TV Series Review: Sungkyunkwan Scandal
TV Series (20 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean historical drama starring Park Yuchun, Park Min Young, Song Joong-Ki, and Yoo Ah In.
It’s K-drama time again! And this time, it’s a historical drama about a girl living as a boy so she can attend an elite university at a time when women could be killed for such an offense. There’s humor, rooftop flying, swordfights, an archery competition, and lovely characters. The elaborate costumes may look a little funny to Western eyes, but beautiful fabrics are still beautiful, and since this is one historical drama with a happy ending, romance fans should queue it up on Hulu pronto.
It’s the 1790s in the kingdom of Joseon (Korea), and women aren’t allowed to have jobs or go to school. Clever, self-taught Kim Yoon Hee (played by Park Min Young) disguises herself as her sickly younger brother, Kim Yoon Shik, and takes odd writing and copying jobs to support her brother and widowed mother. She is so desperate for work that she compromises her principles and takes an assignment helping would-be scholars (only successful scholars can become high-ranking court officials) cheat on their university entrance exams. When exceptionally bright exam-taker and nobleman’s son Lee Sun Joon (Park Yuchun) catches Yoon Hee in the act, he realizes this “boy” has talent. Instead of turning Yoon Hee in, he “blackmails” her into taking the test as herself. Yoon Hee passes with flying colors, and suddenly she’s attending a great university as no girl could ever dream, knowing they’ll cut her head off if she’s caught. Meanwhile, there are political intrigues running rampant, plots to hatch, and ideals to follow–and there are those who suspect this small, pretty boy is not a boy at all.
The guys and Yoon Hee all walk around wearing mesh versions of pilgrim hats. With beads hanging from the brim. But that appears to be historically accurate for yangban, or noblemen, so you just have to accustom yourself to that costume detail and move on. As the hero character, Lee Sun Joon is kind of stiff and hard to like in the first few episodes, but as the series goes on, that becomes part of his charm.
No impossibly far away plot device, yay! No scheming hell-bitch, yay!** I adored all three of Yoon Hee’s best guy friends in the series: Yeo-Rim (played by Song Joong-Ki) is slippery, charming, and funny; Geul-Oh (Yoo Ah In) is the wild child of the bunch, the best fighter and the most tortured soul; and finally Lee Sun Joon, who shows adequate fighting skill in one scene, but who really displays his heroic qualities through the dramatic and brilliant application of his brain.
Yoon Hee is a truly likeable heroine. She’s smart, she’s got a spine of steel, and she has real motivations and fears you can’t help but understand. The main kiss scene is a good one and the ending is truly one of the best, most satisfying endings I’ve seen in any J-drama or K-drama, so from beginning to end, I wholeheartedly give this romance five arrows.
**see my review of You’re Beautiful for my rant on both of those.