Monday, August 8, 2016

Sungkyunkwan Scandal - 2010

The Jal-Geum Quartet
Sungkynkwan Scandal aired from August 2010 to November 2010,  It was described as a fusion historical drama. It was directed by Kim Won Suk and Hwang In Hyuk.  It was written by Kim Tae-Hee and Jeong Eung Wol.

I have seen some K-Drama over the past two years, they came highly recommended by my mother and friends. Hence it is no surprise that most of them were such winners for me. I have not yet viewed a series that I have disliked.  I found some a little slow here and there, but on the whole the experience has always been good.

Likewise, this series, Sungkyunkwan Scandal has been very satisfying.  There were times when I was laughing out loudly, or crying over the hurt being felt by the characters, or even going totally mushy over stolen kisses and sweet looks.

Kim Yun-Hee disguised as Kim Yun-Shik

Kim Yun-Hee (Park Min-Young) is a young girl of a poor family who disguises herself as a boy and uses the identity of her younger brother, Kim Yun-Shik to work and earn money.  This is the late 18th Century in Korea, under the ruler Jeonjo of Joseon Dynasty.  Women are not allowed to study (in schools) or work. The only way Yun-Hee can help her family is by working under disguise or getting married to a rich man who will provide help to her family.  The latter is not a feasible option for the feisty Yun-Hee.

Hence, she wears a man's garb and works for a bookshop copying books or writing work assignments for the students of the Sungkyunkwan School. In a bid to earn money to pay back a loan taken to buy medicines for her younger brother, she agrees to stand in for a candidate for an entrance exam to the prestigious Sungkyunkwan school. It is here that she runs into Lee Seon-Jun (Micky Yoo Chan).

Lee Seon-Jun

He is a very upright young man; he comes from a noble family and is slated for great things. His father is the Left State Minister. He is the head of the Noron faction and a very important aristocrat. His son has a very secluded life, he studies all the time and knows little of the real world.  He is didactic and, well, a complete prig, He pressurises Yun-Shik into taking the entrance exam, as he is so bright. He cannot imagine the havoc he has wrecked upon the girl, who is cornered into attending the school. Yun-Shik is finally convinced that attending school will be a good idea when she learns that her sibling will get free medicine and she will be able to avail of good food, lodgings and education. On the flip-side, she could be beheaded if it is discovered that she is masquerading as a boy.

At the school Yun-Shik is assigned to a dorm with two students.  One of them is Lee Seon-Jun and the other is Moon Jae-Shin.

Moon Jae-Shin
Moon Jae-Shin (Yoo Ah-In) has already had a run-in with Yun-Shik when he had saved her from some soldiers who were tormenting her.  He feigns to be a dull student, interested only in drinking and sleeping.  He has wild hair and wears rough clothes and a surly expression.  In fact, he is a vigilante plampheteer who sticks to the school to avoid scrutiny. Of late his pamphlets have been bringing up the matter of the lost Geumdeungjisa (a document that implicated some aristocrats in the killing of Prince Sado), and claiming that the thieves of this documents are the enemies of the nation. 

Because of this, many in the government are alarmed and want to hunt down the elusive Red Messenger.  He is beneath the facade of a bored senior, a very loyal person.  Once he warms up to his roommates he sticks with them and helps them.

Moon Jae-Shin's childhood friend, Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jung-Ki) is a busybody Puck like character. He has fastidious tastes and is well groomed.  He likes to do things that amuse him.  At the moment it amuses him to stick with the rag-tag group of Moon Jae-Shin, Kim Yoon-Shik and Lee Sun-Joon.  He guesses right away that Yoon-Shik is a girl, and often tries to trap her into revealing her secret.  He has a secret of his own which he guards just as jealously.  He happily becomes the fourth of the Jal-Geum Quartet that dares to defy the nasty and powerful Student President Ha In-Soo and later take on tasks for the King Jeong Jo.

Opposing the J4 is the nasty, mean, power hungry student president Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo). He is the son of the War Minister Ha who is a corrupt and self-serving official.  In Soo is a bully and hates to be defied.  He has constant run-ins with the J4 and is constantly trying to undermine them.  He is in love with the beautiful Gisaeng Cho Sun.  She shows a marked preference for Yoon-Shik which makes him want to take down Yoon-shik even more.

Cho Sun

The main premise of the series is a comic look at the life of school-kids in the 18th Century.  The story contains several real historical facts.  The Joseon King Jeongjo really did rule over the second half of the 18th Century, and he really did implement many changes in the social structure.  The aristocracy was divided among the factions of  Sorons and Norons, who were always at loggerheads with each other. It was only the noblemen who had any say in the society, the common man was trodden upon. The King tried to make the society more equal.

The series takes on the issue of social inequality of those times.  The poor get poorer and have no choice but to indulge in crime to make the ends meet.  Yoon-Shik has lived among the poor and faced discrimination not only on the basis of gender, but also poverty.  She knows about the issues that dog the common people.  Jae-Shin belongs to the less powerful Soron faction and has seen his brother die because he tried to carry out a task that was detrimental to the Norons.  He is also trying to aim towards a more equal society.  Yong-Ha has money but has seen the life at close quarters and he is also sympathetic towards the under-dogs.  Sun-Jeon is an upright young man who will side with the right side no matter what.

There are a couple of episodes in the series when the homophobia practised in those times comes under a scanner.  The strong feminist tones are to be expected as the heroine is trying to make the best of her life despite being a woman in times when the woman had practically no rights.  The only way they could hope for a good life was to snag a good man.

These are weighty issues.  But do not think the series a dull and preachy watch.  Right from the start of the series, each episode is full of energy and draws you in.  There is a lot of comedy around the lead character - Sun Joon who is basically a prig. He has no social skills and seems a good candidate for Asperger's Syndrome.  He smiles seldom and utters only platitudes. He is so consistent in this, that it becomes a form of comedy.  Mickey Yoochan comes up trumps with this wonderful portrayal.

One can imagine all the kind of messes that the heroine Yoon-Shik keeps getting into, being a woman in disguise.  She has to initially sleep between two men and has a tough time taking a bath. The slaps on the back the other guys keep giving her and the casual arm around the shoulder, all add to her discomfort.  On top of that, the top Gisaeng falls for her.  Then there is the problem of love she cannot express her love for Sun-Joon without being taken for a homosexual.

It is towards the fag end that the series lost a bit of their energy for me.  One reason for that could be the bad subtitling which I have to rely on understand what's going on.  The other could be the sudden slowing down of the story.

The lead actors deliver a standout performance. Micky Yoochan, I have already mentioned.  He makes you love a prig who pontificates all the time. Park Min Young is the cement of the story.  She is the one who binds the F4 together.  She is the catalyst who makes a robotic Sun Joon human.  And she lives up to the demands of the role.


  1. I'm so glad you finally finished watching this, and that you liked it! I agree that it seemed to run out of steam towards the end (that happens with a lot of these series - they tend to become drawn-out). I really liked Park Min-Young in this; it was the first series of hers that I watched. Park Yoo-Chun did full justice to the 'prig' character (good description!).

    Now I must watch Rooftop Prince... sigh. So many dramas to watch, so little time.

    P.S. Do look out for The Three Musketeers. Bahut achcha hai. And since it's only 12 episodes long, it's fairly compact and doesn't slow down. Plus, it has the most adorable couple I've ever seen in a Korean drama. :-)

  2. Yes, I just adored this series, just like I did Rooftop Prince. You will love the 'mystery' in RP.

    I just loved how Micky Yoochun's character deals with the homosexual scandal in SKK Scandal. It was brilliant. I got all bleary eyed watching this non-stop. I am going to take a bit of a break from series for a little while and get back to my books.

    Your recommendations have been very good so far, I will watch The Three Musketeers next.

  3. I am going to start downloading Rooftop Prince asap! (And, since Masterchef Australia will be ending very soon, I will be able to go back to my Korean dramas). I have been watching the occasional East Asian movie now and then (the last one I saw was a Filipino one called 'The Gifted', which seemed fairly predictable but had an after-credits scene which turned everything upside-down and made me like the movie a lot). Time for some dramas.

  4. You MUST see Rooftop Prince. I am going to see some K-movies as well. There is one I read about in which Hyun Bin plays the king Jeong Jo featured in SKK Scandal called The Fatal Encounter. I am really keen to watch that.

  5. this sound slike Yentl in Korean background of political intrigue.

  6. Haan. Yentl maine dekhi nahi. Here the scope is larger as it is a TV series of 20 episodes.