Three Musketeers (삼총사)
tvN (2014) 12 Episodes, Grade: C
Historical, Action, Comedy
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

There were a lot of high expectations for this Korean drama, The Three Musketeers (2014), especially due to the casting of two big Korean star names, Lee Jin Wook (Nine: Nine Time Travels) and Jung Yong Hwa (Heartstrings), but the actual execution of this show lacked a spark that was required to make it a big success. The script writing could have been better, clearer and more cohesive, the direction by Kim Byung Soo could have been far more deft, the overall vision for the story could have been more concise -- at certain times during the show it felt like they were just throwing random ideas around in the script instead of following a solid narrative form. It did have some good camera work and beautiful nature vistas but those two components alone can't hold up a sinking ship. Even if someone had been filming the Titanic sinking on that haunting star-filled night that wouldn't have stopped it from going under.

This historical drama was hyped originally as a three-season, multi-million dollar blockbuster project for tvN, but it ended up a financial wash out. The best laid plans of mice and K-drama producers went awry. It also really needed an exceptional musical score fit for an epic, but I didn't come away from this one humming a single tune, unlike 99% of other K-dramas. 

Maybe the Korean drama makers should have paid attention to how previous film versions of this classic story by Alexandre Dumas were produced, for instance even the classic silent American film version with Douglas Fairbanks from 1921 was more fun to watch than this mostly tiresome romp. tvN cancelled the show due to very poor ratings (average 1%!). A lame ending on episode twelve, where a fight breaks out in a tavern, didn't make much sense, and was obviously tacked on as an afterthought to try and lead to a sequel that will never be made. The few really dedicated fans of this show should have known when to get on the lifeboats and move away from the sinking ship.

The poor horses Jung Yong Hwa's character rode were run into the ground,
in the first three episodes! If I were a horse I wouldn't go near him! I felt so
sorry for the horses when they collapsed ... seemingly symbolic of this entire
drama! Mr. Ed would NOT be pleased. "Wilbur, rescue me!"

The poor ratings must have disappointed the actors very much -- especially Lee Jin Wook who seemed rather bland in his role as the Crown Prince of the story, after having such a big success the previous year with the superior drama Nine: Nine Time Travels. Maybe his heart sank seeing the ratings and he just started to walk through his role. I never became emotionally involved with his character of the Crown Prince, unlike his character in Nine. Good looking guy, always, but the character seemed more like a prima dona than a potential King. He put other people at risk for their lives obsessing over some forbidden woman he had thought dead, who comes back into his life, and he seems - at first - to care more about her than his own pretty, long-suffering wife at home who was desperate for him to love her.


On the other hand the quality of acting from younger star Jung Yong Hwa seemed to improve as the show went on, and that surprised me. He was no Douglas Fairbanks but he had an earnestness about him that I quite liked. Maybe he reacted to the poor ratings by trying extra hard to flesh out his character and make him more exciting. However, the failure of the show was not his fault in any case; for example he reacted well to a scene where a bunch of Chinese renegades (called "Barbarians" in the show) were going to shoot him with arrows, however the whole scene just fizzled out because all they did was aim the arrows into the sky instead of at him! If his life was never at risk then the suspense of the scene completely fizzles out. Why bother at all? (And it was supposed to be a cliffhanger at the end of episode 2!). Yawn. It reminded me of something the senile Witch of The Waste in Howl's Moving Castle would have been enamored of as she stared up at the sky: "Pretty arrows!" LOL!

We just love to shoot arrows into the sky for FUN!
Aiming correctly at our target is SO over-rated!

The Story: Loosely based on the original 1844 story by Alexandre Dumas, this Korean historical drama takes place in the Joseon era when King Injo was on the throne - Injo was played well by actor Kim Myung Soo and his character here was based on King Louis the 13th depicted in the Dumas novel.

Young man Park Dal-hyang (Jung Yong Hwa, his character loosely based on d'Artagnan in the original story) leaves his country home where he had lived cossetted by his parents for most of his life, off on his long journey equipped with a tired, old horse given to him by his father, and a purse of coins given to him by his mother. His goal is to go to the royal city and apply for a government position by taking the annual civil service / military exam. He thinks at the start he will have an easy time of it. His father had played up his connections in the city government, which fizzle out as soon as Dal-hyang gets there, and then a pickpocket steals most of his money. He has to beg for accommodations and then finds out a great number of men have descended upon the city with the same goal of taking the exam
. How can he possibly compete with all the challengers? He will soon find out that impressing higher ups in person goes further for a successful career than any civil service certificate.

At a tavern, Dal-hyang lucks out and meets one of the Crown Prince's bodyguards who used to be a monk when young, Ahn Min-seo (Jung Hae-in, based on Aramis) and they hit it off, and he also meets up with the Crown Prince's flamboyant number one bodyguard and personal warrior-protector, Heo Seung-po (Yang Dong-geun, based on Porthos), and they hit it off as well. This trio just seems meant to be, all risk takers and loyal to a cause.

"All for one, and one for all
... into 1% Land!!!"

Through them the Crown Prince Sohyeon (Lee Jin Wook, his character based on Athos) sizes Dal-hyang up positively as well. Dal-hyang seems a shoe-in after impressing them all in various ways, and now all that remains is for him to pass that test! He does .... but in 28th place out of 28! Hardly impressive.

Nevertheless, the Crown Prince has already developed an affection for him and secretly arrives at his humble sleeping quarters to issue an order for Dal-hyang to track down the Prince's long thought dead female obsession, Jo Mi-ryung (actress Yoo In Young from My Love From Another Star and Mask, her character based on Milady de Winter in the original story). Completely in the dark about Sohyeon's obsession for this woman is his long patient, loving wife, Princess Yoon-seo (played by actress Seo Hyun Jin, her character based on Anne of Austria). It turns out she had known Dal-hyang before she was married and when they meet again she basically warns him she loves her husband and for him to harbor no secret longings for her. Dal-hyang nods in the affirmative.

Eventually the Crown Prince realizes the pain he is causing his wife and starts to pay her some attention but I wanted to see it sooner rather than later. The Obsession aligns herself with the Chinese barbarians, teasing and egging Sohyeon on to catch her and make her his kept woman, but she is clearly psychotic and eventually he begins to see it.


The patient wife and the impatient obsession

Can the privately hired trio of Dal-hyang, Min Seo, and Seung Po protect the Crown Prince from those who wish him harm? What if the biggest threat to Sohyeon isn't really so much from the Chinese barbarians, but from his own paranoid father, King Injo? Injo is very insecure about being King and keeping the affection of the people. The story of Injo and his son Sohyeon is also brought up in my favorite Korean drama, Chuno. (I would recommend you to watch that great drama instead of this one any day!). At the time I watched that drama I read up on their history and it's very probable that King Injo actually killed his own son (in real life by poison) and buried his body immediately to hide the evidence, and this paranoid fear he has of his son is hinted at here during the hanging scene near the end of the drama, when Injo orders the Three Musketeers AND his own son the Crown Prince executed, as the people beg the King not to do so.

SPOILER: No one dies during that scene, but the testiness between fearful father and humbled son is strongly suggested.