LET THE DROOLING BEGIN . . .
It’s finally here, the official formation of what we’ve been waiting for!
To mark the momentous occasion, and to the tune of Queen’s We Are The Champions, everyone sing it together now!
WE ARE THE F4, MY FRIENDS,
AND WE’LL KEEP YOU SQUEALING TILL THE END.
WE ARE THE F4, WE ARE THE F4…
NO TIME FOR LOSERS, ‘CUZ WE ARE THE F4… OF JOSEON!
That image above shows just a tiny percentage of the crowd that was singing along earlier. (Trust me, I was there!) Don’t you just love them? The drool rapidly pooling inside their mouths, the wide-eyed wonder on their faces, men and women (and one near-drowning survivor) equally awestruck.
Because who should be walking past this very moment? Why, Joseon’s own Fabulous Four! Looking not just every inch perfect, but radiating a joy that the people in the marketplace instantly notice. I dare you to remain mopey in their jaunty, jubilant presence!
How did it all begin? How did the three roommates and one hanger-on become our F4? Didn’t Yoon-hee tell Sun-joon at the end of Episode 8 that she didn’t want to see his face again?
Yes, she did. And as Episode 9 opens, we see that she is still livid that she owes him a debt that she didn’t know even existed until the bookstore keeper let it slip. So Lee Sun-joon’s the one who saved her from the war minister? How amusing it must be for him to confirm that she’s a weak-willed person who readily accepts anything that people dole out to her in pity. How he must have secretly mocked her all this while! If she had known, wouldn’t she have been more subservient to him, her benefactor?
“Stop being childish!” he says, stunned by her anger and sarcasm. “You needed money and I had it. You can pay me back slowly. What’s the problem?”
The problem, dear Sun-joon, is that you matter to her. She wants to stand tall in your eyes, but now you’ve hurt her pride and reduced her to a needy and ignorant fool. And by hiding the secret all this while, what does that prove but that you do not deem her worthy of your trust?
“You’re worse than Ha In-soo. At least he knows he’s a bad person.”
Ouch. In all his years as precious first-born of the left state councilor, this must be the worst thing anyone has ever said to him. That he’s a bad person who doesn’t know he’s a bad person.
Their blistering words, hastily flung and impossible to retract, will dog them throughout this episode and make them tense and awkward around each other.
Thus the members of our as-yet-unformed F4 go home, their spirits as varied as the flowers in the fields.
Sun-joon back to his father, who reminds him that it’s not every day that a man sweeps a lady off her feet in the presence of their fathers and expects zilch consequences. (The left state councilor is right! How could you do something so out of character and crush 800,001 hearts in one fell swoop?) “It’s time you start preparing for your marriage to Hyo-eun. And no, don’t even think of protesting, however feebly.”
Jae-shin back to his father as well, the latter bringing him medicine for his wound (because a father can see through the layers of clothes and instinctively know why his son, the best archer in the land, performed so badly at the competition). “Stay away from Kim Yoon-shik,” says the older man, “because the war minister thinks he is the masked messenger and is out to catch him. Kim Yoon-shik’s father is Kim Seung-hun, the one whose life was sacrificed, along with your brother’s, while trying to protect the Geum Deung Ji Sa.”
Yong-ha back to his house, where a most prized toy awaits, one that he had been anticipating a whole year. A handcrafted beaded likeness of China’s Forbidden City!
And, last of all, Yoon-hee, after stopping by the bookstore to pick up more transcribing assignments. (Money is suddenly a pressing concern again, this time because she is beholden to the last person in the world that she wants to be indebted to.)
Back to her family. Hugging her mother tight, the tears welling up in their eyes. Acting as if the leftovers that In-soo tossed to her are a feast that she had specially prepared. Cooking the medicine that Sun-joon had given. Assuring her brother that she’s doing well in Sungkyunkwan. Asking her mother why she fell in love with Kim Seung-hun, and if she ever regretted forsaking her family to go to him.
“Every day. I regret it every day. If I hadn’t forsaken my family back then, I would not have to live as a helpless mom, sending her own daughter to Sungkyunkwan. I regret it every day.”
May I pause and tell you how much I love seeing Yoon-hee and her mother together? Here in her home, she is simply her mother’s child. Her voice is soft and gentle, and her eyes shine more, perhaps because of the tears glistening in them. I wish our three F4 boys can see her now, and have their breath similarly taken away. She is so beautiful.
Their short break over, the students return to Sungkyunkwan. Sun-joon, Jae-shin, Yong-ha and Yoon-hee have no idea yet, but before dawn breaks the next day they would become the Joseon F4.
In a room of juniors excitedly talking about what they had brought back from home, senior student Yong-ha shows off his new toy. Jae-shin, who has brought back nothing except a burning question, interrupts the show-and-tell and demands to know if anyone has seen Dae Mul. (I wonder why he persists in calling Yoon-hee by that rather vulgar nickname. Large or small, he knows she certainly does not come equipped with one!)
As Jae-shin continues looking for Yoon-hee on the sprawling Sungkyunkwan grounds, the object of his search has just bumped into Sun-joon. Her eyes cloud over as soon as she sees him, her spirits still low from their last exchange. She’s about to walk past him when he grabs her wrist. He speaks first.
“I have something to say… and something to hear.”
(Aww, I just love this side of our guy, that he’s a person who listens and ruminates, rather than simply dismissing what others have to say. The hours he must have spent in his room during the recess, mulling over Yoon-hee’s words to him and wondering how to mend their broken friendship.)
But before Sun-joon can speak further, Yoon-hee flashes a smile that’s suddenly and unnaturally bright. “I overreacted the last time,” she tells him, “but you don’t need to worry anymore because I’m fine now. And oh, thank you for everything you have done.”
That last line… She had rehearsed those same words outside the tavern the night they were supposed to celebrate their victory at the archery competition. But that was before she saw him and Hyo-eun locked in what was obviously an embrace.
And now, who should speak behind her but Hyo-eun’s brother, just arrived on the scene with his fawning sycophants. “Hey brother-in-law, I hear a wedding is imminent?”
Acutely conscious of the Yoon-hee who is still within earshot, Sun-joon replies, “That was just a misunderstanding.”
But the student president brushes away Sun-joon’s explanation with a “Misunderstanding? You know better than anyone else that when your father has set his mind on something, not even the king can dissuade him.”
In-soo’s words shoot past his lips, missing Sun-joon and landing instead on the nearest sycophant. Sorry, dude, for shattering your long-cherished hopes to convert your status from Butt-Kisser No. 1 to Brother-In-Law Most Esteemed.
As Byung-choon mopes, his master decides a quick lesson (or licking) is in order. “Don’t salivate over something that’s way out of your league. And remember, I want all my lackeys whole, not missing a limb or two. Make sure you get the job done properly this time.”
(Notice to all Joseon F4 fans: As you prepare your wagonloads of gifts, don’t forget to include a little something for Im Byung-choon. Without him, who knows if our darlings would have come together to form the hottest foursome in Joseon history? And no, don’t give anything to Ha In-soo; underlings everywhere don’t receive enough credit as it is for all the dirty work they do for their lords.)
Jae-shin finally finds Yoon-hee, just as she steps out of an empty classroom. Seeing her, it’s as though she’s wearing a huge sign around her neck: I AM A WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR. The poor thing, who has always been the most unruffled guy around, is nowadays a bundle of hiccupping, stammering nerves.
After a couple of false starts, he blurts out, “This is why you’ve come here? Because you know everything?”
And Yoon-hee, who hasn’t the faintest idea what Crazy Horse is saying, is about to reply when shouts ring out. A thief on the campus!
Ah, we’re fast approaching the moment, F4 fans! Heavenly forces rumbling and colliding, the Sungkyunkwan grounds swaying and shaking, all in preparation for a special stage to be unveiled.
Turns out the thief (or thieves) has garnered for himself quite the loot.
Everything of value that the students brought back from their trips home is now missing. Prof. Jung reports that medicine from the dispensary has been taken. Yong-ha doesn’t report anything, probably still reeling from the loss of his precious toy. Of all things the scoundrel had to make off with his clothes, taking the tops and leaving the bottoms, all in mismatched colors! But worse than that, much worse, was stealing his heirloom-in-the-making, his Forbidden City!
It’s telling how upset Yong-ha is at the loss of an object (because no matter how you look at it, it’s really just something that you display on a shelf, enriching your life not one bit; moreover, that Forbidden City thing isn’t even terribly well-made, its tackiness apparent to all but its owner). It’s even a little sad. Do material things matter to him so much? Is it because he flits from gisaeng to gisaeng, and from one amusing situation to the next, without ever forming attachments that last? Will anything change once he becomes one-quarter of the Friendly Four?
The chancellor is so frazzled smoke is about to spew out of his ears. Tomorrow’s the day for the examination that the king himself has arranged for Sungkyunkwan! Everything must be spiffy and sterile, free of any worldly contamination! A thief on their premises! Good grief!
A janitor, dispatched earlier to the marketplace after news that stolen medicine from Sungkyunkwan was being resold, now returns, a grim look on his face. An identification tag belonging to the thief has been found. The name on it: Kim. Yoon. Shik.
“It’s not me. It’s not me, professor.”
Yoon-hee saying she was inside the classroom studying for tomorrow’s examination. Jae-shin coming forth to be her alibi, even though he didn’t actually see her inside the classroom. Sun-joon disclosing that Yoon-hee has an ill sibling and that’s the reason she brought medicine home, to give to the sibling and not to resell.
All of their protestations fall on blocked ears. Instead, In-soo’s scathing condemnation rings the loudest: “How dare you take advantage of the people’s hard work and resell the medicine for profit!”
Only one way to clear Yoon-hee’s name. A check at her house should reveal the existence of a sickly sibling, says Sun-joon. No, no, a visit is out of the question, she replies, her face now white with fear.
As all this is going on, note a development impalpable to all except alert Joseon F4 fans.
It’s coming together, people! It’s happening!
In-soo declares his intention to form a student council to judge Yoon-hee. (Is the defendant guilty or guilty? The council will decide.) He is not done speaking when a voice startles every living thing within a two-mile radius.
“I shall head the council.”
Nestlings stop gulping down worms. The wind stops rustling the leaves on the trees and decides to hang in the air instead, still as a voyeur. The chancellor stops breathing.
So quietly did our king arrive, not a single Sungkyunkwan student or professor registered his presence until he spoke. As the gobsmacked gathering stares at him in disbelief, he continues:
“This is the examination question. Form two teams: one to prove Kim Yoon-shik’s guilt, the other to acquit him. You have two days to investigate the case. I will commission you as temporary interns of the police bureau.”
The birds and the wind drop the news onto the residence of the left state councilor. He receives it with surprising equanimity, unlike the flustered war minister. So obvious is his reason for setting the question, the king might as well announce it to the kingdom.
“You mean he’s doing it to protect Kim Yoon-shik?” No answer but a barely perceptible nod from the left state councilor confirms Minister Ha’s fears. This king is a crafty one!
The king leaves. It’s decision time for the Sungkyunkwan students. Is Kim Yoon-shik guilty or innocent? Well, take sides now.
Deserted by Ahn Do-hyun and the others whom she had thought were her friends, Yoon-hee is left staring at the three who remain.
Sear that image into the deepest recesses of your mind, dear readers. Because that marks the precise moment our Joseon F4 is formed!
Cue mass squealing. Cue tears of joy flooding an entire kingdom.
But wait, hold your horses. Into every celebration some caustic words and blows must fly, and it’s no exception for our newly birthed foursome. Sun-joon decides a calling as a judge sounds jolly good and begins interrogating Yoon-hee. Was she really in the classroom during the thefts? Why did she lose her identification tag? Why did she not allow a visit to her house to ascertain the facts and clear her name?
He was framed, you dimwit!
Only timely intervention from Yong-ha stops Jae-shin’s fist from meeting Sun-joon’s face. “Lads, lads,” says the lad in the brightest-colored clothes. “We are the only ones who believe in Kim Yoon-shik so let’s go easy on each other, okay?”
Nice work, guys, very nice. Disfigure each other just before your first official public appearance tomorrow.
But does Jae-shin listen to Yong-ha, his friend of ten years? Nah. As everyone troops off, he heads for a new target: In-soo’s face. That scum planned everything and now thinks he can get away with it? Ha, think again!
“Punch me and you land up in the detention room. By the time you come out, Kim Yoon-shik would have been expelled from Sungkyunkwan.” His words immediately rein in our runaway horse. The most important thing now is to protect Yoon-hee. How can he do that if he isn’t physically around?
As befitting future soulmates, even the ones with a hurt or two wedged between them, Yoon-hee and Sun-joon find themselves in the library, both having gone there separately. Unlike earlier in the day, she’s the first one to speak now.
“If you’re helping me out of pity, you don’t have to. If you worry about failing the examination, it’s not too late to…”
“Is that what you think? Is that all I am to you, just the son of a Noron, just someone who cares only about grades?”
“Listen to me, Kim Yoon-shik. If you are so easily hurt by my interrogation earlier, how are you going to handle the investigation at the police bureau and before the king? If you want to prove your innocence, get a hold of yourself.”
Awww… The sweetie! He’s neither doubting nor deserting Yoon-hee, he’s merely trying to toughen her up! He’s training her to be strong, the way he trained her for the archery competition!
Okay, everyone, the queue for the Lee Sun Joon School of Mental Toughness starts here. No, we are not running individual classes. As it is, 80 in one class means it’ll take Lee Sun-joon 10,000 days to coach all the students. And please, no shoving; let’s keep this calm and civilized. What do you mean you’ll be a grandma by the time it’s your turn? Please do not exaggerate.
In the palace, King Jeongjo is meeting his closest confidant, Prof. Jung. The latter is worried that the Sungkungkwan students will not be able to handle their two days at the police bureau. “Don’t you trust your own students?” asks the king, bemused.
Their private exchange reveals what the good professor has suspected: Our king has an ulterior motive for the investigation.
The Hansung mercantile district (aka center of commerce) has been rife with thefts lately. The student who is able to solve the case of the petty theft at Sungkyunkwan might uncover a more sinister operative at the marketplace. Should that happen, wouldn’t such a student be the one that the king can entrust with a greater task, the search for the missing Geum Deung Ji Sa?
Blissfully unaware of the king’s motive, our Joseon foursome starts the next day intent on only one thing: proving Yoon-hee’s innocence. Three of them emerge adorably self-conscious, decked out in the uniform of a police bureau intern. Their fourth member saunters up to them, dressed as he usually does.
To Yoon-hee’s giggly “Senior, what are you wearing?” our flamboyant one replies: “Forcing everyone to wear the same uniform is emblematic of the rot in Joseon society. No respect for individuality!”
The four are discussing how to proceed with the investigation when a commotion interrupts them. A thief in the marketplace has just been spotted! And he’s wearing something he stole from Sungkyunkwan!
As the thief dashes off with the marketplace folks on his heels, both Sun-joon and Jae-shin rush forward to grab Yoon-hee out of the way. Guess who is faster? Guess who is left feeling jealous at the sight of Yoon-hee in the other’s arms?
Telling Sun-joon to make sure he gets Yoon-hee back safely (Aww!), Crazy Horse takes off after the thief. Yong-ha leaves to do his own snooping around the marketplace while the remaining two members of the F4 head for the police bureau.
Left alone, Yoon-hee and Sun-joon behave like two shy teenagers, stealing glances at each other, every accidental brush of their hands an electrifying jolt.
In cahoots with In-soo, the police bureau officers are dismissive and uncooperative, practically hooting when Sun-joon and Yoon-hee ask to be treated as their colleagues. Meanwhile, back in the marketplace, Crazy Horse is running after the thief when he’s intercepted by Yong-ha. No time for catching thieves now, says the latter. His reason is soon obvious. Police bureau officers have arrived on the scene.
Commotion ensues. Makeshift stalls are overturned and their contents scattered or smashed. Their owners are hauled away. Our spunky Yoon-hee marches up to the chief officer. “What are you doing right now? Isn’t it your duty to protect the weak?”
The guy is quick to correct her. No, it’s not the duty of the police bureau to protect the weak, its main job today is to ensure that only the wholesale merchants are allowed to conduct business. Haven’t the temporary interns heard of the word “monopoly”? It’s always been this way in Joseon so get used to it.
(I love how Sun-joon lets Yoon-hee handle the fray herself, even as he observes her intently. All part of the mental training, of course.)
In the distance two men stand and watch. “As you predicted, our students are closing in on the bigger thief, Your Majesty. What lessons will they take away from today?” “Anger at an unjust world,” the king replies. “Indignation at their own helplessness.”
The four temporary interns adjourn to a tavern. More than the other three, and because of her own station in life, Yoon-hee is seething. No wonder the common folks have turned to thievery, if their efforts to make an honest living keep getting thwarted by the stupid authorities.
Listening quietly to her rant, Sun-joon reaches out to take a bowl of rice wine but is immediately stopped by Yoon-hee. Her hand on his is a clear sign. Absolutely no alcohol for you, Lee Sun-joon. Next to them, Jae-shin watches the loaded body language and experiences a queer unease.
Kill the green-eyed monster, Jae-shin! We want everyone in the Joseon F4 to get along! See the police bureau officers at the next table? How about having some fun at their expense? Nothing like an F4 prank to seal your camaraderie!
The officers duly tied up, Sun-joon is assigned (by Yong-ha) the job of writing a parting word on one of the men’s cheek. So our predictable one writes the first word that pops into his head: Ethics.
(What were you expecting? That he would write “Tomfoolery”? Or “Haha, gotcha!”? This is Lee Sun-joon we’re talking about.)
Our ringleader isn’t done, though. First, he puckers up his lips in a pretend kiss. Next, he yells “Fire!”
As the officers rouse from their drunken stupor, all four giggly pranksters take off, running into the street and causing everyone to freeze in starstruck awe. The Joseon F4!
As the crowd coos and swoons, money signs are blinking furiously inside the head of the opportunistic bookstore keeper. A new novel titled “The Jalgeum Quartet’s Secret Outing”! And, since it’s secret, where better for the Famous Four to hold their meetings than inside the store basement, away from prying eyes?
Yong-ha fishes out a map of the chief merchant’s house. “Here. The thief is hiding inside here.”
Pointing to a spot on the map, the guy with the most street smarts continues: “The goods that were confiscated earlier from the marketplace? All stored inside here, to be later resold to the common folks for a hefty profit. The money is then redirected to the Noron Party as political funds. My Forbidden City is here, and so is an accounting book detailing all the transactions. One of us needs to get into the storage rooms and find the book. There’s a banquet there tonight so this will be a good opportunity to slip in without being caught.”
Even as Yong-ha is speaking, the other two guys in F4 are playing a game of musical chairs. Sun-joon moves to stand next to Yoon-hee and is immediately shoved aside by Jae-shin. Pretty amusing to watch… unless you are the one being shoved. They should sell tickets to all their future meetings; I’ll be first in line.
Yoon-hee volunteers to be the one to find the accounting book. “No, you stay put, I will go instead,” say Sun-joon and Jae-shin in unison, for once seeing eye to eye, sort of. Practical Yong-ha solves the impasse: “Okay, all four of us will go, hand in hand. Meet back here later and we will set off together.”
But when Yoon-hee and Jae-shin arrive at their meeting place afterwards, they find a note from the other two. “We’ve gone off to get the book. Wait here and don’t worry.”
Turns out it’s Sun-joon’s idea. He explains to the Yong-ha who did not ask, “Yoon-shik is too slow, and Crazy Horse has a short fuse.” He of course omits to say he’ll never allow Yoon-hee to get into harm’s way.
(Gratuitous picture there, hope you like.)
The banquet is underway when In-soo and his father arrive. In-soo sees Sun-joon walking across the courtyard and his eyes narrow at once. “Are you here alone?” he asks Yong-ha. “Of course,” says the one who is pretending to be absorbed in the gisaeng next to him.
What is an evil and suspicious student president to do? Ask his dad to summon the royal guards, of course. There’s a burglar on the premises, he explains, startling the elder Ha and the chief merchant next to him. The two older men are aghast. What if the burglar stumbles onto their dirty little secret inside the storage rooms? The one listing every nyang that went into the Noron Party’s coffers?
Worried about Sun-joon and Yong-ha, Yoon-hee insists that she must go to them.
“I’ll go instead,” says Jae-shin, right as some guards rush past. “What a nuisance having our break cut short by some stupid rascal trying to break into the chief merchant’s house,” grumbles one of them. Hearing his words, Jae-shin tells Yoon-hee to run to their other two F4 members quickly; she must find a way to alert them while he tries to stall the guards (with his fist). “You can do this, right? Be careful.”
Yoon-hee nods and hurries off to the chief merchant’s house. The doorkeeper refuses to allow her inside, however, shooing her away even as he waves a group of sashaying gisaeng into the compound.
Meanwhile, Sun-joon has managed to slip inside the storage rooms unseen. He finds the accounting book and is flipping through its pages when he hears creaking.
Someone is approaching.
A few doors away, the guards are searching the rooms, one by one. Many doors away, Joseon F4 fans are chewing their nails, to the bone.
Sun-joon picks up a candlestick to defend himself as the door opens. Someone is coming toward him.
A gisaeng. A most beautiful gisaeng.
Without a word, she envelops him in an embrace. Her eyes are wide with fear… and relief.
Because she has found him… at last.