Three Musketeers: Episode 1
Great summer fun! Three Musketeers kicked off its first episode (and first season, of three planned) yesterday, and I’m hooked already: The show has a swift storytelling style, a delightfully cheeky sense of humor (which often dips into the refreshingly deadpan), and a set of characters with heart.
And you know, despite my misgivings about making Jung Yong-hwa that heart, I’m fully onboard now, partly because of an improvement in his acting performance and partly because of the way the character is written—young, earnest, and in need of a little brotherly bonding. Thankfully, our Three Musketeers—Lee Jin-wook, Yang Dong-geun, Jung Hae-in—are up to the task. Especially Lee Jin-wook, who is wry and shrewd and all-around pretty wonderful.
SONG OF THE DAY
Peppertones – “New Chance!” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1: “First Meeting”
We open in the “future”—it’s 1780, in the fourth year of the reign of Joseon’s king Jeongjo. In what is now Beijing, a Korean ambassador to Qing China (writer and philosopher Yeonam Park Ji-won) finds a book that captures his attention. Titled The Memoirs of Park Dal-hyang, it’s an old text that has gone unnoticed over the years, and Yeonam is transfixed.
He stays up all night reading it, noting that it’s supposedly written by a general who lived over a hundred years ago. It makes him wonder about Crown Prince Sohyeon, the son of King Injo; he died a mysterious death that has been the subject of speculation over the years, with some positing that the king killed his own son, and others thinking perhaps he was poisoned. In any case, Yeonam muses, “If he had become king, what would have happened to Joseon?” If the forward-thinking Sohyeon had led the nation, perhaps Joseon might have rivaled Qing, he thinks.
Yeonam’s colleague tells him that the book is a mere novel, pointing out that there was no General Park Dal-hyang in history. But Yeonam is intrigued.
A narrator informs us that Yeonam has the feeling that the book is not fiction. The camera takes us to the battlefield tent where a grizzled general writes his memoir, and the narration confirms for us that the man did in fact exist—but as the contents of the book were rather shocking, he used a pen name.
Yeonam decides that this story of the courageous Park Dal-hyang is worth being preserved and sets out copying the book.
Now we begin our story proper in 1636, the fourteenth year of Injo’s reign. Park Dal-hyang (Jung Yong-hwa) is currently a 22-year-old, and he shows off some swordfighting moves on a clifftop before shouting into the wind, “Everyone, goodbye! I’m leaving for Hanyang now!”
Dal-hyang is leaving his remote hometown for the big city, where he’ll be taking the military service examination in hopes of gaining office as a soldier. His father gives him a letter to take to the minister of taxation straightaway, as Dal-hyang will find his path smoothed by their “deep connection”: After all, Dad is the minister’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s uncle’s nephew, and the minister is sure to embrace Dal-hyang immediately and fervently. Yep.
Thankfully, his more practical mother adds money to aid in Dal-hyang’s travels. Full of youthful exuberance, he tells his mother that she can expect news of his passing the exam with flying colors, and off he goes on his ancient horse. (Mom: “It was born the same year as Dal-hyang! It’s lucky that it’s even lived this long!”)
Of course, a mere three days into the journey, Dal-hyang’s horse keels over. He loses time waiting for the horse to recover, and then more time due to blocked roads, and yet more time taking a detour to avoid hungry tigers, until he’s in danger of missing his exam.
Dal-hyang finally arrives in the capital with one night to spare—and is promptly turned away from the minister of taxation’s door by a smirky servant. The minister’s out of town and there’s no more room in the house, because the place is stuffed to the gills with young men who’ve arrived to take the exam.
Weary and at a loss, Dal-hyang scours the crowded city for lodgings and finds himself targeted by pickpockets. He only manages to recover a handful of coins, most of which go toward securing a room at an inn that charges an exorbitant fee. Nearly penniless, starving, and feeling ripped off, Dal-hyang finally realizes that all his father’s rosy-colored stories of the capital were fabrication, and that Dad had never even been here.
Then, in the middle of the night, he is awakened by a cadre of roughnecks who come looking for one of his roommates. The men swiftly beat him half to death, then flee just as quickly, before anybody has a chance to react. Dal-hyang is completely taken by shock, while the other lodger guesses that this was a case of sabotage—it’s common for rich noblemen to pay to have certain promising contenders beaten into missing the exam, to cut down on competition.
That rankles Dal-hyang’s sense of justice, and he grabs his sword and runs into the night after the gang. He catches a glimpse of their retreating backs, but he’s about to lose them for good and thus makes a snap decision: He runs into the street into the path of a trio of riders, forcing them to stop.
(Yesssss. We recognize these riders, but Dal-hyang has no idea who he’s just run into, which makes it extra fun for us as he barks orders.) He asks to borrow a horse, and when one sidekick refuses, Dal-hyang just hops into the saddle behind him (to the amusement of the other two) and says, “They’re the bastards who are beating up scholars so they can’t take the civil service examination. Don’t you think they should be caught?”
At that, the three men’s faces turn serious. Dal-hyang rants that it’s unfair that poor talented men are dying just so other people can pass the exam ahead of them, and that they must stop the gang before they do more damage. He tells the men they can stay back if they’re scared, but the leader is no coward; deciding to intervene, he’s the first to ride off after the attackers.
The hired henchmen are just about to target their next victim when they find their path blocked by the men on horseback. The leader (oh fine, let’s name ’em. Surely it’s not spoiling the reveal to tell you that this is the CROWN PRINCE SOHYEON, is it? The instant we saw Lee Jin-wook we all knew, right?) orders them to ‘fess up about who they’re working for. The men scatter when his right-hand man, HEO SEUNG-PO (Yang Dong-geun) identifies them as officers of the high court.
Our guys split up, with Dal-hyang still riding with the younger sidekick, AHN MIN-SEO (Jung Hae-in). He leaps off the charging horse, climbs onto a second story, and engages in hand-to-hand combat with the roughnecks. It becomes evident pretty quickly that our good guys are the superior fighters, with Dal-hyang easily holding his own and the tough-looking Seung-po demonstrating some nifty tricks with a bamboo staff.
Prince Sohyeon ain’t so shabby either, skillfully wielding a whip like a boss, while baby-faced Min-seo manages some acrobatic maneuvers off his horse.
In no time, all the ruffians are knocked unconscious and police officers are called to collect them. It’s so efficient that Dal-hyang wonders how the whole incident was managed so quickly, asking if they’re police officers. Seung-po says vaguely that they’re “something like that,” just laughing when Dal-hyang asks for clarification.
Prince Sohyeon wishes Dal-hyang well on the exam, saying that with his skills, he’s bound to pass—perhaps even in first place. Then the three riders try to head off with their aura of mystery intact, although Dal-hyang stops them to ask for introductions, offering his name and asking theirs.
The trio exchange amused looks, and Sohyeon answers, “Three Musketeers.” Off they go, leaving Dal-hyang puzzled. And then, as the trio ride off, Min-seo asks why they’re the Three Musketeers and the prince just replies, “I dunno. In making something up suddenly, the words just came out. How am I to know what they mean?” LOL.
The narrator tells us that this was their first meeting, “which felt both like coincidence and the inevitable.”
The trio arrive at a boisterous gibang, which Sohyeon and Seung-po enter first… and is that seriously a fusion gugak version of Crayon Pop’s “Bar Bar Bar” playing in the background? That’s hilarious. Youngest musketeer Min-seo discovers a letter stuck under his saddle and realizes Dal-hyang must have dropped it. What he reads makes his eyes widen.
Sohyeon is here to take a meeting in secret and is briefed on the military situation in China. It’s utter chaos in the Ming dynasty, which has had numerous territories stolen from its control. (Historical note: We’re in the year of the second Manchu invasion of Joseon, during the time of transition from Ming to Qing in China, though Ming wouldn’t fall for nearly another decade.) The military is in chaos, with commanders running to save their own lives, leaving defenses completely abandoned.
I enjoy that the baby-faced Min-seo is the serious musketeer, while the gruff-looking Seung-po is the one always in search of amusement, women, and gambling. Min-seo shows Seung-po the letter he found and while we’re left to wonder what exactly is so problematic about its contents, it has the two bodyguards deciding to seek him out straightaway.
Dal-hyang makes it back to his rented room, where he cleans up and wonders at the meaning of Three Musketeers. It’s only now that he realizes his letter is missing—and ah, it’s not his father’s letter to his relative that he’s concerned about, but another letter.
Just then, an arrow flies into the wooden post next to his head. Tied to the shaft is a piece of paper.
Seung-po shows the letter to the prince and asks, “Isn’t this a type of treasonous plot?” Sohyeon reads, and a young woman’s voice narrates its contents:
“You know my feelings are the same as yours, don’t you? Swear it. I won’t ever marry any other man, and if you don’t come, I’ll probably either die an old maid or shave my head and become a monk. I will await the day we meet again after you’ve passed the civil service exam. If you come to Hanyang and ask for the home of my father, Kang Seok-ki, you will be shown the way. Yoon-seo.”
Seung-po insists that he’s being serious about this grave matter, though the prince sees that he’s smirking and having fun at his expense. Seung-po says they must investigate Dal-hyang, whom he’s already summoned.
As if on cue, Dal-hyang bursts into the room. Okay, Seung-po totally IS enjoying this, and advises the prince to do a thorough investigation before stepping out. Dal-hyang is affronted to see his personal letter has been read, but there’s something stern in Sohyeon’s voice that prevents him from getting more aggressive, and he dutifully takes a seat at the table.
Outside, the more serious Min-seo reprimands Seung-po for blowing this incident up bigger than it needs to be. Seung-po just says that it’s entertaining, chuckling that he wants to see Sohyeon wracked with some jealousy. Hm, over that woman?
Sohyeon informs a baffled Dal-hyang that this letter could be seen as treasonous, identifying the writer as the daughter of the minister of rites. He asks if Dal-hyang has met with Yoon-seo since the letter was written, insinuating that he could have Dal-hyang investigated by the high court if he doesn’t comply with the questioning now.
So Dal-hyang admits that no, he hasn’t seen her since she left his hometown, where she had briefly stayed five years ago. The letter was given to him upon her departure. He had thought to find her after he’d taken tomorrow’s exam, once he had secured himself a position and could ask for her hand in marriage. Dal-hyang has no idea why he has to answer these questions or what they have to do with treason—until Prince Sohyeon asks, “Do you mean to say you did not know that the daughter of Lord Kang Seok-ki was already married?”
No, he most certainly did not know. Dal-hyang is floored, and Sohyeon further clarifies that she has become the crown princess. Thus the letter goes from simple love note to potentially dangerous evidence. In a brief flashback to their idyllic puppy love, Dal-hyang remembers how he’d promised he’d pass the exam in a few years and take her to see the palace.
Sohyeon is amazed that Dal-hyang could be so out of touch with this kind of news, but Dal-hyang, looking utterly devastated, says that his village is so remote that they don’t hear of these things. He asks himself dully, “Then why did I work so hard training?” Tears start to fall, and Sohyeon is taken aback at his emotional reaction. To his own surprise, he finds himself in the role of consoler and orders a round of drinks brought in, feeling rather sorry for Dal-hyang.
Later that night, the princess (Seo Hyun-jin) is surprised by an unexpected visit from Sohyeon. He sits right down and cuts to the chase, asking if she knows a man named Park Dal-hyang. Her stricken reaction is confirmation enough.
Sohyeon lays it out for her, saying that it’s quite unfortunate: The young man who has trained without fail for the past five years has finally come to Hanyang to pass the exam and marry his beloved, and is so good that he could probably take first place. And yet, because he did not know his sweetheart married someone else, now he is in such despair that he has given up on the exam and seems poised to ruin his life. The prince is saddened to be losing such a promising future general.
The princess (aka Yoon-seo) fumbles for excuses, trying to downplay how bad this looks. She says she met Dal-hyang very briefly and was impressed with his skills and merely gave him a few words of encouragement. It’s a flimsy lie and Sohyeon sees right through it, then holds up that damning letter. (I find Sohyeon’s reaction intriguing, since he seems not at all upset, and in fact rather amused by this all, and I want to know why. WHY.)
The princess stammers, “A-are you doubting me right now?” The prince smiles and says simply, “It’s just that I find Dal-hyang’s sincerity so moving, I wanted to pass it along.” He gets up to leave, pausing to wonder, “But where did the daring Yoon-seo of that letter go? Did you throw away your own nature when you entered the palace?”
The encounter leaves Yoon-seo shaken, and she thinks back to her time with Dal-hyang and the promise she broke.
From outside the city, Dal-hyang looks down at the palace with his broken heart and sighs that Yoon-seo lives there now, and that he’ll never have reason to see her face again. Then he thinks back to the challenge the prince had left him with the previous night: to prove his “innocence” (of treasonous thoughts) by passing the civil service exam.
Sohyeon had told him (with that deadpan sense of humor I love, which doesn’t quite register on the doleful Dal-hyang), “If you give up that exam and leave for the country, I will have no choice but to take that to mean that you still harbor feelings for the crown princess.” Prove his loyalty to the nation, Sohyeon challenges. And if Dal-hyang continues to make excuses, well, they’ll have to report this all to the crown prince himself, who is not known to be very tolerant.
The sidekicks play along and add that Yoon-seo herself might be put into danger, since the prince has such a violent and jealous temperament. (Sohyeon interjects, “I wouldn’t say he’s quite so violent…”) Seung-po chimes in, “Not only violent, but also a terrible persecutor of the people. Just thinking of the crown princess makes my heart ache, for meeting such an awful husband.” (Sohyeon glares.)
And so, Dal-hyang mulls over his dilemma: to quit, or to pass in first place to ensure Yoon-seo’s safety. He finds Sohyeon’s ultimatum rather odd, but decides to go for it anyway—the Three Musketeers were the only ones in Hanyang to take his side in anything, so he’ll trust them in this.
The narrator tells us, “At the outset, Dal-hyang had decided to pass the exam in order to marry Yoon-seo. But now, he has decided to pass the exam to preserve Yoon-seo’s happiness. And in first place, at that.”
The exam is administered, and Dal-hyang passes the initial two rounds and aces each portion, attracting growing admiration with each display of prowess, whether with bow and arrow or spear or musket. He is selected for service, and then advances to the final round to try to win top honors, which are bestowed by the king.
King Injo arrives to preside over this round and decides which test will be the determining factor. He picks the skill that gave the applicants the most difficulty—firing five arrows at five targets while riding on horseback. One by one, each man takes his turn at the course, and then it’s Dal-hyang’s turn.
This is when the crown prince makes his entrance, joining his father—and Dal-hyang finally realizes who Sohyeon is. It stuns him enough that he has to be prodded to begin his turn, and he gallops onto the course still half-distracted, staring at the prince the whole time.
Sohyeon gives him an encouraging smile, but Dal-hyang collects himself too late and fires off his shot at the last second—and it flies wildly and lands in another contender’s horse. Ack!
The horse throws its rider and charges around a frenzy, knocking into the course and heading straight for the king’s platform, sending officials scrambling in a panic. Dal-hyang, who had fallen off his own horse, finally gets up and registers the chaos unfolding with dismay.
Narrator: “The third day that Dal-hyang and the Three Musketeers met was a day whose clamorous disturbance was even recorded in the Annals of Injo. However, compared to the events that would unfold every time they were to meet in the future, this was a minor beginning.”
From across the way, Sohyeon bursts into laughter while Dal-hyang bristles with indignation.
Rollicking fun! That’s what I wanted from this show, but was nervous about expecting too much from it sight unseen. So I’m greatly relieved to have it be exactly what I expected, since what I wanted was a pretty tall order: an action-packed, humorous, energetic, well-acted, beautifully shot story that was as much a solid fusion sageuk as it was a legitimate adaptation of the Dumas novel, since it’s too good as source material to do poorly. (And the drama does appear to be taking the adaptation to heart, with the official character descriptions accompanied by a reminder of which Dumas character it serves as analogue to; for instance, Crown Prince Sohyeon is the Athos character, Seung-po is Porthos, and Min-seo is Aramis.)
This kind of fusion historical is right up my alley: It is based around true facts and is set around tentpole events in history, but has a lot of fun playing with the interpretation. I enjoy when fiction is allowed room to take creative liberties within the outlines of history, but stops short of contradicting real history outright, which I have much harder time accepting (like, say, Empress Ki). Crown Prince Sohyeon’s story is one of those that pops up in lots of dramas and has spurred lots of speculation, so it’s fun to see how they blend it into the Three Musketeers narrative. I already love Lee Jin-wook and his wry sense of humor so much that it pains me to think of how the prince ultimately meets his end. But we won’t think of that here! The drama is a safe space! La la la, I can’t hear youuuu.
I had worried for Jung Yong-hwa, because, well, I’d watched all his dramas. I did like him much better in Mi-rae’s Choice than in his previous roles, where I found him duller than dishwater, but I still wanted more life from him—his Mi-rae role was nice, but still bland for all that. So I find it such a relief that he’s holding his own as the D’Artagnan role, bringing forth the character’s naivety and exuberance in an endearing way. I still see holes in his performance here and there, but as a whole he’s done a much more effective job of channeling energy, and I found his moment of heartbreak downright moving.
Yang Dong-geun is as good as I’d expected him to be, with that streak of devilishness that likes to shit-stir for the entertainment factor. I foresee that being a lot of fun, particularly as he likes to take jabs at the prince—I’ll enjoy that. The maknae musketeer is still a bit of a question mark since he’s completely new to me and hasn’t done much yet, but overall the four-way bromance is off to a dynamic start, and I want more of it already.
It’s a little startling to realize that we don’t even have our main plot driver in motion yet, since Episode 1 was so much about setup, but since it was such a competent introduction into this world, I don’t worry for the plot. (Don’t make me eat those words!) And given a choice between grabbing us with plot and grabbing us with characters, I’m much happier this way, because once you’ve got me tapped into these people’s feelings, I’m plugged into the show on an emotional level. And I’ll pretty much follow my heart anywhere.
- One last barrage of promos for the swashbuckling Three Musketeers
- Three Musketeers (and prince) in poster and stills
- Three more teasers for Three Musketeers
- Oh Snap! Three musketeers go modern for Vogue
- Three previews for Three Musketeers
- Yoo In-young joins tvN’s Three Musketeers
- Two of three musketeers courted for tvN’s action sageuk
- Lee Jin-wook to reteam with Nine producers in Three Musketeers
- Nine, Queen Inhyun’s Man team returns with Three Musketeers