Since they labeled it a thriller, I was wondering if the flu meds I was taking didn’t allow me to feel the gripping sensation they promised. A conspiracy laden historical tale where most victories were won over by an alliance of old villains and an evil Queen but ended at the truth that finally set the hero free note. It managed to live up to its title as the fugitive hero really was in search of justice in the duration of the series.
While they paraded interesting characters and showcased the adorable and sometimes disheartening love line of a doctor father who would do anything for his sickly daughter, most of the time I really folded my arms and sighed out of exasperation to how they thread in proving the hero’s innocence of the crime he didn’t commit. Ghost and Gaksital I guess spoiled me that much.
The effective vile Dowager-Queen-Sauron has her A-game unleashed to damage the consistently weak Crown Prince who if not for the last minute realization to put on his thinking cap would have really made me blame him on his out-of-joseon way of thinking. Is it really a constant to have an indecisive member of the royalty family in every sageuk drama?
Derived from the reign of King Jungjong, the sickly Crown Prince was the target of assassination of the Secret Peony order that was backing up the ambitious reigning Queen who secretly coveted the Crown Prince’ position. They set to poison the Crown Prince but his physician, Min Ju-bu who was forced to take orders from the Head of the Royal Physician whilst inducing poison was counter-acting it with antidotes so as not to harm His Highness. The fatal blow was supposed to be taken by the Prince but Doctor Min countered the venom thus the Crown Prince survived the next morning.
However, the old fiends intercepted a letter from Doctor Min to his bestfriend Choe Won, also a doctor but was hiding his medical aptitude to remain in the steady hierarchy of doctors because he has to tend his daughter who was suffering from tuberculosis. The letter supposedly asked Doctor Won to meet him at the restricted section of the library but he was sent to another location. Prior to his meeting Won has been having encounters to Female Physician Hong Da-in, and when he found out her tending of a sick palace maid and her knowing he stole a banned book in the library they were glued to an I-got-your-back understanding.
Doctor Min didn’t show up and was found dead the next day with Won’s medical knife stabbed on his neck. Won who learned of the news rushed to the scene of the crime and saw his friend’s corpse and a chinese character “turtle” written on the floor, but he was seized by Red Demon and the Royal Investigation Troop for questioning. A broken trinket he has been carrying was also found in the crime scene along with its other half which was dropped by Da-in who as it turned out was looking for the doctor who has saved her life when she was young.
Da-in tried to reason out with Red Demon but the witness minister gave a false testimony of her romantic involvement with Won thus her claims won’t be accepted in the investigation. Won’s father also died as ordered by the villains in trying to secure a document to clear his name but was able to hold on to a portion of the paper showing a red peony in his dying moments and it was later found by Won’s daughter Rang.
Won took the opportunity when a prison break was launched by a bandit group whose leader was imprisoned in the same cell as his. Red Demon and his men chased him in one episode, all day, all night… in the city walls, in the forest, in the rice fields, until Won jumped from a cliff and was successful in warding them off. He sought the help of his other friend and analyzed his instant fugitive status as his sister and daughter became slaves in the Royal Investigation Bureau.
Won took refuge at the bandit’s lair and later rescued her daughter who was taken by Minister Kim as an ace card to make Won kill Deok-pal, who was a witness to all of Secret Peony Order’s wicked plans. When the witness died, the hope of clearing his name seemed opaque but he figured out that the “turtle” clue might not be the hunchback Deok-pal but his secret place with his bestfriend. He went to the turtle rock and found a box where Min JuBu’s confession letter and the medical prescriptions were hidden. He gave it to Red Demon, who has now realized with his keen mind what power plays have been happening in the palace and was focused to bring out the truth about the connivance to frame innocent Won.
Won who was in good terms with the Crown Prince fell into a misunderstanding when the latter saw the peony flower at Rang’s pouch thinking that Won sided with the Queen, but he deviced a plan to settle his supposed crime by having Red Demon posed as him as decoy while Won set to meet the King on his hot spring trip to bring the Confession letter that will pin down the Queen’s minister minions. But the Queen won’t budge and presented the King with a book that listed the names of a reformist group who was in contact with the Crown Prince. She stood firm in her belief that it was the Crown Prince who wished her harm thinking that there will be no evidence that will point her as the leader of the villains. However Won and Red Demon already secured the proof of the Queen’s connection which made the King order the Queen’s demotion and Won’s freedom.
The Queen ranted to the Prince her unreasonable and really irritating ideas and just as she was scolding him, the King emerged and gave the ultimatum, but the Queen responded hurtful and disrespectful litany to the King that made him fainted and finally died. The Queen got hold of Won’s freedom order and burned it as she made an agreement with the weakling Prince to kill Won, release her men and his men so that they can all live.
The almost freedom was still swinging in mid air as the good and the bad camps tried to hit the final surge. Da-in’s adopted father’s right hand, Doo-mun, was luckily alive and sided with Won and his friends to stop the Queen and her minions. Doo-mun revealed a secret room in Minister Jang’s house where they might probably be brainstorming on their final attack to the prince who will become the King in two days. They gate-crashed the meeting and had the evil Queen caught raising a sword to the Prince whom they thought came alone in their tea party. But the Crown Prince people surprised them and again reversed the situation.
I don’t know what wall of non-sense the Crown Prince has really but he just demoted the crooked oldies and didn’t even do anything on the Queen who has been trying to kill him when he finally ascended the throne. The moment the clouds were cleared, the Queen got ready again in poisoning the King and this time it was lead poisoning thru scented candles. But of course, Won was there to save the day and they figured out of the Queen’s last fatal strike. Then the bandits, the yangbans and the palace were freed from constraints and entanglements in this really loong fugitive chase.
Ironically, this was a case where the characters were quick to uptake but the plot was moving snail-paced. The characters were all on board to find/free the escaped prisoner but they were always losing the evidences and the Queen can overturn the evidence to her advantage. I liked that Won was smart in this drama but it was really a tiring Herculean task to absolve him of the crimes he didn’t commit.
The love sprinkles in the series thankfully were not forced and were always cute and were not hindering the let’s-help-doctor-prove-his-innocence storyline.
Although this is not a strong performance by Lee Dong Wook oppa, it was still hours of watching worthwhile for me. And yes, I’m playing favorite. Well to be fair at least the writers have all figured out what to do with the opening and if the ending will fit perfectly unlike the makers of… that drama I know which ended in reincarnation twist. *wink Imagine if they did it on this drama? A steady flowing drama deserved a real ending, because no matter what happened, the closure will leave the last impression. On this note, I hope oppa would be back to chaebol prince role on his next drama. *grins
Interestingly while I felt the story moved slowly, the sole main conflict of uncovering the truth about the Crown Prince assassination plot framed to an innocent man has made me not lose my focus on watching it. Just like that one problem, although supporting problems arose, it was just that one big problem they were trying to resolve. So for me it was a breather, it was like listening to a courtroom battle where the defendant and the prosecutor laid down their evidences and it will be up to me to judge accordingly. No twist and turns, no confusions rolled just clean narration of this sageuk tale.
I mentioned how the baddies have mostly the upper hand scenes, and if not for Won’s functioning brain, they will really be swallowed whole by the Queen, who I really hated the character. That’s why I have issues with the Prince, who I also disliked because he was really that sageuk character you don’t want to have because of his stupid filial piety. The queen has been trying to kill you in capslock, but you remained stoic. *pfffttt
I have minor complaints mainly on the characters drawn in this series but the story regardless of the unnecessary lengthening was nicely moving for me albeit all the eye-rolling I did while stalking on it due to circumstances that really tested the endurance of the protagonist. And because it was needed to strengthen the characters and make the plot thick, I can only comply. Not ending at a confused state in each episode was good enough for me as I never put such high hopes on it.
Certainly not extravagantly made or quaintly conceived, but it was a fair showing all throughout. -jediprincess