Thursday, May 10, 2012

K-Drama Review: Princess Hours/Goong, Episodes 1-2

Read Episode reviews for:

Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 1-2
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 3-4
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 5-6
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 7-8
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 9-10
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 11-12
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 13-14
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 15-16
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 17-18
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 19-20
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 21-22
Princess Hours/Goong--Episodes 23-24

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

This is going to be a very prince-and-princessy story. A Cinderella tale full of antagonistic couples, formal outfits, national gossip and really big palaces. Bring it on.

In an alternate-present South Korea, the land operates under an English-style constitutional monarchy (much like in the recent popular show King 2 Hearts). The royal family's Crown Prince Shin is in his last year of high school, but his grandmother decides that it's time for him to marry because the family numbers are dwindling. Shin's bride has already been picked by his deceased grandfather, the former king. But everyone is shocked by the old king's choice of an arranged marriage for his heir--Shin will be marrying a sloppy, profoundly ordinary commoner named Chaekyung.

Our Heroine. Teenage Magnet for Disaster.

What's more, Chaekyung already attends the same arts academy as the prince. She knows that Shin is half-dating/half-best buds with Hyorin, a classy ballet dancer at their school. It's not clear whether they're really a couple, because while some people refer to them as dating, Hyorin talks about not wanting to ruin their good friendship. Shin asks Hyorin to marry him, because otherwise his parents will pick a wife for him. But Hyorin wants to be a world-famous dancer unfettered by the strict palace life, so she turns down his proposal.

Now we learn more about Chaekyung. Her home is chaotic--her dad is a jolly house husband, while mom became the uptight breadwinner after Dad's business went under. When they all learn of the old king's promise regarding the royal marriage, there's a cute scene of Chaekyung debating whether to get married or not as her family goes crazy in the background, hoping she'll agree. (There are some identical conversations in Boys Over Flowers, where the family is thrilled to have their daughter get close with a rich guy, and where mom especially insists that money is everything.)

Forced to Marry a Rich, Handsome Prince to Save her Family. Poor Child.

Chaekyung reluctantly agrees to the marriage, and although Shin agrees as well, he starts to show his full princely coldness to Chaekyung. He outright calls Chaekyung ugly and disgraceful. When Chaekyung asks why he didn't just marry Hyorin instead of agreeing to an engagement with her, Shin says that he wouldn't want Hyorin to be cooped up in the stuffy palace for the rest of her life. But he doesn't care about Chaekyung, so it's fine if she's the one trapped. Ugh. I was on Shin's side until he let loose with that piece of barbed meanness.

Cold and Sharp, Like A...Cold, Sharp Thing.

Meanwhile, we learn that Shin's cousin Yul has been living in England for 14 years, but he's returning home to Korea. All the servants love him and remember him fondly, and Yul is generally lighter-hearted than Shin, perhaps because his life hasn't been so full of official obligations. The Queen Mother is thrilled to see her grandson Yul, but the Queen is displeased because she thinks he might supplant her own son, Shin.

Yul and His Uppercrust Tea-Drinking Habit. 

It turns out that Shin's father, the King, is secretly sick, and the Queen worries that Yul is here to make a true play for the throne, since his own dead father was the current king's older brother. And another Yul-related kicker? The Old King's promise was not that Shin specifically marry Chaekyung, but that "the prince who is to take the throne" would marry her. Ooh. We might get a royal marriage, but it might not be the one we expect! Yul's going to be important later on, I'm sure.

I'm Kind of a Big Deal. People Know Me.

Things I Loved:

1. Chaekyung's Ordinariness. In a lot of rags to riches stories, the girl seems to be essentially a supermodel in cheap clothes. In this case, Chaekyung is cute, but she really looks and seems like a 100% real and average girl, so that makes her extra relatable.

Ordinary Girl With Not-So-Ordinary Problems.

 2. The Pants. I like how Chaekyung wears gym pants under her school skirt. At first I just thought it was a great, quirky wardrobe choice for the character, but then the pants play a part in the plot--it's those very strange gym pants that allow Shin to recognize Chaekyung the next time he sees her, after she eavesdrops on him. Later, Shin tells her to get rid of those awful sweatpants so she'll look more presentable. Chaekyung then leaves the the sweatpants behind in a hallway and Yul picks them up. And keeps them. Not that that's weird.

3. Shin's Gray Morality. To start with, I didn't think Shin was really that much of a jerk, especially in comparison to other K-drama male leads. Shin's a little removed from everyone around him, and at one point he say that a king can have no true friends. He tunes the world out by cranking up his MP3 player all the time, and I could have really sympathized with him until he got mean with Chaekyung. Right now, I don't love him or hate him; I'm just curious to see where his in-between character goes.

Drama-meta bonus: The Queen Mother herself laughs while watching the show My Name Is Kim Samsoon on TV.

Even Monarchs Can Appreciate Hyun Bin.

K-pop bonus: I thought I saw Eunjung of T-ara in a school scene, and it really was her! She's playing a ballet student.


1. The Fake-Outs. This is a common trope in K-dramas, but I don't like watching fun scenes that turn out to be all in the character's imagination. There's no fuzzy border around the shots or anything else to clue you in that it's a daydream, so I take the scene at face value as a part of the story until poof! Just kidding. I'm particularly thinking of the alternate version of the shoe-scrubbing scene.

This Humbling Scene Lost Its Epic Ending.

2. Hyorin. It's not a bad plot point exactly, I just disagree with Hyorin's attitude. Hyorin has no room to be upset about Shin's upcoming marriage, I don't think. Hey guy asked her outright to marry him and he explained the circumstances--that he'd soon be married off to someone else. But Hyorin made her choice and it was a good one; she chose to pursue her future career. So I don't like her staring brokenly at the prince like he deceived her or something He didn't. He put everything on the table, and she chose not to accept. She should have the courage to stand by her convictions.


Mom is a Killjoy: Is the Queen ever pleased by anything? The Queen is even a spoilsport to the Queen Mother, pointing out that royal regulations prevent any princes besides the Crown Prince from living in the main palace. So the Queen Mother's long-lost grandson Yul has to stay far away from her. Boo, mom. Boo.

Approximately the Happiest She Has Ever Looked.

New Blood: The Queen Mother busts a gut laughing at Chaekyung's hilariously unflattering paparazzi picture in the paper, and we get the sense that Chaekyung's enlivening influence could be good for everyone in the palace. The Queen wishes they could find a sophisticated girl for Shin, but Queen Mother reminds her that the late king wanted an average child to be the new princess. The royal air is too rarefied, and they need someone who will kick up some dust.

The Unlikely Couple.

Cultural Observances:

Manhwa: This show is based on a comic book series, some of which I actually read in college. There's a meta moment when Shin tells Chaekyung she's like a character in a manhwa.

Traditional Korean instruments: The royal family listens to a performance of whatever these are:

A Traditional Multi-Stringed Whatchamacallit.

New words: Gwieopda is "cute," which is the word Yul uses to describe Chaekyung.

Episode Evaluations: I like it. Princess Hours is nothing too new or different and you know exactly where the plot is going, but it's still enjoyable. The pacing is slowish, but it makes for pleasant viewing. This show aired in 2006 and is considered a classic K-drama, one everyone's supposed to have watched.


  1. I'm reading the manga and oh how the drama just escalates in this series. I started out liking Yul a lot and not really liking mean Shin but then Yul started getting a little um well...he kind of wandered off the road of sanity and Shin stopped having his walls up all the time so I could sympathize with him more.

    1. I never got to finish the manhwa, but that's my memory of how it went, too--that Shin got more and more likable over time.

  2. Goong was one of my favorite K-dramas of all time! Tiger, I'm so glad you're watching this. I really really like everything about this. The setting, the drama, the characters, the love story, the OST! Oh now you're making me nostalgic. Gotta watch this again. I can't wait for you to see the super cute succeeding episodes and I'm really curious to find out what team you're going to be. I hope you like this, Tiger! ;)

    1. Sarah,

      Yay, I'm glad to hear this is a favorite of yours! I'm getting more confident that this is a drama I want to stick with. I'm betting that Chaekyung turns the palace upside down with her antics, so I'm looking forward to that. :-)

  3. ooh, so glad to see you'll be reviewing this one! I personally have some pretty mixed feelings about some of the characters and plotlines, so I'm excited to read on what you have to say about it.

    1. I'm glad for the chance to look at Goong, too. I'll be sure to point out any pitfalls as soon as I see them! We seem to agree on most plot points, so we'll probably be annoyed by the same things. :-)

  4. I'm sure you'll gonna love this. It was my number one favorite K-Drama, until I watched Rooftop Prince.

  5. it's called a gayageum... 12 string korean musical instrument l^.^l