MIRROR, MIRROR, MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR
As Queen Shim (Jang Hee Jin) is unable to have a child on her own, she seeks help from Shaman Hong Joo (Yeom Jung Ah) who convinces her to deceive a young servant to sleep with the king so she can become pregnant. Hong Joo then uses black magic to transfer the fetus to the queen, which in turn kills the servant, but not before she places a curse on the royal family. Queen Shim gives birth to twins, Crown Prince Soon Hwae and Princess Yeon Hee (Kim Sae Ron) but the queen abandons the infant princess for fear of the curse left by the servant.
At the king’s behest, Yeon Hee’s life is saved by Shaman Choi Hyun Seo (Lee Sung Jae), who was once Hong Joo’s master. Yeon Hee is able to grow up as a beautiful, young girl but she’s forced to remain isolated away from everyone, living in a house surrounded by talismans so that her curse doesn’t affect others and so that she can’t be detected by Hong Joo.
Hyun Seo’s son, Poong Yeon (Kwak Shi Yang) grows up harboring more than platonic feelings for her but when he takes her out on a night in the village, they relationship is forever changed. Meanwhile, a young scholar, Heo Joon (Yoon Shi Yoon), has a chance encounter with Yeon Hee and their fate becomes entwined as they worked together to lift her curse.
I am not alone in that I was taken aback by the pairing of Yoon Shi Yoon and Kim Sae Ron due to their 13 year age gap. Early on, the drama indicates that these two characters will end up having more than platonic feelings for each other so I can understand why viewers will take issue with this. The thing about Kim Sae Ron is that she’s a prodigy and we forget that because we’ve seen her in adult projects such as Ahjussi (aka The Man from Nowhere) and The Neighbors. However, the fact remains that she’s only 16 years old and Yoon Shi Yoon is practically twice her age.
Yoon Shi Yoon has this knack for coming off younger than he really is and Kim Sae Ron comes off older than she is. So when it comes to their acting, I think they both did a good job in bridging their age gap. Overall, I didn’t really think about their age gap as much as I thought I would and the drama also does the responsible thing by keeping their interaction PC.
On the flip side, when you’re looking forward to watching the OTP get together, the physical limitations might be point of issue for other viewers. I can see how some people might not be satisfied with the OTP coming together without actually seeing them coming together. For me, I felt that the overall story and just portraying their emotions was more important for what I needed from this drama. Don’t get me wrong. I love a great kiss scene but if the acting and story is good, then I think the drama can still satisfy me.
Unfortunately, without a fleshed out love story, I did feel the story lacking in many ways in its repetitiveness within the other relationships depicted in the drama. Such as that of Hong Joo and Hyun Seo. You get the feeling that despite being on opposite side, they do have an unspoken bond beyond a platonic level.
We find out that Hyun Seo teaches Hong Joo the art of magic but because she’s suffered hardships as a servant, she manipulates what she knows for her own gain. Hyun Seo’s feelings for Hong Joo are very conflicting in that he feels that he’ll be able to change Hong Joo but he also feels guilty about the evil deeds that she’s done. The problem with their relationship is that it gets very stagnant in the second half of the drama. The two characters literally circle each other with their guilt and disappointment but it doesn’t amount to any action. In fact, Hyun Seo lingers around as Hong Joo’s mindless zombie for most of the third act.
I also found it difficult to understand the purpose of Heo Ok’s (Jo Dal Hwan) character towards the end of the drama. At the beginning of the drama, Heo Ok is the driving force that makes Joon the man that he becomes. However, Heo Ok’s reappearance towards the end of the drama neither affects our protagonist nor the story but rather he is an annoyance more than anything else. It would have been much more interesting if Ok had a chance of heart and became Joon’s ally at some point, breathing new life into a stagnant plot.
The actors are all incredibly convincing in their respective roles and it does a good job in illustrating the characters’ concealed desires, whether its understanding what motivates them to chase their dreams or seek out their thirst for power. Or even highlighting flaws in the character, such as the paralyzing fear felt by King Seonjo (Lee Ji Hoon) and how it makes them vulnerable to Hong Joo’s dark magic. His paranoia is so well portrayed by the actor and through his physical affliction.
Despite the inconsistencies with the drama’s pace, the story is based on a real-life historic figure and although the drama is a fantasy, I never expected the story to veer too far off the historic course. He was a royal court physician whose most notable work is the Dongui Bogam (aka Mirror of Eastern Medicine or Eastern Medicine Handbook), the essential text for traditional Korean medicine incorporating herbal remedies to treat ailments. Born to an affluent military family, he was faced with discrimination in his own family due to his mother being a concubine but he was very well educated and financially secure. He served King Seonjo and spent the last years of his life educating a new generation of young physicians.
The drama does a good job in blending the fantasy elements with what we know of Heo Joon’s life. I thought the drama had a strong start with its dark storyline and I love stories that takes the lives of historical figures and brings its own creative twist into their tale. While the great premise initially hooks you in, the story does ends up circling around the same tired conflicts by the third act. Before you get to the conclusion, you always hope that the drama hits you with one last, unexpected, climatic twist before it resolves itself but it just plateaus before giving you a satisfactory ending.