In Episode 3, we are initiated into the ways of Sungkyunkwan. Yoon Hee’s deception gets fully underway and we see who and what she is up against. A spot of royal politics gets thrown in. And most importantly, the reluctant (but irresistible) soulmates Yoon Hee and Sun Joon are thrown together and run up their mutual accounts of misunderstanding and debt. Love it!
My recaps are, alas, not as creative as Thundie’s, nor as funny as ockoala’s. They’re linear, and lengthy. But opinionated! I hope you enjoy… [Haha, “creative” as a euphemism for “crazy”? You’re too kind! –thundie]
The episode begins with a recap of the terms of the new Sungkyunkwan students’ initiation rite – a prize for the winner of the riddle-challenge, a shirtless dunk in the pond for the loser. Yoon Hee’s challenge requires her to produce the under-garment of Cho Seon, the famed gisaeng. Sun Joon’s requires him to seduce Ha Hyo Eun, the powerful Student President Ha In Soo’s sister. Both challenges have been designed for Yoon Hee (Park Min Young) and Sun Joon (Micky Yoochun) to fail spectacularly. Yoon Hee’s, in particular, has been devised by impish senior Gu Yong Ha to expose her as a girl. The previous episode ended with Yoon Hee crashing into the room in which the Minister for War (and father of Ha In Soo) had begun undressing Cho Seon, the very same Minister for War who had vowed to possess the young girl Yoon Hee if she couldn’t repay his loan. “You… you…”, he had stuttered when he saw Yoon Hee’s face…
The gisaengs who have been chasing Yoon Hee apologise to their esteemed guest for the interruption and explain that the lad is a Sungkyunkwan scholar. Which explains little, and the War Minister (Lee Jae Yong) exclaims he will complain to Sungkyunkwan of the scholar’s immoral behaviour. Which is rich, for what has he been up to himself? But no matter, because the more important thing is that he is distracted from connecting the feckless young scholar with the feisty young girl he had fancied.
Yoon Hee apologises with dignity and turns to leave, but sees that across the corridor a roomful of guests are sniggering at what Yoon Hee’s crash through the wall has revealed – a woman’s disgracefully bared shoulders. Yoon Hee pauses for thought, glances back at the woman, then turns and drapes her own outer robe over the woman. Such gallantry! A lesser woman would have fled; the sooner away from the man who had leered at her as a girl, the better. But Yoon Hee is made of stern stuff and in addition feels a special empathy toward women who are exploited, and she is not afraid to risk antagonising a man who has the power to destroy her life. What a hero(in)!
And Cho Seon (Kim Min Seo) agrees with my favourable assessment. She glances wonderingly at Yoon Hee, who half-smiles kindly at her. The War Minister is too astonished to do more than gape.
Yoon Hee kneels before the Minister, in front of Cho Seon, the gisaengs and the fascinated guests, and apologises, “I don’t know who you are” (a lie) “and I apologise for behaving so rudely on our first meeting, but it seems that I have to take this woman away with me. The Student President of Sungkyunkwan is the son of the Minister of War, and exerts so much power in his father’s name that if I don’t take her with me, he will have me expelled and beaten.” Oh, this girl is both brave and clever. The guests in the next room chortle and the War Ministry looks uncomfortable.
“I will get kicked out one way or another,” Yoon Hee continues, “but I would like to at least avoid getting beaten. I have to preserve myself so that I can petition the king regarding these iniquitous initiation rites. I now take my leave.” Yoon Hee leads Cho Seon away with protective arms around her shoulders.
The Minister of War doesn’t stop them from leaving, stunned by the young scholar’s audacity and momentarily unwilling to reveal himself as the said perfidious Student President’s power-wielding father. And keeping Cho Seon on a night whose mood is already spoilt is probably little worth risking public commotion. But he can’t resist a table-thump and a yell of “Insolent scoundrel!” at their backs. The guests in the room across the way (who probably haven’t had so much fun in ages) nosily advise him to calm down and save his face rather than look ridiculous countermanding orders from his own son.
Safely away in the corridor, Cho Seon expresses her thanks and asks for his name. “Bastard!” exclaims Yoon Hee, still riled, puzzling Cho Seon for a split second (your name is bastard?). “With these bastards in power the country is in a mess! Bastards like him should be rounded up and thrown into the Han River, and…!” Yoon Hee finally notices that the gisaengs are gazing at her quizzically.
“But you’ve found Cho Seon, whom you’ve been ssearching for so desperately,” one of the minor gisaengs brings Yoon Hee back to the point that really matters. “Do you plan to spend the night like this?” i.e., ranting about the rottenness of the state of Joseon? Yoon Hee turns her gaze back to Cho Seon, and her look of surprise turns into a delighted smile…
Meanwhile, Sun Joon reads his riddle-challenge about picking the most fully bloomed lotus flower. The risqué meaning is pretty clear to us, but Sun Joon seems genuinely stumped, that sheltered and dense young thing, aw. Just as we are admiring his innocence, he is startled by a back-hug attack, haha! It’s his hilariously sassy man-servant come to save his master’s (saintly) ass by solving the riddle for him, knowing full well that while his young master may be learned in books, he’s not exactly street-smart.
“What else could “de-flowering” mean?”. Indeed, what else? And Sun Joon looking pained by his mirthful servant just cracks me up.
Cut to Ha Hyo Eun (Seo Hyo Rim), who is engaging in the proper occupation of a high-born lady in the evening, i.e., embroidery. But at the same time improperly getting into the spirit of a high-stakes school-boy prank by practising her rejection of an anticipated suitor. Ha In Soo’s besotted minion praises her acting, then confusedly apologises for comparing such a noble lady to a lowly entertainer, but Hyo Eun is not too put out for she rather enjoys the fawning. Minion no. 2 comes shouting, “Lee Sun Joon is coming!”
Cut to Lee Sun Joon. On the street outside the Minister of War’s house, now arguing with his servant. “It can’t be the Minister of War’s daughter. Ha In Soo has no reason to tie me to his sister, there must be something going on I can’t see.” His servant merely gets on his knees and indicates his master should use him to boost over the wall. Servant is on Step 2 before Sun Joon is reconciled to Step 1 – “This is not a noble person’s way”, Sun Joon is still grumbling. “Hurry up and get on my shoulders!” his manservant ignores his pontificating.
He is not the only one impatient. “Where is he?” grumbles Hyo Eun. “How long do I have to wait?” she storms into her room, kicking stuff and flinging her clothes off in a childish but harmless tantrum. “Just because he’s the Left State Councillor’s son! I’ll make him suffer!” She strips down to her undergarments, signalling that she’s tired of the game and is not playing.
“But the men are waiting outside!” her longsuffering maid reminds her. “Let them wait!” the princess declares. She picks up a book. A Joseon romance novel, presumably, because she sighs, “How boring that all the men in the world are idiots! Where are all the perfect men, as in this book?” (What do you mean, where are all the perfect men? All the perfect young men in Korea have been rounded up to appear in your show, you ungrateful wench!)
She settles in for a read and a good giggle. And if her chick lit predilection didn’t already, here’s where she wins me over: Without even looking back she pokes her maidservant in the side with her bare foot, hee hee. “Tell them I’m resting and I’ll be back out only after fifteen minutes!” And when the maid demurs, she threatens to walk out in her undergarments, which does the trick. Ah, the familiar dynamic of spoilt child entirely winding weak-willed adult round her little finger.
The maid tells the hovering In Soo cronies that the young lady is retiring for fifteen minutes, so they take the opportunity to go for a pressing out-house break. (All five of them at the same time? Perhaps they’re so close they have a male digestive version of menstrual synchronization…)
Of course, this is exactly when Sun Joon makes his approach. Looking decidedly un-eager for any night action. He reads the name of her quarters – “lotus flower room” – which confirms her as the object of the riddle, sigh. He stands at her door, presumably thinking indignant and conflicted thoughts.
She sees the shadow of someone outside and bursts out to scold her maidservant for lurking, but is brought up in shock as she comes face-to-face with that perfect specimen of a man she has been dreaming about. He has enough presence of mind (and prudishness) to dive in to shut the doors to cover her unbecoming attire.
But she immediately flings open the doors again. Distressedly embarrassed, he mutters “I’m…”. But she shushes him with a finger to his lips. Whoa! She’s fast! What’s Mr Righteous going to do now? Everything is conspiring to make him do something appallingly improper, even the “victim” herself!
Back to Sungkyunkwan, where seniors Ha In Soo (Jeon Tae Soo) and Gu Yong Ha (Song Joong Ki) share a companionable, plotty drink.
Yong Ha: “You’ve been asking about Kim Yoon Shik’s progress hourly. You’re restless. You look like a man who is jealous.” (Trust Yong Ha to poke around where it might hurt.)
In Soo, confidently: “Cho Seon, if she doesn’t like a man, even if he were to die for her, she will not be moved. I know this well.”
Yong Ha: “Right. That’s why I sent Kim Yoon Shik to Cho Seon. To ensure that the kid fails the initiation rite. Tonight I’ll make sure he has to take off his top.” (Ok, folks, if you haven’t realised by now, Yong Ha is not nice. Yes, Song Joong Ki the actor is adorable and I love the sinister vibe he is displaying from his acting repertoire, ten times more interesting than his puppy-dog persona in Triple. But Yong Ha the character? Mean bastard. This is not just fun-loving mischief, as feeling up Yoon Hee in a clinch and teasing her might be (see last episode). This is hoping to humiliate her in public, get her severely punished (if not executed) and probably destroy her for life. Don’t get misled by his pretty face, girls, Yong Ha is poisonous.)
Back to the gisaeng house. The feted gisaeng Cho Seon serves Yoon Hee tea and what does “he” do? Instead of basking in the compliment as most men would, Yoon Hee distractedly surveys the interior decoration of Cho Seon’s room. (Hee, so like a woman, don’t we check out our friends’ rooms like that?) Cho Seon seems happy with “his” lack of predatory male behaviour, and coyly asks what she can do for him. Yoon Hee stammers, not knowing quite how to put her errand…
Cho Seon saves Kim Yoon Shik by describing the task and gently suggesting that he need but ask. She moves closer, and Yoon Hee inches nervously away, probably intriguing Cho Seon even more. She’s probably thinking “What an adorably bashful and untouched young man!”. She brings her face close to Yoon Hee’s, purses her lips, and blows. Flour that had settled on Yoon Hee from the ragging earlier that night blows off, as gentle harp plays in the soundtrack, making for the feel of a magically intimate moment.
A magical moment which Yoon Hee breaks by leaping to her feet. “I have to go!”
“Have I done something wrong?” Cho Seon asks. “No,” replies Yoon Hee, “It’s not your fault. I’m being not much different from the Minister for War. I asked for one night with you; how am I different?”
Now, this is interesting. Is this just a clever ploy for Yoon Hee to get out of Cho Seon’s embrace? I actually think not. I think Yoon Hee means what she says. She took a personal risk in rescuing a woman from a powerful man’s clutches when it seemed she would gain nothing for her action, so she has strong views on the use and abuse of women, and I do believe that if she were indeed a man she would still have refused to seduce Cho Seon into giving up her undergarment.
Ah, she is so righteous! She and Sun Joon make such a righteous couple! They will establish a righteous household and raise a brood of righteous (and beautiful) children, can’t you see it already?
Yoon Hee declares that she would rather bear the consequence of failing her initiation test than disgrace a lady, and makes to leave. But Cho Seon unexpectedly presents a bundle of delicate pink embroidered silk. “To the man I love, I give this as a token of my love.” This could be an explanation of the meaning of the gift of the undergarments, or it could be a veiled nearly-declaration of affection.
Yoon Hee does not reply with words. But sitting down, she gently spreads out the cloth, picks up a brush and honours the gift by drawing a flowery plant in black ink. “This is not the undergarment of a lady of shameful fate,” she says. “I will take it as an unforgettable memory.”
Cho Seon sees the sincerity and respect in this gesture and is pleased. “Shall I write a poem in return?” She is very pleased, indeed, with Kim Yoon Shik.
At the War Minister’s house, as the In Soo lackeys saunter back from their group out-house trip, they suddenly realise that Sun Joon might have arrived while they were gone. None too bright, this lot. In fact, at this moment Sun Joon is saying to Hyo Eun (with his back decorously to her), “I apologise for this first meeting. I will now take my leave.” “I can’t let you leave like this,” she replies. And he looks back at her in mild surprise.
The lackeys arrive and see a moving shadow in Hyo Eun’s room. They rush in, only to barge into Hyo Eun in her undergarments. Who is suitably indignant. And the men withdraw, roundly chastised.
However, just as they (and we) suspected, Sun Joon is indeed in the room, hidden behind her screen. Sun Joon and Hyo Eun are awkward and simultaneously burst out “Please forgive my rudeness”, which makes them feel even more awkward. She is, poor girl, fast falling hopelessly in love. He, uptight sod, is just embarrassed to death. She babbles about wanting to treat him well as a guest and hoping that he will forget about the improper circumstances of their meeting.
Hyo Eun shows him a way to get out of the premises undetected. He says he will be eternally grateful to her. I think he’s just being excessively courteous, probably out of a guilty conscious for having even contemplated going along with the challenge to seduce her. His manner is not of a man besotted, but of a man wanting to get away as quickly as possible.
But she is much taken with him (poor lass), so much so that as she turns to leave she trips over herself and he has to catch her from falling! She loves the moment and says what we are all thinking, “I thought these things only happened in novels.” To which Sun Joon really has no reply.
Meanwhile, the Minister of War heading home in his entourage is still puzzling over where he could have seen that young scholar, and decides that, whatever, he should at least give the insolent lad a good beating! But as his sedan chair is turned round, they are startled by the sight of bits of red papers floating down from the sky…
A black-clad, masked archer is darting through streets and across roof-tops, shooting arrows into the air which explode to scatter red paper onto the citizenry.
Among whom is Yoon Hee making her way back to school clutching precious pink silk to her bosom. “Geum Deung Ji Sa?” she picks up one of the red pamphlets and reads aloud.
The mysterious archer audaciously lets fly an arrow which narrowly misses the War Minister, right outside his own door.
The archer flees the constabulary, leaping up into the roof-tops and shows off some nifty wire-work in the patented super-cool rooftop-leaping manner (impossible to do justice to with screen caps).
The masked archer drops from the roof, right in front of Yoon Hee.
Then leaps up again as police officers appear on the scene. Presumably prompted by a simple desire to help someone in trouble, Yoon Hee tells them she didn’t see anyone, so they continue on their pursuit.
Yoon Hee looks up and as we follow her gaze we see that the masked archer has attached himself to the bottom of the eaves in an impressive martial arts stance. He drops to the ground, acknowledges her assistance, and is gone.
His pursuers have him in their sights, but lose him once he gets into the Sungkyunkwan campus, an extraterritorial area which officers of the law may not enter. The War Minister is enraged by this get-away.
The king, on the other hand, is intrigued by the perpetrator’s means of escape, and wonders if there is a connection between the mystery man and Sungkyunkwan, though His Prime Minister points out that using Sungkyunkwan’s extraterritorial status need not imply a connection. (But we know there’s a connection, of course, oh yes there is!). The king ponders the interesting fact that the red flyers talk about the Geum Deung Ji Sa.
The Geum Deung Ji Sa is a book supposedly written by the king’s grandfather (King Yeong Jo) confessing that his execution of his son the Crown Prince Sado (the present king’s father) was not because the Prince was mentally ill but because of a political conspiracy by the Noron Political Faction. (I know this is tedious, but bear with me as this is bound to become an important plot point.) This as yet undiscovered book is political dynamite, for the present reforming king Jeong Jo has an uneasy relationship with the politically conservative Noron Faction. As the book implicates the Noron Faction, in the king’s hands it could cut their power considerably down to size. The Noron Faction, as you can imagine, is eager to find and destroy the book. The Left State Councillor (Sun Joon’s father, and Faction Leader) and the Minister for War (In Soo’s father) are both Norons.
So, the Left State Councillor (played chillingly by the wonderful Kim Gab Soo) is concerned. “How could you let this happen?” he demands of the Minister of War, steely-eyed. “Find the perpetrator before the king makes his move and the Norons are destroyed!”
Meanwhile, on to lighter fare. Sun Joon sees Yoon Hee on the street and puts a hand on her shoulder. (Heh, you just can’t resist looking for her and accosting her, you’re so far gone, my boy.) She’s jumpy from her adrenaline-filled evening, and starts and falls to the ground.
And when Sun Joon complains she looks like she’s seen a ghost, she blusters that he’s scarier than a ghoul to her. Hee. Cosy bickering already, I see.
He puts out a hand to her, ostensibly just to help her get up, but from the cold and mighty Lee Sun Joon this is probably a gesture loaded with friendly assurance, and she seems to sense that this is not a casual gesture because she hesitates to take his hand.
He tries to restore his usual superior stance: “Since you are in no hurry so close to the hour of reckoning, I take it you are ready to leave Sungkyunkwan.” Which is of course his way of enquiring how she got on with her task. And maybe she understands his kindly intention, because she responds by placing her (extremely small and feminine) hand in his and lets him pull her up.
It’s probably embarrassing for her to say that she has succeeded in her mission of seducing Cho Seon (!!) so she turns the subject back on him: “You’ve come from where the high officials live, so you solved your riddle?” It’s just as embarrassing for him to admit that he was about his mission of seducing the Student President’s sister, so Sun Joon says, “Let’s hurry back, or your hard work in solving the riddle will be for naught.” Ah, the clever boy has seen that she is clutching silken undergarments. He’s probably put out and disapproving in some weird way he can’t understand, hee hee.
The freshies, er, new students are gathered back at Sungkyunkwan and one by one explain how they solved their riddle, whereupon each is presented with the school blazer, er, scholar robes.
When Kim Yoon Shik steps forward to present “his” proof of mission-accomplished, In Soo and Yong Ha hardly pay attention as neither expect him to succeed.
But when Yong Ha looks at the cloth more carefully, he is stunned. This IS Cho Seon’s undergarment! He is impressed and looks at Yoon Hee with renewed wonder. In Soo does not react very visibly, but gives off dangerously displeased vibes.
The lackeys take the undergarment and read Cho Seon’s poem aloud: “This short night lacks nothing of a long night. I would not trade this short night of ecstasy for even the longest of nights.” Wow! The boys’ jaws drop.
“This is true? Did Cho Seon give this to you?” In Soo fixes her with a death glare. Yoon Hee is feeling pleased with herself for having achieved an impossible task and can’t help smiling as she confirms the truth of this. Unfortunately, to the boys she just looks smug and self-satisfied. Yong Ha positively radiates happy anticipatory glee as he pronounces her the winner of the night’s top prize. Ah, his tedious days never looked so bright with potential mischief! In Soo says nothing, but clenches his hands behind his back.
It is Sun Joon’s turn. “I didn’t solve the riddle.”
Yoon Hee glances at him in surprise. Yong Ha astutely asks if Sun Joon really didn’t solve it, or merely refused to. “I did not solve it.” Yong Ha, who doesn’t miss much, notices Yoon Hee saying to Sun Joon in an undertone, “but you came from that direction…” But Sun Joon is immovable.
The boys who serve Sungkyunkwan pee into the pond while the students cheer. Ah, the boysie delights of childish and yucky pranks.
In Soo intones portentiously: “The Lee Sun Joon whom the king personally chose is going to be dunked in urine. I look forward to seeing how your pride will be submerged.”
Yong Ha looks delighted, Yoon Hee looks appalled, Sun Joon looks kind of expressionless.
The provost is crouched by the pond, complaining that he now has to save that spoiled brat (but, no one asked you to, you ass-licker…). Everyone looks on expectantly.
It is Yoon Hee. Demanding her prize as the winner of the initiation contest. Which is, of course, the wish that Sun Joon be spared from this punishment. We are not the least bit surprised by this, but everyone else is flabbergasted. (Way to broadcast your nascent crush, girl!)
“You want to use your wish for Sun Joon? Don’t you realise that I have the power to grant a government appointment?” In Soo demands, not realizing that an official appointment is probably the last thing on the planet she wants. Though the extent of his power surprises her, it’s not hard for her to persist in using her wish for Sun Joon. Yong Ha looks happy as a clam with all these interesting developments unfolding. Sun Joon gazes intently at Yoon Hee. She tries to look like it’s no big deal.
Party over, Sun Joon goes for Yoon Hee’s shoulder again. Before he can speak, she pre-empts him, “If you wish to thank me, don’t bother. I didn’t do it for anyone other than for myself, for my principles. I don’t like being indebted to anyone.” (Yeah, right, you didn’t want to save his gorgeous ass. We believe you. Not!)
Sun Joon is not one to give up the moral high ground so easily: “It would have been better if you had not interfered. I had decided that it will be better to challenge this reprehensible initiation tradition some time in the future.” In other words, he’s implying she ruined his well-laid plans. Her expression pretty much mirrors our disbelief.
“I too do not like to be indebted to anyone.” (I bet you don’t, boy.) “So if you ever need my help, I will do my utmost for you.” (Nice plan. Bind her closer to you, but stay on your nice high horse.) And he walks away before he can hear her reply, which is the Joseon equivalent of “Whatever”.
Yong Ha has been eavesdropping and waylays Sun Joon. “Was it because of that? That you are so disdainful of the initiation tradition you said you didn’t go to the Minister of War’s house, when you did? You would rather be soaked in urine than participate in silly games? Is it pride? Stubbornness? Or perhaps, defiance?”
Sun Joon merely turns to look at Yong Ha. (And here can I just say that for myself I hope there won’t be too many Sun Joon + Yong Ha scenes, because the contrast between the experienced actor acing his interesting and expressive role and the inexperienced one whom I have trouble reading is a pretty painful one. Is Sun Joon provoked? Impassive? Defiant? Resolute? So hard to tell… I think Micky Yoochun just about carries off the aloof and constipated Sun Joon with the requisite hint of vulnerability, and I do like him, but I suspect that his acting depth should not be too challenged.)
Yong Ha becomes less teasing and more menacing. “The initiation rites are meant precisely for jerks like you. Men born in privilege who have never submitted to anyone. The tradition was created to humble bastards like you. Why? Because this is Sungkyunkwan. It doesn’t matter who your father is or how many houses your family has, here everyone is a new student when they arrive. ‘Stop being so arrogant and conceited’ – that’s the lesson of the tradition.”
(The “privileged men like you” part? Ouch. The rest? The logic doesn’t convince me that ragging is right. And, something tells me that Yong Ha is speaking out of some deep bitter emotions, and that there is something more personal than school tradition at stake here.)
Having delivered his put-down, Yong Ha’s manner turns friendly (sinisterly, on a dime) and he gives Sun Joon a chummy pat with his fan. “So don’t be so uptight, eh?”
“So, Sunbae,” Mr Uptight retorts, “you can’t have undergone the initiation rites yourself, since no other scholar wears the flamboyant clothes you do. Don’t you wear luxurious robes to show off your family’s wealth?”
“Ah, you’re so very clever,” Yong Ha smiles, acknowledging the hit. “What an excellent judge of character our king is.”
“Gu Yong Ha,” says Sun Joon familiarly, “the Lotus Flower is a virtuous woman. It isn’t right to make her the object of derision and joking. I didn’t do it to disrespect you Seniors, so don’t be angry.” (Hmm, I don’t think he’s lying here, but I think he was also motivated to some extent by his distaste of the initiation rites and his scorn for tradition that seemed senseless to him.)
Yong Ha has had his fun. “Congratulations on entering Sungkyunkwan,” he says, and backs off, thus agreeing to stop paying hard ball. At least for tonight.
Bedtime. Yoon Hee hovers outside her dorm room, eyeing Sun Joon’s shoes on the door-step with deep misgiving. She braces herself, takes off her own shoes, and marches in…
Meanwhile, the In Soo entourage curse Kim Yoon Shik for saving Lee Sun Joon from piss-soaked humiliation. They note how tight the two are, and how Sun Joon is even sleeping in the Eastern dormitories to be with Yoon Shik… How dare they! The Noron faction always sleeps in the Western dormitories, and the Soron in the Eastern.
The opposing faction, Soron, are also indignant. How dare Sun Joon disrespect the Soron by polluting their dorms? The staff faculty, likewise, is perturbed by this reckless disturbance of drawn political lines. (Sigh. When you’re as righteous as Sun Joon, you just offend everyone left right and centre. And your enemy’s enemy is… your enemy.)
“Don’t worry, it won’t last long,” Yong Ha calms his minions. “Neither Lee Sun Joon nor Kim Yoon Shik can last more than a day in that room, maybe two. “But you’re losing your touch,” the disbelieving lackeys say, “your plans have not been working so far.”
“You’re right,” Yong Ha admits, “but this time I won’t be doing the work, so you can believe me. This time we have a secret weapon…”
Cut to a dark-robed and dishevelled figure sauntering menacingly along the cloisters of Sungkyunkwan, scattering terrified students, to the accompaniment of thumping fusion electric guitar and flute music (I like!)
“… Crazy Horse.” Cut back to Yong Ha smirking. “Have you ever seen him share a room with any student, let along a Noron?” The minions snicker in gleeful anticipation.
Meanwhile, Sun Joon is getting into his PJs. While poor Yoon Hee sits bolt upright, clutching her bag to her bosom, studiously averting her eyes from his manly chest.
“Take off your clothes,” he says.
“WHAT?!” she shrieks in surprise.
He merely glances at her in mild puzzlement, and I’m beginning to think that in some matters he’s not as clever as all that, because he doesn’t seem to notice anything odd about her skittish behaviour.
“What’s it to you whether I take off my clothes or not,” she blusters when she realises he meant it innocently and tries to recover. He patiently explains, as to an idiot child, “only after you change your clothes and lie down can I turn off the light.”
“Just go to sleep and ignore what I do!” she desperately evades.
“How will we sleep with the lights on?” he’s starting to get impatient with her. She has to do something. She marches over to the bedding and lies down beside him, fully clothed, back to him. “Happy now?” (Argh! Kill me now! It’s so obvious and so silly, but I’m such a sucker for the delicious faux-bedroom scene.)
He sits up to harangue her. “How can you possibly be well-brought up? Haven’t you been taught the importance of appropriate sleeping attire? We must act according to proper manners!” Heavens, the boy is such a high stickler. His voice is rising, and Yoon Hee gets up in exasperation to yell back, “Fine! OK! Whatever!”
And heads out the door. Only to bump into in-prowling Moon Jae Shin (Yoo Ah In), said nicknamed Crazy Horse or Geol Oh, looking dangerously sullen and ticked off with the world. He stares down Yoon Hee, who backs warily, and turns his displeased gaze onto Sun Joon.
Outside, the In Soo minions are running a betting book on whether Sun Joon would get thrown out that night. Except that, how can the book be run if no one is betting against that likelihood? Risk-loving Gu Yong Ha to the rescue! He’ll bet on Sun Joon lasting till the next morning at least.
Meanwhile, in the Room of Doom:
Sun Joon: “Who are you?”
Geol Oh: “I should be asking you. What’s all this stuff? Get OUT!”
Geol Oh tosses his room-mates’ belongings out of the way and plants himself in the middle of the room.
With Geol Oh lying in repose, Yoon Hee suddenly realises that he is the mysterious scruffy lounging apple-tosser who saved her purse from the War Minister’s thugs back in Episode One. Ohnos, will he recognise her as the girl he rescued? Yikes, best be off. But as Yoon Hee tries to sneak past Geol Oh he says, “Hey, you, what are you doing here? Are you crazy?” Eek! Yoon Hee starts stammering excuses…
Geol Oh strides up to… Sun Joon. Whew for Yoon Hee! Uh Oh for Sun Joon…
Geol Oh: “You, Noron, what are you doing here? What is Noron filth doing here?”
Sun Joon: “I’m here according to the room allocation, not according to political affiliation.”
Geol Oh: “Isn’t it you Noron bastards who divided Sungkyunkwan, no, the whole country, into political factions?”
Sun Joon: “But now, it is you who are dividing this room into political factions. So, are you not being Noron?”
Geol Oh: “What?”
Sun Joon: “So, I will sleep here.” And calmly lays down, debating point won, bravo.
Aw, two hot young men posturing as they dispute politics, so cute. Geol Oh looks like he is about to kick Sun Joon, Yoon Hee readies to flee out the door, and Yong Ha and the In Soo minions count-down to a dramatic expulsion from the room…
Except that Geol Oh lays down. With a sardonic laugh that he has never been so insulted, being called a Noron. But laying down. And asking for the lights to be turned off. Yoon Hee tries to excuse herself, but Geol Oh trips her to the ground, making her lie between them.
“Do you expect me to sleep next to a Noron? In future, you sleep here between us.” Nice! Very nice. Yoon Hee gets to be the filling in the Hot Young Men sandwich, and we get to relish a delectable faux ménage a trois. (Also, in all the period romance novels I’ve read, when a lady is compromised by sharing a room with a man like this, he has to marry her. Does this mean she will get to marry them both? Nice!)
Yong Ha wins his bet, and is in joyful anticipation of interesting times (as are we).
In Soo and his retinue observe that a Son of Soron, a Son of Noron, and the girly brat are bedding down together. The minions are tickled by how uncomfortable this must be for all concerned. But In Soo is more bothered by the implications of Sun Joon’s stubborn defiance of school convention, i.e., that he is defying In Soo himself. In lordly displeasure, he plunges a knife into a table. (And can I just say, I love how for a 24-hour sequence they make their gorgeous men Jeon Tae Soo and Song Joong Ki undertake numerous wardrobe changes. Solely for our viewing pleasure, for I can fathom no other reason for this parade of sartorial delicacies.)
Back in The Room, the restless and non-conformist Geol Oh is kicking off his clothes while Yoon Hee tries not to notice, whereas Sun Joon sleeps straight as a plank in decorous clothing and hands neatly folded. Geol Oh scratches in his pants (eek! Too much visual!), turns over and plops his arm over wide-awake Yoon Hee’s chest (Yeow!). Yoon Hee prises his arm off and turns to the other side, only to be confronted by Sun Joon’s throat and barely-covered chest.
She turns the other way, and what does she see but a scar on Geol Oh’s bare chest. What is a girl to do, surrounded by so much male hotness? She clutches her chastity knife. Only to have Geol Oh plop his leg on her as he tosses in his sleep.
Meanwhile, Yoon Hee’s mother is raising her hands in prayer for her daughter (as well she might). Yoon Shik tells her not to worry, his sister must be doing fine.
Sister is at that moment tossing a strange young man’s leg off herself. I’m thinking she’ll be awake all night at this rate. But, slowly, her eyes flutter shut, and she falls asleep. Probably exhausted from all the excitement and stress. Or, perhaps, eventually getting used to the idea of being stuck between two men. (Yup, get used to that, my dear.)
Morning. The wake-up drum is struck. But the ever-disciplined Sun Joon is already awake, sitting bolt upright at his desk, studying. The bedding and his two room-mates are strewn across the floor.
Sun Joon makes to step over and ignore the awkwardly sprawled Yoon Hee, but changes his mind and instead kneels down, gently straightens her out and raises her in his arms. Which is when she wakes up and there is instant frisson! Yup, you kids, it’s so clear what you feel for each other is not what is normal toward bratty young room-mate / inconvenient male room-mate.
Yoon Hee is startled into sitting up suddenly, causing an almighty head-butt which sends Sun Joon sprawling, so that Geol Oh wakes up to discover a Noron on his bare stomach! (Argh, how many more loaded encounters can we squeeze into one small room and one short night!)
Both Yoon Hee and Sun Joon scurry away from Geol Oh, they know what’s good for them. “Do you two want to die? Get OUT!” he yells, tossing bedding at them.
All the students emerge yawning from their rooms. Yoon Hee is the only one in her outer robe, but she is so relieved at having survived the night she doesn’t notice.
Morning ablutions at basins. (Thank goodness for dodgy 18th century personal hygiene! I was worried about how Yoon Hee was going to deal with the open shower stalls of boys’ boarding schools.) We are treated to close-ups of Sun Joon at his morning toilette. (Nice!)
Yoon Hee watches Sun Joon intently to work out the drill, and Yong Ha watches the girl with a glint in his eye. (Side-note: If Yong Ha is here in this dorm, does this mean that he is Soron? And also a member of Soo In’s retinue. Interesting. Perhaps he is so clever and so iconoclastic he successfully straddles both factions. But will his loyalties be tested in future?)
Strangely, nobody notices that one of these pairs of legs is not like the others. (Perhaps someone has cast a cluelessness spell on the dorm?)
Yoon Hee can’t stop looking at Sun Joon. But the mood of the happy morning moment is broken when Yoon Hee overhears the Soron students murmuring about what that no-good Noron son is doing sleeping in their dorm.
As the students head off, they are harangued by a professor. “Five points deducted from Gryffindor!” oops, I mean “Minus five points for unfit attire!”. He recite all the trials and tests they will be subjected to, and a litany of transgressions for which they can acquire demerit points.
Except that, oho, he’s not actually a professor but a long-time repeat student, Ahn Do Hyun, impersonating a professor. Ten demerit points! (I’m not sure what the point of this unrealistic and not particularly funny interlude is, except to introduce us to the laughable figure of Ahn Do Hyun.)
Hogwarts feast! Oops, I mean, breakfast at Sungkyunkwan!
Presided over by Professor Snapes, oops, I mean Student President Ha In Soo.
Yoon Hee is delighted with this elaborate meal. But Yong Ha comes to seat himself in front of her, and this can only mean Trouble. He opens with small talk (on which Sun Joon eavesdrops intently) about her first breakfast at Sungkyunkwan being the first step to qualify to sit for the State Exam.
“Which, of course you will take, being so exceptional: Acknowledged by the king, your manhood recognised by Cho Seon herself,” Yong Ha is veritably bursting with the latest bag of mischief he is about to dump on her. “Aren’t you ‘Dae Mul’, Sir Kim Yoon Shik?!!” “Dae Mul” meaning “The Big One”, a double entendre even Yoon Hee understands, causing her to sputter out her rice in shock and outrage. Yong Ha’s moment of trouble-making triumph is somewhat marred by having to pretend to be amused at receiving Yoon Hee’s spit-out rice on his face, serve him right.
Geol Oh emerges into the day long after everyone else. He’s approached by the leaders of the Soron students, but they are too terrified by his glare of disdain to convey their request that he kick Sun Joon out.
Poor Yoon Hee. Her snickering classmates are loving her new nickname. Sun Joon is hovering, as ever. And as ever can’t resist poking her with an annoying comment. “You have acquired for yourself quite the nickname.”
“Don’t say that. I shall never acknowledge that nickname.” She says haughtily. And immediately responds to a hail of “Dae Mul!” from Yong Ha. Oops! “See, I told you you’d get used to your nickname,” Yong Ha smirks as he picks a rice grain off his face and sticks it onto her nose.
“It seems you like this nickname. Dae Mul.” Sun Joon is dead-pan, but I think he is enjoying this. Perhaps beneath that starchiness is a normal, puerile schoolboy after all. Or perhaps he just enjoys teasing her.
We switch from cute harmless teasing to a spot of dangerous posturing now. In Soo confronts Sun Joon: “Are you enjoying your little game? Stealing the limelight in the preliminary exams, catching the eye of the king, standing out among the new students, making a statement,… Do you really think you have won the hearts of everyone, including the Soron and Namin factions? Actually, you have even lost the Noron scholars.”
The Soron leaders stand behind In Soo, and his minions add to the heckling.
“I didn’t do what I did to win anyone,” Sun Joon replies stonily.
“Right,” In Soo gives a sinister knowing smile. “Since you have started your game, you might as well continue. Sooner or later you will realise the folly of your ways and come crawling back.” His minions mock Sun Joon with an imitation of begging dogs, but actually they look to me like nothing so much as parodies of their own fawningly salivating selves. In Soo continues: “I am generous. I will welcome back those who are submissive.”
“Futile expectation is not good for your health, Student President sir.” And here Micky Yoochun manages a creditably steely and resolute glare-back. I’m sure I couldn’t do as well if a scary male Ha Ji Won were giving me death glares.
Sun Joon strolls off. Yong Ha looks bemused as usual, Yoon Hee looks concerned.
The high-testosterone tone continues. Walking alone, Yoon Hee is accosted by In Soo’s minions, who surround her and accuse her of sticking to Sun Joon in order to ride on his power bandwagon. (You know, not everyone is like you sucker-uppers…) They warn her that she’s on the wrong bandwagon and she ought to get on In Soo’s, for he holds all power. She denies any interest in power, and irritated by her refusal to listen the boys escalate their verbal heckling to physical assault as they pin her against the wall and threaten to examine the vaunted “Dae Mul” for themselves. Yoon Hee struggles and protests, but there are five of them and one of her.
The boys suddenly stop their pranking. Someone is coming to her rescue! Sort of. It’s Ha In Soo! Looking extremely displeased. He may be power-hungry, but in his own proud way he has high principles which don’t descend to crude physical bullying. His minions are defensive but nervous; they know him well enough to realise they have crossed his line.
In Soo steps up to Yoon Hee and apologises for his minions; they were only trying to give her some friendly advice.
But it’s not over. We now graduate from elementary physical assault to advanced psychological bullying. He takes her face in his hand, and leans into her with a frightening menace:
“Depending on what you make of it, Sungkyunkwan can be heaven or hell, Kim Yoon Shik. Decide now who you are going to shelter under. As befitting a scholar chosen by the king himself and defying convention, use this great brain of yours well.” He menacingly taps Yoon Hee’s head. “I will be watching you closely.” And with this he lowers his hand and caressing the side of her head threateningly. “Every breath you take, every step you take.” She gasps in fear, and he grasps her chin so that she is forced to look into his inimical face. “So, Kim Yoon Shik, don’t cross me. Ever. Don’t force me show you who I am by harming your weak, girlish body.” Yoon Hee is so frightened she has tears in her eyes.
And this is a highly charged and very interesting moment. To Yoon Hee and to us, this encounter feels rapacious and dominating in almost a sexual way. To In Soo, he is merely putting the fear of god into a wimpy young lad. Or is he? He treats Yoon Hee very differently from the way he treats Sun Joon. At the same time, I feel sure he has no clue of her real gender. But I think that with his evil sixth sense and his ability to sniff out bullying potential, he does sense that at some level Kim Yoon Shik is weak and that he has latent superiority of strength and power. Which, as a nobleman to a common woman who has no right to be where she is, he sure does.
Of course, what is interesting to speculate is what will happen when he finds out she is a woman. Fangirls might want him to fall for her, but I think that would be lame. My guess is that while he might (as his father did) feel a desire to possess her, unlike his father he will not go so far. I don’t think he will actively try to hurt her as a woman, but nonetheless her gender and her person will become but another expandable pawn in his political games. That’s my read. I could be totally wrong. We’ll see!
Yoon Hee goes to the library, to look for Sun Joon. Is she looking for sympathy? Or for assurance?
She steadies herself before him to say something important: “Will you keep your promise? Your indebtedness to me. Will you do what I ask?”
“I will keep my promise, whatever that may be.” (Yes! Yes! Of course you will! You will do anything for her! Anything!!! Oops, sorry, got carried away…)
Yoon Hee: “Will you move to the Western dorm?”
Oho! I love the unexpectedness and complication of this. Our first reaction is, oh no, you are using up your precious wish in order to get out of the Hot Young Men Sandwich? Are you crazy, woman? And then we wail, why? Why? Why are you separating yourself from your lode-star and your protector, and why are you breaking his heart, the poor boy already can’t stop himself from dogging your steps and watching your every move and worrying about you. And we wonder: Surely this is more than a ploy to avoid an awkward sleeping arrangement, is she not doing this for his sake, so that he doesn’t get himself into so much trouble with In Soo (by whom she has been thoroughly intimidated), because she can’t bear to see him ostracized and endangered? Aw!
Stay tuned for Episode Four!!
My Verdict: This is not a ground-breaking or life-altering show. (For which, see EPIC review about to be unleashed here on Thundie’s Prattle.) But for its aspiration, i.e., to entertain, it works delightfully. It is competently acted (just a tad under-acted in a few places, but at least almost no over-acting at all), the pace is nice, and there’s nothing too outlandish or over-ambitious in the plot but neither is the plot stupid or entirely predictable. It has a nice mix of fun and angst. And, as you can tell from the way I have gone a bit nutty with the screen capping, it is very pretty to look at. It has pretty people and pretty sets. What I can’t capture for you in a recap is the extremely pretty, whimsical soundtrack, and the prettily smooth editing.
Take this Episode Three. At this stage there is more plot set-up than plot resolution. A lot of students to introduce us to, a lot of relationship dynamics to establish, and even some pesky state politics to get our heads round. But the show does this in a lively and interesting enough manner that the story is carried along at a nice clip and we hardly notice that nothing very significant actually happens in this Episode. But we sure are wanting more!