IF EVERY DAY WERE LIKE THIS ONE. . .
Have you ever watched a drama and wished you weren’t just on the outside looking in, you were actually inside?
Well, Episode 7 has done what no kdrama has ever done to me: infect me with an atmosphere so joyful I can’t stand not being part of it any longer. So I’m packing my bags, leaving kith and kin, and setting sail for a Joseon college campus. Anyone knows if a slow boat will get me there?
If only every day felt like today, the happiness fairly percolating. Look at how Yoon-hee, Sun-joon and Jae-shin are smiling as the archery competition gets underway. Look at the lift in their steps, the confident glances they exchange with each other, the bond they share. When everything had seemed doomed, for the Yoon-hee and Sun-joon who had trained so hard, and for the Jae-shin who had cheered them on unseen from the sidelines, the dark clouds abruptly parted and the sun peeped through.
There is nothing we can’t do. We will win this competition.
And so they stride out together, abreast, these three unlikely roommates (and one hanger-on), their spirits buoyed by Jae-shin’s last-minute appearance. If he had not turned up, they would have been disqualified. Yoon-hee would have to leave Sungkyunkwan, Prof. Jung would have turned her in (because his principles demanded it), and just like that a young girl would have lost her life.
Perhaps one day Yoon-hee will learn the truth, that it was Yong-ha who saved them all. This senior, who rescued her and Sun-joon by revealing the secret passageway into Sungkyunkwan, who possesses this uncanny ability to see everything and who is much deeper than his flighty ways give him credit for, plucks Jae-shin from the hands of the war minister’s guards and deposits him at the feet of his astonished roommates.
Gu Yong-ha, we owe you. May you live to a ripe old age, gisaeng and bales of colorful silk fabric at your disposal, in a land off-limits to the Sungkyunkwan chancellor, so that your bum need not suffer the indignity of being continuously pawed. But you do understand that the chancellor was only expressing his gratitude, don’t you? If you hadn’t alerted him to Jae-shin being held captive by some minister’s dolts, Lee Sun-joon would have been disqualified. In the presence of his father, the left state councilor himself, to boot!
And Cho-sun, we owe you as well. If you hadn’t turned up, your flawless complexion especially luminous today because of the one you had come to support, Ha In-soo would not have lost his cool. If he had kept his calm and coldly hit bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye, would this day have been as joyful for those of us who want him to fail? I think not. Thank you, Cho-sun.
Thank you, too, Your Majesty. You never stop smiling and looking like a kindly grandpa in the company of his precocious grandchildren, yet you stand your ground and insist on holding the competition despite your courtiers’ whiny displeasure. You do not realize it, but this competition which your father used to love, and which you are now reviving in his memory, has become a girl’s lifeline. You rock, Your Majesty.
Thus a much-anticipated day begins, for the highest in the land to the lowliest.
The king enjoys the choicest view, of course, but everyone else is welcome to the proceedings on this most exciting of days. So the common folks pour out of their homes, some perching themselves precariously on rooftops so that they can relay the action as it unfolds. Others, like our enterprising bookstore keeper, hold court over a captive audience, accepting bets and keeping score.
The mood is so contagious, it’s like watching the World Cup before a gigantic screen in the company of thousands. The communal nail-biting, the high fives, the whoops of joy and the groans of disappointment. Why, you might even take leave of your proprieties and grab the one seated nearest to you, she being neither your wife nor your mom, and smother her in an illegal bear hug.
Oh, to be there, in person!
If I were there I would see our Yoon-hee as she steps forward, the first among her roommates to compete. I would see that intense concentration on her face, that hand on her chest, and realize that she’s summoning within herself all of her mental reserves. Tears would sting my eyes and I would yell: You can do it, Kim Yoon-hee!
And indeed she delivers, our girl.
With all eyes on her, she defeats her first opponent, thus allowing the two whose hearts are in their mouths (although their collected expressions give nothing away, both guys being made of sterner stuff) to breathe a sigh of relief. Cho-sun beams. Yong-ha nods in approval and gives himself an imaginary pat on the back. To his mom he might later write, “Dearest Mother, I did a good deed today, a very good deed.” On the other side, away from Cho-sun’s line of vision, In-soo contemplates what to do. Stew or stew? Glare or glare? Oh, the myriad decisions a Sungkyunkwan student president must make daily!
Thrilled by her success, Yoon-hee skips off the stage and heads for Sun-joon. How pleased he must be!
But no, our unflinching one looks solemnly at her and says, “This is only the beginning. We have a long way to go.” Hearing his words, she hangs her head, too deflated to argue. Surprised that she hasn’t kicked him in the shin, Sun-joon’s tone softens. He reaches out to touch her face and asks gently, “Are you feeling okay?”
In response, she swats his hand away and walks off. Our obtuse one looks at the hand that just got swatted and makes a mental note to study the ways of women more. Oh wait, he doesn’t yet know she’s female. Let’s backpedal here: He makes a mental note, period.
On her part, Yoon-hee is just pretending to be miffed. No way is she washing that side of her face, at least not until someone says, “Time for a bath, Yoon-shik!” (And we’ll be coming to that scene soon enough.) She touches the spot where he touched her, bottling up the moment.
And now we must move on… because it’s my two HOTs’ turn to compete! Where is this boat that’s supposed to take me to Sungkyunkwan? Where is timely transport when you most need it?
Sun-joon up first and then Jae-shin. Oh heart, behave! Oh boat, hurry!
Of course Sun-joon nails all his shots. Of course Hyo-eun screams in delight. Of course I scream in delight, too, herd instinct kicking in. Jae-shin doesn’t do as well, poor baby, but that’s okay, because this is just the preliminary rounds. He’ll surely knock everyone dead later!
Our favorite trio makes it to the final rounds where they will meet In-soo and his two lackeys. A break is announced and everyone troops off, for merriment and mischief. Yong-ha tells Cho-sun to stop looking so lovelorn unless she wants to get Yoon-shik into trouble. In-soo issues an ominous order to Butt-kisser No. 1. Yoon-hee and Jae-shin engage in some puppy play.
This is the most uninhibited that we’ve seen of our Crazy Horse and Yoon-hee. Watching them roughhouse, my heart soars and sinks, at the same time.
Because how cute are they, eh? That sort of gleeful abandonment—of burdens and expectations—can only mean they are best pals in the making. They are just so at ease together. However, does that comfort bode well for Jae-shin should he fall in love with her later? It is around Sun-joon that she tip-toes, self-consciously. It is Sun-joon’s approval that she seeks, automatically. Her heart doesn’t quicken when she sees Crazy Horse.
As the two puppies tussle with each other, guess who is watching them? And not just watching, but remembering how Yoon-hee pushed him away earlier when he tried to touch her face.
(Don’t be sad, Sun-joon. I’m on my way!)
Playtime over, Yoon-hee is walking back to the competition when she receives a most unexpected declaration of love. From Cho-sun. In front of Yoon-hee’s two roommates and In-soo.
And just like that, by wearing her heart on a scarf that she wraps around Yoon-hee’s injured hand, Cho-sun gets a “Way to go, lady!” from me. The women rule in this episode: Yoon-hee in her archery, and Cho-sun in her art of making In-soo cry.
Yong-ha is not amused, though. Didn’t he just tell Cho-sun to keep her affection for Yoon-shik under wraps? Some people never listen!
The final round begins, even as I work my oars furiously. Stupid leaky boat!
As he did earlier, Sun-joon hits his targets with calculated calm, to his father’s delight. And now it’s Jae-shin’s turn. Foregone conclusion, this one. Of course he’s going to knock the competition out of the water and into the gambling dens he frequents. He may be injured, but he’s still Superman, the masked messenger!
But his shots go wide, all of them. And the war minister, so hopeful that he had finally nabbed the masked archer distributing the red missives, kicks his chief dolt and shrieks, “How could you mistake that fumbling idiot for our wanted man, he can’t shoot an arrow to save his life!”
“Don’t worry, Jae-shin. I’m going to unveil my secret weapon. I’m going to win this for us!”
Even the birds stop to watch as this slip of a man steps onto the stage, before the king and his retinue, and before her two best friends. Yoon-hee’s opponent? The class president himself. He will defeat her at all cost, if winning will restore his pride and help him win Cho-sun’s heart.
But Cho-sun has eyes only for Kim Yoon-shik. And seeing her thus, so entranced by his rival, In-soo misses his target by a shocking margin. Stunned, a single tear rolls down his face. Viewers everywhere rewind the scene, unable to believe their eyes. The Sungkyunkwan class president cried?
Still, the competition isn’t over until Yoon-hee is done. Can she do it?
Can a broken bow drawstring shake her confidence, and can the drawstring’s replacement, laced with a shard of glass by wicked Butt-kisser Byung-choon, defeat her resolve? Can anything break her down?
The blood may drip; her hand may hurt more excruciatingly with every grip and tug. But standing there, she remembers all the hours of training and her promise to Prof. Jung. Standing there, she thinks of what Sun-joon had said to her just moments ago, as he took her hand in his.
“Your strength may still be lacking, but you know what? You have excelled above everyone else. In my eyes, Kim Yoon-shik, you are a champion.”
The arrow flies and hits bull’s-eye. The archery arena erupts. I forget where I am and leap to my feet, capsizing my boat.
I warned you in my last recap, didn’t I? This drama is dangerous! Not only is it slaying me with the sweet and the stirring, it is now trying to bury me underneath an ocean of the happy!
There are no words to describe the joy that Yoon-hee and her roommates feel. Now think of her mother, who has followed the competition since morning, standing quietly behind the crowd inside the bookstore and willing her daughter to succeed. Imagine the tears streaming down her face as she whispers in her heart, “Yoon-hee, my Yoon-hee.”
The East quarters students rush over to Yoon-hee and toss her into the air. The smallest-sized one among them has done it, yes! Sun-joon, who is not capable of tossing anyone skyward in jubilation, much less toss Yoon-hee, takes her hand in his (are we seeing a pattern here?), pats her on the shoulder (because he hasn’t learned to hug, aigoo), and smiles ever so slightly (because his heart is too full for him to grin from ear to ear).
Time for some royal and raucous celebration. Separately, of course.
First, the king meets our three victors and pours them each a goblet of prized wine. Next, Yong-ha organizes a party and Sun-joon pours away the wine, bowl after bowl. Turns out our lad can be pretty sneaky if he puts his mind to it. Not that you can blame him, since the last time he got drunk he put on quite the performance, remember? Who knew alcohol would send his temperature spiking to the extent that he had to sleep au naturel?
Trust Yong-ha, still sharp-eyed despite the dazzling pink he’s wearing, to notice Sun-joon’s little game. And trust Hyo-eun, no doubt tipsy with joy from Sun-joon’s victory at the competition, to gatecrash the party with a special gift for him. A silk cummerbund that she herself embroidered! Not bought of course, as claimed by annoying Gu Yong-ha, now the target of her glare of death.
As Hyo-eun presses her body against Sun-joon’s, purportedly to fasten the cummerbund around him (we all know better, ha, our eyes smarting from Tears of Jealousy), who should come in but Yoon-hee.
Turns out she has been standing outside for a spell, newly come from the infirmary. There, the good professor had attended to her wound, at the same time telling her that his convictions about a girl studying at Sungkyunkwan had not changed. “I will succeed regardless,” she replies.
To thank Sun-joon for everything he has done, she heads for the tavern, just in time to see Hyo-eun plastered to him in a death grip.
In the clearest signs yet that her heart is moving toward Sun-joon, Yoon-hee can’t bear what she is seeing and decides it’s time to go. He, who is too gentlemanly to untangle himself from a maiden’s firm embrace, gazes wonderingly at Yoon-hee as she leaves. Outside the tavern, she spies a mirror and stops to gaze at her own reflection. How foolish of her to forget that she’s a man in Sun-joon’s eyes!
So when he comes out after her and takes her injured hand in his (okay, Houston, we definitely have a pattern here), she reacts brusquely to his concern and walks away.
On her way back to Sungkyunkwan, Yoon-hee is waylaid by a drunk and chatty Byung-choon. Blows fly when he tells her that he was the one who nearly wrecked the archery competition for her. It’s raining and the two are soon covered in mud as they fight clumsily.
Later, as Yoon-hee tries to wash away the mud on her clothes by gamely splashing some water on her already wet self, Yong-ha passes by and proceeds to try and undress her. (The pervert! All your good deeds for today henceforth nullified!) When she protests, he then dangles before her a bait she can’t resist: the opportunity to finally take a bath!
So this is how Jae-shin finds her, inside this deserted building that he sometimes uses to escape from the world. Through an opening in the door he sees her, hair cascading down her back, her shoulders bare.
Somewhere on the grounds, a frantic Sun-joon is searching for her. Somewhere else, a conflicted Yong-ha is pacing the floor, wondering if he should check if her bath water is warm enough. Maybe lend her a hand, too?
I drag myself out of the water, barely alive after swimming an untold number of miles.
Do me a favor, will you? Take the poll below. I need to know if I’m the only lunatic left or there are (many) others like me.