The Painter Of The Wind
바람의 화가
SBS (2008) 20 Episodes

Historical Melodrama, Romance
Masterpiece, Grade: A+
Korean Drama Review by Jill

One of the few out of hundreds of K-dramas I've completed which have earned an A+ from me, The Painter Of The Wind (2008) delights on all fronts: cinematography, music, writing, directing (Jin Hyuk directed, he also directed Master's Sun, Shining Inheritance, Doctor Stranger, so he knows how to create successes), and most importantly the beautiful performances by a superb cast, many of whom will be familiar faces to the experienced K-drama fan.

The main attraction of this drama for me was actress Geun Young Moon, a favorite of mine since I watched the 2003 Korean film classic A Tale Of Two Sisters (she played the younger sister to much acclaim, in fact her national nickname is "The Nation's Little Sister"). Geun surpassed even that film with this subtle and beautiful performance in Painter. She had to play a complex character: youthful, innocent, artistic, humorous at times, sensitive and brave, confused about her sexuality in caring for both a man and a woman at the same time, bent on revenge, but smart and patient in achieving her goals; all this taking place in 18th century Joseon, when women basically had no rights. Geun pulls it off completely successfully, without once being maudlin or artificial.


The story was based on an historical novel by Lee Jung-myung, which took artistic license with late 18th century Joseon history, presenting a story where the famous and mysterious painter of that era, Shin Yun Bok, had really been a woman in disguise, not a man. In order to enter the royal school of professional painters called Dohwaseo, to develop her talents as an artist (and to also try to uncover who murdered her parents), she had to disguise herself as a man, since women were not permitted to enter the academy. Although Korea has produced several so called "gender bender" stories for television, this one is the most poignant and cerebral; it does not insult your intelligence: Geun Young Moon really does look, act, and speak like a young man in this drama. I raised three sons so I know how they move, speak, behave, and she aced a young man perfectly. How refreshing compared to the majority of these gender bender dramas where it's painfully obvious the "boy" is really a girl.

The Story: In the year 1766, Kang Su Hang, a famous painter and senior member of Dohwaseo, the Royal Academy of Painting, was found murdered after being secretly commissioned by the son of the Crown Prince, who would later become King Jeongjo (1752-1800, the 22nd King of the Joseon Dynasty), here played beautifully by Bae Soo Bin (Shining Inheritance, 49 Days, etc). It was nice for a change to see a King presented in an historical drama who didn't have knee jerk reactions to everything but thought things through carefully before he acted.


The commission was to paint a portrait of the then Crown Prince, Jeongjo's father. Genius artist Seo Jing (
Han Jung Soo from Chuno), another member of Dohwaseo, was found dead a short time later, stabbed to death. Seo Jing's wife was also murdered and their little daughter Yun Bok (Kim Yoo Jung) witnessed her parents' murders while hiding in a closet; she later goes missing, the shock of everything that occurred causing her to temporarily lose her memory, and an ambitious nobleman finds and adopts her, named Shin Han Yeong (played by veteran Ahn Suk Hwan from Personal Taste, Chuno, and many more). He dresses her like a boy, renames her Hye Won, and raises her as his second son. He is all too aware that the child already has magnificent drawing skills inherited from her murdered father, and he senses that, in time, that extraordinary talent will only bode well for his household's success in the royal court.

In time Hye Won becomes completely comfortable in her new masculine persona, and it looks like sometimes she even forgets she is a woman! Jeongjo's father dies without ever having his portrait painted ... or so everyone thinks, at first. King Jeongjo never forgets that he was cheated out of committing his father's face to canvas, or that the artists commissioned to do the work on it were killed by unknown assailants. It makes him unable to trust those around him, especially his royal grandmother Queen Jeongsun (Im Ji Eun from The King's Face), who often acts secretly against him with various shady noblemen. Their relationship is extremely tenuous, and they constantly play cat and mouse games with each other (which are amusing for the audience to watch).

Hye Won and Hong Do: their relationship
is the main delight of this intense drama

In one part of the plot the Queen takes a lover, and the day afterward reflects on her experience by leaning against a tree and musing in the sunshine: Hye Won, now an art student at the academy, happens to spy on her over a stone wall, thinks she is beautiful, and sketches her intimately. Then the image becomes public (today we would say "it went viral", lol!), and the Queen is out to discover just who drew her in such an "embarrassing" way, so she sends her corrupt cronies out to find the truth.

Will Hye Won be identified, and will that put her life at risk, or that of her fellow students at the academy, her family, or even worse, her beloved art teacher Kim Hong Do (Park Shin Yang, who gives a brilliant performance!) whom she quickly developed a secret crush on? In his turn Hong Do finds himself drawn to Hye Won so intensely, so admiring of her artistic talents, that he several times risks his own career and life to protect "him". Hong Do years earlier had actually been a friend of her murdered father, but neither one recognizes each other after all that time had passed. Hong Do had been searching for his friend's missing daughter for ten years, and has no idea he's been teaching her all this time!

One of Shin Yun Bok's most famous paintings,
showing clandestine lovers on a moonlit night

King Jeongjo also discovers Hye Won's alias Yun Bok's enormous artistic talent. Student and teacher begin to serve as the secret eyes of the King, depicting the true reality of the common people outside the palace walls in drawings and paintings, and his delight in their work brings them powerful jealous rivals at court, especially among the noblemen who have sons at the royal art academy. Why don't their sons receive the same popularity and royal acknowledgement as this upstart Hye Won?

Powerful palace officials conspire to get rid of the two painters, among them the same evil ones who had killed artists Seo Jin and Kang Su Hang a decade before. Soon afterward, teacher and student are both kicked out of Dohwaseo. Then, the
King secretly orders the pair to find evidence of the portrait of his father supposedly painted by Kang Su Hang ten years earlier before his murder. Kim Hong Do and and Hye Won are ultimately successful in recovering the portrait, overcoming hurdles and dangerous traps set up by enemies, but there is a catch: the face on the portrait is missing! Could it have been hidden somewhere else, or could it actually be embedded in the canvas for protection?

The Painter and His "Boy" Apprentice Paint The King

While all this intrigue is going on, teacher Kim Hong Do realizes that he is falling in love with Hye Won alias Shin Yun Bok, but keeps his feelings hidden: will he ever find out that the young "man" he loves and protects is actually the daughter of his murdered best friend, whom he has been privately searching for for years? (Stranger things have happened; I recently read a news story that a young woman searching for her birth mother had actually been working with her in the same company for years!).

The Two Moons:
Chae Won Moon and Geun Young Moon working on,
& accepting awards for, their lovely performances
in The Painter Of The Wind (2008)

Hong Do also comes to realize that the young and innocent Hye Won has had her own inexplicable artist crush on a beautiful lady named Jeong Hyang (the extraordinarily gorgeous Chae Won Moon, who gives a gentle and luminous performance in this drama), and so he keeps all his feelings to himself.

To me it was never exactly clear whether Hye Won loved this woman romantically, or just loved her for her perfect beauty, which would stir the emotions of any true artist, man or woman. I always felt that Hye Won really loved her "savior", the teacher who had saved her life on multiple occasions. Poor Jeong Hyang does fall deeply in love with "Painter", as she calls "him", but there is danger ahead: she is the unhappy kept woman of a rich and evil merchant named Kim Jo Nyun (actor
Ryu Seung-ryong from Personal Taste) and he is an extremely jealous man. He catches on quickly to the secrets that Jeong Hyang and Hye Won share, and even begins to suspect the real sex of Hye Won. He threatens to harm Jeong Hyang if Hye Won won't agree to a public art competition between herself and her teacher. They are both trapped into doing the competition and hundreds of people in the royal city place their bets as to who will win. Whoever loses will be banished from the land.

Will Hong Do and Hye Won figure out they are being set into a huge trap by evil noblemen and merchants, and set up their own trap? Will the true identities of the murderers of the artists ever be uncovered? Will Hong Do ever find out that Hye Won is really a girl named Shin Yun Bok, the daughter of his friend? What will happen to the beautiful Jeong Hyang? Will the King ever catch on to the real exploits and hidden agendas of the Queen Mother?

There are so many additional layers of this story which make it so complex, therefore mesmerizing: I never once fell asleep on this involving drama. It's also filmed so beautifully, the costumes, landscapes, authentic looking palaces and villages, that it's almost like watching moving poetry on screen. Also, note that while some of the characters' feelings are complicated there are no nude scenes or sex scenes: these characters are actually pretty chaste, they are just trying to survive in a repressive system, and they all have to suppress any romantic feelings they might have for one another because "there are eyes everywhere". What matters here is the heart and the spirit of the characters, and not so much bodies. Those are the kinds of shows I like the best. For instance my first reaction at seeing the first male lead was "he's so much older than her", but that quickly fell by the wayside when I saw how compassionate he was as a human being: he becomes beautiful in your eyes, despite his being old enough to be her father, because of the strength of his character, his kindness, intelligence, and giving nature.

Don't miss this wonderful historical drama. It's considered a classic now and for good reasons. You can buy a DVD box set at Amazon at THIS LINK. Enjoy!


Screen Captures from The Painter of the Wind (2008)