Tuesday, September 13, 2011

intro info: Sungkyunkwan Scandal (Korean)

성균관 스캔들 - (Seonggyungwan Seugaendeul)

Park Min Young as Kim Yoon Hee
Micky Yoochun as Lee Seon Joon
Yoo Ah In as Moon Jae Shin
Song Joong Ki as Gu Yong Ha

For more details: Sungkyunkwan Scandal @ dramawiki

Park Min Young leads the story of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, an historical romantic comedy about a girl who disguises herself as her brother in order to get into the highly revered Sungkyunkwan University where government officials are educated.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal is allotted in the fusion historical genre, which, to my research, means that while it is set in a historical period, it also contains the atmosphere of more modern times; character creation, social events, comedic antics, and the like will be more relative as a form of modern telling rather than serious historical tale. And so Sungkyunkwan Scandal was not meant to be taken in a serious light, but to be viewed purely for comedic and warm-hearted enjoyment.

While tagged as a romantic comedy, and basing its story line around the same cliches and plot devices as a typical romantic comedy with a girl pretending to be a boy, there is no doubt that the series is so much more than just that. Sungkyunkwan Scandal did not promote itself as anything more than just another entertaining love story, set in the historical era of Joseon Korea during the reign of Emperor Jeung Jo. And so while mulling over the idea of watching this series, I don't think I expected to get out of it such an unpredictably meaningful journey of one girl's plight from her need to survive life with her family and into her gradual development into dreaming for a life much bigger and better than she could ever be allowed to have.

While pretending to be a man, Kim Hoon Yee's characteristic
adorable personality still comes to surface readily.

Kim Yoon Hee (nicknamed Daemul) is an intelligent and duty-bound young girl who starts off the series presented as a young man who sells literary knowledge in order to make a living. The viewers are quickly shown that this young scholar is no more than a young girl dressed in men's garb, struggling to earn money for her family. Due to her family problems -- a dead father and an ill brother, leaving two women who cannot make a living otherwise -- Yoon Hee has unhesitatingly donned her brother, Kim Yoon Shik's persona in order to work for money and living expenses. And so our female protagonist actually starts off the story line already having been using the guise of her brother to make ends meet for her poor family.

This character is very similar to Park Min Young's most recent role in City Hunter, Kim Na Na, where the girl is also struggling to support her poor livelihood. And so it's a bit of a challenge for the actress to figure out how to portray both characters (both of them strong women in their time) without creating a repeat. At the beginning, it almost seemed like Kim Yoon Hee was an exact replica of Kim Na Na, except in two different time periods, but as the series progressed, there is no doubt that I began to see differences and separate both female characters from one another fairly easily. While not quite sure how to word it, there is a certain quality to each of the two characters that makes them different.

And to be totally honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Kim Yoon Hee much more so than the Kim Na Na from City Hunter. There is an evident main lead embodiment in Kim Yoon Hee as opposed to the "static female background lead hiding behind the male lead" atmosphere that is projected by Kim Na Na, even despite the level of admiration I have in her irrationally brave and kick-butt character.

Back to the series...

Brother: Yoon Shik (left) and Mother (right)
What to do as a poor family with no rights and no form of survival...

As stated in later episodes, Yoon Hee had been living her life as her brother ever since a very young age after the death of her father. Highly intelligent and witty, it was up to her to help her family survive life since the real Yoon Shik was unable to work and women were not allowed to do anything at all except for marry and have children and raise children. And so this story doesn't take a girl and suddenly throw her into this cross-dressing dilemma, this story only starts her off where she needs to begin her newest journey.

Due to her brother's illness, the family is still stuck in a massive debt that needs to be paid off soon -- otherwise, Yoon Hee might find herself being used as a means to cover that debt. And so with money being the most important factor for survival, Yoon Hee has no other choice but to continue pretending to be a man when the chance comes for her to become a student scholar at Sungkyunkwan University, which will eventually help solve a lot of her financial problems.

Within the first entire episode of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, the viewer is already introduced to the much deeper plot device of the series aside from the love story: the injustices of historical monarchy during a time when aristocrats are clearly using their power and their money to make life even more miserable for those of lesser privileged statuses while they continue to prosper for themselves. Kim Yoon Hee is a woman who has no faith in her own country's government and politics, knowing that the only way to live is to rely on herself; because the ideal Joseon that people talk about does not exist in her eyes. After all, a country that allows the common man to suffer poverty and death without a fighting chance, but who allows those with money and power to continue prospering without worry... this is a country that Yoon Hee has come to hate.

Several different subjects are touched upon during the entirety of the series and in doing so, Sungkyunkwan Scandal ends up being a much more insightful and much more meaningful story than anyone would have ever expected simply from brief summaries or even the light-hearted promotions used to advertise the series. Between the social injustices to the political intrigue of fighting factions and finally a few mysteries that need to be investigated, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a gem of a story that has been overlooked and under-hyped.

Aside from the story line itself and the intended romance between the main couple, Kim Yoon Hee and Lee Seon Joon, the series also depicts a very heartwarming friendship between four men -- well three men and one woman disguised as a man -- as they come together and learn to like each other as well as learn to work together.

The upstanding citizen, Lee Seon Joon, looking his proudest and best.

Lee Seon Joon (nicknamed Garang) is the son of a high ranking official, leader of the powerful Noron faction. While he is an upstanding citizen, a righteous young man with dreams and ideals, he is also the stereotype "stick-in-the-mud" who has learned his ways from books and laws and his father's teachings and so he is rather arrogant and stubborn in his ways. What this young man lacks is a sense of realism which is brought to him when he meets Kim Yoon Hee (in the guise of Kim Yoon Shik) and finds out the hard way just how wrong he has been about his ideal world of law-abiding citizens, prosperity, and harmony among all the people. He's like the proverbial caged-bird who would probably die at the hands of any wild cat due to his ignorance of the real world. Slowly, but surely, this extremely optimistic "ivory-tower" prince begins to learn how to see the world without his books and rose-colored glasses and realize what he truly needs to do to help the country become a better place.

In contrast, Kim Yoon Hee has always seen nothing but the devastating injustices of life among the common people. She sees no future for Joseon and so can only ever believe in survival for the present. But meeting Lee Seon Joon and through his optimistic ideals, she learns to believe that there CAN be a better world for her and for generations to come after her. Life may not be as well-balanced as it is in the present, but there are certainly hopes that can be dreamed for. And so through Lee Seon Joon's constant pushing, Yoon Hee not only becomes hopeful but also learns how to develop and improve upon her own person, become stronger and better fit to help bring about the new Joseon that everyone dreams about.

It's a great fit for these two to change each other for the better; as other reviewers have mentioned, Kim Yoon Hee and Lee Seon Joon share the "you complete me" relationship wherein they both seem to be able to push the other to improve and change.

Manly and Crude Geul-oh (Moon Jae Shin);
even HE becomes a soft teddy bear in fascination
 when faced with his beloved Yoon Hee

Moon Jae Shin (nicknamed Geul-oh) is a son from a lower ranking official of the Soron faction, a crude and tragic hero who has suffered loss so grave that it has torn him and his father apart since the beginning of the series. His need to avenge that loss brings him to the forefront as a secret rebel against the current government power as well as an immediate enemy of any and all people in the Noron faction. Mainly keeping to himself with only one close friend, Moon Jae Shin, through the encounter with Kim Yoon Hee and Lee Seon Joon slowly begins to change his views on the idea of harmony between factions. While hating Lee Seon Joon in the beginning, Moon Jae Shin learns to set aside his hate and start forming a bond with this person he views as an enemy, realizing that he alone cannot help change the future.

Yeorim... There are no words to describe that adorably inebriated smirk.
Gu Yong Ha is our omniscient god!

Finally, we come to Gu Yong Ha (nicknamed Yeorim), the son of a merchant who starts off the series as a bored yet flambuoyant young man, always looking for something to keep him excited and always trying to butt himself into matters that pique his interest. With a little fancy twirl and the words, "I'm Gu Yong Ha," there really is no other way to describe this fun-loving, outspoken gem of a young man. Consistently watching the action from the sidelines, it is the forming of one unit with the former three that begin to bring him into the heart of the action rather than just remaining in the spectator's zone watching everyone else butt heads or reading his adult picture books. But Gu Yong Ha proves to be a very significant asset to his three companions, almost as an omnicient being who seems to know exactly what is going on, when it is happening and why it would occur.

The lovely personality of our beloved and gorgeous Yeorim -- which literally means "forest of females" -- is the glue that keeps our heroes together after they form their four person, historical boy group, the Jalgeum Quartet. Extra "bromance" and the sensitive love and care that Gu Yong Ha gives to his three friends can only be experienced in full force, portrayed with the utmost excellence by adorable and pretty Song Joong Ki.

In the forthcoming review article of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, please excuse me as I gush fangirl heart eyes at Gu Yong Ha's god-like presence. Whether he's playing around or during his rarely seen serious moments, Song Joong Ki manages to captivate and steal the spotlight from the rest of the group so easily that he has come to be my most favorite of this so dubbed "Joseon F4."

Modern boy bands step aside;
the Jalgeum Quartet will show you how it's really done!

One thing I would love to point out is the excellently planned unification of the Jalgeum Quartet, consisting of people from four different social status with four fairly different, yet at the same time quite similar personalities. Lee Seon Joon is from the Noron faction, Moon Jae Shin is a Soron, Kim Yoon Hee is stated to be a Namin (a southlander), and Gu Yong Ha belongs to no faction as a simple son of a wealthy merchant. Collectively, these four bring together the ideal of harmony among people from different backgrounds while at the same time striving for a similar cause.

In this group of four, no one is the ultimate leader, no one has a specific trait that stands out among the rest and no one is specifically assigned to any particular category. Because setting aside their factional backgrounds, the four of them are simply three men and one woman who have joined in friendship through their trials and continue to develop and grow and improve upon each other. They all have their obvious strengths and defining character flaws, but the series naturally smooths out these descriptions so that none of the four are isolated as a certain character type (as would normally happen in other romantic comedies with a group of main leads). Things like "The Pretty One," "The Manly One," "The Smart One," or "The Leader"... These don't exist in our beloved Jalgeum Quartet, because if they did, then the series' concept would ultimately isolate each of the four individuals into a static personality. And, of course, we don't want that to happen; we want to see normal character development and watch as our heroes all improve and change for the better.

It isn't simply the romance of the series or even the action or the political intrigue that makes Sungkyunkwan Scandal such an inspirational hit. It is the bonding of the four main leads and their fight for the ideal future and a better life that makes this series so wonderful from the beginning until the very ending -- from the moment that the four meet each other, to their constant fighting and bickering, to their unification due to circumstances, until finally they sincerely begin to care about one another as true friends.

I personally really enjoyed Sungkyunkwan Scandal, if only for the friendship and the comedy. The chemistry between these four, whether as the actors or as the characters was so great that you cannot help but give a little cheer the very moment that they finally form their four person group. You learn to fall in love with each of the Jalgeum Quartet as their story lines come to surface, and because of this, Sungkyunkwan Scandal becomes a so much more amazing epic journey.

Is this series completely perfect? No, it isn't. There are flaws, just as there will always be flaws. But the underlying concept and the overall series as it's complete, wonderful self has made the series an outstandingly memorable experience to follow along with.

I don't even care that a lot of angst had taken place or that supporting antagonists were ever-present. The other girl who was love rival to Kim Yoon Hee didn't even really seem so significant when you look at the bigger picture. Political intrigue and social scandals only served as a support to the four person unification, but nonetheless, were well-thought out. Investigations by the Jalgeum Quartet were thrilling to watch and the ultimate truth behind them were amazingly momentous. Supporting characters were nice to have around as comrades, friends, fellow scholars and the like, however minuscule their roles seemed to be.

And it also helps that there are the three dashing young men and Park Min Young's extremely adorable portrayal of Kim Yoon Hee to bask upon.

Having expected nothing more than a simple love story filled with the usual antics of a typical romantic comedy, I was pleasantly surprised by the much more amazing story that I received from this series' and its' presentation. With excellent actors, wonderfully created characters, beautiful scenic backdrops and a riveting story line to follow, I would totally recommend Sungkyunkwan Scandal to anyone looking for a meaningful, humorous, action-packed and exciting journey.


Related articles:
news: Sungkyunkwan Scandal movie!

thoughts: Sungkyunkwan Scandal - *coming soon* - Look forward to a more in-depth look at this series in discussion


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