As word of mouth spreads about Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love being unexpectedly solid and addicting, ratings in Korea continues to decline at a rate that is disheartening because it brings the specter of re-writes, or god forbid, shortening the drama’s run. It’s way too early to go there but it’s safe to say this drama isn’t likely to have a miraculous bump up in ratings anytime soon. If all of Korea is in the mood for jajangmyun its pointless to gripe that they don’t want a delicious bowl of soondubu. I’m settling in for the long haul with this drama as it slowly takes off on the main narrative trajectory of Jang Ok Jung’s love story with King Sukjong and how their love could possibly blossom and survive in the treacherous reaches of the Palace. This drama is really so very easy to watch, the politics doesn’t weigh down the delicious romantic stirrings while the characters continue to be fleshed out at a deliberate pace.
So far I don’t dislike any character because it’s all about power and the one who controls it finds it’s not so easy to remain righteous. While Ok Jung is written a dash too perfect and loveable, I appreciate that Lee Soon comes across as trying too hard and not as capable (yet) or prepared as he wants to be. He’s falling for Ok Jung but she doesn’t dominate his thoughts and she similarly thinks about him but only during her downtime when she’s not trying to free her mother from abject slavery and save herself from being sold to a Prince by her uncle. The drama shows us that everyone is beholden to their position in life, so it’s not a matter of judging right and wrong when people jostle for advancement in the only way they know how. Could love survive in such a cruel world? For all three ladies –In Kyung, In Hyun, and Ok Jung – the answer would be no. But I want to keep watching them try their best to achieve what matters to them.
Episode 5 recap:
In Hyun is in mourning and sitting before her mother’s funeral altar in the house. Her father Minister Min comes in to discuss the big upset at the Crown princess selection. He keeps insisting that all they need to do is start over again. In Hyun quietly says no.
Minister Min wants In Hyun to become a concubine to Crown Prince Lee Soon, then find the opportunity to frame the Queen and then In Hyun can take her place. In Hyun remains uninterested in her father’s attempts to forcefully make her queen, she doesn’t any anyone to shed blood because of her. She wants to become the Mother of the Nation but only in a very honorable way. She’ll let In Kyung sit in that spot for now and protect it, she firmly believes that the position is destined to be hers one day.
Ok Jung goes to see her uncle Jang Hyun to discuss the next steps. She doesn’t want to become Prince Boksun’s concubine so she will be a servant in his family. Jang Hyun doesn’t care if she becomes Prince Boksun’s concubine or servant, all she needs to do is bear his child so that the child can avenge Hong Joo and their whole family. Ok Jung tells him to stop being so greedy but Jang Hyun promises that someday Ok Jung will want power as much as he does. Ok Jung says that will never happen but Jang Hyun tells her to get ready to enter Prince Boksun’s house.
In what looks like the quickiest royal wedding in Joseon history, Lee Soon and In Kyung are about to consummate the wedding.
They sit across from each other politely and Lee Soon is in no hurry to bed his blushing bride. When he leans over to untie her head piece, he suddenly flashes back to Ok Jung. Dude, I feel you but thinking of another woman while you are about to sleep with your new wife is hardly the recipe for a happy marriage.
Luckily for reluctant bridegroom Lee Soon, the wedding night is called off when King Hyeonjung’s condition takes a turn for the worse. Lee Soon rushes to his dad’s bedside along with the entire family. King Hyeonjung asks for the minister who will receive his last words.
Outside the King’s chambers, all the top officials have converged to decide who will hear the King’s last will and testament. Minister Min naturally thinks it ought to be him, but Minister Kim his former #2 and now father-in-law to the Crown Prince says not so fast.
Minister Kim brings the returned to the capital Minister Heo (leader of the Noron faction) and Minister Min’s eyebrows go up another inch. Suddenly the door opens and Lee Soon announces that Minister Heo will be the official who receives the royal will. Ha, in your face Minister Min!
Minister Heo goes in and hears the royal will. The King tells Lee Soon not to trust anyone but himself. His last will is intended to let the wolf in temporarily to get rid of the fox. He asks Lee Soon to become a true and powerful King to all the commoners. The King passes away and the Queen, Princess Myung An, Crown Prince Lee Soon, and newly arrived Crown Princess In Kyung all shed tears for his passing.
Minister Heo and Lee Soon walk out to read the King’s will, which decrees that there will be a change of power from the Soron to the Noron faction. The King says the Soron faction made his live a living hell during his reign because he was the King but not the eldest son. Therefore he’s kicking the Soron faction out of ruling government as his dying wish. Lee Soon says to disobey the late King’s will is to commit treason. Minister Min isn’t going to leave that easily so Lee Soon reminds him that he concealed the death of his wife and allowed his daughter to participate in the Crown Princess selection and that could be a crime. Minister Min reminds Lee Soon that the army is behind him but Lee Soon points out that the Minister of the Armed Forces Minister Kim is now his father-in-law. Ahahahaha! Awesome. He calls in Minister Kim who brings the armed guards and escorts the Soron faction out.
This scene is weird because I can’t figure out if it’s a coronation of the new King Sukjong, or the marriage of the new King with his Queen. Earlier we saw them attempting to consummate the marriage so it’s weird they are getting married again. But apparently this is a wedding, because the Great Dowager Queen mentions the upcoming coronation. Oooh, so Lee Soon and In Kyung almost got same royal sanctioned jumping the gun.
Now Dowager Queen Kim (Lee Soon’s mom) finally unleashes her ire to her son. She is furious that Lee Soon kicked out Minister Min, but he reminds her Minister Min is not a member of the royal family but the leader of the Soron faction. Dowager Queen Kim points out that she came from the Soron faction! Lee Soon says that it was the late King that told him to bring back Heo Guk and the Noron faction. The Great Dowager Queen speaks up for Lee Soon and looks forward to the rise of the royal family soon.
Minister Heo goes to meet with Prince Boksun and Jang Hyun as the Noron faction continue to strengthen its alliances. Prince Boksun is impressed Minister Heo got rid of Minister Min that quickly. He introduces Jang Hyun as the money behind the support for the Noron faction. Minister Heo brushes past moneybags Jang Hyun with the same hauteur as Minister Min has. Aish, they are all just the same.
Ok Jung tells Hyang Ah that she’s going to enter Prince Boksun’s household and Hyang Ah is so distraught to hear this. Ok Jung assures Hyang Ah that she will do well running the store.
Ok Jung’s mother is preparing her master Minister Jo for his court visit. His wife Madam Jo walks in and after her husband leaves drags Ok Jung’s mom outside to rail on her for defying her orders and seducing her husband.
Madam Jo has Ok Jung’s mother beaten. Ok Jung happens to arrive at the house and rushes over to shield her mother. Ok Jung begs for clemency for her mom, saying that Madam Jo should be magnanimous and forgive her mother who doesn’t know better. That only makes Madam Jo angrier and she has Ok Jung’s mom dragged away.
Ok Jung’s mother is locked up while Ok Jung can only cry outside. Madam Jo orders Ok Jung’s mother sent away tomorrow to become a government slave.
Minister Min is now on the outs of power and is home licking his wounds.
His followers in the Soron faction come to kneel and beg their leader to lead them back to prominence. He promises that they will fight and the Soron faction will return to power soon!
In Hyun sees this and remembers her own humiliation at the Crown Princess selection when Lee Soon deliberately passed her over and selected In Kyung.
Lee Soon meets with Minister Heo in court. Minister Heo asks for the right to run the Army, suggesting that the Soron faction is angling to get back to power because the Queen’s father is Minister Kim who currently has control of the Army. Giving the Noron faction power over the Army is better than having to get rid of the Queen. Lee Soon realizes right away that Minister Heo is no different than Minister Min when they both laugh the same way once they are in power.
After Minister Heo leaves, Lee Soon remarks that it’s the same but just different people in power. Lee Soon privately hears from Prince Dongpyung that Prince Boksun is training a private army in the mountains. Jang Hyun and Prince Boksun watch their training army and have decided to assassinate Lee Soon when he’s out hunting in a few days.
Dowager Queen Kim has a shaman/fortune teller brought in to look over In Kyung. The fortune teller stares and asks to talk privately.
The fortune teller informs the Dowager Queen that the current Queen cannot get pregnant. The Dowager Queen is furious and learns that it is the fate that the Queen will be changed. She asks if the next Queen will be from the Soron faction but the fortune teller won’t say anything until her life is promised to be spared. She then reveals that the next Queen will be fine, but with the new Queen will come someone who will bring strife to the Palace and opposition to the Dowager Queen. The Dowager Queen tells her maid to kick every Noron court lady out of the Palace immediately since only the Noron faction could possibly defy her!
Dowager Queen Kim runs into Great Dowager Queen Jo as they walk through the Palace grounds. Dowager Queen Kim gives a put down that reminds the Great Dowager that she never produced an heir for the royal family so she needs to butt out of Palace decision, such as kicking all the Noron court ladies out of the Palace.
The Great Dowager Queen Jo meets with Minister Jo, her cousin and the master of Ok Jung’s mother. She asks him to bring her a girl from their side of the family that she can mentor as a court lady and be her surrogate daughter. She wants to raise a person to cut down the Dowager Queen’s power and authority, and this person needs to come from the outside and be beautiful and have willpower of a wild horse. Minister Jo remembers seeing Ok Jung confronting his wife over her mother being beaten. He asks if its okay this girl be low born and the Great Dowager Queen says yes. For the sake of the Soron faction, they must raise up a girl of their own to vy for power in the back Palace.
Ok Jung hires men to break her mother out of the Jo household and she’s going to take her to the Qing dynasty.
Minister Jo goes to see Ok Jung and offers to bring her into the Palace as a court lady. Ok Jung is surprised that she is being offered this position with her low birth. Minister Jo says that as long as she tries hard, she will have opportunities such as the favor of the King and the Great Dowager Queen. Ok Jung declines because she has her own dreams.
Prince Boksun meets with Minister Heo and the Noron faction, all of them talking about the scheduled assassination of Lee Soon at the upcoming hunt. Damn, these people are horrible.
Lee Soon goes hunting and is attacked by masked men. He manages to get away but not before getting slashed across the stomach. He ends up passed out against a rock. Prince Boksun and the Noron faction get word that the assassination attempt was likely successful but they have not located his body yet. Prince Boksun says his body needs to be found quickly.
Ok Jung and her mother make a run for it and as luck would have it, Ok Jung runs across an injured Lee Soon in the forest.
Ok Jung recognizes him so she and her mother bring him to a safe place to recover.
Jang Hyun hears Ok Jung and her mother made a run for it and has his minion searching high and low for them, including on ships bound for the Qing dynasty. He orders that Ok Jung’s brother Hee Jae be summoned back from the Qing dynasty, he’s going to need him to keep Ok Jung in line. Everyone and their mother is searching for the missing Lee Soon, with Prince Dongpyung leading the search to rescue him.
Ok Jung tends to the injured Lee Soon and remembers him asking her to see the sunrise but then also insulting her as too lowborn for him. Lee Soon wakes up and is shocked to learn that Ok Jung was the one who saved him. She reveals that she rescued him in the mountains and this shack is near the royal family hunting grounds.
Prince Dongpyung meets with his older brother Prince Boksun, who asks if Prince Dongpyung has seen Lee Soon recently. Prince Dongpyung says of course he saw him recently and asks why his older brother is asking such a silly inquiry. Prince Dongpyung claims he introduced a gumiho (foxy lady) to Lee Soon so that is why he has been MIA lately. Prince Boksun laughs that Lee Soon who has shown no interest in women would suddenly be taken with a lady. He then asks when Prince Dongpyung will get involved in politics? Prince Dongpyung asks if Prince Boksun will give him a position soon (insinuating he will become King) and Prince Boksun laughs it off and doesn’t answer.
Ok Jung sews a set of clean clothes for Lee Soon and brings it to him while he sleeps.
Prince Dongpyung is trying to find Lee Soon. He captures one of the assassins and tortures him.
Prince Boksun points out that Prince Dongpyung is impossible to read, he appears on Lee Soon’s side yet is trying to curry favor with Prince Boksun. The Noron faction decide on what to do if Lee Soon remains MIA, should they attack the Palace in a forceful coup? Or wait? Prince Boksun says an important festival is coming up next and if Lee Soon doesn’t show up then he will have to be declared dead.
Ok Jung brings the change of clothes to Lee Soon. He’s not exactly in the most trusting of mood and wonders why Ok Jung always shows up, suspecting that she might be approaching him purposefully. He asks why she is hiding them in a place where only the royal family is allowed to go? He asks if she has any more secret weapons in her palm, if so he needs it. He also wonders why she is not asking who he is, or why he didn’t show up that morning. Ok Jung says it doesn’t matter since it was a promise made to a person as lowly as her. Lee Soon says he doesn’t make promises he doesn’t intend to keep.
The clothing shop is being ransacked as people look for Ok Jung and her runaway slave mother. Ok Jung and her mother are by the creek and her mother points out that Lee Soon’s aura is not that of an ordinary man. They suddenly notice men swarming the area. She doesn’t realize that some of the men are led by Prince Dongpyung to rescue Lee Soon, while others are Prince Boksun’s people trying to find Lee Soon’s dead body.
Ok Jung goes to find Lee Soon who is standing on the bluff. He is wearing the clothes she made for him and notes that it fits perfectly. Awwww, she remembers his measurements! Such a lovely little detail. She tells him that he needs to leave right away because the people trying to kill him might be back.
As Ok Jung turns to leave, Lee Soon grabs her arm and says he’s leaving now. He asks her to go with him to his world. Ok Jung says no, she cannot do so at this time. She needs to take her mother to the Qing dynasty. He asks if she won’t say yes even if he begged her? Ok Jung says she cannot agree right now. But one day…..
She asks Lee Soon how she can find him if she comes back. Lee Soon tells her that she can find him in the Palace. He then gives her his real name “Lee Soon”. Ok Jung doesn’t react, which means she doesn’t know that the Crown Prince of Joseon’s given name is Lee Soon, which is unsurprising since she’s low born and not educated as a yanban lady. Ok Jung promises that if she returns from the Qing, or doesn’t end up going there, she will go find him.
Thoughts of Mine:
Good lord was this episode jam packed full of goodies. The political maneuvering took on a turn for the intense with the death of poor sickly King Hyeonjung which led to the ouster of Minister Min and the Soron faction, which then begat the despicable attempt by Prince Boksun and Minister Heo and the Noron faction in assassinating Crown Prince Lee Soon. At this point both factions suck and blow and if I were Lee Soon I would dismiss them all and start from scratch. That’s impossible, of course, but goodness is it depressing to see him trade one annoying power hungry Minister Min for an equally underhanded and regicidal Minister Heo. I can’t believe I’m actually finding Minister Min the lesser of the two evils (for now). I’m also loving the in-Palace subtle warfare between the Dowager Queen Kim and the Great Dowager Queen Jo. It’s such a foreshadowing of the battles to come between Ok Jung and In Hyun, and a good primer that the battle lines can be both personal and official. I do feel sorry for In Kyung, who has a weak constitution to start with but is about as smart or steely as a newborn kitten.
I love how the drama has been so generous with giving us OTP screen time in every episode so far, though it’s pretty silly how they keep running into each other in the most improbable of ways. Ok Jung and her runaway slave mother happening across injured Lee Soon in the giant forest is one for the coincidence books. I don’t mind these little leaps of probability because its not so jarring as to startle me out of the flow of the story, and its essentially in keeping Ok Jung and Lee Soon taking tiny steps in building their growing feelings for each other. I appreciate that its pure attraction at this point, opposite sex attraction, intellectual and personality attraction. The drama doesn’t force their love story on us by screaming FATED with heavyhanded directing or too obvious visual cues. But it is really wonderful to see downtrodden Ok Jung find a moment of intensity with Lee Soon, who also needs a break from some really depressing running of the country to actually stare at a beautiful woman and feel his heart pound a little bit faster.