smiles and says they’re pretty. But Yul only has eyes for her, and doesn’t respond. Yi-seo asks if he likes snow or raining flowers better, but Yul blurts out, “I like… you. I will marry you.”
Before Yi-seo can do anything but blink in surprise, they hear her father’s voice calling her name. She tells Yul to run because her father is very strict, but he grins that his father will punish him anyway. She promises not to tattle on him and goes to meet her father, leaving Yul thinking that her family seems nice.
In the morning, Yul muses out loud to his mother (as he studies) that Yi-seo is too bold to find a husband. His mother smiles indulgently, noting that Yi-seo was impressive enough to make him interested in books.
She asks if Yi-seo is pretty, and Yul blurts that she’s the prettiest girl he’s ever seen before realizing that he gave himself away. Knowing that he’d like an excuse to see Yi-seo again, Yul’s mother gives him the freshly washed hair ribbon to return to her.
She leaves to pray at the temple for a few days, and Yul vows to focus on his studies until she returns. He studies all day, and when he’s finished, he recalls his father ordering him not to leave his room today.
He leaves anyway, and sneaks into the grounds of Yi-seo’s home with servant Mak-gae’s help. He promises that Mak-gae can pretend to be the general next time they play (awww), then turns to see Yi-seo walking nearby. She hides with him when she spots someone else outside, while he just grins goofily at their joined hands.
She tells Yul that her father isn’t letting anyone into the house today, but he proudly tells her that he’s been studying Elementary Learning, earning a head-pat. He says he came to give her something, but before he can return her ribbon, they hear a voice demanding the gate be opened on the king’s orders.
Yi-seo runs to see what’s happening, telling Yul to stay hidden. She arrives at the gate just as the visitors break the doors down, and a man, carrying a sword and covered in blood, demands to speak to the master of the house. He kills a servant who says he doesn’t know where the master is, and Yul, hearing the screams, peeks around the corner.
He sees the man advancing on Yi-seo, asking if she’s Yoon Boo-joon’s daughter. She says bravely that she is, and the man points his sword at her. But before he strikes, Yi-seo’s father steps between them and tells him to sheath his sword.
The intruder says that he’s here to kill Yoon Boo-joon on the king’s order, but Yi-seo’s father says that both the one who gave the order and the ones who carry it out are traitors. The intruder attacks, and Yi-seo’s father fends him off while sweeping Yi-seo out of their reach.
Yi-seo’s father tells her older brother to protect her, commanding them to stay alive. Her brother drags a screaming Yi-seo away, and Yul watches as Yi-seo’s father fights, and Mak-gae is cut down for trying to help.
But before Yi-seo’s father is dealt the killing blow, a voice orders the intruder to stop. Another blood-covered man arrives — Minister Kim. Yi-seo’s father gasps that he thought Minister Kim was an honorable man, but Minister Kim just tells him not to worry about his children because they’ll join him soon.
Yi-seo’s father bellows in fury, but Minister Kim’s sword runs him through. Minister Kim orders his men to find and kill his entire family, but Yul cries out for them to stop, announcing himself as Prince Neungseon’s son and threatening to punish them if they go after Yi-seo and her brother.
Minister Kim simply picks up Yul and carries him home to his father. Yul tells his father that this man killed someone, but his father just orders him to his room. Minister Kim approaches the prince, and Yul asks his father if he’s going to kill them, but Minister Kim kneels, saying, “I killed them all as you commanded. As of this moment, the world is yours, Your Majesty!”
Yul is stunned by the knowledge that his father was behind all of this in order to become king, and he refuses to dress for the coronation, demanding to see his mother first.
Prince Neungseon admits to Minister Kim that he’s worried he won’t be able to handle the politics of being king. He’s advised that a king only needs dignity, and that he should leave the politics to him. Prince Neungseon looks skeptical at that, but he asks what Minister Kim wants, and he looks nervous again at the answer: “To be your son’s father-in-law.”
Minister Kim delivers the news that Prince Neungseon’s wife died in an accident at the temple, but the prince just tells him to keep this a secret until after his coronation. They turn to go, but Yul is standing behind them, looking stricken.
He runs, yelling for his mother, until he’s stopped by the court ladies. Minister Kim approaches and tells him that a prince shouldn’t cry over frivolous matters. Yul yells that he doesn’t want to to be a prince, but the nobleman grabs him and tells him harshly that today is his only chance to cry. He leaves, and Yul sinks to his knees and screams and screams.
Sixteen years later.
A grown-up crown prince Lee Yul (Do Kyung-soo, aka EXO’s D.O.) tells one of his eunuchs while out walking that he’s uncomfortable. He calls out one of the court ladies for lagging behind the group, but she says with a smile that she was distracted by some beautiful birds.
With a baleful glare, Yul informs the lady that he hasn’t smiled once in the 69,329 hours since he became prince, yet she managed it on her first day as a court lady. He orders all birds in the palace eliminated, and when she says that birds can fly over the walls, he asks in an emotionless voice, “Would you rather the birds die, or you die?”
Later during lessons, Yul once again says that he’s uncomfortable. This time it’s because one of his advisers, KIM SOO-JI (Heo Jung-min), is smiling, and Soo-ji apologizes for letting his mind drift to a meeting with an old friend later.
The prince writes out a question, saying that whoever answers the question first will be promoted, and nobody may leave the palace until it’s answered. This means that Soo-ji won’t be able to see his friend until someone provides an answer.
Eunuch Yang tells Yul that if he keeps doing this, there won’t be anyone left beside him, which just annoys Yul even more. Eunuch Yang also informs Yul that he’s supposed to spend tonight with the crown princess in an attempt to relieve the court ministers’ anxiety about the recent drought.
Yul is taken for a royal bath, where he expresses disgust at the superstitious belief that sleeping with his wife will bring rain. He sends Eunuch Yang for more rose petals for his bath, but when Eunuch Yang returns, Yul is gone.
CROWN PRINCESS SO-HYE (Han So-hee), Minister Kim’s daughter and Yul’s wife, is informed that the crown prince has disappeared again. She says that she’ll just go look for him herself, but her lady warns that she’ll only chase him further away.
Yul has escaped to the royal library to read, and his father sneaks in to say angrily that the people are suffering because it hasn’t rained in months. He fusses that Yul continues to upset the yin/yang balance by refusing to sleep with the crown princess, but when Yul asks if his father is blaming him for the drought, the king sighs and says he’s not.
He turns the blame on himself and asks if Yul is calling him a disgrace like everyone else. Yul snaps that he never wanted his father to be king, or to be crown prince himself, and tells his father never to force him into princely duties.
He asks his father if it’s the people who are unsettling him, or Minister Kim. The king asks if Yul hates the crown princess, and Yul snarls, “It’s not just her that I hate,” as he stalks away. As soon as he’s clear of his father, he clutches at his chest as a familiar pain grips him.
The next day, he serves the court officials fancy rose punch, calling it a token of his gratitude for their hard work. They enjoy the out-of-season drink, belatedly noticing that Yul isn’t having any himself, but Yul says that he’s limited to bitter herbal tea due to his chest pains.
Yul drops his fake smile and asks the officials, considering his illness, if they’re trying to kill him by forcing him to spend the night with the crown princess. All of the officials apologize, except the Minister of the Right, who says that without the balance of yin and yang energies, the rain won’t fall.
Yul scoffs that his energies alone couldn’t be enough when there are many unmarried people in the country. He suggests that everyone in their twenties get married and increase the chances of rain, pointing out that it’s even been done before.
He officially orders that all unmarried people in their twenties must be married by the end of next month. As he leaves, he tells the officials that he’s doing his part to conserve water — their rose punch was made with his bath water. HAHA, I love it. But Yul only gets a few steps away before another chest pain attacks, this time causing him to collapse.
Out in the woods, an older Yi-seo, who now goes by the name HONG-SHIM (Nam Ji-hyun), collects edible plants as she complains that they’ll die just eating vegetables. Her companion, KKEUT-NYEO, pouts that their husbands would feed them if they were married, but Hong-shim says that a lot of guys don’t earn money.
The ladies get excited when they find a rare herb they can dry and sell. But they’re prevented from cutting it by a pair of ginseng hunters, who accuse them of bringing their bad unmarried juju into the forest. One of them kicks Hong-shim’s bag, so she coolly tells him to pick it up while pointedly fondling her knife.
She mentions that a woman with a grudge can make it snow in winter, so if she decides to carry a grudge against them, any number of terrible things could happen. The man raises his hand, but Hong-shim stops it and croons, “The moment your hand touches my face, you will experience the end of my grudges.” Yikes, she’s terrifying.
On the way back into town, they’re called to the government office along with the other five unmarried people in town, where their names and ages are confirmed. Hong-shim’s extremely advanced age of twenty-eight is particularly alarming to the government official (and her facial expressions are comedy gold, ha).
Regardless, the seven unmarrieds are told to partner up and get hitched, by royal command. Hong-shim protests loudly, drawing the attention and frustration of the magistrate. He will be in trouble if everyone in town isn’t married soon, and he’s particularly worried that there’s one extra unmarried woman.
Hong-shim continues arguing against the absurd notion that their getting married will resolve the drought (and earthquakes, and lightning, and even UFOs, according to the official). She snaps that instead of helping the people, the crown prince is blaming them for the hardships. But the other singles wander off without her, already pairing up.
Poor Kkeut-nyeo is unhappy with Gu-dol, the man she’s marrying, but she’s scared of being flogged for disobeying. Hong-shim is prepared to fly to her rescue, but Kkeut-nyeo stops her, saying that it’s no use fighting. After Kkeut-nyeo and Gu-dol’s wedding, Hong-shim goes for a walk, and the official joins her.
He says that she’s the last one left unmarried, and he’s worried she’ll be flogged since there aren’t any bachelors left. So Hong-shim makes up a story on the fly about being engaged to a guy named Won-deuk from another town, who’s serving in the military and won’t be back soon. The official warns that the crown prince has a bad temper, but Hong-shim hollers at him over her shoulder, “The crown prince is dumb!” Okay, she’s awesome.
Crown Princess So-hye visits Yul, who’s been unconscious for several days. She tells his eunuchs to find a way to give him his medicine so he can recover, then begs Yul to wake up because, she says, her life is in his hands.
Given that the crown prince is so sick and has no heir, some court officials begin making noises about having Yul removed. They argue that he’s too ill to become king, but his supporters note that he’s always sick around this time of year and always recovers. Eventually Minister Kim speaks up and says that Yul will recover, so the king forbids any more complaints about his health.
The most outspoken of Yul’s detractors, the Minister of the Right, is in league with the king’s new wife, Queen Park. She believes her son, Grand Prince Seowon, to be the rightful heir to the throne. The Minister of the Right thinks that time will solve their Yul problem, but Queen Park sneers that she’ll make her own fate, and has already taken steps.
In his room, Yul sits up in bed, groaning that it’s uncomfortable to lie there. A guard joins him and says he’s been lying in bed for days, and they look over at his herbal medicine with suspicion. He’d recently told a trusted nobleman that he suspected the medicine, so he’d stopped taking it, and he’s slowly recovering.
The nobleman had said that the medicine is safe — it’s when taken with certain snacks Yul enjoys that they combine to create a toxin in his system. The nobleman sent a note warning Yul of what not to eat, but the note was purposely misplaced, and coincidentally, one of the medical staff maids recently disappeared.
Now Yul tells his guard, his old friend DONG-JOO (Do Ji-han), that they’ll have to play detective again. Dong-joo thinks that Yul should tell the king of the attempted poisoning, admitting that he suspects the queen. Yul says that he can’t trust anyone, not even his father, so he intends to catch his poisoner himself.
Poor Soo-ji looks like death warmed over, still trying to figure out the answer to Yul’s question: “To exist and to desire.” His friend JUNG JE-YOON (Kim Sun-ho) says that the answer won’t be an easy one, and Soo-ji whines that he’s scared of dying here and becoming a virgin ghost (Je-yoon: “But you’re married…” LOL). When he learns that there’s a promotion as reward for whoever answers the question, Je-yoon perks up.
Elsewhere, Hong-shim prepares to visit the capital as her adoptive father wails that someone might recognize her. She looks worried for a moment, then says cheerfully that she’s much too pretty now for that to happen. She tells her father not to skip meals and not to do favors for that liar Gu-dol, then sets out.
Her father calls after her softly, “If you find your brother, will you not return?” Plastering on a smile, Hong-shim says that she’ll bring her brother back with her.
Dressed in common clothing, Yul sneaks out of the palace with Dong-joo’s help. They find an empty house where the owner’s belongings are scattered around, and Dong-joo asks if they should question the neighbors. Yul says no, and mentions that they’re being followed.
To draw out their follower, Dong-joo and Yul split up. Yul stays in sight, and when his follower gets close, they find Dong-joo’s sword at their throat. It’s a woman — the same woman who disappeared from the palace medical team.
She says that she was kidnapped by thugs and barely escaped, then stayed in hiding out of fear. Yul asked if she’s the one who misplaced the list of foods he shouldn’t eat, and she begs his forgiveness, sobbing that she was only following orders. Yul beckons her closer to tell her that someone wants to kill him and silence her.
He asks who it is, and just as she’s about to tell him, an arrow flies past Yul’s head and into the woman’s throat, killing her instantly. Yul catches her in his arms and sends Dong-joo after the assassin.
The assassin gives Dong-joo the slip, only to find himself facing Yul instead. Yul asks whose orders he’s following, but the assassin silently draws his sword, and Yul picks up a sturdy branch to defend himself. Yul nimbly dodges the assassin’s attacks, but soon the assassin slices his stick in half and Yul ends up at the point of his sword.
Yul is helpless as the assassin stares him down, then raises his sword… but a knife flies through the air and buries itself in the assassin’s shoulder. The assassin runs, and Yul chases him towards the marketplace. Yul loses sight of him, and although something about a passing young nobleman puts Yul on alert, he chooses not to follow the man (who we see has blood on his clothing near his shoulder).
Hong-shim arrives in the city, where she finds her childhood home destroyed and abandoned. She remembers playing with her brother Seok-ha in the courtyard, when he’d teased her for giving her hair ribbon to a boy while their father looked on affectionately.
A passerby tells Hong-shim to keep moving — that house is abandoned because traitors used to live there. She goes to the bookseller, who tells her that he keeps her favorite book, Elementary Learning, inside. Hong-shim goes in and opens her pack, and changes into the fine clothing of her true station.
Yul and Dong-joo also pass the bookseller, and they hear him hawking Elementary Learning. Yul pauses at the mention of the book he read to impress his childhood sweetheart, and he notices the young lady who leaves the bookseller’s building, her face hidden.
Yul continues on his way, and he’s stopped by the sight of a cherry tree in full bloom. It reminds Yul of the little girl who once stood under the falling blossoms and smiled at him, and he’d vowed to marry her someday.
Nearby, he sees the lady from the bookseller’s, just as she removes her head covering to admire the cherry blossoms. Yul stares when he sees Hong-shim’s face, as if he recognizes her, but when Hong-shim sees him, she hurries away. Yul breaks into a run, chasing the lady who reminds him of his first love.
So far, I like what I see. The story seems to know where it’s going, yet is willing to take its time getting there, allowing for some interesting character beats and small touches that give us watchers a lovely sense of the depth of Yul and Hong-shim’s world. I really like the way the details aren’t spoon-fed to us, but how information unfolds naturally, which I think lets me feel like I’m a participant in the story instead of just siting back and being given everything. 100 Days My Prince is setting out to tell a much more dramatic and emotional tale than I expected, and I’m enjoying it a lot so far.
I’m not generally a fan of the trope that if a couple met as children, they’re fated to be together, but little Yul and little Yi-seo/Hong-shim were so cute together I could barely stand it, so I’ll give them a pass. I love that Yul fell for her bravery and intelligence before he ever noticed that she was pretty, because I love those things about her, too. There’s nothing like a strong, smart heroine to teach a boy a few things about life, and Nam Ji-hyun plays those types of characters so perfectly, I can’t wait to see more. She and D.O. are both perfectly suited to their characters — he does dark and broody well, then when Hong-shim’s side of the story kicked in, the mood became much lighter and cuter.
I’m looking forward to seeing them invade each other’s bailiwicks and how they each adapt to the story’s shifts in mood and tone. Sadly, Yul and Hong-shim’s shared history also holds a dark secret — that it was Yul’s father who ordered Hong-shim’s family killed. I’m sure we’re in for a lot of angst later, when Yul loses then recovers his memory and Hong-shim discovers that his family ruined her life, and not just on Hong-shim’s part. Yul seems like a noble soul despite the misery he lives in as an adult, and I’m sure he’s going to be harder on himself out of guilt than even Hong-shim manages to be. Hopefully she remembers her statement that there’s no sense in being mad at someone who is already repenting.
Seeing what his childhood trauma did to Yul is so tragic — he’s had to live with the knowledge that his father ordered the deaths of his own family, and the deaths of Yul’s friends and their families in his greed for power. And on top of all that, he lost his beloved mother at the same time. Considering that he also overheard Yi-seo’s death ordered, it’s no wonder that Yul hasn’t smiled in sixteen years, but it’s even sadder to see him making everyone around him as miserable as he is. He probably feels that nobody in the palace should smile or be happy considering the atrocities that have been committed by its dwellers, which is understandable, but it’s still heartbreaking to see the boy who used to grin like a fool over the pretty girl who called him dumb, becoming so angry and lashing out at everyone around him.
But this first episode wasn’t all doom and gloom, and I expect more humor to kick in once Yul and Hong-shim find themselves unwillingly hitched. So far the humor looks like it will be clever as well as funny, such as Hong-shim’s quick-witted arguments with the government official, and the way Yul circumvented the edict that he sleep with his wife by turning the court officials’ superstitions on them, deciding that if one couple’s “energy” might help it rain, then heck, let’s get everyone married! And it’s extra entertaining that it’s Yul’s attempt to get out of a suffocating marriage that will land him right back in another one, though he won’t realize it for a while. I’m anticipating a lot more drama and comedy as the story continues to unfold, and for now, I’m enthusiastically along for the ride.