Finally! This is Part 5 of a 5-Part list of historical K-dramas, gems that may have slipped under your radar. Seasoned K-drama lovers and newbies now have 25 historical Korean dramas to add to their watch list. Enjoy!
- (1) The Royal Tailor (2014): Korean movie 127 minutes
- (2) Secret Royal Inspector and Joy (2021); 16 episodes
- (3) Shine or Go Crazy (2015); 24 episodes
- (4) Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010); 20 episodes
- (5) The Three Musketeers (2014); 12 episodes
(1) The Royal Tailor (2014): Korean movie 127 minutes
In this historical K-drama, we get a glimpse of the world of royal fashion during the Joseon Dynasty. The film showcased exquisite hanboks, other traditional Korean attire, and some sexy clothes too.
There were certain men were designated to design and make clothing for the members of the royal family, especially the king and queen. Two tailors compete for the honor of being considered the best of the best. Although the story has a tragic ending, it begins on a comical note.
Kong-Jin (played by Ko Soo) is not your ordinary tailor. He’s a bit naughty and designs and sews sexually provocative clothing that women wear in public. It was scandalous! He was corrupting the morals of the citizens!
On the other hand, he also made tailored clothing for the noblemen and court officials. Before becoming their tailor, the men were wearing clothes that were made as sort of a “one size fits all”. However, if the clothes did not fit, they were not only unflattering but uncomfortable.
Kong-Jin’s work was so good he was recommended to work with Dol-Seok (played by Han Suk-Kyu), the tailor in charge of royal attire. It wasn’t long before the monster of jealousy and envy reared its ugly head. Being the royal tailor is a prestigious position and when they competed, the rivalry between the two master tailors was dangerously intense. It was professional and personal!
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Kong-Jin designed a dress for the queen to wear to an important diplomatic event. She outshined everyone there and the foreigners who were visiting were impressed. It pleased the king greatly. He was proud that he was able to present his wife, the queen who was a “vision of exquisite loveliness”, to all of those important people. After all, if she looked good, it made him look even better.
Dol-Seok was indignant! Mainly, he was mad at himself for not being the one who designed that gorgeous dress the queen was wearing. Dol-Seok was so outraged that he had been upstaged by someone he considered an upstart, that he set about to destroy him. He would get rid of him even if it meant he had to kill him.
Who knew the Joseon world of fashion was such a dangerous place to work?
“The Royal Tailor” has an interesting storyline with compelling characters and stunning visuals.
(2) Secret Royal Inspector and Joy (2021); 16 episodes
The historical K-drama series should be on everyone’s top ten (10) list of the most entertaining Korean rom-coms of all time. Although there were many serious dramatic moments, because bad guys will be bad guys, the main plot is the love story between a nobleman and a divorced woman.
Ra Yi-Eon (played by TaecYeon) is from a noble family and the future of his family rests on his shoulders. That’s what his grandmother keeps telling him. First, she made him take the civil service exam which he passed with high marks. That made him eligible for a government position. Then she kept nagging him about getting married. All of the other grandmothers have grandchildren to bounce on their knees. She’s afraid that may never happen if Ra Yi-Eon keeps avoiding marriage.
Ra Yi-Eon and his grandmother have two different dreams. He wants to open a dumpling restaurant and run a business. But his dream is interrupted when he is assigned by the king to be a secret royal inspector. Fine. OK. The king commands him.
But Ra Yi-Eon sets out to perform the job without putting too much effort into his work. While he is traveling the country, he will take the opportunity to stop at the different eating establishments and get some ideas for the restaurant he plans to open one day. He had not given much thought to the fact that the king’s secret royal inspectors all ended up dying.
Before he arrives at one of those small villages, a resident of the village Kim Joy (played by Kim Hye-Yoon) is presenting her case to the magistrate to get a divorce. Her husband gambles and constantly loses money and her mother-in-law mistreats her. The magistrate tells her to come back with more proof and he will grant the divorce. Her friend promised to appear as a witness but did not show off. She later found out that her friend was dead.
Ra Yi-Eon and Kim Joy cross paths because of the death of her friend. Ra Yi-Eon overheard her pleading with the authorities to allow her to properly lay her friend to rest. Ra Yi-Eon become suspicious of how the authorities were in such a hurry to get rid of a dead body. Then he learned that the dead body of one of the king’s secret royal inspectors had washed up on shore. For sure, something unsavory was going on in this village.
Kim Joy is untrained with no background in criminal investigations. But Ra Yi-Eon noticed that she had a special talent for investigating suspicious events and invited her to work with him. They successfully solved cases and uncovered corruption among government officials.
However, what began as an informal partnership to catch the bad guys, blossomed into a romance. Does Ra Yi-Eon ever open that dumpling restaurant? He really did know how to cook and his dishes look like the type of food served in 5-star restaurants.
(3) Shine or Go Crazy (2015); 24 episodes
This historical K-drama series is based on the novel of the same name. It’s a love story between the Prince of Goryeo and the last princess of Balhae (one of the three kingdoms of ancient Korea).
Wang So (played by Jang Hyuk) is a Prince of Goryeo (later called King Gwangjong) who was cast out of the palace. Because of a prophecy, it was believed he would bring great misfortune to the people. The prophecy indicated that he would either shine like a bright light or be a crazy man! For fear that he might go insane, they exiled him.
In exile, the prince grows up wild and free, but then he is called back to the palace. He misses his freedom as a wild man but learns to adjust to palace life. He is sharp and quick-witted enough to thwart the efforts of all those who oppose him. Indeed, as soon as he returns to take his rightful place as a member of the royal family, he has to fight off assassins. He chases after the assassins by getting on a boat and following a lead all the way to another country.
In that country resides Shin Yool (played by Oh Yeon-Seo), the last Princess of Balhae. She is an intelligent businesswoman who speaks many languages which allows her to have business dealings with foreign merchants. There is also a prophecy that the last princess of Balhae will be “the light of another nation”. That nation is Goryeo.
Shin Yool’s brother has caused a problem and she is being forced to marry a rich old man as the solution to “his” problem. She figures the best way to get out of the marriage is to prove she is already married. Shin Yool spots Wang So on the streets and believes he has a regal air about him. He would make the perfect fake husband.
A business deal is made and he agrees to be her husband for one night. That’s long enough to convince the old man to go away! When the old man she was supposed to marry arrives to take her hand, he finds out that she is already married. Wang So never saw his bride’s face as she wore a veil. When the “wedding night” was over they parted ways.
Wang So returned to Goryeo. As fate would have it, Shin Yool decided to leave the foreign country and relocate to do business in Goryeo. In Goryeo, she dresses like a man to go out and strike business deals. When she returns to her place of business, she takes off her male garments and becomes herself again. Wang So and the princess cross paths in Goryeo, but he thinks she is a man named Gaebong. They keep having “accidental encounters” until he eventually discovers her true identity.
Wang So is already in an arranged forced marriage with Hwangbo Yeo Won (played by Lee Ha-Nee), a princess of Goryeo. She is not the princess who will save the kingdom. But she does know how to kill people with poison. Wang So never accepts drinks from her, and doesn’t even want to sleep in the same bed! Wang So falls in love with Shin Yool, the princess of Balhae, and as their lives intertwine and unfold, the prophecy is fulfilled.
But the prophecy said nothing about the prince marrying the last princess of Balhae and living happily ever after. The prince is already married and the Balhae princess chooses to be independent and pursue her business ventures. She certainly does not want to be a second wife or a concubine.
What will they do for their love?
(4) Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010); 20 episodes
This historical K-drama is about what college life was like during the Joseon Era. Sungkyunkwan is the name of an elite educational institution during the late Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties. It’s where scholars went to be educated and trained to serve their country. They were being groomed to become leaders. Students were usually children from noble families and upon graduation, they served in prominent government positions.
But what was the scandal? The scandal was that one of the male students at Sungkyunkwan was a woman. Kim Yun-Hee (played by Park Min-Young) was from a noble family. But her father died and she and her mother worked to take care of themselves and her brother. Kim Yoon-Sik, her brother, was unable to work because he was sick.
Kim Yun-Hee passed the examination and was admitted to Sungkyunkwan, enrolled under her brother’s name. So she was pretending to be a man, attending classes, and sleeping in the dormitory rooms with fellow male students. Bathing was kind of tricky.
The guys around her were clueless because she did everything they did, just as well, if not better. If she had not had an accident where she underwent a medical examination, nobody would have been any the wiser. The school official tried to force her to leave when he discovered she was a woman. But she made a deal with him.
If she proved that she was capable, he would keep her secret and allow her to finish her education. Her father raised her to believe in gender equality. Plus her family depended on her financially. Plus she was desperate to avoid becoming some rich man’s concubine. Before she entered Sungkyunkwan, she was almost forced into a relationship with a rich nobleman to pay her family’s debts.
One of her roommates is Lee Seon-Joon (played by Park Yoo-Chun). He wanted to be his (“her”) friend, i.e. the friend of Kim Yoon-Sik. But as they grew closer, he became confused by his feelings. He thought he was falling in love with a man.
When he accidentally realized that she was a woman, i.e. not Kim Yoon-Sik but his sister, Kim Yun-Hee, he too tried to persuade her to leave the school. Why? Well because she was a woman. She refused to believe that was a valid reason and said she would continue to carry on. In a way, Lee Seon-Joon was relieved. At least he knew he was in love with a woman.
The current king gave Kim Yun-sik (i.e. Kim Yun-Hee), Lee Seon-Joon, and two other students, Moon Jae-Sin (played by Yoo Ah-In), and Ku Yong-Ha (played by Song Joong-Ki) a secret assignment, outside of school work. They were asked to find the will of the late king. Two of the king’s most faithful servants had been killed and the will went missing after their deaths.
One of the servants was the brother of Moon Jae-Sin and the other was Kim Yun-Hee’s father, something she did not know because she barely remembers her father. The king also does not know that she is a woman. Even though they carried out the assignment successfully, he claimed that Kim Yun-Hee had caused him to disobey Confucian laws regarding the separation of men and women.
What was going to happen to Kim Yun-Hee when it was revealed that she had broken the law and was a woman in a man’s world?
(5) The Three Musketeers (2014); 12 episodes
This historical K-drama series is an excellent adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel of the same name, set in the Joseon Dynasty. It’s the story of one of Joseon’s military heroes Park Dal-Hyang (played by Jung Yong-Hwa). In the novel by Alexandre Dumas, he would be the character named D’Artagnan, i.e. the 4th musketeer.
Park Dal-Hyang’s story begins with him preparing for his military examination. He traveled to the main city in Joseon where the exams would be held and paid for a room. Some ruffians broke into the room and beat up several of the people. He was told that if certain men had a good chance of passing the exam, people would hire thugs to injure them so they could not pass the exam.
Park Dal-Hyang chased after the ruffians and ran into three men on horses. He stopped them and asked if they would help him catch some criminals. At first, they were surprised and confused but he did not give them a chance to think about if they would help. He jumped on the horse with one of the men and prodded the horse to take off. So the other two joined the chase.
One of the men he stopped was Crown Prince Sohyeon (played by Lee Jin-Uk) and the other two were his two warrior bodyguards. They helped Park Dal-Hyang capture the criminals. He thanked them and asked their names. Rather than reveal his identity, the Crown Prince said that he should call them “The Three Musketeers”.
That was the beginning of the adventures of Park Dal-Hyang. WHOA! They were really exciting!
There is only one complaint viewers might have about this historical K-drama and that is the disappointment when it was announced that there would be no Season 2.
Thanks for reading.