JUST PARK SHI HOO IT
Touted as the Joseon era’s Romeo and Juliet, Kim Seung Yoo (Park Shi Hoo) and Lee Se Ryung (Moon Chae Won) are torn apart as a result of their warring families. Se Ryung’s father, Prince Suyang (Kim Young Chul), has his eyes set on the throne. Seung Yoo’s father, Kim Jong Seo (Lee Soon Jae), is loyal to a sickly King Munjong and is instrumental in preventing Suyang from succeeding to the throne by helping Munjong’s young heir, Danjong.
The drama starts off in the heart of the conflict but goes back in time to the beginning of the love story. Prince Suyang is at the head of this turmoil as he was once favored to take the throne. However in the end, his father bestowed it upon his brother instead. Suyang seizes the throne killing many on his way to the seat.
Kim Young Chul is so good at playing diabolical roles that I permanently typecasted him in my head that way. A combination of a ruthless performance and the fact that this drama highlights this part of history makes it easy to forget that Suyang became one of Korea’s most effective kings. Sibling rivalry is one scary motivator for vengeance.
At the heart of the love story, we have Seung Yoo and Se Ryung. Moon Chae Won was quite compelling as Se Ryung. Despite the fact that Se Ryung lies to Seung Yoo, you could understand why she had to. After all, women didn’t have choices back then. And it makes it all the more heartbreaking when Seung Yoo first confesses his love for her.
The only way to play Se Ryung is strong willed but she’s much more complicated than that. She is literally pulled in two directions, more than Seung Yoo. Since it’s her father vs. Seung Yoo, does she let him kill her father? So when she helps Seung Yoo out in secret, it’s that much more meaningful. She has no real solution to Seung Yoo’s dilemma but she won’t stand by and watch more people being killed.
Seung Yoo’s whole life changed when his father was assassinated. In history, he was actually Kim Jong Seo’s grandson but they made him to be the son instead in this drama. Park Shi Hoo was previously seen in romantic comedies but he is no stranger to the darker stuff as his characters always dealt with deep-rooted family issues. Starting as a carefree playboy, the drama doesn’t paint him as a unique character on paper but Park Shi Hoo’s charms pull you in. Plus, who can resist that smile?
Unfortunately, Park Shi Hoo doesn’t smile all that much in the drama as a whole. He is, after all, avenging the death of his beloved father and brother. Park Shi Hoo really commands the screen by hitting many different dramatic notes throughout the drama making fangirls everywhere keen on finding out what will happen next with our OTP. If you haven’t seen Park Shi Hoo in anything, just watch it. Words can’t accurately express his talent.
I can’t say the same for Shin Myun (Song Jong Ho). It’s not really the fault of the actor’s. The problem stems from the writing as Myun became this obstacle for Seung Yoo and Se Ryung that stuck to the same tactics over and over again. What’s hard to watch is when someone plays this angry, bad guy but they only have one level of retaliation. Suyang (who later becomes King Sejo) had multiple levels and he kept me more on my toes rather than Myun. Sageuks are often very clear about distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys. I find it to be a hindrance as it leaves no room for creative development. Hence, there’s nothing for viewers to anticipate except to wait for his death scene and that’s a waste of a prime character.
My favorite couple had to be Princess Kyung Hye (Hong Soo Hyun) and Jung Jong (Lee Min Woo). I love how their love story developed from first meeting to an arranged marriage to political partners in the battle against King Sejo to falling in love with each other. Their story followed this beautiful arc.
Despite my hate for Lie to Me, I could feel that Hong Soo Hyun was a strong actor and she proves it here in The Princess’ Man. Princess Kyung Hye is the second lead and at one point, she became betrothed to Seung Yoo because of her father’s friendship with Kim Jong Seo. So when her marriage prospects changed to Jung Jong and the political discourse between King Munjong and Prince Suyang arose, I worried how she’d be perceived as the adversary. It wouldn’t have been as compelling in the hands of a lesser actor because Hong Soo Hyun balances the disappointment of reversed fortunes with the anger of familial betrayal. I, seriously, could not get over her character.
There were many characters in this drama and it’s difficult to talk about every single one but I’d to make an honorable mention to a few of them. First, the adorably cute niece to Seung Yoo, Ah Kang (Kim Yoo Bin). Oh god, I could care less about kids but goddamn she’s cute. She was previously seen in Crime Squad as Song Il Kook’s daughter but I expect with her acting ability and cuteness, she’s well on her way to being the next Kim Sae Ron.
Next, Jo Suk Joo (Kim Roe Ha) and Jun Noh Kyul (Yoon Jong Hwa) who become brothers in arms with Seung Yoo and saves his butt over and over again. Suk Joo more than Noh Kyul, as he is older and wiser of the two. I like this brotherly dynamic as it contrasts with the broken friendship between Myun and Jong and Seung Yoo. Plus, Suk Joo also becomes a patient teacher figure to Seung Yoo like what Lee Gae once was before he’s executed.
Finally, the gisaeng ladies of Bingokgwan, frontier businesswomen for the Joseon age. They can handle themselves and they’re strong. Along with Suk Joo and Noh Kyul, Cho Hee (Choo So Young), Mooyoung (Choi Han Bit) and So Aeng (Lee Seul Bi) become extended family members to a reclusive Seung Yoo. My favorite out of the three has got to be born as a man, spirit of a woman, Mooyoung, as she was played by transgender model/actress, Choi Han Bit.
My favorite point in the drama is still the final scene in Episode 6. Here is where we got a summary of the conflict of the entire drama blended with great acting, beautiful cinematography, expertly edited, underscored with a rousing instrumental from the OST. I couldn’t ask for anything more. If you haven’t downloaded the instrumental tracks from the drama, I recommend it.
Cut to the final scene in Episode 23. I’m gonna chalk this one up to production constraints of live shooting. I guess the DP was working so hard, sacrificing sleep throughout giving us beautiful, meaningful shots that he was delusional by the time he reached Episode 23. Here is where our OTP’s meet each other again after being apart for months. And what we got was 2 cheesy push-ins on single shots of our main characters. I literally shouted curses at my TV screen as the camera movement took me out of what could have been a beautiful reunion. This cheesy camera move is from the 90’s and it should remain dead and buried in that Century unless it’s for farcical reasons.
The drama was complimented for marrying history with unofficial records. Political discourse, lovers separated by circumstances and betrayal among friends were running themes throughout the story. I’m not a big fan of sageuks as I mostly reserved them as dramas reserved for my parents (aka old people). Plus, the political talk gets weighty without having the same poetical flair as a David Mamet play. However, this drama blended the tension and angst of the separated lovers well with the gravity of the political undercurrent.