K-drama Review: The Princess' Man

Friday, February 08, 2013

Hmm…I think this is the first time I've actually finished a sageuk drama. And that’s worth of notice since I remember very well a time, when I refused to watch any kind of historical drama, thinking it just ain’t my thing. While I’ve come a long way since then, sageuk still isn’t my favourite genre and I tend try to avoid period dramas that are centered around politics and/or are longer than 20 episodes. But I had to make a small exception with The Princess’ Man. A drama that takes true historic background, adds a tight political storyline and throws a tragic Romeo and Juliet-esque love story in the middle of it. It’s basically the best kind of sageuk you can find.

 Plot summary: 

Power-hungry prince Su Yang (Kim Young Chul) plans to take the throne from his brother, Joseon’s 6th king. Knowing of his brother’s intentions the king joins forces with his most trusted subject Kim Jong Seo (Lee Soon Jae) to prevent Su Yang from taking the throne away from his young teenaged son. However, the king becomes ill and dies, leaving an opportunity for Su Yang to arrange a coup.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to their parents, Su Yang’s daughter Se Ryung (Moon Chae Won) and Kim Jong Seo’s son Seung Yoo (Park Shi Hoo) fall in love. And due to a series of lies and misunderstandings, the lovers mistakenly believe they are to marry each other. But neither of them is aware of Su Yang’s real plan to kill Kim Jong Seo and his whole family, including Seung Yoo.

SPOILER ALERT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 What I liked: 

The character development. What I liked the most about our characters is their personal growth over the course of the series. 
Starting with Se Ryung and her transformation from a free-spirited but naive girl into a brave and righteous woman. Out of all the characters, I think I felt she was put into the most difficult position – to choose between her father and the man she loved.  In episode 18, there is this heartbreaking moment when she asks Seung Yoo: "If I save teacher (Seung Yoo), my father will die. If I save my father, teacher will die. What do you want me to do?". I think nobody ever really acknowledged how powerless she felt and how difficult it was for her to choose a side, especially since it was more than just about her love for Seung Yoo. She also had to deal with the fact that her father was..well, a terrible person who killed innocent people. So I respected her more for standing up to her father not just for Seung Yoo, but also for the the people her father had wronged.
Princess Kyung Hye (Hong Soo Hyun) is another strong female character, whose personal transformation I really enjoyed. She starts out as a bit unlikable as she is the first obstacle standing in the way of Seung Yoo and Se Ryung's love. But we learn that Kyung Hye does not try to break the lovers up out of spite or jealousy, but because she tries to protect her own family. Initially, she is quick to judge Se Ryung for being unaware of Su Yang's evil deeds. However, over time Kyung Hye realizes that she cannot blame Se Ryung and she herself has to fight harder to defeat Su Yang. This strong will to get justice is especially evident in the episode where she has to accept her husband’s wish to die, just so Seung Yoo could oppose Su Yang. It’s that moment, as she puts aside her own wants for a greater purpose, when she shows the true strength and determination of a princess.

          

And speaking of her husband Jong (Lee Min Woo), his sincere devotion for the princess is one of the most heartwarming things about this drama. Jong, who is introduced as a goofy fun-loving guy, proves himself to be the main support for Kyung Hye. Even though she initially refuses to call him her husband we see them become closer over time. And eventually Jong’s kindness and unconditional love melts her seemingly icy heart.    
Then we have Seung Yoo, who is first introduced as this easy-going slightly careless guy that enjoys the company of gisaengs and likes to drink. He doesn’t seem to take things overly seriously, but over the course of the drama he grows and matures. Although all the tragedy and loss tears Seung Yoo apart, it also forces him to fight for something that matters and, similarly to Se Ryung, not for just love but for justice. 
And finally our villain Su Yang, whose personal growth is mostly negative as he grew more crueller as time went on, but also became less satisfied with his decisions. Even having gained the power, he was unhappy knowing that his daughter no longer respected him. He was terrible person no doubt, but he truly loved his family and especially his daughter. It’s strange how I actually felt bad for him when he thought Se Ryung had betrayed him and chosen Seung Yoo over him. And that scene at the very end, when he finds out that Se Ryung didn’t die after all, was kinda heartbreaking. He was finally at peace and happy to know she was alive, but still unable to show himself after all the things he had done. Even though she was not dead, he had still lost her forever.

           

Park Shi Hoo as Kim Seung Yoo. It’s funny, I don’t necessarily think of Park Shi hoo as the best actor, nor am I really a fan of his, yet there’s a certain charm and sincerity that comes out in his roles. For instance that tortured look, which he does so well, that simply wrenches your heart. It's almost like there's this unexplainable magnetism to him that you are unaware of until you see him in a drama. In any case, in The Princess’ Man it is Park Shi Hoo who I’m gonna remember the most, whether it was because of that tortured longing look, his tragic hero character, or the fact that he looked wickedly good in that mane and ninja-attire.

The OST. There is nothing that I love more than a good soundtrack that heightens all the tensions, thrills and emotions in a drama. The instrumental tracks are absolutely beautiful, even though "Destino" is overplayed quite a lot. Meanwhile, Baek Ji Young’s "I Love You Today" and Park Wan Kyu’s "One Day Of Love" are my favourite ballads from the OST.

The romance. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so invested in the romance aspect in a drama. The Princess’ Man ties together romance and political intrigue so seamlessly, making the love story so thrilling and epic, with high stakes and life-and-death situations. AND to top it, we got two really good OTPs to root for.

           

 What I didn't like: 

The ending. I liked the ending, but my only grudge is with Seung Yoo losing his sight. It was kinda of a quick fix to his revenge against Su Yang, because if can’t see it’s physically impossible for him to kill him, right? 
But I felt it was unnecessary as I thought the show already had a pretty good reason why Seung Yoo would have had to stop his revenge – he was becoming a father. I think that’s a pretty good game changer, because Seung Yoo already has a hard time hurting the woman he loves by going into a battle where either he kills her father or dies himself. But when he is to become a father, I don’t think Seung Yoo would have wanted to go through with his revenge anymore and possibly leave his child fatherless. 
At that point of the story, Seung Yoo had already let go some of his hatred and even though he still felt obligated to avenge his father’s death, he out of all people would know what it would have been for his child to lose a father. I think the writers should have gone with that reason, instead of the blindness.

           

Shin Myun. Argh, I hated this guy. Even more than I hated our main villain Su Yang, and that’s saying something. For me he was even more despicable, despite the fact that Su Yang was technically much crueller and manipulated with Myun. I never understood Myun’s motives for betraying his friends nor how he fell in love with Se Ryung. Even though he was caught between supporting his father and maintaining his friendship with Jong and Seung Yoo, it seemed to me he was mighty okay with sending his long-time friends to death. Was he really this cowardly to stand up to his father and Su Yang, or was it because for him friendship didn’t really count for anything? 
And as for his “love” for Se Ryung, it was kinda ridiculous. There was never a moment I felt that he actually cared for her, it was rather this strange obsession to own her. I’m not saying that there has to be a logical reason why someone falls in love with somebody else, but there is always a reason for liking them. With Myun I never saw that moment when he stopped seeing Se Ryung as Seung Yoo’s lover, and started viewing her as someone he loves. Also, if it’s clear that she didn’t like him and loved Seung Yoo, how could he betray his friend anyways? In any case this all made him a character I could not sympathize with. 
Thank goodness, that Song Jong Ho will stay in my memory as the awesome brother in Answer Me 1997, rather than this obsessive coward.

 Overall conclusion: 

If you’re like I used to be – afraid of anything historical, but curious to see what all the fuss is about – then The Princess’ Man is the one you want to start with. 

It has all the qualities of a good sageuk like an interesting historic background and believable political affairs, but also adds a good fictional storyline to keep it intriguing. Not to forget the amazing soundtrack, beautiful costumes and setting, and the great directing. 

But most of all, it’s SO addictive. 

          

 Verdict: 

Plot - Emotionally gripping and always exciting to watch. My only complaint is with the ending. I really felt it could have been much better without blinding our hero. I also wish there conclusion had been a bit smoother, rather than just skipping to years later. But that’s mostly nitpicking really.

Acting - Park Shi Hoo is marvellous, Hong Soo Hyun is awesome, and Kim Young Chul as the villain daddy is hateful but almost sympathetic at the same time. Moon Chae Won isn’t as great but wins over with her character, while Song Jong Ho is sadly unremarkable.

Romance - Epic, sweeping and tragic. Fulfills the needs of any romance lover.

Action - And by action, I mean the fighting choreography and stunts, which looked really cool and slick.

OST - I tend to love the instrumental tracks for most sageuk dramas, but the instrumental music in this drama definitely stands out on its own. Ballads are equally beautiful.

Cinematography and editing - The drama starts out visually breathtaking, but I feel that during the latter half it kinda loses its edge. And I know I’m not the only one in this, since think it was also briefly mentioned in Dramabeans’ review.

 Final rating: 9       Enjoyment: 9 

           

 Memorable quotes: 

Se Ryung: "Even if these have been broken to pieces… to me, this represents a person who gave me a complete, flawless heart."
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Seung Yoo: "Only by living will there be a tomorrow."
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Seung Yoo: "If you follow me, there will be an endless road of hardship…"
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Jo: "I’ve rescued a scary person. Is revenge all you have in life? If so, your life is truly meaningless…No laughter…no happiness…what a dull life. Why are you even living? If that is the case, you should’ve died on that island…"
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Su Yang: "I’ve asked myself many times…Why do I desire this throne so much?"
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Se Ryung: "To me, you are the only princess of this country."
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Se Ryung: "Even if you kill my father, will you really be at peace? Is teacher the reason for this? Every night, I ponder this – will killing all these people really bring one peace? Will it bring one satisfaction? Won’t one feel conflicted when considering how low one has sunk to?"
Seung Yoo: "Do not presume to understand me. As long as he is alive, my heart will yearn for justice."
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Su Yang: "You who have never left my side since young…now refuse to even spare me a glance."
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Seung Yoo: "Just like I am unable to forget my father’s death…your father’s death will be an indelible mark from your heart. I understand very well how heartbreaking it is to lose a closed one, so I am worried about how you will face this…However, your father will surely die in my hands. Even if he will be known posthumously as a great King, how can someone who ascends to the throne through such bloody means sincerely care for his people?"
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Se Ryung: "Once, you asked whether I worry for the life of such a cruel father…A father who kills innocent people…I wished that he isn’t my father. Then again, when I thought about losing him… If I save teacher, my father will die. If I save my father, teacher will die. What do you want me to do?"


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8 comments

  1. Nice review! :D

    I find your alternative ending intriguing - and I agree it would have been an ending that would have made me happier. A Seung Yoo who realizes his priorities and CHOOSES to stop the quest for justice, rather than to be forced to stop because of blindness. Very interesting thought! Thanks! :D

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    1. Thank you :)

      Yup, in my eyes there were two possible ways to end the series - either let Seung Yoo finish his quest and kill Su Yang, or make him realize that he has to stop his revenge for Se Ryung and their child. At first I was rooting for him to kill Su Yang and bring justice, but I think that had he done that there would not have been a happy ending for the couple. Because killing Se Ryung's father is probably something they could not overcome. So in order to get the couple a happy ending, Seung Yoo HAD to give up his revenge. I would have liked if he had himself chosen to stop it for it had given me a sense of contentedness, but I guess the blindness KINDA works too.

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    2. While I would have loved to see Seung Yoo bring justice upon Su Yang, that would've been totally messing up history, so I kind of already knew the writers wouldn't go there. Especially after they'd taken such pains to work within actual history to create our characters and our world.

      It's thought-provoking, though, coz if Seung Yoo had chosen to give up his revenge, he would have had to willingly give up avenging his entire family, which is a tall order for anyone. In the end, I think it would have been as hard to sell the ending where he chooses to let it go, as it was to sell us the blindness version. Tough job for the writers!

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    3. True, Seung Yoo giving up on his revenge needed to be well-reasoned, so that's why they used the blindness to show us that he just cannot go on. I still think there could have been a way around the blindness to end the story, but I do understand that the ending was a tricky task for the writers.

      Actually I myself wondered a lot how the drama would end, when I was watching it. If Seung Yoo had gone through with his revenge the writers would have had to alter history. While on the other hand if Seung Yoo was to give up on killing Su Yang, there had to be a very good reason for him to do that.
      I would have been okay with writers actually altering history and killing off Su Yang, but now that I think about it, I would not have been happy if Seung Yoo had caused that kind of pain for Se Ryung. Because when Se Ryung had put herself into life-and-death situations for Seung Yoo and had sacrificed her relationship with her father and family just to help him, it would have been pretty cruel of him to still kill Su Yang. Had he done it, I don't think he would have deserved her love. So because of blindness or not, I am relieved that Seung Yoo at least didn't become a character I couldn't have liked.

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  2. I'm clearly one of those weird people who just didn't like this drama - period. Well, it wasn't too bad overall, but I watched most of it in a haze waiting for it get better and when it did, it was already too late in my book. I got no answers for why :X

    I was though very disappointed with Shin Myun, for all the reasons you mentioned. It felt a little too forced with his constant siding against his friends, every time. I kept waiting for a good cliche change of heart that would at least redeem him somewhat, but what we got was just about nothing. Sadness.

    I guess I really liked the overall story arc of the princess and her husband, depressing as all that turned out. But I was impressed by both the actors that played those rolls for putting so much depth into characters. They more than anyone else are what motivated me to finish the drama.

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    1. I guess we all have those dramas that everyone else likes while you care nothing for it at all.
      Yup, I was kinda waiting for Myun to do something decent to make me change my mind about him, but he stayed as a coward til the very end. Because cowardice is the only reason I can think of as to why he betrayed his friends.
      The princess and her husband's storyline was very heartwarming and in the end heartbreaking. The actors really did a good job portraying them and that plays a big part in why I liked their arc so much.

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  3. I think this drama really is a good introduction to sageuk: it's short and romance-focused, and its production values are seriously movie-level. Have you not watched Sungkyunkwan Scandal? Being a fusion segeuk (meaning it includes all sorts of crazy, impossible things like elevators and telegraphs) makes it even more accessible to someone who's not crazy about the historical genre.

    And I totally agree about Park Shi Hoo. In pictures, he's okay looking. But as soon as you see in him action, you can't deny his charm.

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    1. Although TPM was the first sageuk I finished, I actually did make my introduction to sageuk with Sungkyunkwan Scandal quite a while back. Everyone seemed crazy about it and I eventually couldn't resist. But because it was my first sageuk ever I skipped a lot of the political stuff just to get to the scenes with our main characters, so later on when I actually wanted to know what was going on with that I got confused and put the show on hold for an indefinite time.
      I am planning to start from episode 1 again and this time the drama should be easier to enjoy because A) I am now more used to sageuks, B) I have become a fan of Song Joong Ki and C) I know that if I don't understand something, I can just check with Dramabeans' recaps. Plus, I've already seen the first half of the show, so I just need to refresh my memory. Thanks for reminding me about it though :)

      Yup, Park Shi Hoo has that strange magnetism to him whenever he's on screen. I noticed that already when I watched Prosecutor Princess.

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