As I admitted earlier, I interrupted my viewing of Sungkyunkwan Scandal because someone made me aware of Heartstrings. Sungkyunkwan Scandal started off a bit slow so I did need a little break.
Initial thoughts: I love history and even studied hard enough to get a degree and become certified to teach several areas of the subject. This Kdrama should be awesome. Reviews told me this Kdrama was similar to Boys Before flowers in that there is a quartet of popular men but differs in that one of those men is actually a lady.
Actual name/ character name/ nickname to help me remember who they are
- Park Yoo Chun (Mickey) as Lee Sun Joon (Mr. Stoic)
- Park Min Young as Kim Yoon Hee (Gutsy Girl)
- Song Joong-Ki as Gu Yong Ha (Mr. Ambiguous)
- Yoo Ah In as Moon Jae Shin (Disenchanted Scholar)
- Kim Min Seo as Cho Sun (Pretty Dangerous Lady)
- Seo Hyo Rim as Ha Hyo Eun (Clueless)
- Jun Tae Soo as Ha In Soo (Cruel Student Body President)
WARNING! HERE BE SPOILERS!
Gutsy Girl, born a girl but disguised as a guy, makes money for her family, and sick brother, by transcribing books in a time (1791) when women are not allowed to learn or earn money in Korea. If she’s found out, she could be sentenced to death. (Pic of Gutsy Girl as a girl since it’s not shown much in the drama)
Her boss at the book store where she illegally makes study guides and cheat sheets for male students, asks her if she will be a substitute test taker. She declines saying the risk is too great, even if she would be paid a lot of money.
When Gutsy Girl returns home to her mother and sick brother, she discovers her mother sold her to the Minister of War to become his second bride to pay the 100 coin debt against her family. (WTH mom?!)
Gutsy Girl immediately returns to her boss to take the test substitute job. On the test date, Gutsy Girl mistakenly attempts to take a college entrance exam for Mr. Stoic, who being so prim and proper and immovable face, alerts the proctors to Gutsy Girl’s presence. Gutsy Girl writes an insult on Mr. Stoic’s clothing and escapes capture.
Mr. Stoic, determined to get back at Gutsy Girl, sets a trap to catch her. The insult Gutsy Girl threw at Mr. Stoic was so clever, he insists he/she take the exam for himself. He/she does and both gain admittance to Sungkyunkwan University.
Once on school grounds, we are introduced to Mr. Ambiguous who dresses very fashionably and takes an immediate interest in Gutsy Girl as he’s sure something smells fishy.
We also meet another fellow scholar, Disenchanted Scholar (also the super hero, Red Messenger, who is a champion for justice) who was held back a few years for playing hookey so much.
On the first night, Cruel Student Body President (and son of the Minister of War) holds a hazing ceremony for the freshmen. He gives everyone a task they must have completed by midnight or they will be dunked in a river of piss.
The challenges Cruel Student Body President gives to Mr. Stoic and Gutsy Girl are designed to be impossible. Mr. Stoic must seduce Cruel Student Body President’s little sister, Clueless. Gusty Girl must seduce Pretty Dangerous Lady who is a type of concubine that Cruel Student Body President is in love with.
Upon seeing Mr. Stoic, Clueless falls in love with him, and he, being a gentleman, does not seduce her and fails his mission.
Gutsy Girl is nice to Pretty Dangerous Lady and she thanks Gutsy Girl by giving him/her lingerie to use as proof of a liaison that didn’t actually happen. Pretty Dangerous Lady falls in love with Gutsy Girl thinking she is a he and it only gets more awkward from there.
When Mr. Stoic is about to be thrown in a river of piss, Gutsy Girl (after having earned the nickname Big Shot for seducing Pretty Dangerous Lady when Cruel Student Body President couldn’t) requests that Mr. Stoic be saved. He is saved but Gutsy Girl has earned an enemy in Cruel Student Body President.
Gutsy Girl, Mr. Stoic and Disenchanted Scholar are all in the same dorm room. This allows for hilarity to follow when Gutsy Girl tries to find time to change and bathe. (can’t you just feel the awkward from this photo?)
(Ah! That’s 10x better. Much more comfortable)
Mr. Ambiguous, trying to confirm if Gutsy Girl really is a girl, tricks her into bathing in a small ceremonial hut that he claims is never used at night. Disenchanted Scholar knows Mr. Ambiguous is up to something and follows him to the hut not knowing Gutsy Girl is in there. Disenchanted Scholar sees more than he thought he would and learns Gutsy Girls secret.
An Archery competition is proposed. Upon learning one of the professors knows of Gutsy Girls secret, she begs him not to kick her out of the university. The professor says he won’t, only if she wins the archery competition.
Gutsy Girl and Mr. Stoic train for days so their dorm can win. In the process, Mr. Stoic starts to feel an attraction for Gutsy Girl. He’s unnerved by this because he still believes Gutsy Girl is a man. Gutsy Girl starts to have feelings for Mr. Stoic as well, but holds back as she knows nothing could happen while she’s dressed as a man.
At the archery competition, Gutsy Girl, Mr. Stoic and Disenchanted Scholar beat Cruel Student Body President’s team despite sabotage. Gutsy Girl gets to stay in school.
Mr. Ambiguous, seeing a mutual attraction between Gutsy Girl and Mr. Stoic sets up a trip for them to be alone on an island in the middle of a lake. While on the island, Mr. Stoic realizes he likes Gutsy Girl way more than he should and decides to get engaged to Clueless who has been after him since the first night they met.
Literally, right before Mr. Stoic enters Clueless’ house to get engaged, Gutsy Girl runs into him. Gutsy Girl is upset to see the man she loves get engaged to someone else so she runs away. Mr. Stoic chases after her and tells her that he’s leaving Sungkyunkwan to study in the mountains because he has feelings that he shouldn’t have for his friend. (its here that I’m yelling at the screen, “Just tell him!” but she doesn’t *le sigh*)
Disenchanted Scholar, dressed as the Red Messenger, has been causing problems for the Minister of War and the Left Minister (also Mr. Stoic’s dad) so they set up a trap to catch him. The Minister of War coerces Pretty Dangerous Lady to pretend to be the Red Messenger and capture him. They fight and Disenchanted Scholar is injured and hobbles back to the university where Gutsy Girl learns of his secret identity. Both Gutsy Girl and Mr. Ambiguous help Disenchanted Scholar evade capture.
The scholars take a school trip to the same mountain that Mr. Stoic is studying at. While there, he is tricked to go outside where he runs into Gutsy Girl on the banks of a river. Realizing they are secluded, he runs to Gutsy Girl and embraces him/her, apparently still in love and more accepting of his feelings. He admits his feelings again and before Gutsy Girl can respond, she falls into the river causing Mr. Stoic to dive right in after. Once Mr. Stoic has pulled Gutsy Girl from the river, he tries to get her to regain consciousness. He starts to take her clothes off and finally realizes that his friend/roommate/love interest is a girl. (Pic: *gasp* Where did those things come from?!)
Mr. Stoic immediately returns to the university and calls off the engagement to Clueless who cries.
The King calls in Mr. Ambiguous, Mr. Stoic, Disenchanted Scholar and Gutsy Girl to find a hidden document that will help him enact reform in his country.
After some searching, flirting between Mr. Stoic and Gutsy Girl, Mr. Stoic’s mistaken arrest for being the Red Messenger, and Gutsy Girl’s eventual outing, the document is finally found and the king tries to make a more equal Korea. Gutsy Girl and Mr. Stoic get married and become professors at the university. Disenchanted Scholar becomes an official and Mr. Ambiguous shamelessly flirts with the ladies.
A few things:
1. So happy I watched this show. As a lover of history, I found this window to the past to be incredibly enlightening. Before pressing play on Sungkyunkwan Scandal, I knew very little of Korean history before the Korean War and now I feel I know a bit more (even though there were probably some liberties taken)
I really liked the struggle for Gutsy Girl to find equality and her own voice through out the show, and even how the king and other professors saw the injustice of keeping a woman down. I would like to point out, however, that the ‘Western philosophy’ preached in the show is a bit idealistic than reality of the time. Korean women in 1791 couldn’t learn or earn their own money…neither could American women. During this time, an American woman was essentially her husbands property. And in France, they were too busy trying to survive the Reign of Terror to think of education. I also found it funny how it was mentioned that Catholicism preaches equality between the sexes. As a Catholic myself, I’ll believe that when a woman is elected Pope. Just saying that 1791 Korean and 1791 Western culture were far more similar than this show leads on.
2. The Costumes!!!
Hey, whatever makes you feel pretty, right?
3. This guy (Mr. Ambiguous)
When Gu Yong Ha is first introduced, I wasn’t sure if he was gay or not. I don’t know how Korean’s view homosexuals (accepting? not accepting?). And ultimately, I don’t even care. He is, by far, my favorite character out of all the Kdramas I’ve seen. Incredibly fashionable, he’s always wearing bold colors and a fan. When something needs to get done, he’s got the know how to get things rolling. The kid’s got swagger and he knows it. (Or maybe that’s just what I think since I can’t understand a word he’s saying.)
My favorite part about this character is his ability to read people’s thoughts and feelings before anyone else and he positions them like pawns on a chessboard in order to watch how they react with each other. He’s very manipulative, but not malicious. He uses his powers for good and not evil. Like when he sent Mr. Stoic and Gutsy Girl to the island by themselves, he was hoping they both would stop the charade they were both playing and admit their feelings. It was all with good intentions.
In other words, he’s kinda like a Greek God.
4. Use of naughty books…
Mr. Ambiguous gave Mr. Stoic a naughty book and the look on Mr. Stoic’s face when he realized what it was is the same look I see when I catch a student reading a Romance novel. Mortified shock. Very few things in life are funnier than that look.
The final scene, when Mr. Stoic took the book to bed with him and Gutsy Girl ‘because he’s still inexperienced’ was quite humorous as well.
9/10 for slooooooooow start.