K-Drama Review: ‘The Red Sleeve’: An Affectionate Love Story Between the King and His Court Lady

The Red Sleeve

Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

drama The Red Sleeve review
Credit: MBC

Romance historical drama The Red Sleeve had surpassed the 10% ratings mark. It was indeed one of the most anticipated historical dramas to be released in 2021, but no one expected it to beat out all the dramas starring A-list stars on weekend nights. What charm does this series have that makes us want to search for historical figures and read history books?

The protagonists of The Red Sleeve are King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, and Royal Noble Consort Uibin Seong, also known as Deok Im. Deok Im used to be a court lady before she gave birth to her first son, Crown Prince Munhyo, and became the royal consort. However, after losing her newborn daughter and her young son one after another, she also passed away near the end of her pregnancy with her unborn baby. Jeongjo greatly missed Uibin, hence leaving numerous records about her. The series is based on a romance novel of the same name that tells the story of their relationship and the records revealed after the publication of the novel, turning their love story into a video. In particular, the drama focuses on Jeongjo’s crown prince days as Yi San, centering around the romance between Yi San and Deok Im and Yi San’s unstable political position and confrontation with his enemies.

The Red Sleeve also sheds light on Deok Im’s job, court lady. There have been several projects where court ladies appeared as heroines, such as Jewel in the Palace and Dong Yi. But unlike other works, the series showcases the system and work of a court lady, mainly personal maids that serve the royal family up close, and paints out the royal family from their point of view. Therefore, court ladies in The Red Sleeve are servants and subjects who serve their masters, observers who watch the rise and fall of the power, and those who seek power themselves.

drama the res sleeve review
Credit: MBC

Among them, Deok Im clearly stands out. Deok Im, who is intelligent, active, and full of playfulness, has one goal in life: to achieve small but certain happiness while serving the crown prince as a personal maid in the East Palace. As she gets to know Yi San, he starts to grow fond of him and swears her loyalty to him for the rest of her life after witnessing his pain firsthand. Deok Im used her status as a court lady and her abilities to the fullest to save her prince’s life several times. In the process, Yi San falls in love with her, but Deok Im constantly turns him down. This completely breaks the stereotype of a court lady craving the king or prince’s love. The series gradually lays out the feelings of Deok Im, who is excited by her master’s love but can’t fully accept it.

The Red Sleeve presents a new interpretation of the classic historical drama characters Yeongjo and Jeongjo. A young and brilliant heir, crown prince Yi San is constantly tested by his grandfather and is oppressed by his enemies. But he wants to ascend the throne because he knows the sufferings of his people. Yeongjo, on the other hand, is deeply distressed by the fact that he’s a child of a consort and the trauma of killing his own child. At the same time, he fears that his cherished grandson will follow the path his son took. In addition, Queen Jeongsun (King Yeongjo’s wife) is portrayed as the head of the Internal Court with a keen sense of politics. Moreover, Lady Hyegyeong (King Jeongjo’s mother) is depicted as a strong woman who will do anything to protect her son. The sense of intimacy is added to the historical figures that only the close servants will know, enlivening the story.

The overall quality of the series is also outstanding. It keeps the affectionate emotional flow while adapting the original storyline more dramatically. Thanks to the show’s exceptional scenery and delicate directing, there is a good balance between a serious political plot and a heart-fluttering romance.

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Of course, the actors’ passionate performances can’t be left out. Lee Se Young is perfect for the role of intelligent and shrewd Deok Im. And in particular, she delicately expresses the complex emotions between loyalty and affection that Deok Im feels. Lee Junho flawlessly portrays two sides of a man – the next ruler and a young man who passionately loves a woman. The chemistry between the two actors is amazing, and as the story progresses, we end up crying and laughing with Deok Im and Yi San’s love. However, if we have to pick one actor who makes our heart flutter every time he shows up, it’ll be Lee Deok Hwa, playing the role of King Yeongjo. He shifts the mood in an instant and even enhances his partner’s performance, making us shout, “That’s what is called acting!”

The conflict in The Red Sleeve has reached its peak as Yi San’s political opponents began to prevent his ascension in earnest. How great would it be if Yi San became a king after the rebellion episode ends? However, we all know that the series will tell the story it really wanted to tell from then on. As king, Yi San longs for Deok Im, but he has to put his country first when making a choice as a monarch. At the same time, Deok Im is forced to give up a life where she can make her own choices in front of his love. We all know the ending of this love story, but will their love only walk a flowery road? The answer to the question “Did the court lady love the king?” hasn’t fully been revealed yet.


Verdict: A dazzling love we met in the corner of history (9/10)

Editor Seo Hae Lan: I’m not picky and like all genres. I am in constant search of a balance between criticism and a fan’s heart.

Translator Kim Hoyeun: If you are a fan of K-drama, K-movie, and K-pop, I am your guy. I will continue to provide you with up-to-date K-entertainment news.

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210 Points
  • Great! Fantastic review and I love it! Love the Drama so much….it gives me anxiety waiting for the next Episode! Credible acting from the leads…. Awesome scenes plus brilliant Director at the helm …… presents a great Drama 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  • In regards to red sleeve deok Im I truly understand her plight. She like the king and she knows she’s there to serve him but she does not want to be one of his concubines. Also she does not want to lose her identity. I think that is what makes it appealing to watchers esp when you can relate to a character or story line.

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