I watched The Princess' Man (2011), a sweeping and epic historical and romantic Korean drama about forbidden love between two children of warring families, because I'm a big fan of actor Park Shi Hoo, whom I had loved in two other popular Korean television shows, both romantic comedies combination melodramas, called Cheongdamdong Alice (2012) with Geun Young Moon (that one remains my top favorite of his performances) and Prosecutor Princess (2010) with Kim So Yeon. The Princess' Man gave me an opportunity to see him in a very popular historical dramatic role set back in time to the 15th century Joseon Era ... not to mention a chance to see him sporting long hair, which looks dreamy on him!
Many of the historical characters in the drama are loosely based on real people and royals, so that gave the show an added interest to those of us who like to learn about history. The ratings for this drama were very high, from 11% at the beginning, progressing to as high as 35% near the end, and that makes sense, for as the story progresses the action becomes non-stop intense, with cliffhangers that hook you and make you want to continue immediately without pausing for breaks.
The main female character was supposedly based on a King's daughter who had displeased her father, which resulted in her existence being struck out of the official history records. So the writer of this drama, Jung-joo Jo, was free to create an imaginary picture of her, and it worked well for the drama, for this character was great fun to watch: she had spunk, vitality, loved adventure, and wasn't afraid to live her life the way she wanted, and to make her own decisions, regardless of whether or not they were approved of in the society of the time, when women were basically seen as chattel and possessions. She was played delectably by actress Moon Chae Won (who played Joo Won's autistic savant character's sweetheart in Good Doctor) who is a very wholesome beauty and plays virginal but passionate heroines impeccably.
Another highlight for me was watching delicate beauty actress Hong Soo Hyun (from the melodramas Temptation of an Angel and Lie To Me and the first season of Roommate) in a lushly written part about a princess who is bound to suffer through an arranged marriage with someone she doesn't know, whom at first sight she is repulsed by, but whom she finally grows to love because of his brave soul and kind heart. In fact I think her romance with her husband was even more endearing and touching than the main couple's romance! I just love watching this woman act, and the actor who played her husband, Lee Min-woo, is now a new favorite of mine -- and he's been working in TV dramas since 1981 when he was a boy. Talk about Jill arriving late to the party!
Park Shi Hoo and Moon Chae Won as loyal sweethearts in The Princess' Man
Hong Soo Hyun and Lee Min Woo play spouses who fall in love after marriage
The drama begins in a rather carefree, light-hearted way. Two beautiful female cousins and princesses, both of who are of marriageable age, decide to switch places when a new tutor is appointed for Princess Kyunghye (Hong Soo Hyun), daughter of the current King Munjong (veteran actor Jung Dong-hwan). Her cousin Seryung Lee (Moon Chae Won) daughter of the ruthlessly ambitious Grand Prince Suyang (veteran actor Yeong-cheol Kim from IRIS) hears a rumor that this tutor named Seung-yoo Kim (Park Shi Hoo), son of the King's trusted prime minister Jong-seo Kim (veteran actor Lee Soon-jae), will be her future husband. Seryung wants to catch a glimpse of him before any official engagement is announced and Princess Kyunghye, sick of prior boring tutors she had who often made a play for her body, agrees to switch places with her cousin Seryung.
Free-spirited princess Seryung loves to learn how to ride
a horse properly from "Teacher" Seung-yoo, who thinks
she is Princess Kyunghye whom he might marry
Seryung's first impression of tutor Seung-yoo is not positive, as he boldly raises the curtain between them to take a look at the woman he thinks is Princess Kyunghye, and she is convinced that he is a ladies' man and not to be trusted. Later, as she attempts to master her current obsession with riding a horse, her horse runs away with her and Seung-yoo proves he's made of chivalrous stuff when he saves her from being thrown off a cliff. A mutual attraction begins.
Evil Incarnate Grand Prince Suyang (later King Sejo), Seryung's father, conspires to take the throne away from his
twelve year old nephew, who is the rightful King after his father's death. Many are killed so he can attain the throne.
Veteran Actor Yeong-cheol Kim plays a complex diabolical man with great aplomb, just like he did in IRIS.
Meanwhile, Jong-seo Kim rejects Suyang's proposal because he understands the Grand Prince's not-so-secret aspirations regarding the throne, and he allies himself firmly with King Munjong instead. King Munjong is impressed with Seung-yoo as a capable teacher and sees merit in having him on his side as a son-in-law. He announces that Seung-yoo has been chosen as the Prince Consort.
Seung-yoo, who still believes Seryung is the real Princess he is to marry, is glad of the decision because of his growing feelings for her. Beginning to understand her passion to escape the confines of her cloistered life, he offers to teach her how to ride a horse properly, and they also stroll around a village and he even pushes her on a swing so she can win a contest, which delights her. Love is blossoming even more, but there is danger ahead!
Actor Jong-ho Song as Myeon Sin, once a friend to Seung-yoo, but who back-stabs him due to jealousy
(Privately I got a kick out of his name because it looks like My Own Sin - LOL!)
However, the couple's blissful time together is cut short by an unexpected attack by bandits, who were actually sent by the evil Suyang to assassinate Seung-yoo as revenge against Jong-seo Kim and to get Seung-yoo out of the way as a consort candidate. Seung-yoo is injured by an arrow in the back, and as Seryung risks her life to save him, the Chief Magistrate of the Capital's Police Bureau, Myeon Sin (actor Jong-ho Song from The Suspicious Housekeeper and Will It Snow For Christmas?) chances to pass by and saves them both.
Myeon Sin also happens to be Seung-yoo's best friend at this time, along with the jovial, good natured Jung Jong (actor Lee Min Woo), whose noble family has fallen on economic hard times. Meanwhile, Seung-yoo and Seryung still meet outside the palace. Even though Myeon Sin senses his friend's growing admiration for Seryung, he too finds himself drawn to the brave and beautiful girl. His dilemma grows bigger when Grand Prince Suyang offers Seryung's hand in marriage to him in the hope of building an alliance with his politician father. Jealousy rears its ugly head in Myeon Sin's heart and grows even greater as the story progresses, to the point where he is willing to murder his best friend to get him out of the way.
Park Shi Hoo's character Seung-yoo begins life as a scholar,
transitioning to a rebel against King Sejo, the father of his sweetheart
Seryung learns that Seung-yoo is chosen as the candidate for Prince Consort for her cousin instead of herself and she is devastated. Her cousin, Princess Kyunghye understands the political importance of marrying Seung-yoo and orders her not to meet Seung-yoo again, suspecting that the two are falling in love. Meanwhile, Seung-yoo and Seryung STILL continue to meet outside the palace. However, they are tailed by Suyang's spies. Following their time together, Seung-yoo writes a letter to Seryung and of course sends it to the real Princess Kyunghye instead. At the next lesson time, Kyunghye locks up Seryung and takes her place, thereby revealing the deception to Seung-yoo as she orders the curtain to be lifted between them. She hides Seryung's true identity from him by calling her a palace maid who took her place as a joke. Seung-yoo is devastated but keeps looking for the "palace maid" regardless.
Soo-hyun Hong's character Princess Kyunghye begins life selfish and spoiled,
and then becomes humanized by true love and motherhood
The letter from Seung-yoo, discarded by Princess Kyunghye, falls into the hands of Suyang. Using the letter, he demands that Seung-yoo be disqualified as a candidate for Prince Consort, insinuating that he dishonored the Princess by meeting her outside the palace and even taking her to a gisaeng house to rest when she was exhausted and injured. When interrogated, Seung-yoo lies and says he did not meet the Princess and hides Seryung's part in it to spare her danger.
Seryung begs Princess Kyunghye to intercede for Seung-yoo. Despite her intercession, the penalty for Seung-yoo's transgression is death. Suyang discovers Seryung when she secretly visits Seung-yoo in prison and is horrified to learn of their romantic entanglement. Relieved that Seung-yoo does not know who she is, he agrees to save Seung-yoo's life if Seryung agrees to never meet him again and to never reveal her identity to him.
Veteran actor Lee Soon-jae plays Park Shi Hoo's father, Prime Minister Jong-seo Kim
Jong-seo Kim, desperate to save his son, approaches Suyang for help and agrees to pay the humiliating price of resigning his Vice Premiership. Seung-yoo's sentence is commuted to temporary exile. In place of Seung-yoo, the jovial Jung Jong is chosen as Prince Consort instead, bringing a drastic change in his fortunes. He is smitten with Princess Kyunghye from the beginning; however, she detests him and thinks of him as a clown and an opportunist. Seryung's relationship with her cousin Kyunghye is also strained, with the Princess blaming her cousin for all the misfortunes she has undergone (and I think to a large extent she is right!).
King Munjong collapses on the day of his daughter's arranged wedding to Jung Jong, and his health takes a turn for the worse. Seung-yoo is summoned back by his older brother Seung-gyu (Jung-kyu Heo), in order to assist their father in safeguarding the interests of the King. Seung-yoo runs into Seryung on his return but coldly severs all ties with her. However, Seryung's concern for her cousin, coupled with the fact that Jung Jong is Seung-yoo's friend, force the two to meet again. Both find it hard to repress their feelings and finally Seung-yoo declares his love for her. However, at the same time King Munjong dies. Suyang and his cronies arrive at the palace, jubilant that they can now control the young Crown Prince Danjong (Tae-yeob Noh) who is only twelve years old. However, their plans are thwarted by Jong-seo, who had been reinstated by the late King to protect his minor son from Suyang's machinations. Furious, Suyang vows to kill Jong-seo and his kin and so begins a long trail of death in Suyang's ambition to be King instead of a proper guardian to the young King, his nephew. Boo! Hiss!
As Se-ryung and Seung-yoo blissfully revel in their love, Suyang prepares to stage a coup against Seung-yoo. Seryung stumbles on the plot too late and is foiled in her attempts to warn Seung-yoo and his family. Supported by Myeon Sin, Suyang ruthlessly murders all his opponents, including Seung-yoo's father and brother. Now Seung-yoo is responsible for his brother's wife and child and has to finally completely grow up overnight. Myeon Sin, believing that Seung-yoo is dead, stops the other men from beheading him. As he is about to bury him, Myeon Sin realizes that Seung-yoo is still alive and attempts to kill him again, but fails. He turns around and leaves, giving Seung-yoo the chance to escape.
Actor Lee Min Woo played my favorite character in this story, Jung Jong, the loving and
kind and patient husband of Princess Kyunghye, Starting life as a dreamer and a clown
he ends up giving his life for the lost cause of freedom from a despotic King
Reeling from shock at his father's public beheading and his brother's murder, Seung-yoo tries to kill Suyang, only to be shaken to his core to finally discover that Seryung is his worst enemy's daughter. Seung-yoo is sentenced to be killed. However, a last minute intercession by the Crown Prince saves his life and he is exiled to Kanghwa Island, along with the rest of Suyang's enemies. When Seryung visits him in prison she admits her identity and begs him to survive, even if it is just so that he can kill her in retaliation!
En route to Kanghwa Island, the ship is sunk to ensure that none of Suyang's enemies survive. However, aided by a fellow prisoner, Seok-joo Jo (charismatic Kim Roi-ha), Seung-yoo manages to escape and return. Taking refuge at the gisaeng house owned by Seok-joo, Seung-yoo plots his revenge. Meanwhile, Seryung learns that Seung-yoo's ship sank and thinks he's dead. Despite her mourning, her parents fix the date of her wedding with Myeon Sin, whom she now despises.
In an attempt to bait Suyang, Seung-yoo kidnaps Seryung on the day of her wedding. He is mercilessly cruel to her, and reveals her father's part in the sinking of the ship. Suyang shows up to claim his beloved daughter but he survives Seung-yoo's arrow because of his armor. Meanwhile, Myeon Sin shoots an arrow at Seung-yoo, which is intercepted by Seryung who takes the brunt of it. Shaken by her sacrifice on his behalf, Seung-yoo is shocked and he escapes only because Seok-joo and his friend Noh-gyul (Jong-hwa Yoon) save him by forcibly dragging him away from her body.
Actor Tae-yeob Noh plays King Danjong who is forced to
abdicate, be exiled, and eventually murdered by King Sejo
Seryung is taken home by her father and Myeon Sin is suspicious of her because she took the arrow on behalf of her kidnapper and his former best friend Seung-yoo. However, the encounter with Seung-yoo and the kidnapping changes Seryung's attitude towards her father, now that she is aware of the extent to which they will do anything for power and ambition.
Seung-yoo reveals that he is alive to his friend Jung Jong and he is relieved to have an ally in the fight against Suyang. Foiled in his attempt to kill Suyang, Seung-yoo starts assassinating those who were privy to his family's murder. He leaves behind the alias of his deceased father, Great Tiger, at each site of his revenge, to stir fear among his enemies. Seryung's attempts to atone for her father's atrocities gradually melts Seung-yoo's anger away, especially when he learns that she saved his sister-in-law Lady Ryu (Deuk-hee Ga) and niece Ah-Kang's (Yoo-bin Kim). Grand Prince Suyang forces the young King Danjong, his nephew, to abdicate, and becomes crowned King Sejo of Joseon. Seryung refuses to be crowned Princess and continues to bravely defy her father.
This precious child actress Yoo-bin Kim played Seung-yoo's tiny niece Ah-Kang
with unbelievable maturity for a 6 year old child! I was floored. She held her
own with all the adult actors. In 2014 she played Lee Bo Young's kidnapped
daughter in God's Gift: 14 Days, showing her brilliance once again!
Seung-yoo gives up his vigilante assassinations at the behest of his old teacher Yi Gae (Uhm Hyo-sup), who urges him to join the larger cause of dethroning Sejo and restoring Danjong. Seryung inadvertently learns of the plot and is caught in a terrible dilemma. Saving her father will come at the cost of her love and vice versa. However, the rebellion which was led by Six Scholars of the Hall of Worthies, including Seung-yoo's beloved teacher fails, leading to their deaths and the exile of Princess Kyunghye and her husband Jung Jong, whom she is now deeply in love with, having finally consummated her marriage to him.
Seung-yoo's Teacher (Uhm Hyo-sup) and Jung Jong are led off to their deaths for participating
in a rebellion, only Jung Jong is saved when his wife Kyunghye begs for his life in front of King Sejo
Seung-yoo manages to escape, but Myeon Sin discovers his true identity. King Sejo learns that Seung-yoo is alive and that Seryung may have had knowledge of the plot. The rift between father and daughter grows even bigger. Seryung in a symbolic move cuts her hair in front of him and renounces all ties to her father.
When she takes refuge in a temple after leaving the palace, Seung-yoo takes her with him to the gisaeng house for protection. However, when Myeon Sin and his guards nearly tear apart the place searching for her, she surrenders herself up to them. In his rage, King Sejo sentences her to become a slave of Myeon Sin. However, Seung-yoo and his friends rescue her in the nick of time. Myeon Sin, completely obsessed with her now to the point of insanity, refuses to give up his quest to possess Seryung and follows the pair to Princess Kyunghye and Jung Jong's place of exile. Myeon Sin comes to learn that Jung Jong is plotting yet another rebellion against King Sejo when an incriminatory rebel paper is mistakenly dropped to the ground as he stands close by. Poor Jung Jong is arrested again and this time executed by King Sejo, being torn apart limb from limb in a public execution, leaving behind a devastated and pregnant Kyunghye. Nice guy, that King Sejo!
Meanwhile, in addition to their grief over the loss of Jung Jong, the lovers Seung-yoo and Seryung face even more obstacles. The rebel leaders with whom Seung-yoo continues the plan for the attack against the King refuse to accept her because of her family link to the King.
Despite their personal perils, Seung-yoo and Seryung pledge their love as husband and wife, consummate their marriage, and agree to separate till the battle is over. However, when Myeon Sin plans to use Seryung as bait to lure Seung-yoo, she is on to him and escapes and warns her husband, although it risks her life when the rebel soldiers think she's a royal spy.
In the battle that follows, Myeon Sin is killed (YAY!) and Seung-yoo's side wins. Seung-yoo moves forward with his plan to assassinate the evil King Sejo and nearly succeeds, but a momentary distraction caused by learning of Seryung's pregnancy from Sejo stops him from killing his future baby's grandfather. Seung-yoo is sent to jail, and Seryung goes to see him, wanting her baby to at least know who his or her father is. Seung-yoo nearly dies and Seryung accepts her fate of living the rest of her life alone. However, Seryung's mother Queen Yoon (Kim Seo-ra) orchestrates their escape, unwilling to see another one of her children perish (her only son had died previously of an unknown illness). She tells her husband the King that both Seung-yoo and Seryung died and she had them buried together in an unmarked grave. Seryung had always been Sejo's favorite daughter despite all her rebellion against him, and now he thinks he has lost two of his children instead of just one.
My favorite brooding shot of actor Park Shi Hoo from The Princess' Man
Years later, Seung-yoo has become blind after his prior brush with death when his head had been injured. However, both he and his wife now have a sweet daughter and are happy, even in poverty and isolation. In the backdrop of their bliss of finally being together in peace, after many incredible hurdles throughout their lives, an aged and afflicted King Sejo stumbles upon them by accident (or perhaps designed ahead of time by his aged wife) and he is in shock; he watches his daughter's happiness from afar and smiles happily, apparently willing to let his old bitterness against them fade away, as he heads off with his wife to the hot springs to find relief for his ailing body..
Great things about this drama: it's intensity and excellent writing and addictive cliffhangers, a great cast including very enjoyable supporting actors, gorgeous cinematography with multi-use cameras, and two nice love songs. Things I would change: the tension music that was primarily used for the drama, of a women's choir and a repetitive driving beat, was simply over-used. Every drama needs at least three pieces of varied tension music, not just one. Theme-wise it was appropriate for the drama, but not when used multiple times per episode! I also personally wanted to see King Sejo get his comeuppance at the end for torturing and murdering so many people, including his own flesh and blood, to attain a throne by illegal means. When you watch 24 episodes of a drama depicting lots of violence you want to see the main villain receive some justice. Saying that "history records Sejo as a successful king" is like saying Hitler was a great leader because he built beautiful buildings and made the trains run on time! No can do. Rulers who are murderers, especially of children, could NEVER be good Kings.