Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 5-6
Once our hero’s roommate learns his secret, it’s practically impossible for him to discover what’s really going on in the widows’ village. That doesn’t stop him though and he makes progress until he suffers a serious setback. After our gisaeng-in-training gets an offer that she can’t refuse, our hero approaches her with an interesting proposition and it looks as if they’ll be stuck with each other for the foreseeable future.
EPISODE 5: “Composite Sketch”
The Muweol Corps escorts several ministers in white robes to the shrine. Minister Heo is about to explain the purpose of the meeting when a disturbance requires his attention. Minister Heo enters the gibang with Lady Cheon as Ssook conducts a room to room search.
Everyone freezes after a very unladylike groan is heard coming from the dressing room. Nok-du places his hand over Dong-joo’s mouth and whispers something as Ssook approaches the door. When Minister Heo signals her to enter, Ssook pulls a dagger from her sleeve.
Ssook throws open the doors and finds Dong-joo sitting with Lady Kim/Nokdu. Dong-joo explains that she was getting her hair trimmed and Nokdu holds up the scissors as proof, his face smeared with red makeup. When Lady Cheon demands to know what happened to Nokdu’s face, Dong-joo applies more makeup to his lips.
Ssook questions why a man’s voice came from the dressing room. Nokdu bumps Dong-joo’s earlobe and when she lets out a deep moan, he confesses that he accidentally cut her. Wanting to tend to her injury, Nokdu guides Dong-joo out of the dressing room and hides from Minister Heo, who turns away as well.
Once they’re outside, Dong-joo drags Nokdu to a quiet spot and a tiny flashback lets us know what he whispered, “I saved your life in Hanyang. You pretended to be a man as well. Should I tell Lady Cheon about it?” Dong-joo accuses Nokdu of following her from Hanyang but he explains that it just looks that way. When some gisaeng walk by, Dong-joo throws her arm across Nokdu’s shoulders as if they’re having a friendly chat.
At his palace, King Gwanghae asks his guard if he checked all of the nearby islands and he confirms that he did. The king sounds interested when he’s told about an island where all of the inhabitants are women.
Prince Yeongchang walks by with his mother and she shields her son protectively when King Gwanghae approaches. The king ominously warns the boy about getting sick after being out in the cold, “When it comes to misfortunes, they come all of a sudden without a warning.” Terrified, Prince Yeongchang’s mother hurries him away.
Outside of the gibang, Minister Heo orders Lady Cheon to strengthen security. When he rejoins the other ministers, Minister Heo explains that since King Gwanghae has been eliminating those who are close to Prince Yeongchang, their revolt must happen soon.
In her room, Dong-joo points the scissors at Nokdu after questioning him about his reason for being in the widows’ village. Nokdu borrows the story of the couple that he helped to escape and claims that he’s waiting for his lady love. Nokdu promises to leave the village as soon as they’re reunited.
Dong-joo can’t believe that she asked Nokdu to be her “Unni.” When she recalls how Nokdu scratched her back, she hits him until he reminds Dong-joo that she touched him too and she’s suddenly hot.
Nokdu offers to sleep outside but Dong-joo won’t let him out of her sight. Nokdu balks at sharing a room now that Dong-joo knows the truth, forcing Dong-joo to spend the night outside to keep an eye on him. When Dong-joo starts snoring, Nokdu opens the door and he’s greeted by scissors pressed into his crotch.
Later, Nokdu pokes a hole in the door to peer outside but Dong-joo jabs him in the eye. Vowing to stay awake all night, Dong-joo wakes up in the morning to find her room empty.
Nokdu visits the shrine and decides that one of the men who was there must give the Muweol Corps their orders. Nokdu thinks about the attack on his family and wonders why they were targeted. Nokdu feels that the answer has something to do with the Muweol ladies.
The gisaeng gossip about the filthy punk that everyone is looking for. Nokdu nervously asks for details and when he learns that there’s a sketch of the intruder, he covers his head.
Dong-joo catches up to Nokdu and she drags him back to her room. She yells at him for escaping but Nokdu is distracted by the breakfast tray that includes seaweed soup. Nokdu confesses that it’s his birthday, the only personal information that his father ever gave him.
Nokdu reaches for Dong-joo’s bowl when she confesses that she doesn’t like seaweed soup but she protests, “I do not hate it enough to give it to you.” Grousing that Dong-joo should pay her debts by being kind, she snaps that she’s not indebted to anyone.
Dong-joo changes the subject by calling Nokdu a pervert for flirting with the gisaeng. A noise outside puts a stop to their bickering and when a trainee opens Dong-joo’s door to summon her to dance practice, she finds Dong-joo and Nokdu feeding each other. Before practice, Dong-joo trims her hair properly and then she forces Nokdu to come along.
As the trainees dance, it’s painfully obvious that Dong-joo is the least coordinated one there. Nokdu watches with amusement until Lady Cheon tries to help Dong-joo, giving him the chance to slip away. When he sees some gisaeng with a sketch of the intruder, Nokdu gets an idea.
Some women run past Ssook and her team with news that a widow ran into the intruder. The woman pay attention as Nokdu shows them the gash on his arm and describes the confrontation. An evil Nokdu tussles with Lady Kim, who throws the attacker over her shoulder. Lady Kim was cut when evil Nokdu pulled out a knife but in the ensuing struggle, he was slashed across one of his eyes. When Ssook asks for the intruder’s location, Nokdu directs her to the neighboring village.
After dance practice, Dong-joo is annoyed when she can’t find Nokdu but his absence gives her a chance to visit her mountain hideout. Mae Hwa-soo has an addition for Dong-joo’s rare comb collection, a comb so fine that even the court ladies have nothing like it.
Nokdu adds a slash across one eye to the sketch of the intruder, along with some other changes. Soon-nyeo takes the sketch so that the Virtuous Women Corps can search the neighboring village and before she leaves, she invites Nok-du to join their ranks.
Yeon-hoon questions how Lady Kim could fight so effectively against a man. As Lady Kim, Nokdu explains that because of the many generals in her mother’s family, she grew up with a wooden sword in her hand.
When Nokdu asks the women where they’re headed, Yeon-hoon blurts out that they’re after the intruder but Ssook answers that they need to collect firewood. Nokdu offers his services since since he’s good with an ax, forcing his assassin to break away from the others to search for the intruder on her own.
In her mountain hideout, Dong-joo adds Mae Hwa-soo’s comb to her collection. She picks up the bow and as she practices, Dong-joo laments, “I will never have a chance like that again.”
In the forest, Nokdu’s skill with an ax impresses his companions. After felling one tree, Nokdu goes in search of another one but it’s just a cover so that he can eavesdrop on the women. When they discuss the next day’s “project,” Nokdu plans to join them.
While chopping down another tree, Nok-du’s muscles split the jacket of his hanbok and in his panic, he steps on his skirt and it falls from his body. Nokdu covers himself with the skirt and runs off just at Ssook announces that it’s time to go.
Dong-joo leaves her lair and runs into a desperate Nokdu. Dong-joo is enjoying having Nokdu beg for her help but when she hears Ssook calling for Lady Kim, she grabs his hand and they jump into the river. When they surface, Ssook’s team looks confused so Dong-joo explains that she asked Lady Kim to bathe with her.
After Ssook’s team returns to the brewery, Nokdu and Dong-joo dry out on a large rock. When a shirtless Nokdu offers Dong-joo his coat, she insists, “You cover yourself up.” Nokdu asks Dong-joo if she really came out to practice and she has to pretend that she did since she can’t say anything about her hideout.
Nokdu admits that Dong-joo needs the practice and she argues that the dance is harder than it looks. When Nokdu stands up to give it a try, Dong-joo jokingly proposes, “I will be your daughter if you can pull off even one dance move.”
Nokdu flips open Dong-joo’s fan and flawlessly performs the dance after seeing it just once. Nokdu calls out to Dong-joo, “Hey, my daughter,” and she mutters, “I already did not like him, but I hate him now.” Lol.
Nokdu pulls Dong-joo to her feet to teach her the dance but he soon realizes that she has no rhythm. When Dong-joo loses her balance, Nokdu catches her and they look into each other’s eyes.
EPISODE 6: “I Want You to Leave”
Nokdu smiles when he tells Dong-joo, “Let us find a new career for you.” She pushes him away but Nokdu teases, “I do not believe you are meant to be a gisaeng. In life, you cannot do everything you want just because you want to.”
Dong-joo makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be a gisaeng and retorts, “You cannot avoid doing some things just because you want to.” Nokdu confesses that he was denied the opportunity to do anything and pledges that from now on, he’ll live like everyone else.
Dong-joo is stunned when Nokdu sympathizes with her and at the sight of her flushed cheeks, he jokes, “Do you find me good-looking all of a sudden?” He’s surprised when Dong-joo doesn’t hit him so she punches Nokdu weakly and announces that it’s time to go back.
Yul-moo runs into them near the gisaeng house but Dong-joo ignores him. After telling Yul-moo how Dong-joo fell into the water, Nokdu gets scolded for not giving her his coat since she gets sick easily. Yul-moo hands Nokdu a remedy before hurrying to Dong-joo’s side but she refuses both his coat and his remedy.
Yul-moo has a special treat for Dong-joo and suggests, “Make sure you eat this by yourself.” When Dong-joo sees the okchundang (rice flour candy), she gives it to Nokdu as a birthday present.
Nokdu gasps in delight when he pops one into his mouth. Yul-moo suddenly remembers something and Nokdu guesses that it’s someone else’s birthday but is told, “No, it is nothing.”
The king visits a beautiful woman who recalls that all she could eat when she was carrying his child were the okchundang that Lady Kim gave her. She picks up a candy and wonders if the child would have liked them too.
King Gwanghae appeals to her, “The child is dead…Please stop it.” The woman protests, “We had to say goodbye as soon as I gave birth to our child. Why am I not allowed to miss my lost child?” Annoyed, the king stands up and finds Minister Heo staring at him.
As the king walks away, a piece of candy falls and rolls away just when Nokdu retrieves a dropped candy from the ground. He wipes it off and happily stuffs it in his mouth, unaware that the pervy aristocrat is watching Dong-joo. The aristocrat tells his servant that Dong-joo is definitely older than twelve. Ewww.
Master Hwang catches Nokdu’s father trying to leave in the middle of the night. Yoon-jo explains that he needs to find Nokdu but Master Hwang knows that he won’t come back until his questions are answered.
Yoon-jo fears those answers will place Nokdu in more danger but Master Hwang reminds him that the boy has been trained to defend himself. Master Hwang mentions the tigers waiting to eat Yoon-jo and gets him to go back inside.
That night, Dong-joo sits outside of her room, connected to Nokdu with a rope. When Nokdu explains that he’s not at all interested in women, Dong-joo asks if he loves his lady that much. Nokdu gazes at Dong-joo’s silhouette and confesses, “Of course, I do.”
In the morning, Dong-joo finds a note from Nokdu on the breakfast tray informing her that he’s at the brewery. The vice-curator approaches her, looking for Lady Kim, and he’s alarmed when he learns that she went to the village alone.
At the brewery, Ssook follows Nokdu when he carries away a pot. Nokdu investigates a room and locates a supply cupboard and when Ssook finds him, he pretends that he’s lost. At the same time, Nokdu’s assassin studies two sketches of the intruder, the one that Nokdu altered and an original one.
Dong-joo gazes into a pond as she grapples with what the vice curator told her about the intruder, “I heard he is quite wicked. When it comes to women, he tempts anyone from gisaengs to widows.”
Dong-joo arrives at the brewery in time to see one of the Muweol ladies stumble, only to be caught by Nokdu. When the woman gushes that her heart fluttered, Yeon-hoon drags her away and Ssook explains that the woman is just lonely. As soon as Nokdu is alone, Dong-joo makes her presence known.
At the gisaeng house, Nokdu’s assassin locates Dong-joo’s room while Dong-joo confronts Nokdu about being the man who was chased from the village. Dong-joo orders him to get out after what she’s heard and when Nokdu wants to know if she believes the rumors, Dong-joo stresses it’s what the village believes. Nokdu’s assassin readies her dagger but she decides that she needs help.
As Dong-joo escorts Nokdu from the gisaeng house, she advises, “Do not do anything stupid and just lie low.” Nokdu has advice of his own, “If something happens to me, tell them you did not know.” Dong-joo surprises Nokdu by tearing off a piece of her underskirt to bandage the gash on his arm and when she’s done, she tells him to go.
Nokdu’s assassin runs for help with hardly a limp until a sword emerges from a bamboo grove and is held against her neck.
That night, Ssook meets with her team in the room that Nokdu investigated. She asks why Deul-re, Nokdu’s assassin, hasn’t shown up and decides to proceed without her. As Ssook sets out a letter and announces, “He is the man we must kill tonight,” Nokdu listens from the supply cupboard.
Since their target is located in the center of the capital, Ssook announces that only one of them can perform the task. Yeon-hoon volunteers, angered because the man killed his daughter-in-law after giving birth to his grandchild, just to gain a virtue stone. When Yeon-hoon has to get something from the supply cupboard, Nokdu falls out.
An upset Mae Hwa-soo finds Dong-joo and then looks over at the servants of the pervy aristocrat. Inside the gibang, Lady Cheon shakily pours some tea as her visitor explains that he’s learned his lesson and settled on Dong-joo.
When Lady Cheon tries to dissuade the lord, he throws his drink in her face and smashes his cup and a flying fragment cuts her face. He reminds Lady Cheon that because he’s an aristocrat, he gets what he wants, which is why he came with a palanquin.
The lord vows to shut down the gibang and force everyone into slavery if Lady Cheon refuses. He plans to send Lady Cheon to a remote island and cackles when he informs her that most people die before they even get there. They’re interrupted when Dong-joo throws open the doors.
With three daggers pointed at his throat, Nokdu holds up a jade ring that he returned for, hoping that it’s worth something. Nokdu admits that he heard the women planning to kill someone and before they can kill him, he suggests, “What if I say I will do the job?”
The pervy aristocrat is thrilled by the thought that Dong-joo welcomes his attention but when she avoids his touch, he storms out. Alone with Lady Cheon, Dong-joo expresses her gratitude, “You saved me from that hole when I was a little girl. And I have been grateful for that every single day.”
The aristocrat returns with a sword that he holds up to Dong-joo’s neck, “Will you come with me? Or will you die?” Lady Cheon is horrified when Dong-joo cooly answers that she can’t leave, explaining that she needs time to get properly dressed.
The aristocrat doesn’t trust her but Dong-joo assures him that she’d never place the gisaeng house in danger. The lord lowers his sword and after giving Lady Cheon a deadline, he walks out laughing.
Nokdu kneels while the Muwoel ladies discuss his fate. When pressed by Yeon-hoon, Nokdu explains that he’s willing to kill if it pays well since he has sick parents to care for. Ssook agrees to give Nokdu a chance, reasoning that it’s easier than disposing of a body.
Mae Hwa-soo does her best not to cry as she applies Dong-joo’s makeup but Dong-joo complains, “You are looking at me as if this will be our last time seeing each other in this life.” Dong-joo shows Mae Hwa-soo the dagger hidden in her sleeve and tells her not to worry.
When Mae Hwa-soo asks if Lady Kim heard the news, Dong-joo informs her that she left. Mae Hwa-soo is alarmed that Lady Kim left so late in the day, something that Dong-joo didn’t even think about.
Nokdu walks through the forest clutching the letter that names his target as he recalls his deal with Ssook’s team — succeed and he not only gets paid, but a chance to join their team. If Nokdu fails, he’s dead.
Nokdu hears Mae Hwa-soo’s sobs and sees that she and Lady Cheon are escorting a gisaeng to a waiting palanquin. He witnesses Dong-joo bidding farewell to her friend, who sobs that the last girl that they sent came back dead.
Dong-joo promises not to die and when Nokdu remembers the day that she cut off her hair, he realizes where she’s going. Nokdu glances down at the paper in his hand as the palanquin closes with Dong-joo inside.
When she arrives at the aristocrat’s house, Dong-joo enters alone. She sees a man in an indigo gown waiting behind a screen and closes the doors. Dong-joo announces herself and as she bows, she readies her dagger.
A man approaches and when he lifts Dong-joo’s face, she’s surprised to see Nokdu. He notes, “It seems you are happy to see me, but at the same time, you are appalled at the sight of me.” Dong-joo scoffs in disbelief when Nokdu moves closer and announces, “…starting today, I am…your mother.”
Another twist in what’s turning out to be a dizzying string of disguises and fake personas. Nokdu posing as Dong-joo’s mother should be a hoot because it forces her to treat him with the respect of a parent, a complete 180 from how she normally treats him. And of course, Nokdu will be sure to milk their pretend relationship as much as possible. I can’t wait.
Not knowing how Nokdu ended up in the aristocrat’s house, I can only imagine that the man won’t be happy to have lost the opportunity to have Dong-joo. Nokdu and Dong-joo will have to go on the run and what better way to disguise themselves than by posing as a mother and a daughter (or son). No one will be searching for that, at least not at first. But then they can pose as sister and brother, or two sisters, two brothers… The possibilities are practically endless.
I have to confess, I’ve never warmed up to Kim So-hyun until now. She’s made Dong-joo into such a complicated, yet appealing, character and her chemistry with all of her costars is outstanding. Jang Dong-yoon, how does he do it? He’s convincing as a man and as a woman. Nokdu is all man when he’s with Dong-joo, even though he’s dressed as a woman. He performs a gisaeng dance elegantly even though he’s a man. Now that Dong-joo knows that Nokdu is actually a man, he changes his gait ever so slightly and looks at her differently whenever they’re alone, causing the romantic tension to suddenly skyrocket. But in a heartbeat, he’s back to being a demure widow. It’s so much fun to watch his performance and not just because his muscular physique is regularly featured.
So far, Tale of Nokdu has hit a perfect balance between the serious and the fun, all while introducing important details. Nokdu’s birthday okchun is perfectly paired with the revelation that King Gwanghae fathered a child with a woman who craved that very candy while pregnant. Is she Nokdu’s mother or is the association just a red herring? And does Dong-joo share Nokdu’s birthday? Is that why seaweed soup was included in her breakfast?
I didn’t expect Tale of Nokdu to be such a satisfying experience so early in its run. I laugh out loud at the antics of Nokdu and Dong-joo, I want to wipe the creepy smile from the pervy aristocrat’s face and I dread the broken heart that’s waiting for the vice-curator. What I’m most looking forward to is the inevitable love connection between our two main characters. Even though Nokdu and Dong-joo seem poised to present themselves as a mother and a daughter, a romance between them somehow doesn’t seem at all strange.
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