Edited by Seo Hayne
Translated by Yu Jin Kim
Hwa Ryeong (played by Kim Hye Soo) of Under the Queen’s Umbrella is dressed in a strikingly noble outfit yet uses casual language like any other friend of ours. Although the drama is set in the Joseon Dynasty, the actors speak in modern-day language with court courtesies added to their lines. Dramas such as Under the Queen’s Umbrella are known as ‘historical fiction series,’ which refers to traditional period drama series with a touch of modern of fictional elements added to their story. The demand for historical fiction dramas has outgrown that of traditional ones as they received much love from viewers over the last few years. Here, we rounded up the top five Korean period dramas that captivated us in 2021 and 2022.
Bloody Heart (2022)
The central theme of Bloody Heart lies in the question, “Which would you pick between love and power if your loved one becomes your political enemy?” The drama follows the story of King Lee Tae (Lee Joon), who dreams of becoming the absolute monarch, and his ex-fiancee Yoo Jung (Kang Hana), with whom he reunites as his political opponent. The drama also centers around the power struggles between king Lee Tae and powerful aristocrat Park Gye Won (Jang Hyuk). Unlike traditional period dramas, which put more weight on romance, Bloody Heart focuses on political conflicts and unravels its story in a rather solemn tone. Moreover, the directing that emphasizes the wistful sentiment of the series and the beautiful cinematography that effectively delivers character emotions increase the immersiveness of the show. It will be fun to watch the show while paying attention to the desire and psychology of each character.
Alchemy of Souls (2022)
Alchemy of Souls follows the journey of two protagonists, Jang Wook (Lee Jae Wook) and Mu Deok (Jung So Min), whose fate has been switched due to soul-changing magic. Unlike other period dramas that are set in the Joseon Dynasty, the show takes place in a fictional country called Dae Ho Guk and unravels its story freely without chronological constraints. The high-quality CGI shown in action scenes gives us the visual pleasure of watching the show, and the joyful chemistry between the characters ventilates the heavy cloak of despair in the story related to the birth secrets of the characters. What makes viewers enjoy the show the most is the relationship between Jang Wook and Mu Deok. Their relationship changes from being a slave and a master to a teacher and a student, and finally to a pair of lovers. The changing dynamics drew great attention throughout the show and made fans cheer for the cute couple. The lead actress Jung So Min will be replaced by Go Youn Jung in season 2, which is scheduled to be aired in December.
The Red Sleeve (2021)
The Red Sleeve is a drama that combines the charms of both traditional and historical fiction series. The series is based on a novel of the same name that follows the life of Jeongjo, the 22nd King of Joseon, and his royal concubine Uibin Seong. It illustrates their tragic love story with great details in the characters’ emotions. Unlike other period dramas, it depicts Jeongjo in a different light from the perspective of a court lady. The drama won favorable reviews for having Deok Im (Lee Se Young) as an independent woman who is not afraid to push away Yi San (Junho) to live her own life despite her growing feelings for him. Thanks to her proactive character, her romance with Yi San gave us a fresh perspective on the two and created an impressively lasting ending. Meanwhile, the drama’s title represents a court lady as they wore clothes that were tinted red on the sleeves.
Lovers of the Red Sky (2021)
Based on a novel of the same name, Lovers of the Red Sky portrays the romance between painter Hong Chun Gi (Kim Yoo Jung) with a mysterious power and red-eyed man Haram (Ahn Hyo Seop), who can read the constellations despite being a blind man. The original project was set in the Joseon Dynasty, but the live-action series tweaked its setting to a fictional country to cleverly avoid historical distortion issues. The devil who dwells in Haram’s body heightens tension throughout the show, and the fact that the devil gets awakened by the touch of Hong Chung Gi adds fun to the romance between protagonists. Although some criticized the awkward VFX and slow-paced story, the actors’ performance won favorable reviews as it was a long-awaited return project of Kim Yoo Jung.
The King’s Affection (2021)
The King’s Affection is a drama that brings the familiar trope of “a woman disguised as a man” into the royal court. Based on a comic book of the same name, the drama throws the following question: “What if there was a king who vanished from history for being a woman?” The drama follows the story of an unlucky girl named Lee Hwi (Park Eun Bin), who was born as the twin sister of the crown prince. Although her family abandoned her for being a female, she becomes the crown prince disguised as her twin brother after his death. The drama depicts her struggle as she keeps the deadly secret from others and unravels a romantic story between Lee Hwi and her teacher and first love, Jung Ji Woon (Rowoon). Despite her small frame, Park Eun Bin did a great job breathing life into her solemn crown prince role. The King’s Affection did pretty well back then, but it was her following series Extraordinary Attorney Woo that gave her global popularity and made fans rewatch The King’s Affection.
Editor Seo Hayne: I like actors as they faithfully lead through their long running-time. I also like idols who accomplish everything on stage within 3 minutes.