KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)

Sungkyunkwan Scandal
성균관 스캔들
(Aug – Oct 2010)

who’s in it
Micky Yoochun (music group JYJ)
Park MinYoung (OBGYN Doctors)
Song JoongKi (Unstoppable High Kick)
Yoo AhIn (Strongest ChilWoo, Antique Bakery – film)
SeoHyoRim (Good Days When the Wind Blows)
Jun TaeSoo

what’s it about
Let’s travel back to the Chosun (Joseon) Dynasty where we will visit the bedrock of what is now one of South Korea’s longest standing institutes of higher education: Sungkyunkwan. This voguish saeguk spin reinvents the rough and unjust days of yore into a more vibrant, young and happening place to visit, although still full of injustice. It would be like cleaning off the unsanitary grime of medieval England and refashioning historic Oxford University as a hip place of modern fraternity-like collegiate land, imagining its scholars young, gorgeous, and free-spirited, but dressed in traditional 13th century garb. Basically, we have a context ripe for some good old fashioned fun in anachronism.

The story follows four, well actually, five Sungkyunkwan students—three nice ones, one angsty, and the last only pretending to be a boy—aiming for greater knowledge in the way of Confucianism, but mostly studying to learn the ways of politics to serve as a government official. 

Park MinYoung plays the squeaky clean 19 year old [wo]man (refined in both face and moral fortitude) who has been forced to shelf her womanhood in order to work at a bookstore/book lending shop as a male scribe. This particular tome house also happens to be an underground cheat factory that sells services to Sunkyunkwan students trying to pass the entrance exams, among other things. She’s got photographic memory, beautiful calligraphy and is blessed with a mind racing with sharp wit and adaptability. When financial debt comes due (what else?) and the care taking of a sick younger brother threatens to undo her family, she grudgingly agrees to pimp out her mad scholarly skills to be a test-taker for rich kids who don’t cut mustard but still want to attend the venerated school. Park MinYoung is an “educated girl” during a time period when such a phrase would be considered an oxymoron. As her mother reminds her, being literate can prove to be poison for a girl in Chosun.

When fellow Sungkyunkwan hopeful who also happens to be the only son of a high ranking politician, played competently by veteran idol Micky Yoochun, realizes what kind of genius-level smarts this fellow scholar Park MinYoung has in his/her head, the young lord does everything in his own righteous power to get him (who he doesn’t realize is a her) into Sungkyunkwan. A little about Micky’s character: he’s a guy who’s moral compass is made of mettle insusceptible to corruption. 

In a way, both Park MinYoung and Micky Yoochun are similar people, you see, as they both carry dear their narrow ideas of right and wrong, but for the moment, only one has the luxury to move chess pieces. And if life were truly a game of chess, Park MinYoung is the rook that Micky Yoochun uses all his cleverness and pull to move forward. He makes happen what he thinks should unfold regardless of her wishes. This is how our heroine ends up joining the all-male fraternity of scholarship…and begins to wonder if this might be her one chance to try an existence that resembles that of a real life, instead of just getting by as a doormat for the privileged.

Coincidentally, these are Micky Yoochun’s thoughts as well. What is most intriguing about his character is this staunch belief that being born “noble” does not automatically translate to being a “nobleman” nor a good human being worthy of esteem—he believes this despite having a silver spoon already firmly situated in his own mouth. He values intelligence, honor and strength of character. Basically, he’s nothing like his peers. He’s Chosun’s version of a lefty-leaning bleeding heart liberal...in a room full of conservative rightwings. 

Things get stickier when she becomes dorm buds with this very idealistic, if a bit chilly, young nobleman. Certainly the fact that he’s also handsome will eventually pose a problem as well.

I must take time to introduce the rest of the Sungkyunkwan boys, as neglecting to do so would be completely unforgivable:

Song JoongKi:

Loved him! This flirty and affected gently bred man thinks life is a grand spectacle. He’s a wolfish peacock who plays at being insouciant very well, but beneath the veneer of easy smiles and cavalier malice is a man of careful attention and supernatural perception. He is first to suspect that Park MinYoung may not be so much a feminine boy, as just female. He likes games, takes pleasure in toying with the less intelligent around him...but more than that, there is a definite sense that when the game eventually stops, there will be a man beneath who does care about the world, perhaps even very much so. Ah, and Song JoongKi is almost as pretty as Park MinYoung...which never hurts.

Jun TaeSoo:

The entitled war minister’s son, Jun TaeSoo, is the student body prez of Sungkyunkwan and a man who likes the status quo. For him, campus is not a place to learn enlightenment, but the practice ground for proper management of the lower class. To him, Sungkyunkwan is where the powerful gain the know-how and the way-to of keeping the weak and disenfranchised in their proper place. With an uncanny twin-like similarity to his famous sister Ha JiWon, this young man’s glower was intense. Acting chops must also run in the family as he was a convincing moral derelict.

Yoo AhIn:

If I loved Song JoongKi’s playboy infidel, let it be known that I worshipped Yoo AhIn’s rebellious drunkard. Holy hot banditry—overload on the awesome factor. It is probably not too big a spoiler to reveal that Park MinYoung also inherits this bad boy as her second roommate, a somewhat hooligan-ish cynic played by Yoo AhIn, another unique-minded student who bends against the wind. He is described in delight by his Sungkyunkwan peer Song JoongKi as a “crazy horse,” and judging by the fact that he already has a nickname, he appears to be an upperclassman. These types of ultra-cool mysterious characters are always scene stealers despite the small doses in appearance, but more than that, Yoo AhIn simply reeks of charisma. He is First Guy material but somehow only ends up in supporting roles. Either way, he owns this role, as he always seems to give a proper delivery of all his characters, silly or serious.

A couple more screen shots of Yoo AhIn because he is all that and a bag of rice:

Kim WonSuk, Hwang InHyuk

Kim TaeHee

20 episodes


first impressions
When done right, fusions are great fun. If done right. Most are not. Here’s the good news: there’s precious little to hate about this drama! It’s a flirty class act. And trust me, I’m as surprised as anyone else to be writing that sentence. We’ll see as the show goes on, but so far, it appears this drama isn’t interested in making a mockery of an esteemed institution, on the contrary, there is great deference afforded for Sungkyunkwan. Instead, Scandal is using the cast of fresh young faces to create the mass appeal but keeps the story set for a more serious direction. Yes, it does take liberties and it is a brightly colored comedic take on history, but it also has a great deal of honor, like the characters in the show. 

Park MinYoung plays a girl already a master at her masquerade so we don’t waste time waiting for her to get acclimated to her role as a boy, which is key to getting the viewer on the right foot with this drama. It makes it easier to accept her entry into Sungkyunkwan. She’s a pro at pretending manhood, she’s had long practice at hiding her true identity. Her family situation is a typical sob story, but manages to be touching anyway, mostly in part due to the actors. Park MinYoung takes her job as a boy with dire gravity, because it is a dire lie. The character never forgets that it is a matter of mortal consequence for her, so we do not forget either. It is a comedy we are watching, but we believe that for the character, life is no joke.

All the characters, lead by Micky Yoonchun, are struggling with a philosophical question that has no answer: can honor and power co-exist? The answer is grey and I like that Scandal has decided to use that as the focal point of the story, not depending only on romantic chemistry to carry it through. There appears to be an actual story here. Hurray! And enjoyably, some witty dialogue that befits a tale about scholars. In addition to the strength of all the youthful main characters, the supporting roles filled by senior actors also lend great credit to the show. There is actually quite a bit of plot going on behind the scenes and that makes this drama not just fun, but engaging.

As with every drama post-Boys Over Flowers that features a quad of handsome boys and one lucky girl who gets to be loved by them, this faced comparisons to BOF pre-airing, but this show is nothing like the 2009 Hana Yori Dango Korean adaptation. That’s all that really needs to said about that topic, I believe.

I was very hesitant about this one initially, but after its debut, I felt an instant affinity for all the characters, and you know, carry a big torch lit with complete and utter devotion to Yoo AhIn, so I can see myself getting very obsessed with Scandal if it keeps up the good work...hopefully its ratings will also look upward.

And last but not least, the cinematography in Scandal is so very rich and pretty. There is a nice tone and ambiance about the whole drama. For example, see below. How gorgeous:

(first impressions initially posted Sept 3, 2010)

Yoo AhIn (henceforth Yooey for this review) and Song JoongKi (JoongKi).

I don’t think all that many of you would come to fisticuffs with me over the assertion that I’m about to make: Song JoongKi and Yoo AhIn were the hooks that held the choice bits of meat in this drama. I know, that’s kind of a gross association, but they did hook viewers in and they are hunks of Grade A. Heh. Without the two, I doubt Scandal would have been as successful in its delivery. They came aboard with more acting experience than Micky Yoochun and Park MinYoung (the main couple) and both actors became integral to providing the heart and acting credibility that kept this show from veering off too far into freshman fluff. Shows like this are meant to be fun, but only advance to being good when the acting is able to hold it all together. As likable as Yoochun and Park were as characters, I did not think either actor to be strong enough to have carried this show. The solid performances by the supporting leads, their “seniors” in the drama, both in character and in terms of acting experience, were greatly to their benefit.

gave up

snoozer moments
Honestly? This review is going to be snoozer. I warn you now, it’s loooong. Rambling and long. Once I started yapping…or I should say, scribbling, I couldn’t stop. Back to the review:

It does seem a betrayal to say the drama was too long because I loved [most] every minute of it but...it was a little too long. Fan-pampering scenes aside, the plot wasn’t meaty enough for 20 episodes (what is with me and meat in this review!? I can’t stop myself). There was some definite stalling of the clock. Despite the slow down in the last quarter, there were strengths in the first half of the drama that the second lacked, and strengths in the second half that the early episodes could have used, so overall, the drama did work itself out.

And fortunately, yet again, a dreaded extension threat was averted. And please, no sequel. You know, I think I may die of shock if there was ever a drama KBS didn’t want to extend. The thought of reuniting with these characters is a great temptation, but I would much prefer to see the actors go on to fresh projects and continue to grow with new, more challenging roles.

The show was without any real suspense or angst, despite the subject matter

what didn’t work
actor grades
Park MinYoung: B+
Main Female Protagonist
She’s a face we’ve all seen around here and there, for me, her featuring in Big Bang’s Haru Haru MV pops first to mind, as does her drama I Am Sam. Neither of those two roles required much range from her as an actress, therefore she was still a question mark in my book. I thought her agreeable, but I hoped she would be more than just passable in this role. An oft done scenario (cross-dressing girl), she needed to bring more to the table than mere cuteness. Less than a year ago, Park ShinHye delivered a brilliant aegyo-filled depiction of girl turning boy in You’re Beautiful, and of course, there was Moon GeunYoung’s role in Painter of the Wind. Park had to set herself apart.

Since the story was about a young woman influencing growth in her peers at Sungkyunkwan, in gisaengs (ladies of the night), and even inspiring change in the established way of thought, it was immensely important for the actress to get it right. Easily the most important role in the drama. If she couldn’t win the hearts of the viewership, no amount of flower boy castings would save the show because the basic premise would fall apart.

All said and done, could Park’s delivery of this girl have been better? Yes. However, where she lacked in creativity, she depended instead on her fresh face and her big heaping amount of sincerity, with good results. I thought her shaky at first, but like Micky Yoochun, by the last episode, she convinced me that she had been rightly cast. There is a scene when she learns that she had underestimated her father’s love for her (he had read aloud books too-loudly with infant son in lap so that his daughter, not allowed to learn, could sit on the other side of a paper door and learn as well). I won’t lie, there were some sniffles. Teaching his daughter…while protecting her. Her father had fought for a world where she could also belong. And Park MinYoung made me believe in that scene completely, made me believe her character deserved that future where she could “live like a human being.”

Also, her sleeping habits were adorable. She slept with her blanket pulled over the lower half of her face. I, too, would sleep in a constant state of bashfulness had I been roommates with Yoochun and Yooey.

Micky Yoochun: B
Main Male Protagonist
Of all the idol-turned-actors we’ve been inflicted with lately, he gives me the most hope. And I mean that sincerely. His character was a bit dry, but Yoochun overcame a gigantic hurdle there: he was able to convey a great deal when he was playing a character inherently built not to convey a single thing. He was uptight, prudish, and self-righteous, not exactly the most lovable traits in a man, much less a lead character, but he found the right tone between prick and prince.

The character didn’t appeal to me much, but Yoochun had me at “I don’t want to be a criminal’s son who murdered his friend’s father and his friend’s brother”—overly principled people can be quite tiring, but at that moment, when he declared his unwavering devotion to honor, it dawned on me that we love the Yooey and the JoongKi types of brash and obvious heroes, but the world needs the Yoochuns of the world because when everything comes crumbling down, they will still be standing there, not faltering. When he resolved that he would willingly take on his father as his enemy, a son’s most cherished hero, and voluntarily let go of everything he had ever known because it meant being on the side of justice, I could see why he was supposed to be the central rock of the show. He was a character that took me the entire show to develop affection for, but when it happened, it was complete.

This character’s compass was truly not susceptible to corruption. While he did loosen up during the course of the show, I thought it was more significant how much he didn’t change. He stayed true to his core principles until the very end, and because of that, he gained a couple of cool guy buds and scored the girl.

Now, Micky Yoochun The Actor did a good job, as I said, probably somewhere at the top of the pile when it comes to idols easing into acting, but here’s the other side to my flattery: when your direct rival is played by Yoo AhIn, an actor known for his chameleon acting ability, and so effortlessly so, doing a good job can feel less impressive than it should. And it is impressive that Yoochun was able to capably manage this character, especially since this was also a historical drama (out of a comfort zone), but despite the praiseworthy performance, the ownership of this show never became his to claim.

Song JoongKi: A
Supporting Lead
Another face that I’ve seen circulating here and there, including variety shows and of course, he is the current host of Music Bank on KBS, but this performance reminds why his main job description is that of actor. It also reminds the importance of selecting the right roles. I liked the guy, but never really paid attention to him…until now. There was a surprising subtlety to his delivery here. This playboy peacock character could easily have been annoying, and cliché, but JoongKi managed to keep it charming yet contained enough to avoid being burlesque. Spoiler: { He was an aristocrat, but not of “noble” birth. We do not know this fact at the onset of the drama but when we finally learn the truth, it is credit to JoongKi that his performance leading up to that reveal made perfect sense. } The character’s pat response for most any obstacle that came his way was a simple “I’m Goo YongHa,” and indeed, by the end, we all believed that meant something—something meaningful and dependable.

Yoo AhIn: A+
Supporting Lead
In most of his past roles, he has been unable to completely shed the youth in his face. Acting-wise, he was always excellent, but far too young-looking. At 24, he still looks 19. A year ago, he looked even younger. But with some facial hair, some bulk, a growth spurt, and a shaggy mane, he’s able to look closer to his age. Not only did that get the ladies swooning, including yours truly, but he was able to encompass the part of the senior cynic on campus perfectly.

Like JoongKi, there was both subtlety and originality in his delivery, making the role not only viable, but engaging. More effective than clever dialogue and handsome costuming could accomplish alone, his character felt truly interesting because a real person could be felt beneath the bravado. Yoo AhIn, for me, lent great credibility to this show. In an interview with 10Asia, screenwriter Kim TaeHee admitted that the character Geolro from the drama is very different than the more personable depiction presented in the book (The Lives of Sungkyunkwan Confucian Scholars), some in part due to her own adapting of the story, but also because of what Yooey brought to the role himself, a more introspective approach to the character. If you’ve seen him in Boys of Tomorrow, you’ll know he can be disturbingly intense. If you’ve seen him in He Who Can’t Get Married, you’ll know he has great comedic ability. In Antique Bakery, he’s a little of both. There’s a definite sense that there is something cerebral about the way Yoo approaches his characters. I do believe that Yooey is a part of the next generation of greats, those set to inherit the throne passed down by the likes of Won Bin and Kang DongWon.

“It’ll become habit” was Yooey’s catchphrase throughout the show—I certainly hope so! Seeing him in more dramas is a habit I welcome.

Jun TaeSoo: A-
Main Villain
Well, the student villain, not the real villain, I suppose. He was an egomaniac and bitterly selfish. As the son of a war minister, a natural byproduct of his upbringing. I loved him. Now, there was very little to like about his character, but everything to like about Jun TaeSoo’s style. His was trapped in a very limited role and one that allowed for practically no real movement except sideways, but I never completely hated this power-hungry Sungkyunkwan campus tyrant. Why? Because Jun somehow managed to find that small strand of hair that made this douchebag sympathetic. Whether or not it was overtly written on paper, there was still a ray of humanity in Jun TaeSoo’s depiction of this lonely and insecure bully, and I liked it. I look forward to his next role, which has already been announced as It’s Ok, Daddy’s Girl.

Charactor wrap up:
In their own way, all the characters were narrow alley ways heading for a dead end. They were all in search of a way out of limbo. They needed one another to grow and that point was successfully delivered by the drama. You can always tell when the cast gets along, it always comes through on film. All the motivations of the characters, while unrealistic at the start (slightly), seemed to make perfect sense by the end.

Notable mention, I also enjoyed many of the adult roles as well, including Jo SungHa as King JeongJo and Ahn NaeSang as the progressive new instructor on campus.

what did [work]
The rooming situation between Yoochun, Park MinYoung, and Yoo AhIn. Lots of hilarity there. But I beg the question, why would three hot people in one tiny room be any less dangerous than two hot people in a room? Seems like more hotness collected would be more dangerous, not less. These people never heard of ménage à trois?

I don’t have to add this part, but I will anyway. The way Scandal dealt with the obvious homosexuality issue that would come up when a girl dresses as a boy and another boy falls in love with cross-dressing girl…was done well. So far, kdramas this year have my approval in the way they have discussed this contemporary and very divisive issue, our generation’s social tolerance battle (Personal Taste (2010), Life is Beautiful (2010)). Yoochun summed it up best, and yet another great quote from Lee SunJoon that won me over: “Hating a person is a crime, but how can liking someone ever be?” Word. If only more people followed that motto in life.

notable scene(s)
Yoo AhIn himself singled out that first introduction to Moon JaeShin as a scene favorite. I have to agree. Guy swoops in out of nowhere with a flying fruit and saves a damsel in distress? Great introduction to a character that stayed this exact shade of awesome until the very end.

As for my personal favorite, it had to be this scene where Moon JaeShin begs his father to save Lee SunJoon because he hadn’t had a chance to really get to know the other student yet. For a second, Yooey is acting in a completely different drama, a more serious, a more dramatic historical one:

I have to say it again, even though I have beaten the point to death, scenes like this truly affirmed my belief that Yooey was the real deal. He’s not the kind of actor that panders, so we probably won’t get to see him paraded around on variety shows, but that’s yet another reason to respect, there’s a class about him. Like his work in ChilWoo, he can elevate even a ridiculous role, something only a true talent can do.

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
what made me kinda sad
One small complaint. While I liked the gratuitous Yooey and JoongKi bromance, I thought each deserved their own real loveline. Spolier alert: { Specifically, I thought JoongKi was going to hook it up with his Music Bank co-host Seo HyoRim, and Yooey would find a soulmate in gisaeng slash secret sword goddess ChoSun. Writer TaeHee, I ask you, why not!? }

I know it’s a silly venture to bitch about realism in a drama like this, but I want to point out THE MOST UNREALISTIC part of the whole thing. It really did make me kinda sad. Deep in the heart. What was so completely unrealistic that it had me so upset, you ask? WELL, I found it utterly far-fetched that Yooey’s bad boy rich kid wouldn’t have girls trailing down the dirty street market after him like bees to honey. That’s just nonsense, even more so than Fugitive: Plan B’s stunt acrobatics.

I’d never really suffered all that much as a drama fan who fell for the second lead until recently. But for the first time, I really understood how all those Kang ShinWoo fans must have felt last year. I didn’t get it then, but a year wiser and having gone through my own ordeal, I do now. I am truly sorry for how you all must have suffered. Back then I had been so enraptured with Jang GeunSuk that I did not properly appreciate your pain.

I mean really, why make Guy #2 that awesome?!

what kept me going
1) For a dessert adaptation of olden times filled up with young newbies…not stupid. I’m grateful for that alone.

2) Period pieces should be lush and pretty and this didn’t disappoint. Costuming for the rich and powerful should not look cheap, and theirs did not.

3) Everyone had their own story and their own motives, and those intentions were sometimes shrouded. Mysterious enough to be interesting

4) The politics didn’t take away from the swift pacing.

Over and over, history tells of small groups of individuals starting a movement in an effort to make the world a better place. Lots of bromance, yes, but also, major female empowerment tones in this one. Easy investment for anyone who can get behind the idea that a society should not oppress women or the poor.

Other factors:
predictability For the most part, the show did a good job of going against convention. Here’s one example: the first time Yooey gets himself torn up after a rough night of banditry, he nurses his own wounds. Another lesser drama may have taken that opportunity to push the leads together in a moment of ‘bonding.’ I was looking forward to the scene expecting that, and when it didn’t happen, I was even more grateful that the banality was avoided
engrish Nope
originality One thing in particular I especially respected? None of the boys threw a fit when they found out her big secret
eye-candy Oh, yes. Lots of squeal moments for fangirls, most especially the constant skinship between Yooey and JoongKi. It was bad enough they would wrestle around on the floor and talk to each other with their faces only inches apart, but when JoongKi started to openly flaunt his crush and flirt with Yooey…sheesh, it was an embarrassment of riches. Fan fic indulgers around the globe must have gone nuts. Do you know the worst of it? I got confused. Was I jealous of Song JoongKi who got to manhandle Yoo AhIn…or was I jealous of Yoo AhIn who got to be manhandled by Song JoongKi? I don’t have enough spare brain cells to lose by trying to count how many times Song Joongki inappropriately grabbed onto Yooey. Their love story friendship was so clearly fan service, yet so wonderful.
hair and fashion Costuming was very nice

is it worth trying to find?
Yes, a solid one

If that doesn’t convince you, the chemistry between Yooey and JoongKi could fuel a spin-off (although I hope it does not). The writers teased until the very end

total enjoyment factor 

total disdain factor

why this review is completely biased
I’d had an asterisk marked next to actor Yoo AhIn’s name since Boys of Tomorrow. Became a bonafide fan sometime later. As far as I’m concerned, he should be cast in everything. He’s a good-looking lad, sure, which is nice, but he can really act, and that’s why I’m always on his side.

As for the relationship between my bias and this drama, it is quite obvious, isn’t it? Personally speaking, do I think the wrong guy got the girl? Yes. As likable as Yoochun’s SungJoon was, I just don’t think it made sense that a healthy young girl wouldn’t at least falter and turn toward Yooey’s Moon JaeShin, if even for just a second. I mean, he had a smile that could crash planes…um, crumble pagodas.

But then again, love is totally nutty, and so are kdramas.

My fan bias for Yooey did change the perspective in which I watched this drama. As I’ve already mentioned, his lack of devoted female admirers was the most unrealistic part of this drama. Hahah, guardians of historical accuracy must be laughing somewhere out there—that was what you thought was the most unrealistic?

could a non-kdrama fan like this
I truly have no idea…I’m having a really difficult time staying even 2% objective about this drama.  

This place called Sungkyukwan had more purpose than simply learning philosophy, it was a stepping stone into a position of power. Not very unlike today’s system of higher learning, ey. But who should get that power?

This drama was about class warfare and gender equality, to borrow the modem terms that describe the unfair balance between the haves and have-nots, whether it be in money, status, or a specific piece of anatomy.

It was also about the gap between generations, in the way a changing world is viewed by forefathers and their children who redetermine that world with new eyes. The struggle that ensues when the younger upstarts want to reinterpret the old teachings and adapt them to modern (radical) thought. Confucianism was not meant to exclude women, YoonHee argued, for wasn’t she a human being too? As a comparison, for those of us in the States, it reminds me of the “living constitution” debate. Was the American constitution writ to be a guideline or an immovable bedrock? Was it meant to amend itself to the changing of modern society, must it be flexible to be relevant? One thing for sure is that the passing of the torch to the next round of leadership must happen in order for there to be any kind of progress. That was the conflict in Scandal and it was a real serious one.

The show’s answer to that question was simplistic: love will conquer all. Was this drama too idealistic? Unrealistic? Absolutely. But in a drama like this, it would have been a greater sin against the drama gods to give the characters a realistic ending. Good characters deserve their happy ending. After all, they live in a drama, not in our world. This was a negative-sum plot construction, no satisfying ending could come out of a realistic one. A truthful ending would probably read like this: Kim YoonHee’s secret is revealed, forced to drink poison. Dies. Lee SunJoon commits suicide. Moon JaeShin tries to avenge them all. Dies. Goo YongHa cries at friend’s unmarked grave site for the remainder of his life. Totally unacceptable.

Spoiler: { For example, by drama’s end, Yoo AhIn’s tortured Moon JaeShin realizes that his father’s “cowardice” after his brother’s murder was not out of fear for himself, but because he needed to protect his surviving son, that sometimes the more braver choice is sacrificing selfish desires to protect those you love. He learns this through his newfound friendship with the other scholars, a lesson they all learn because of their unlikely friendship. He finally understands that one cannot fight for a world one hates, but the fight must be for the people in it, as his brother had done. At the start, all the characters had all been false idealists, and because of the education gained through people, not books, they all learned the true value of the world. It was noble, heartwarming, and a lovely conclusion. And it solved absolutely nothing in terms of the actual doctrine of their times or the political yuck muck they were still trapped in. But really, who cared? It felt like something had been accomplished! }

Probably not the best drama in the world under a microscope, but better than 80% that air. Like the characters themselves, bright and airy on the surface, complicated and sincere on the inside—where it mattered.

(I dashed this review out on Monday and sat on it for a few days, thinking I’d chop out paragraphs later. In the end, I didn’t. I’m posting it in all its over-long, grammatically-challenged glory. Even more than usual, or maybe the same. Sorry. Me lazy...and time-constrained)


  1. Are careers of the young and cute created by the executives in the entertainment system in Korea? For example, Kim Hyun Joong was put in SS501 and later was cast in BoF because of his good looks. Yoo Ah In is young, good looking and has the most luscious lips in the world. BUT. I don't think he has been branded as a pretty boy since he has been playing outsider and oddball characters...correct me if I'm wrong. Is he considered a known, serious actor in Korea? How is he regarded overall in Korea? Thanks.

  2. I’m not in Korea myself so I can only give intelligent speculation about how Yoo is viewed in ROK, but based on what I've heard and read, he seems his own person, and an actor first, not a star in the industry.

    Sungkyunkwan is the trendiest work he has done so far and with its success, he’s attained some mainstream notice that has eluded him until now, which I get the feeling is something he has never really courted anyway. I doubt that’ll change despite SKK’s successes and the sudden interest in him.

    You asked if cute stars are “created” in ROK and how that applies to Yoo. I wish I could say there’s no candy mill, but of course, you are partly correct, otherwise terms like “idol factory” wouldn’t be bandied about so frequently. And with so many of these kpop idols crossing over into acting, it makes for confusing times in kdramas lately! Packaging young stars is definitely done in ROK and very much abused in the kpop industry. Yoo isn’t really a part of that, as it is clear he is not necessarily chasing fame, but focused on acting only (I doubt we'll ever see him trying to get into singing). In that respect, probably his popularity compared to idols like Kim HyunJoong and even his SKK co-star Micky Yoochun, who ARE a part of the current trend--the idol world, Yoo is still an unknown name. Yoo himself admits that he used to be able to freely walk about until only recently. He doesn’t really fit their idea of a “pretty boy” either or a celebrity that invites tabloid fodder, so he’s one of those actors that have managed to stay relatively low key.

    In his short six year career since his debut as a teen, now 24 (well, 25 in Korean), Yoo has picked mostly misfit roles, not ones to capitalize on his looks. He seemed more determined to take the serious approach to his career. He was more known for his sensitive acting and ability than for being the type of actor to get a rise out of the female fanbase. I think it will be really interesting to see what he chooses for his next role now that he has dipped one toe into the devil’s water…by that I mean he's caught everyone's notice for being fair in the face. Me thinks he may go the way of Won Bin and reject that typecasting, and shy away from the more typical leading man roles.

    =) Those are just my thoughts...

  3. Ok, I just recently watch Sungkyunkwan Scandal! U really hit the nail on the head with this blog! I like u, is having a serious moment of obsession or biased for the so talented...and so hot Yoo Ah In. I think its the mustache! He looks SO manly! I love asians with mustaches and long unkempt hair! (drools) too bad I dont see this look often! Ok digress, sorry to sound like a horny school girl! lol! But the real reason I wanted to comment is that i thought your deep look into each character was pretty much spot on. I am glad u got to feel the pain of loving the 2nd male lead...till this day I cant finish you are beautiful.. cause it hurt too much! I wish they gave MJS closure with the lead...but the bromance! was hot..(drools) ...

  4. What caught my eye from the first episode was Song Joong Ki! I can't believe there's such an adorable and good looking pretty boy!! And with such a flamboyant character, it fitted him perfectly! I was rooting for him to be together with Seo Hyo Rim too! I did saw some chemistry there, but somehow they were left untouched.

    I wasn't too sure about Yoochun at first, seeing how new he was. But, as the series prolongs, he got me all warmed up with his character and boy, never have i imagined him to be sooooo romantic with words, especially seeing him so rigid and uptight all the time! Hahaha...

    The four of them certainly get on well with each other despite the differences in each of their characters. For a person who doesn't like Korean period dramas, this one certainly hooked me till the end! :D

  5. Geez, it's been eons now since I watched SKKS, but boy, did your review bring back all the warm fuzzies. Glad to have found your blog.

  6. I'd like to add that Song Joong Ki is the first pretty flower boy that I really liked (I go for the uber manly type). After watching S-Scandal (I can never spell the university correctly), I couldn't picture him doing any other type of role (he reminded me of Johhny Depp/Cap'n Jack Sparrow and yet it didn't feel like a copycat performance in any way). And then...there was A Werewolf Boy. No flower boy going on there. Wow.


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