The Gist: Love. Murder. Jealousy. Lust for Power. Political intrigue in fancy outfits! What more do you want?
Ok, Ok – Daughter of the king’s brother, Lee Se Ryeung (Moon Chae Won), is eager to scope out the man her father is trying to arrange her to marry, the Vice Premier’s son, Gim Seung Yu (Park Shi Hoo). When Se Ryeung finds out Seung Yu is her cousin Princess Kyung Hye's (Hong Soo Hyun) teacher she convinces her to switch places for them to meet. Despite a quick connection, things go awry when Se Ryeung’s father, Su Yang (Kim Young Chul) starts making move for his brother’s throne. The Vice Premier, Jong Seo (Lee Soon Jae), promptly rejects the proposal in favor of submitting Seung Yu for the position of prince consort. Su Yang doesn’t take the rejection lightly and despite Se Ryeung’s best efforts, her family is now opposing her friends and the man she loves. She’s not the only one affected, as Seung Yu’s friends Sin Myeon (Song Jong Ho) and Jung Jong (Lee Min Woo) must also choose where their allegiances lie, split between friends and family.
NOTE: I will attempt to tag all spoilers but it is very difficult to talk about the scope of this show without giving anything away – so be forewarned! Some details may be revealed!
Holy cow. This show was like Korean style game of thrones. At 24 episodes, I was worried about the length beforehand, but when I wasn’t watching it, I wanted to be and when I was watching it, I could watch 3 or 4 episodes at a time easily. The political machinations of Su Yang and the king could have been pared down, but ultimately the show did a nice job of juxtaposing the political complications with emotional distress. In every side story, there were characters to be invested in as every decision is connected to another character’s story. The moments were well paced, the story fairly unpredictable, and the unfolding of events equal parts distressing and lovely.
The great thing about watching a show that deals with real issues, life and death, is that it showcases the immense talent of a cast such as this one. From our main duo to minor ensemble characters, the emotion is raw and the characters well developed. If you asked me about any two characters, I could tell you how they feel about each other and interact because their motives and feelings are so clearly laid out. Let’s take a quick moment to highlight our starring man Shi Hoo as Seung Yoo because all I can say is wow! The pretty face turns from an immature young man to a total badass. *SPOILERS* Oh boy is he put through a lot. After watching his father and brother get murdered, he goes through a dark place. His descent into apathy and madness and subsequent forgiveness were a true treat to watch. Se Ryeung also deserves some credit as all their scenes together, trying to reconcile their families with their love sets up some major questions for this show. Se Ryeung and Sin Myeon make very different choices regarding family loyalty and both have to suffer for it. But, we’ll talk more about Sin Myeon a little later. But let’s take a quick detour to talk about Jong. *SPOILERS* I think Jong came away as the character I was most impressed with. He seemed so silly, but he could snap into protective and serious at the drop of a hat. He turns into a very fitting husband to the princess and their scenes had me in tears. Seriously, tissue box next to me for all of episode 22 – why do the good die young!?
3.The Gisaeng House!
No, not that first evil plotty one. About mid-series Se Yeung finds some comrades in Jun No Gul (Yun Jong Hwa) and Jo Suk Joo (Kim Roe Ha), the latter of which owns (?) a gisaeng house (a.k.a. a house of female entertainers). I’m always a bit skeptical when a series adds a bunch of characters midway through, but they didn’t detract from the main story, in fact they added quite a bit of life to it. Cho Hee (Chu So Young)’s stoic character made for some touching and funny moments with her dry humor. I loved Moo-Young (Choi Han Bit) as a transgender gisaeng. What a bold choice! And she is fierce! They grow to be as important as Jong and Sin Myeon to Seung Yu. They also are standing up for what’s right, even when it doesn’t directly affect them. I love, love, love them all.
Just a quick note that while this show has a lot of things going on, the romance is really the driving force behind it all. Seung Yu and Se Ryeung have an undeniable chemistry. This is the type of romance that I can really dive into, the kind that is just desperate, where you can feel the pain of our star crossed lovers being forced apart. Ah! So beautiful.
1.How Not to Get the Girl – Paging Sin Myeon
So I must say that I really misjudged Sin Myeon. I thought he would be a valuable friend for the series, but that falls apart pretty quickly. *SPOILERS* So, his father decides to ally with Su Yang and arrange a marriage with him and Se Ryeung, whom Sin Myeon full well knows is in love with his best friend. Seeming reasonable at first, he pretty much decides that the best way to win her affections is a)to help kill his best friend’s whole family b) actively try to kill his best friend c)betray her cousin and close friend, the princess d)insist that well it’s all arranged anyway, so you belong to me! That’s right! Sin Myeon does all of these things and somehow is confused when Se Ryeung isn’t totally infatuated with him. How dumb is Sin Myeon? Even after it’s clear that she’d rather DIE than marry him, he still insists on keeping her around. I kept waiting for the moment for him to realize, yes, this is far enough, time to come to my senses and it really never comes, not right up until the poor guy dies.
2.How Not to Win Your Daughter’s Love – Paging Su Yang
Essentially Su Yang is a power hungry monster, who really doesn’t care about right and wrong, as long as he gets what he wants. *SPOILERS* Like Sin Myeon, Su Yang decides the best way to his daughter to get over Seung Yu is to murder his whole family and exile him, then drown him at sea, then send assassins after him, then send the army after him, and basically just say that he’s going to kill Seung Yu if it’s the last thing he ever does. It’s pretty clear pretty fast that Se Ryeung isn’t going to stand for this and somehow Su Yang seems confused. This makes a little more sense when you think about how strong family loyalty is to this culture, which makes Se Ryeung’s defiance all the more admirable. It’s not like she’s just concerned about love, there’s also all the needless backstabbing and murder. It’s brave, not foolish. He’s a wicked villain and such a terrible father!
Well *SPOILERS* obviously. So I was all set to give this a super A+. With its compelling storyline and dedicated actors, the Princess’ Man had me glued to the screen, which is why I feel a little bit ambivalent about the ending. Yes, I am glad the Se Ryeung and Seung Yu could be together and in love, but there’s a lot of drawbacks. First, Seung Yu is blind. What purpose does that serve? Second. None of their friends know they’re alive so they’re isolated. That’s kind of a bummer. Third. We get zero follow through on the princess and her son. What happened to them? Fourth. Jong had to die and that’s acceptable, but still sad. Finally, the entire story is essentially people rising up to counter Su Yang and get him off the throne and the ending? They fail, Seung Yu runs away like he swore he wouldn’t a million times and Su Yang gets a nice long, if not lonely, seat on the throne and the former prince gets poisoned. Welp. That’s kind of disappointing. All those people essentially died in vain. They wanted to make a stand and it didn’t really make a difference. While I dreaded Seung Yu killing Su Yang, he deserved it and it would have completed the buildup. Instead, we’re just left with a skeleton cast and a hollow feeling in our hearts that nothing can be changed. Really, the only person to get their comeuppance is Sin Myeon’s father, whose choice ultimately led to his son’s death and he knows it.
Honestly, I didn’t really hate anything about this show. Yes the problems listed above were irksome, but only minor inconveniences in what is really a great show.
So… all in all I really loved this show. The actors were amazing and I’m a little bit in love with Seung Yu. You don’t feel the length of the show and the relationship building keeps you coming back for more and more. Aside from Sin Myeon being a terrible friend, Su Yang being a terrible everything, and not quite the closure you want at the end, the Princess’ Man is probably one of the best shows I’ve watched.
Whew. Sorry this review is so long! There's a lot to unpack. Final Grade: A-
P.S. How cute was Seung Yu's niece?! AH! Happy Valentine's Everybody!