Scandal does that all, while still bringing the cute. Sun Joo is a quiet, bookworm type. He’s a little too stern, but once he starts opening up through his interactions with Yoon Hee, he’s adorable. He confesses his love for her in the sweetest way possible: tailor-made for the woman to whom he’s confessing.
Romance in period dramas is fabulous when the story confronts traditional hierarchies between men and women. When Sun Joon finds out that Yoon Hee is a woman he does try to protect her, because he loves her (at every moment she is putting her life at stake). But he also declares her his equal, tells her that even during the hard times he’ll always be with her: not in front of her, but by her side. He’s the one who pushes her to think seriously about their future, to insist that he’ll find a way to be with her, even if they’ll always have to hide.
Also adorable are the interactions between the entire Jalgeum Quartet (as Yoon Hee, Sun Joon, Yong Ha, and Jae Shin come to be called in the series). When Jae Shin discovers that Yoon Hee is a woman, he spends much of his time around her hiccuping. Yong Ha and Yoon Hee pit their wits against one another in a playful game of him trying to get her to admit her true gender, which he’s already deduced. And the three of them, not just Yoon Hee, teach Sun Joon that there’s more to life than his books.
Most of all, though, there’s the relationship between Yong Ha and Jae Shin. A series with this premise is built to raise questions of sexuality; Sun Joon admits to Yoon Hee that he has feelings for her before he knows she’s a woman, and it’s all very sweet. But that’s nothing compared to Yong Ha and Jae Shin. They’re childhood friends, and Yong Ha, despite acting flippant and saying he only bothers with things that entertain him, would follow Jae Shin anywhere.
Scandal plays Yong Ha as at least half in love with Jae Shin and aware of it; he practically admits as much to Sun Joon when the latter comes asking for help about his growing attraction to Yoon Hee. He’s always very handsy with Jae Shin and, until the very end of the series, Jae Shin is the only one for whom Yong Ha will drop his breezy attitude. Scandal never goes farther than that with it (though the series nabbed two best couple awards at the 2010 KBS Awards, one for the primary pairing and one for Yong Ha and Jae Shin). I wish it had been more, but I’m surprised that we’re given as much as we are for the secondary characters in a historical piece that aired in a prime kdrama time slot.
The central friendships on this show also exemplify the earlier theme I was discussing: Sun Joon and Jae Shin are from different socio-political parties, ones that are traditionally enemies. Yoon Hee is a woman, something that they all discover at separate times, but that they conceal, unknowingly, from each other. Yong Ha’s not from a noble family, which makes him an outcast at Sungkyunkwan to everyone but his real friends once it’s revealed. But the four of them are the future of Korea: representing the world to come, where people will be judged only by the content of their hearts and minds, and their only limits will be the ones they set for themselves.
What can I say: I’m a sucker for soaring stories about the fight for equality. Although Scandal decides to stick more or less with historical accuracy in the gains it allows characters to make, the idealist themes are still very relevant. At times all the speechifying by the characters about an equal world, the new Korea, made me hope for more for them than the show was willing to give.
It’s a bit of a downer that we don’t get to see Yoon Hee openly studying as a woman, or Yong Ha accepted into the upper echelons of Sungkyunkwan once his secret is revealed. But everyone is alive, well, and more important, happy, at the end. When all of that is wrapped up with sweet romance, heart-wrenching friendships, and humor, well, I’m sold. So sold, in fact, that I think I’ve just talked myself into a re-watch.
Kdrama tropes to watch out for: Sins of the father. Sometimes in kdramas, after the couple has gotten together/declared their feelings for one another, they discover that one of their parents has done something terrible to the other’s family. It usually involves the parent of one leading to the death/ruination of the parent of the other.
I understand that such a revelation could really put a damper on a relationship. It’s usually just played as an utter deal breaker on kdramas, one that leads to episodes-long separations. Sometimes the rift it causes between the main pairing is never really resolved. It’s frustrating because people shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of their parents, and you’d think especially if you loved someone you’d realize that about them. Luckily in Scandal Yoon Hee does so, and says as much to Sun Joon, probably the first time I’ve ever seen a character in a kdrama do that over the “sins of the father” trope.
Pages: 1 2