Genre: Historical, Romance
Written by: Choi Jung-mi
Directed by: Boo Sung-chul
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Kim Tae-hee
Number of episodes: 24
Average rating: –
Original network: SBS
Hey guys, so this is my second post this week! I do not know, I just want to write so bad. This is another drama I just finished yesterday and I could not sleep because of it. Like, seriously this drama affected me so bad. And the first thing in the morning that I did today was to write this review. I just wanted to pour my heart out through words, otherwise I may just have another sleepless night.
So without further ado, let’s just jump into the review!
What’s it about?
Being one of the most iconic character in the history of Korea, Jang Ok-jung or Jang Hee Bin is widely known as an ambitious and calculating woman. However, this drama presented her character in a different light, with a different story. The history could not change, but instead of being a definite villain, she was just someone who wanted to love with all her heart.
What to expect?
- Prepare a bucket for your tears, you will definitely need it
- Superb performance by the leads
- A bittersweet romance
- A light amount of politics
- Falling head over heels for the lead
- Great bromance
- Some beautiful visuals
What not to expect?
- The “happy ending” you may wished for
- The most creative plot
- Memorable OST
- Large pool of characters
- Betrayals and clever schemes
My long review starts here
First of all, expect this to be a ridiculously long review because I just can not help myself this time. Please bear with me or you can just skip some parts along the way.
I will divide this review into 3 parts: things I did not like from this drama, things I love about this drama, and some comparisons to other dramas (this will be the most interesting one).
So first, I just want to address some things I did not really appreciate before I can focus on all the great things about this drama. The first one is the inconsistency of the cinematography. Especially in the early episodes, I felt like they did it poorly with the rough scene transitions which looked very similar to slide transitions in a presentation and how the characters could just popped out of nowhere sometimes. By inconsistent, it was because other scenes were portrayed beautifully for example the firework scene or when the King watched Ok-jung behind the hanging clothes. Those were some things that really bothered me, I am not gonna lie. But I assure you, they got better.
Done with the technical aspects, let’s move on to the actual plot. As I said before, the plot here was not the most creative one out of there. This may be a good or bad thing for some people. If you only watch this for the romance like me, then this will serve you good. But if you are looking for a plot-driven Saeguk, this may not be for you. You should try out longer dramas since I feel like Saeguk needs to build a strong foundation for the plot step by step and it takes time. Some that I recommend are Jewel in the Palace and Dong Yi.
So for the romance part, I think this drama was like no other. This is my second drama I watched for both Yoo Ah-in and Kim Tae-hee. My previous experience with Yoo Ah-in was Chicago Typewriter which I also reviewed. I love that drama, but I was not blown away by his performance. But in here, he was just perfection. I felt like I can feel butterflies in my stomach every time he spoke with his deep and reserved voice. He portrayed the King marvellously with the variation of facial expressions he showed. He is a truly great actor who mastered his eyes and I believe it is really important as an actor. And the King was my favorite character from the show!
As for Kim Tae-hee, her previous work that I watched was Yong Pal which she starred with Joo-won. While I see that she does not have the biggest fanbase out of there, I think I really love her as an actress. The first reason being her looks, I am not gonna lie once again. Being one or not the most beautiful actress in Korea, she just has the face that is visually pleasing. But not only that, I feel like her looks are also versatile. I did see similarities between her character in both dramas, both of them were standing in-between black and white. Both were ambitious for the right reasons but took the wrong path. She succeeded in portraying both heroine and villain characteristics in a single character. The same with Yoo Ah-in, she used her facial expressions to portray both sides of Jang Ok-jung here.
Now you are probably wondering about what I said in the intro earlier. Just what did this drama do to me?
The character of Jang Ok-jung was often portrayed in several dramas so you too probably already knew the plot. I watched this drama fully knowing what was going to happen in the end and it was heartbreaking for me to go through each episode. As this drama mainly focused on the romance, they created a beautiful love story for our leads that just really touched my heart deeply. We followed their journey since their very first encounter to their last moment together. The King truly loved Ok-jung to the very last here, unlike the portrayal in other dramas where he already lost favour of her toward the end. Their romance just pained me deeply like no other.
And have I told you yet that I could not bear to watch the last five episodes? I watched only through the halfway of episode 19 where she became his queen and instead I read recaps (thanks to BreathlessSurvival!) and only watched the scenes where they were together. Okay, I may sound like a true lunatic now but I am just a deeply emotional person who get affected by something easily. Even that, I still cried a bucket of tears like no other time. How do you expect me to go through everything completely without breaking my heart more than it already is? I just could not.
For that reason, I blame the writer for making this drama following the real history. So for those of you who do not know, Jang Hee Bin is someone who truly existed in the history and everything that happened in this drama was more or less following the real history itself.
While I appreciate the writer for taking a creative risk to present the history with a twist, I would prefer this to be a complete fictional story like the case in Moon that Embraces the Sun or Love in the Moonlight rather than following the real history. I did not watch the whole thing, so I did not know how things worked out to bring Ok-jung to the poison despite their romance twist. But I was just assuming they still used the same uncomplicated formula as earlier.
Now for the comparison, the only drama I found neck in neck in the term of characters is Dong Yi. But at the same time, the direction in both dramas was the opposite of each other. Here, the story was on Ok-jung’s side as the political victim while in Dong Yi, Choi Suk Bin or Dong Yi herself was the innocent one. By the way, I want to give credits to both Kim Tae-hee and Lee So-yeon for amazingly portraying Jang Ok-jung in their very own way. Both were very iconic and epic so I appreciated both. It is a shame that Choi Suk Bin was portrayed poorly in Living by Love which could not compare at all to Han Hyo-joo’s performance. And what I found really amusing was that the same story could give a completely different feeling when depicted from different perspective. My heart was all with Choi Suk Bin in Dong Yi but here I was all for Ok-jung and the King.
And I like the story of the King with the previous Queen In Kyung which was not portrayed in Dong Yi. Seriously, the earlier episodes of this drama were bomb when they have not dived all in for the sake of fitting into the history. The latter part of the drama tried too hard to follow the historical path that just wiped out all the awesomeness in the beginning.
I felt like the ending could be more creative than that. Since they always found a way to fit into the history with Living by Love’s own way, they could have done something different with the ending. They could fabricate her death or something and let the couple reunited again somehow. And not be a cookie-cutter that just gave something the audience were already expecting to happen.
History wise, both Living by Love and Dong Yi did not follow the exact same scheme. It was recorded in the history that Jang Hee Bin was sentenced to death by poison after she was found guilty by using black magic on Queen Inhyeon. The King already lost favour of her at this point and he started to favour Choi Suk Bin instead. After Jang Hee Bin’s death, her son became King Gyeonjong who reigned for 4 years before Choi Suk Bin’s son replaced him as King Yeongjo.
I love the fashion aspect which added a great twist to the romance here, but sadly it was all about politic later on. We did not explore the royal seamstress aspect in depth as in Jewel in the Palace with the royal kitchen and medicine nor Dong Yi with the royal musician and internal court.
As far as the characters went, as I mentioned before the King was my favorite here. I felt really bad for him for being a King whose life centered around schemes all his life. Just as the late King said, being a King means you should not trust anyone including your own mother and woman. My heart broke with him when he showed such a vulnerability during his dilemma with Ok-jung. He never let go of her hand despite knowing the whole truth of what was happening. He closed his eyes and ears to things because he loved her with his all.
The reason I kept changing the controlling parties even at the cost of shedding blood was because I wanted to govern for the people. But the people I love so much.. are not accepting Ok-jung whom I love. It really breaks my heart. — King Lee Soon
And it broke my heart to see you in pain like that.
With Ok-jung, I never hated her even for a second. As she said,
I absolutely needed to have this title if I wanted to love His Majesty. — Jang Ok-jung
After all, everything she did was for love. She could stay beside him without the risk of being casted away anytime if she was a lowborn lady. It was just how the society worked during that time and it was the price to pay for being the King’s woman. Power is a scary thing because you will never be satisfied once you had the taste of it. From looking for the Chief of the Royal Guards in the palace, become the King’s secret lover, Special Court Lady, Concubine Level 4 Suk Won, Concubine Level 1 Hee Bin, to finally become the mother of the country and the struggle to keep that position. The cycle just never ends, it is you who decide when to stop. Again, similarity with Han Yeo-jin from Yong Pal.
And one last thing worth mentioning about this drama was the bromance. I just love those late night drinking scenes between the King and Prince Dongpyung. They poured their heart out to each others genuinely as friends. I was so afraid that the bromance would eventually end with Ok-jung between of them, but Prince Dongpyung just could not be any greater for getting over his feelings for her for the sake of his dear friend and for coming clean in the end despite the consequences he might face. And how come Lee Sang-yeob always got the role of being the most amazing secondary character who never got the girl? Not with Innocent Man, not with this one. They really need to give him the role of main character soon. And do not forget Hyun Moo, the poker-faced loyal retainer.
Okay, this is really the time for me to stop otherwise I will be writing a novel here.
Subjective: 9.9/10 (yeah, I blame you for breaking my heart so badly)
Last but not least
Well, I do not necessarily recommend this drama because it was indeed a tragedy which could give you pain if you are someone like me. This was more about the emotional ride rather than the plot itself after all. But if you must, watch it on your own risk, I have warned you.