Dashing leading men, pining love stories, and the age old barrier of class: Korean dramas set in their yesteryear make for interesting viewing.
One of my favorite kinds of Korean dramas is period dramas. Known as the Saeguk, these dramas showcase the country’s lush country views and elaborate national costumes.
Some people think these dramas are boring, due to the formalized way of speaking (especially when royals are involved). However, the trick is to pick one with an interesting plot.
I previously wrote an article a few months ago, which included two new dramas, Secret Royal Inspector and Joy, and The Red Sleeve. It’s too soon to include them here, but I encourage you to check them out.
100 Days My Prince
In 100 Days My Prince, Do Kyungsoo (main vocalist of EXO and lead actor of Swing Kids) took on his first-period drama role. As Crown Prince Lee Yul, he lives an unhappy life amidst court intrigue, mourning the death of his mother and the loss of his first love. Shackled against his will to a political marriage, Lee Yul also has to contend with the fact that the country he will someday rule is in the midst of a bad drought.
The royal advisers say the only way to end the drought is to appease the gods with the consummation of the marriage between Lee Yul and So-hye (Han So-hee, of The World of the Married), his cold, unfeeling wife. If they can’t do that, then every unmarried person in the nation will have to be wed instead as a stopgap.
After a couple of shenanigans, he loses his memory and finds himself in a countryside town. In the town, Hong-shim (Nam Ji-hyun, Suspicious Partner) is the oldest unmarried woman. About to be forced into an unjust relationship with the corrupt town magistrate, her father decides to marry her off to the first person he sees… which happens to be Lee Yul, except he doesn’t remember his name. Now known as Won-deuk, he and Hong-shim are forced into a quick wedding ceremony.
This classic case of mistaken identity as a barrier to true love is made even funnier by the fact that Won-deuk, despite not remembering being the Crown Prince, still has his regal and slightly spoiled manner. Seen as the town fool, he lacks common sense and the wherewithal to make his marriage work.
However, he and Hong-shim slowly start developing feelings… while the palace descends into panic due to the supposed “death” of the Crown Prince. Hong-shim, meanwhile, is hiding a secret that has to do with a sweet, kind boy she once met as a child… I wonder who that boy could be?
Will Won-deuk get his memories back? Will Hong-shim find that boy? Will the gods be appeased by this false marriage? 100 Days My Prince is that rare period drama where it’s kind of funny due to the switcheroo plot because these dramas tend to be quite serious.
While you’re also rooting for Won-deuk and Hong-shim’s happy ending, the scenes between Lee Yul and So-hye showcase Saeguk drama acting at its very best: the barely hidden, venomous contempt between the both of them makes for great TV.
100 Days My Prince is available to watch on Netflix
Love in the Moonlight
Based on the successful web-novel Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, Love in the Moonlight stars Park Bo-gum (Reply 1998, Record of Youth) and Kim Yoo-jung. Lee Yeong (Park) is the heir to the throne, who is smart and mischievous, and constantly causing stress to his servants. Despite his sunny disposition, his father, who blames him for the death of his mother, dislikes him. He is engaged to Jo Ha-yeon (Chae Soo-bin, The Rebel, I’m Not a Robot).
Raised as a boy by her mother, Hong Ra-on (Kim, Lovers of the Red Sky) makes a living by pretending to be a male relationship counselor, and as Hong Sam-nom, a writer of romance novels. She is selected to be a eunuch under the Crown Prince.
More mistaken identity fun! What happens when a Crown Prince starts enjoying spending time with his eunuch and starts believing he has feelings? Will Lee Yeong ever find out that Ra-on is truly a girl? Will they find true love? Will Ra-on get in trouble for pretending to be a eunuch?
Love in the Moonlight was a domestic hit, with a peak audience rating of 23.3 percent in South Korea, and won Best Drama Series at the 22nd Asian Television Awards. Park and Kim also won the Popularity Award at the 53rd Baeksang Arts Award.
Love in the Moonlight is available to watch on Netflix
Lovers of the Red Sky
Again staring Kim Yoo-jung (she isn’t known as “Saeguk Fairy” for nothing) and Ahn Hyo-seop (Dr. Romantic), Lovers of the Red Sky is set in the Dan dynasty, with the supernatural involved in everyday life.
During a shamanistic ritual to trap the spirit of Ma Wang (Demon King, the god of Death) into a portrait, Ma Wang places a drought curse on the country, and a curse on the offspring of the officer who conducted the ceremony, and the offspring of the painter. Ha-ram, the son of the officer, and Cheon-gi, the daughter of the painter are born that day. Thanks to the curse, Cheon-gi is born blind.
Nine years later, to alleviate the drought, a shaman takes Ha-ram, who is born with the energy of water to the capital to perform a rain ritual. While there, he meets blind Cheon-gi. The two make friends. During the ritual, Ma Wang’s painting gets burned, and the spirit enters Ha-ram’s body, ensuring that Ha-ram lives (despite being sacrificed at the ritual). Cheon-gi gains her sight after Ma Wang’s ability to live is traded for his eyes.
Nineteen years later, Cheon-gi (Kim) stands as the only female painter at the famed Baek-yoo Painting Group. Copying valuable paintings for money, she meets a grown-up Ha-Ram (Ahn), now an astrologer at the government office and in charge of astronomy, weather, and the calendar. Capable of predicting the future by tracing the movement of the stars, he and Cheon-gi fall in love.
However, there stands a big problem: Ha-ram is still possessed by a demon and Cheon-gi must paint the painting that will once again seal the process of the demon. Will their love stand this test or must it be sacrificed?
Lovers of the Red Sky is available on Viu
River Where The Moon Rises
River Where The Moon Rises had quite…a protracted shooting experience. After a majority of the drama had been filmed, and five episodes aired, a sexual-abuse scandal erupted when it was reported that lead actor Ji Soo had been a bully and abuser during his high school years.
He was quickly replaced with Na In-woo (Mystic Pop-up Bar, Mr. Queen), who rose admirably to the task and along with lead actress Kim So-hyun (Goblin, Let Fight Ghost) and the rest of the cast, re-shot the existing episodes, and shot the remaining ones in four weeks, amidst shooting for another project at night. By the end of the shooting schedule, Na said he had lost 15-18 pounds.
Despite what the actor said was a performance with a huge amount of ad-libs (he had to learn most of the script right on set), the show was warmly received and Na won the Best New Actor Award at the KBS Drama Awards. Kim herself did very well and won at both the KBS Drama Awards and the 48th Korea Broadcasting Awards. Both actors were nominated at the 58th Baeksang Awards.
The drama itself tells the story of Princess Pyeonggang and On Dal, who are characters from a classic folktale. Princess Pyeonggang (Kim) is born a princess but raised as an assassin. After finding out her origins, she works to win back her birthright. On Dal (Na) is a peace-loving man and the total opposite of the princess. Despite the two falling in love, On Dal struggles with his principles, between his pacifism and the need to keep the princess safe.
River Where The Moon Rises is available to watch on Viu.