Monday, November 18, 2013

k-drama review: Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Number of episodes: 20
Genre: historical, novel adaption
Actors:  Park Min-Young, Park Yoo-Chun, Yoo Ah-In, Song Joong-Ki

I might have found it: the third one in my "Top 3 k-dramas" (together with Faith and City Hunter). And for a change, Lee Min Ho doesn't appear in it. It does share the female lead with City Hunter, though, so it kinda all stays in the family.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (SKKS) combines the "poor girl attends a school for rich people" and "girl has to disguise as a guy" plots and sets it in historical Korea.

Kim Yun-Hee lives with her single mother and her ill brother. To pay off the family debt she secretly works as a script, disguised as a man. When she was about to be sent off as a concubine she takes the risk of sitting through the entrance exam to a civil servant university in place of someone else. However, she's discovered by Lee Seon-Joon and impressed by her talent - and unaware of her being a woman - he makes her sit through the exam to enter herself. This way she ends up in the Sungkyunkwan university, using the name of her brother. Even though she knows of the possibly deadly consequences of being exposed, it's a way for her to keep doing what she loves, to escape being a concubine and to help her family with the allowance and free medicine she gets as a student.

Lee Seon-Joon is a strong believer in rules and dislikes favouritism. Political intrigues are strong in Sungkyunkwan and through her connection with Lee Seon-Joon, son of the Prime Minister, Kim Yun-Hee is a target for others right from the start. She ends up sharing a room with him and Moon Jae-Si, son of the Minister of Justice and belonging to the opposing political group. Moon Jae-Si has a reputation to be delinquent, he stays out gambling and drinking and gets into fights - everyone expects the two of them to start a fight any minute. But no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition the balancing influence Kim Yoon-Sik (the name Kim Yun-Hee takes on as a man), herself without any political affiliation, has on the two of them. Soon the three roomates together with Moon Jae-Sis best childhood friend Ku Yong-Ha become known as "The Jalgeum Quartet" - it's like a historical boygroup, there's one for each taste: the joker, the bad guy, the stoic and the cutie.
The Fab Four

One day Kim Yun-Hee is dared by Ku Yong-Ha (who suspects her being a woman from the start) to take a bath and is seen by Moon Jae-Si - but he keeps this a secret. Maybe because he has his own secret to keep? Lee Seon-Joon finds himself confused by the attraction he feels towards his supposedly male roomate. And then there's the people around them who dislike seeing a cross-political group developing. So their friendship has to go through quite some trials.

I really like the university atmosphere set in a historical context, I like the friendship developing between the students. I also like how Kim Yun-Hee is portrayed as absolutely equal in terms of intelligence and intellectual talent and even - with much dedication and effort - able to compete in more physical subjects like archery and hockey. Actually the other women aren't to be ignored either: Kim's mum chose her love over her family, ending up a single mother, Ha Hyo-Eu probably being a typical woman of her times but rather strong-willed and infamous Gisaeng (a kind of Korean geisha) Cho-Su, who... well, I don't want to spoil too much.
Plus it's simply hilarious at times.
One thing I don't like is how they portray homosexuality. I guess it's partly owned to this being a historical drama, but still it would have been a nice change if one of them would actually have been gay. And of course you rather not think of how Kim Yun-Hee's able to hide her gender and issues of hygiene, monthly periods, etc...
Please don't let them notice, please don't let them notice...

The absolute highlight of this series are Moon Jae-Sin and Ku Yong-Ha- they're like the one true pairing of bromance. Ku Yong-Ha is this mischievous rascal, rich boy, fashionista, someone you'd suspect of being the gay character (personally I suspect he's bi) if he wouldn't be such a womanizer; complete with his own collection of the historical equivalent of porn mags. He has this amazing empathy and always seems to know exactly what's going on.
Moon Jae-Sin, delinquent, bad-ass fighter, read all the books in the library and completely awkward with women (he always gets a hiccup around them). Ku Yong-Ha knows Moon Jae-Sin so well and, with that smirk of his, plays tricks on him. They're so great together, the perfect team! They're outshining everything else in this series so much that some people on the internet demand them having their own TV series.

Moon Jae-Sin's my favourite of them anyway. I first was a bit put back by that attempt of a beard, but he's actually kinda cute (maybe I'm just a sucker for long hair, or it's the lips or the puppy dog eyes or the sweaty, shaggy, bloody - but I'm digressing). And even though he was shocked at finding out about his roomate being a woman, he instantly protects her, taking on a big-brother-like role. They get along so well together and then he remembers she's a girl and starts having hiccups and being awkward - so adorable!
(Side-note: These kind of guys really exist. They look frightening and tough at first, in their rocker outfit, but actually they're absolute sweethearts.)
But well, we all know of k-drama second leads, how they fall in love with the girl and she ends up with the other guy and they watch from the back, wishing well (still breaking my heart every time)... For once I'd prefer him not falling in love with her because I like their friendship too much. Besides the official couple is too cute not to like.

I'm not quite sure about the ending. It's good overall, but there's a bit... I can't really put my finger down on it. Maybe it's because I'm not sure I understand what happened (esp. concerning the future they showed).

Sungkyunkwan Scandal on AsianWiki
review on KDrama Fighting (This review has some background in the historical events - it's also generally good blog.)

PS, fun fact and spoiler: Kim Yun-Hees way to confess was pretty similar to how I confessed to my first boyfriend.

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