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Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2
So help me, I'm trying my first real sageuk (historical drama). And I hope it's good, or I might be put off of sageuks for another year or so. No pressure, Faith. No pressure!
Some intro animation tells us the story of HwaTa, a legendary doctor who could heal any injury or illness. He used a lot of acupuncture techniques, but his methods for healing internal injuries were a lot like ours today--he removed people's organs, then healed them and put them back, good as new. He healed an important conqueror named Jojo, but then had to flee from Jojo to avoid being made into the warlord's personal surgeon.
I Don't Want To; You Can't Make Me. Nyah.
HwaTa ended up traveling through a mystic wind-tunnel time portal to get away from the general. And that's where we leave the animation and enter the live-action section of our story, in ancient Joseon era Korea, 1351 AD. Already, two big themes of the show have been established: time-travel and medicine. And possibly a third theme of freewill/choosing one's own destiny.
In Joseon, a caravan of people travel down a muddy road. It's rainy and dank and....ooh, look, is that Lee Minho in a cape?
Yep. Like a Joseon Dynasty Batman.
Actor Lee Minho is playing Choi Young, chief royal bodyguard to the king and queen. He and all the other bodyguards have to place the royal couple in a nearby inn overnight after their royal wagon gets stuck in the mud. Everything seems to be going wrong with this trip--the wagon broke, they're headed to a port but the ship is mysteriously gone, plus everyone's pretty sure that enemies have been following them and are about to attack.
But is Choi Young worried? Not in the slightest. He's remarkably chill about the bad situation surrounding him. He even lays down to nap while the other 20 guards are securing the inn/tavern and preparing for battle. Upstairs, we learn that young King Gongmin is returning to Korea after a ten-year absence. Choi Young informs the King that they'll have to move the Queen into his room, to defend them both better, even though neither of them want to be close. So...the King and Queen are at odds?
She Does Not Look Happy About Rooming With Hubby.
Night falls and with it comes ninjas! Or whatever the Korean word for ninjas is. Dozens of darkly dressed men attack the inn in a really nice action sequence. The royal guards stand upstairs and pour some kind of reflective liquid on the attackers below, so they stand out garishly in the dim inn, like partygoers at a rave. But the bad guys just keep on coming. Upstairs, Choi Young kills like 12 assassins, but one still gets past him and cuts the Queen's neck with his sword. She begins to bleed profusely.
The court physician begins to patch up the Queen, and requests that Choi Young use his "power" first. This turns out to be the magical ability to make people's heart rates slow down--Choi Young zaps the Queen with his glowing energy, and her heart rate slows, decreasing the bleeding.
Professional Bodyguard With Lightning Bolt Powers?
I like that we're seeing the magical element of the story really early on. And right now we need more magic because the Queen is from Yuan, a powerful part of China that is just looking for a reason to attack Korea and might very well do so if their princess dies. The Doctor can't help the Queen any further, because the artery in her neck is cut in half. What to do? 어떡해?
Choi Young and the King have a brief heart-to-heart, which is surprising. The vanilla milquetoast King is worried about his future, and he asks Choi Young, someone he respects, for his opinion of Gongmin as a king. After much prodding, Choi Young says that at age 21, King Gongmin seems too young to rule properly. Also, he was raised in Yuan from age 10, so he probably thinks like a person from Yuan and not a Korean--the people are unlucky to have such a king.
Lethal Warriors Do Not Mince Words.
But Choi Young adds (sweetly, for him), "However--I don't particularly hate you." Aww. It's a backhanded gesture of friendship and encouragement, which the King takes in the right spirit.
The King and a group of warriors visit a nearby heavenly portal, which is a swirly energy essence flowing within a stone doorway. This is where the legendary HwaTa was said to have entered. HwaTa apparently trains doctors in "heaven" and occasionally sends them back to help people in Korea. Someone must go through the portal to bring back a doctor to save the dying Queen.
The King is perplexed with worry. He doesn't want to send someone off to their death through this unknown portal, but he doesn't want to lose the only chance to save the Queen and his country. He merely looks at Choi Young, and their dialogue reveals their personalities and the way they approach problems:
King: "I don't believe everything my counselor says (about this portal)."
Choi Young: "Give me an order."
King: "I...I should at least try, right?"
Choi Young: "I'll go."
Man. They're leaving so much unsaid, and yet they each know exactly what the other person is saying. This is good dialogue writing, and I'm not even getting it in the original language.
And Choi Young Ascends the Stairway to Heaven.
On the other side, Choi Young encounters the modern world of Korea. So...he's just gonna stalk through the streets until he finds a doctor to drag backward in time? This should prove interesting.
Aaaand it's Rooftop Prince all over again as Choi Young is stunned by the flashing lights and death-defying traffic of Seoul. Fortunately, he soon finds a really chill Buddhist priest who determines that the heavenly doctor Choi Young is requesting must be a plastic surgeon. Heh hehehe.
He enters a plastic surgeon's convention where our heroine Eunsoo is lecturing, but he's escorted out by security. We soon learn that our heroine is being overlooked at work and is looking for career advancement opportunities for herself, such as opening her own clinic. Okay, I like her work ethic and her initiative, but not her chosen field of surgery or her whining.
I'm On the Fence About You, Heroine.
Choi Young escapes security and desperately asks Eunsoo if she can save a patient whose artery has been cut. She blows him off with an "I'd have to see where and how badly the patient was cut." Choi Young responds by cutting the neck of a security guard in the exact manner as the Queen's injury, then asking her to fix it. WUT. What did you just do? I guess this reminds us that Choi Young is no cuddly teddybear, no matter how many likable moments he has.
Eunsoo gathers her wits and performs a surgery right there. She saves the man's life, and her surgical prowess proves that she can save the Queen as well, so she gets kidnapped by Choi Young.
All in All, Not the Worst Thing That Could Happen to A Girl.
He charges toward the exit, towing her along, when a SWAT team arrives to halt his crazy maniac ways. What does he do? Bowls them over with the oppressive force of his lightning powers, that's what! So the magic hands do more than just slow heart rates--they can be used for violence, too. Which begs the question, why didn't he use the Force instead of just his sword when the assassins were attacking the Queen? Plot hole, there.
The impact from his energy whoosh is enough to bust out the windows of the conference building and knock down the SWAT team officers standing outside, so he now has a clear path to carry Eunsoo to the mystic portal. At the portal, Eunsoo has a nervous breakdown, which is very natural, and Choi Young takes a moment to promise her that he will risk his own life to return her to her home after she saves the Queen.
Might Be the Best Deal She'll Get.
Flashback to ten days ago, when Eunsoo went to see a fortuneteller to ask where she could meet a rich, handsome man because she needs the guy's money for her research on stem cells. Um. Just because you want a guy's money for your own medical research project instead of for clothes and handbags doesn't mean you're not being shallow. You're just being shallow in an unconventional way. So our hero is a psychopath and our heroine is greedy. I can deal with that--flawed leads are interesting.
The fortune-teller says she will meet a heaven-sent man from the past--but he assumes it means from her dating past, not the historical past, so Eunsoo thinks she'll be falling for an ex. I love how the fortune teller was right in the prediction, but wrong in the interpretation. And ha! The flashbacks of Eunsoo's past boyfriends show that they were losers, but also that she was very awkward.
She Was Cute in Nerd Glasses, Though.
The fortune teller next reveals that she will be going far, far away for one whole year. Oh, goody! A year in Joseon will be awesome for her, and for our story.
Choi Young brings her back to Joseon times and takes her to the Queen. Eunsoo gets down to business and sutures her majesty perfectly.
Eunsoo's arrival has some unforeseen religious implications for the King. He asks her, since God sent her from heaven, can he still assume that God's blessings are upon Korea? Also, her presence has political implications! The King's advisor wants Eunsoo to remain with the King, to prove to political rivals that Korea is still strong, and that God supports them over Yuan. I lurve it. Soooo many possibilities for conflict, here.
Then we go meet the Joseon villains. One is into herbal medicine; one has a magic flute.
You Know. Standard Villain Hobbies.
Gicheol is the name of our Big Bad. He is surrounded by many smaller Bads, and he's plotting something serious against the King.
Meanwhile, Eunsoo escapes from captivity and runs away to a nearby village. The royal guards in the inn wake up Choi Young (who sleeps 2/3rds of every day, like a cat) and Mr. magical warrior stalks off to locate the divine healer. Strapped to his back is the clear plastic police shield he stole from the modern era! Grand.
But the bad guys find her first, and Gicheol actually punches Eunsoo in the face and drags her away.
Fortunately, Cinderella Leaves a Shoe-Clue Behind.
Choi Young learns that the ninjas are going to attack the inn again. But the hurt Queen isn't defenseless against the attackers because her royal doctor is also an energy-fighter, like Choi Young. The doctor can knock enemies out without touching them, just by channeling his life energy into a fan. A fan.
The fight ends, the good guys win, the Queen wakes up, and elsewhere Choi Young rescues Eunsoo from her captors. Eunsoo does some more emotional-breakdown talking, and Choi Young announces that since the Queen has recovered, he's taking her home. She pouts that he better not take her home by throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of flour again. He doesn't; instead he opts for a bridal carry.
Their First Romantic Moment.
This gesture could pass as no more than a common courtesy for a tired, frazzled, double-kidnapped woman if Choi Young didn't also happen to look so darned proud of himself. When he brings her to the time portal, Choi Young apologizes for the rough things she endured because of him, and he gives her a deep bow. But before Eunsoo can enter the portal, Choi Young receives a royal order (which he can't disobey) to stop her from going. As he retrains her, the portal disappears completely.
Eunsoo goes crazy and tries to stab Choi Young with his own sword. And he lets her do it! She pierces him with the sword, and he welcomes it since by following the king's order and stopping Eunsoo, he has broken his word as a warrior and is therefore deserving of death. Dang, that's harsh. It's also a lesson to Eunsoo: don't attempt to kill a man unless you actually intend to kill him.
In the inn, the newly awakened Queen points out to her weak hubby that by ordering Choi Young to go back on his promise, he sentenced his own captain of the guards to death. She's a smart, observant woman.
I Like Her Already.
Eunsoo has done a 180 in her attitude and wants to save Choi Young, so that she won't be a murderer. But the King's mean Advisor pulls the sword out of Choi Young, to make him bleed faster so he'll die and the divine healer will stop wasting her time with him. As the woman from heaven, though, she outranks Advisor and gets the soldiers to help her with the life-saving operation.
We get some good, good, good interaction between the King and Queen that explains their frostiness. She was a Yuan princess who was married off against her wishes, and now she's being taken away from her home. She's strongwilled and smart, so she dislikes bowing to the wishes of a man with a less powerful personality. The King tells her that she must get his permission for everything she does, which goes over about as well as you'd expect. The Queen stops speaking entirely.
Eunsoo proceeds with a major internal surgery on Choi Young, using precious few tools and only a primitive anaesthetic.
But She Retains Her Doctor-Goggles.
And the episode just sort of ends.
No! There must be more! I have to wait a week for more?!
Things I Loved:
1. The Opening Animation. I was betting that this drama would lose my attention within the first 30 seconds. But instead of presenting something dull and usual for the intro sequence, it trotted out this lovely animated piece in a sparse, dreamy style. Kudos to you, show.
2. Lee Minho. I couldn't even finish his most famous drama, Boys Over Flowers, but now I see what all the fuss is about regarding this guy. He's got this acting thing down pat! He switches from nonchalant warrior to stone cold killer to respectful citizen in such a way that suggests a well-layered personality. Choi Young has three dimensions in this show, and that's due to good writing and good acting in equal parts.
Also: Lightning Powers!
Complaints: Other than the fact that both episodes ended at an awkward place, with less than stellar timing...none. It is that good.
Kings Must Be Honorable: Choi Young says that King Gongmin is the 5th king in twelve years, so the people no longer even care about who rules them, but he really does care. Everyone wants to have a wise and righteous ruler making the important decisions. Bumblers, fools, and villains are decidedly not the sort of people we want in charge of us, so this show's hopefully going to portray the journey of Gongmin trying to grow from a weakling into a good king.
You'll Get There, Princeling.
Watch Faith on DramaFever.
Episode Evaluations: Made of win. Action, intrigue, mysterious legends, magical realism, sharp writing, clever dialogue that even survives translation, and characters worth getting to know! Yay, Faith. You're kind of awesome, you know that? I am so on board for the rest of this show, 24-episode run and all.