While the name of this Kdrama suggests that you follow the exploits of a 21st century woman who gets transported back to the Goryeo era, I found myself distracted by other, more compelling characters and narratives, not the least of which was Lee Min Ho as Choi Young, the love interest.
Historical Kdramas are known for the palace intrigue, political drama and tensions between the ruler and the ruled. But if you are a frequent viewer, you also wait with anticipation for the other hallmark of the period Kdrama: warrior hair!
What is warrior hair? Warrior hair is an aesthetic common to the historical Kdrama, when heroes (and villains) tie their hair up on their heads or back in a ponytail, presumably to keep it out of their eyes and they embark on the multiple episodes that make up these kdramas, all the while allowing it to cascade down in all kinds of ways. Headbands are optional.
You know what I’m talking about. Exhibit A: Ji Chang Wook as Baek Dong Soo in Warrior Baek Dong Soo:
Before he decides to stop being a boob and devote himself to martial arts, that hair is just, well, there. You know he’s serious when he ties it back.
Exhibit B: Lee Min Ho as Choi Young in Faith:
Do I even have to say anything about this? This is great because from episode one, he’s a warrior, so the warrior hair is always on display.
Exhibit C: Jang Hyuk as Lee Dae Gil and Oh Ji Ho as Song Tae Ha in Chuno:
Here we have two for the price of one! While Tae Ha is technically the only warrior, you get the picture.
Most viewers of Kdrama I know agree: everyone looks good in warrior hair. But it also serves a couple of important purposes. First, warrior hair marks the transition in the development of a character. Sometimes, it appears after the requisite “child phase” with the first appearance of the adult versions of characters.
Second, warrior hair denotes class distinctions. Most of the time, if you are sporting warrior hair, you are not inclined to follow the rules. You aren’t part of the royal family, and you are definitely not part of the noble class. You are drifting on the outskirts of society, like one of my favorites, Kim Nam Gil as Bidam in Queen Seondeok:
But even military officials and members of the court may fall out of favor with respectable society. How do you know? LOOK AT THAT HAIR! That’s precisely what happens with Lee Seung Hyo as Alcheon in Queen Seondeok. For much of the Kdrama, Alcheon is prim and proper with his hair tied up in a respectable way, nary a strand of out place and a key member of the Hwarang. However, once stuff goes down in the palace, and Seondeok and her loyal followers are hiding out in the forest, no one has time for that. It’s warrior hair time!
Finally, facial hair is the sidekick to warrior hair. And like warrior hair, it means something. Sometimes, it’s used to tell the viewer that a character has gotten older (you know how much time a Kdrama can cover). However, it can also be used to suggest a change in character and nowhere is this more apparent than with Ju Jin Mo as Jin Ha in Bichunmoo. He starts out as a nice, considerate guy, but once a whole bunch of tragedy befalls him, not the least of which is when someone tries to kill him, he becomes a lot less nice and forgiving. And in case you missed the personality change, warrior hair is there to help!
So the next time you watch a sageuk, take some time to appreciate the warrior hair!
Most of us who watch Kdramas are used to their titles, but sometimes the titles of Kdramas do not do them justice. That’s when I start making up new titles that I feel are far more descriptive of what is actually going on.
Here are some examples:
God of War, or Delusional Women of Goryeo (He Doesn’t Want You)
This is a gripping tale (so far). You have serious themes like slavery and corruption. You follow the story of a monk torn from his contemplative life and thrust into a politically-motivated world as a slave. However, sometimes I get distracted by the women. Song Yi is a love-interest (in her own mind). Few who are watching this Kdrama like her. One viewer says she “should be strung up,” and another hopes “that she gets killed off.” Chun Shim is her servant, and she’s no better, shamelessly chasing after a man who has made it clear he’s “just not that into her.”
While they are separated by class, they both share the annoying trait of chasing men who show absolutely no interest in them whatsoever. The less attention the men show them, the more determined these women get. Veteran Kdrama watchers are used to the shenanigans of female characters, but neither of these women are sympathetic. You’re actually glad when the men go to the frontier.
Chuno, or Chosun-Era Parkour
I get it: they are slave catchers. This involves chasing and running. But has anyone else noticed the parkour-like acrobatics the leads engage in? In slow motion? It’s like: gotta go to the market to get some supplies. Watch me jump off this wall! In slow motion. And do this flip. It’s an innovative way to show how even slave-catching is work and hard labor.
Kingdom of the Winds, or Jumong Jr.
I really think that the makers of Jumong just weren’t done, even with 81 episodes under their belt. Hey, I love a sequel too. For Kingdom of the Winds, they just picked up the members of the cast of Jumong and plopped them down a few decades later. Hey, who’d notice? These characters are apparently beloved by the audience.
I haven’t seen the mother of all historical Kdramas yet, but how surprised was I to find that Song Il Gook, who portrays Jumong, also plays his grandson in Kingdom of the Winds? I was completely convinced he was Jumong’s grandson. He hasn’t aged a day!
Don’t worry, you get the same political and palace intrigue to boot! Plus, there are lots of references to good ol’ Jumong. Once I finish with Kingdom of the Winds, I suppose I’ll have to watch Jumong to see how this all got started. What’s really funny is, no one ever tells Muhyul that he looks exactly like his grandfather!
Baker King Kim Tak Goo, or Evil, Down to the Bitter End
You know, I have a really strong moral compass. I think that if you do good things, good things will happen to you. However, if you are evil, you will reap what you sow. This applies so much more in the world of Kdramas. I mean, why else would you endure episode after episode, if not to see the villain get his or her just due? There are times when Ma Jun has me completely fooled. I begin to think that he is a real human being, with feelings. But then he just returns to his evil ways, again and again and again.
But he pales in comparison to his mother, Seo In Sook! She just can’t stop! She’s spend her life messing up the lives of others, all to assure her son a successful life. For a minute, I thought about calling this Kdrama No One is Interested in Your Flunky Son. She condones kidnapping, eviction, termination from employment, lying and I even think attempted murder at one point. Even when her relationships with her children and her husband are at stake, she just can’t help being evil!
Boys Over Flowers, or I Don’t Like That Chick
Oh Jan Di. She is the reason why this Kdrama is called Boys Over Flowers. She starts off very plucky. You like her. You even try to give her the benefit of the doubt when two really attractive guys begin to show interest in her. Oh the dilemma! She also seems to be a good influence on those bratty, rich boys. She stands her ground, defends her friends. And then something goes horribly, horribly wrong. She becomes as passive as a rock. She can’t make a decision to save her life. I find the dynamics among F4 far more compelling: they fight and make up and fight again. Jan Di just stands there and does nothing.
All my good feelings get transferred to her friend, Ga Eul! She’s in a similar situation as Jan Di: they work in the same noodle shop. They are both outsiders to the swanky world of F4. She’s not content to just wait around for these boys to get it together. When she falls for one of F4, she’s on a mission to get him. Or at least show that he’s not nearly as much of a player as he thinks he is.
City Hunter, or No Socks, No Shoes, No Service
Look, if you are going to be a vigilante/security expert, you gotta play the role. That means being athletic, having the right hair, the right clothes, the right shoes, and, apparently, no socks. That’s what Lee Min Ho is teaching me. Cool heroes fight for justice with no socks on. I haven’t figured out exactly how this contributes to his hero status. It surely doesn’t do anything for his aerodynamics as he’s jumping off of buildings. Perhaps this mystery is solved in the final five episodes, which I refuse to watch until I get some new Lee Min Ho on tap in the upcoming Kdrama, Faith.
So, as long as they keep making Kdramas, I’ll keep making up alternative titles. In my head.
Clothes may seem like mere accessories to the romantic triangles and tensions in a Kdrama, but often they are characters in and of themselves. Some Kdramas use clothing to enhance the presentation of the characters and the story.