With an excellent writer / director team heading it up, Our Blooming Youth (2023) was definitely an historical drama I was going to check out and watch, even though it had been awhile since I had delved into any K-drama with twenty episodes (COVID had shortened most Korean dramas by several episodes for quite some time). However, considering that in the old days sageuk often went on for fifty episodes or longer we were still doing pretty well at only twenty for this one! Besides, once I saw that the writer Jung Hyun Jung had written several of my favorite dramas over the years, like I Need Romance 3, Discovery Of Love, Because It's The First Time, and Romance Is A Bonus Book, I was not about to miss Our Blooming Youth for the world! Some fans claimed that the plot of this drama was too complicated, however the old Joseon era in Korea was a complicated time: what was wrong with depicting that truth? Just go with the flow, don't nitpick every little twist and turn in the plot, and by the end of the story all the strange puzzle pieces will fall into place. You're in strong hands with director Lee Jong Jae who helmed the unforgettable 100 Days My Prince.
Our two main leads were delightful to watch; their characters were both moral and wise beyond their years, and quite spunky when it counted. Lead actor Park Hyung Sik playing a Crowned Prince (whom I had loved so much in Nine: Nine Time Travels and Soundtrack 1) and adorable lead actress Jeon So Nee playing a noble woman falsely accused of murder (great in Encounter and When My Love Blooms) had warm chemistry together; you could tell there was genuine respect and affection between them which transferred smoothly from real life to the screen. And, as usual, all the supporting cast were perfect as well, including lots of veteran actor faces who always acquit themselves fabulously well. Whoever was in charge of casting here: Great Job!
I must admit I developed quite the Second Male Leaditis Syndrome while watching this drama. That's what I call the common experience many K-drama fans have of falling in love with the second male lead character, who in this case was an extremely noble person whom it was easy to empathize with: he was played beautifully by actor Yun Jong Seok (Something In The Rain, The Crowned Clown). I knew all along his chances of ending up with the first female lead were basically nil, but I kept hoping just the same. He was just so perfect, so sacrificial! (I would have taken him in a heartbeat!).
Then, to my utter delight, who should pop up in the story but incredibly beautiful and accomplished actress Hong Soo Hyun (Roommate, Sangdoo Let's Go To School, Temptation Of An Angel, The Princess' Man, Lie To Me, Jang Ok Jung), playing a doomed Queen. What an amazing performance! I literally cheered when I recognized her. It had been awhile since I had seen her in something new. It was to the point that I was watching the story more for her character than for anyone else's, hoping against hope she would end up happy despite several early tragedies in her life.
About the only aspect of this historical drama I felt needed improvement was the soundtrack. I never walked away from any episode humming tunes from the show. A deep melodramatic story like this one really demanded an unforgettable OST, like something of the caliber of Goblin's. It was serviceable, just not outstanding.
My Favorite Scene:
The Phenomenal Polo Match Scene
The Royal Guards vs. The Army
(I Laughed Like Crazy!) :)
Min Jae Yi (Jeon So Nee) is a young noblewoman who is engaged to a man she thinks she's never met, a Sergeant in the Royal Army named Han Sung On (Yun Jong Seok). All he has of her is a beautiful feminine portrait that he stares at often, looking forward to the time when he will finally meet his future wife officially (little did he know he had met her as a child on an outing in the woods). Jae Yi is determined to be a good wife and mother, even if she never falls in love with Han Sung On. They have an engagement contract and she wants to dutifully fulfill it.
However, only four days before their planned marriage a tragedy occurs. Someone poisons Jae Yi's entire family, mother, father, siblings, while they eat a meal together. Horrified, unable to rouse them, she thinks she will be the next one to be killed and she runs away at lightning speed. The royal police are out to track her down, especially since rumors in the servants' quarters start everyone thinking that she must be the murderer. (You have to hand it to actress Jeon So Nee: most actresses want to look gorgeous in their first scenes of a drama or film, but here she had to look totally disheveled and bloody as she runs away from an attempted police arrest).
Eventually Jae Yi receives help from her best female friend, maid Jang Ga Ram (Pyo Ye Jin), and they decide the only way Jae Yi can avoid detection as a murder suspect of her family is to dress like a boy and change her name. Ga Ram decides to do the same. By some miracle Jae Yi meets the Crowned Prince of the Kingdom, named Prince Lee Hwan (Park Young Sik). He hears her story, and accepts her as one of his servant eunuchs in disguise. He doesn't believe she killed her family, there is no proof that has surfaced in the case.
Lee Hwan sympathizes with her because he seems to have become the victim of a ghost's curse. One of his arms was hit with a poisoned arrow and it often fails him when he does archery or hunting as part of his military training.
Incognito as a eunuch, Jae Yi sets out to find the murderers of her family, and the truth behind the curse that is afflicting Lee Hwan. The King (marvelous actor Lee Jong Hyuk, A Gentleman's Agreement, Master's Sun, Green Rose, Chuno) does not believe that a future King should have any disability. Lee Hwan could lose his title if he doesn't find out the truth about his cursed arm and who was behind the attack. He needs to have it healed. Both Jae Yi and Lee Hwan quietly seek out the truth behind their personal tragedies. Some of it may have been planned by a creepy, demonic shaman named Kim Moon Seon (Lee Chae Kyung) who has ill will toward them. She is eventually caught, tortured, and dies, but without revealing important secrets about the murders or the prince's curse.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Han Sung On, who had been betrothed to Jae Yi, grieves for her loss. There are even rumors that she might have died and her body just not found. When he meets Jae Yi dressed as a eunuch he does not recognize her; he only had that beautiful portrait to identify her. Jae Yi knows who he is, though, and can see he is a kind soul, however as time goes on she grows closer and closer to Prince Lee Hwan. The Prince knows they were both betrothed to one another and sometimes gets jealous when he sees them together. Eventually Han Sung On learns Jae Yi's real identity and vows to protect her and help her find the real murderers of her family. He can tell the Prince is falling in love with the woman he loves, but since he cares about the prince too, as a friend, he begins to back down from his emotional ties to Jae Yi. One of the court princesses named Haeyon (Jung Da Eun) has a huge crush on Sergeant Sung On. Will anything come of that in future?
Meanwhile there is another villain who might have been behind Jae Yi's and Lee Hwan's losses: the evil Right State Minister Jo Won Bo (Jung Woong In, who played the unforgettable villain in I Hear Your Voice). Everything he does in life is to raise himself up in the midst of the power struggles at the royal court. He had managed to take a lowly courtesan (Hong Soo Hyun), who had suffered the loss of the love of her life, a kind artisan who had been wrongly executed, and made her the Queen of the land, lying about her identity to the King, who had fallen deeply in love with her. When Won Bo feels like he can no longer control this Queen he quietly seeks to destroy her. Will he succeed?
There are so many interesting side characters in this drama, both serious and humorous, that it would take me a novel length tome to describe them all, so I will stop here, and urge you to watch this hypnotic historical drama and experience all these delightful characters for yourself. Our Blooming Youth will keep you on your toes mentally, and that's what all excellent K-dramas should do! (If you start to fall asleep on a Korean drama it's not doing its job!) You can watch this wonderful, intense historical drama on Viki.com. Enjoy!