Rookie Historian, Goo Hae-ryung – Series Impression

Yes, I’m clearing up my in-progress back-log in this holiday lull and Rookie Historian, Goo Hae-ryung had been in limbo at episode 6 for too long and deserved a speedier completion. Although it suffered from a slightly split personality tonally, there is a lot to recommend about this fantasy piece (because after all, it is a fantasy to think that a female, let alone a historian where she to exist, would ever be permitted the free rein to speak and act as our heroine does in a Confucian society, but let’s not let facts get in the way of our enjoyment, okay?)

It took me a while, but I’ve come around to really enjoying Shin Se-kyung’s work, and as our heroine Goo Hae-ryung she shines. I particularly like the timbre of her speaking voice which is low and melodious. She’s nobody’s patsy or plaything and an independent woman with a mind of her own. She’s got no time for romance novels, such as the drivel written and published anonymously by the youthful Prince Dowon (played by Astro vocalist Cha Eun-woo, he of the sparkling dark eyes and innocent face and coltish limbs). She wants to learn things that mean something, like astronomy or medicine or history, so when the chance comes to sit for a civil service exam given for women in a ploy by government officials to keep secrets and weaken the current regime, she does what any girl needs to do. She works out a deal with a prospective bridegroom and skedaddles!

This is a large cast of regular characters, what with the 4 women chosen as historians, the 10 or so main male historians (including Lee Ji-hoon as the 2nd in seniority but of his status), the royal family, including older brother crown prince (Park Ki-woong) and father, grandmother, etc., and the key manipulative ministers, and so on, but they all tie in… eventually. I confess, the plotting for the throne part is fairly predictable so you have my blessing to fast-forward to your heart’s content. You’ve seen one coup plot you’ve seen ’em all, but the scenes with Shin Se-kyung and Cha Eun-woo are sparkly good fun.

He’s still green as an actor and it shows, but in a way that’s kind of okay because he’s playing a 21-year-old naive and sheltered baby prince with a loving heart who wants to be loved, who’s living in virtual isolation. She’s older than he by about 6 years in the story and has a lot more life experience so it’s perfectly logical that she should be more forceful and better able to control most situations in which they find themselves. They are so appealing together that it’s not hard to imagine that they could find each other attractive.

It’s also relatively interesting to imagine the ‘what ifs’ of a court that would allow women to have any kind of role of this importance, and what it might have meant to government structure. While some women have over the course of time played influential roles, they were far and few between.

Some of the other characters of note are those played by Park Ki-woong as the crown prince, caught between a rock and a hard place — or many rocks and hard places (cruel father, wife he cares nothing for because she’s daughter to his ministerial enemy, etc.). He’s underutilized in this role, but it’s nice to see him back in dramaland. Lee Ji-hoon as the moral and honorable historian sonbae gets a little more meat in his role as the brother-in-law to the crown prince and son of the villain of the piece. He’s proving to be a versatile actor too, handling drama and comedy equally well.

I think they could have trimmed some of the subplots and had a tighter, more cohesive story, and in a way if they’d not gone a little too far into progressivist history (just saying that of all the radical insertions of modernistic takes on aspects of the plot, the ending could never, ever happen) it would have potentially had more skin in the game, emotionally speaking because the risks would have been more grave, more realistic. If it were tonally more consistent it would have been a better drama, but I’ll recommend it (with judicious use of fast-forwarding) on the whole, and mainly for Shin Se-kyung.

#cha-eun-woo, #heo-jung-doo, #kong-jung-hwan, #lee-ji-hoon, #park-ki-woong, #rookie-historian-goo-hae-ryung, #shin-se-kyung, #sung-ji-ru

Finding myself in an unusual position with a drama

I’d started on My I.D. Is Gangnam Beauty last year because I’d seen a lot of favorable comments on the drama, but only watched the first episode. Why did I stop? I was shallow, that’s why.

For some reason, I just couldn’t connect with either of the two lead characters. Their frozen-faced stares (his of the burning almost sullen type, hers of the deer in the headlights variety) frustrated me, but especially her inability to speak up for herself in situations that were potentially dangerous to her safety. The especially shallow side of me could not associate the looks of the actress with someone who is considered a campus beauty (thanks to her character’s complete plastic surgery overhaul) as actually being beautiful. I’ve seen photos of the actress (Im Soo-hyang) and know that she can appear more attractive than she does here, but her hairstyle and wardrobe do her no favors. Cha Eun-woo, one of the group Astro, is definitely good-looking, but initially he’s so wooden (and sullen) that he could be out-acted by a cardboard cut-out.

But… I thought I’d give it a second chance when it popped up on my screen last night, and I have to say, even though I’m still not finding either lead all that physically appealing, the plot and the situations and message of this drama grew on me with every subsequent episode. (And yes, I like to have both my male and female leads appeal to me, not because I swing both ways, but visually I want to feel that the couple “fits” together — call it gratification by proxy.)

Half-way through now, I am very interested in the characters (if not-so-much the actors) because of the situations they find themselves in and how the writer is challenging male chauvinism and looks-ism in unfolding the plot. In case you’re curious as well, the female lead, Mi-rae, is someone who was very homely and suffered bullying as a result, but after a traumatic breakdown her mother decides that whatever it takes she’ll pay for her daughter’s plastic surgery. She enters college with a new face but still many of the insecurities of her homely days, and now faces a whole different type of unwanted attention. The male lead, Kyung-seok, knew her in her homely days and recognizes aspects of her personality but can’t immediately match it with the new face. He’s of the tsundere mold (and some girl even calls him out for this in a little meta moment), with issues concerning an image-hungry politician father and a mother who ‘abandoned’ him and his sister when they were younger children. What rounds out the plot is the character of a girl, Soo-ah, who is considered the number one beauty (again, not-so-much IMO) in their department. She’s had a much longer time learning how to manipulate people and her actions are fairly complex and sneaky. She’s very skillful in finding little ways to bring hurt to Mi-rae indirectly, at the hands or words of other people, but Kyung-seok is very astute and frequently lets her know that he’s wise to her actions. Her motivations are yet to be fully revealed, but it’s a very subtle characterization — as a villainess, she’s pretty low-key.

Kwak Dong-yeon is the second lead male, the TA for the chemistry department (where the Mi-rae, Kyung-seok, and Mi-rae are students), and a very upright, decent kind of guy — the kind of sonbae who actually looks out for the hoobaes who have been harassed by some sonbaes with the chauvinistic and sexist ways of thinking and acting. He’s like a model man for all, as if to say, “Guys, this is how you’re supposed to act!”

While the plot with Kyung-seok’s divorced parents seeming somewhat typical of dramas, it’s not yet predictable which way that will take the story, but it’s the least challenging so far. I’m more invested in the sonbaes getting their smackdowns at the hands of the ladies of the chemistry department. With all that, I can live without falling under the spell of the physical charms of the main couple — and who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind! After all, beauty is only skin deep; it’s what’s inside that counts!

#cha-eun-woo, #im-soo-hyang, #kwak-dong-yeon, #my-i-d-is-gangnam-beauty, #tsundere