Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love has no business being this good and driving me crazy with anticipation for more. This drama owns me heart and soul as of this moment. I think 8 episodes is more than enough time for me to take a leap of faith with this little gem now because I have this good feeling the drama knows its parameters and has the confidence to execute. Yes, the giant pink elephant that is Jae Hee’s still missing second male lead is still in the room. The producers have said they changed his entrance to make it more impactful, and right now the drama is firing on all cylinders I won’t second guess it. Though I have to say that sweet Prince Dongpyung makes for a very heartbreaking second male lead as well, what with his bromance with Lee Soon and his even earlier arriving crush on Ok Jung. This episode drops the narrative into its second arc smoothly and surely, with the passing of Queen In Kyung and the revival of Minister Min and the Soron faction with the imminent installation of In Hyun as the next Queen.
We all know it’s inevitable, and I appreciate that the drama makes me feel like it actually works as a political counter-measure for both sides. I actually think In Hyun would make the best Queen for Lee Soon, even if Ok Jung would make the best wife for him. Does that make sense? I can separate the difference between realistic duty and idealistic hope, and here we see Lee Soon torn between the duty and desire. The execution of his own uncle Prince Boksun weighs heavily on him, and with that emotional stress comes the realization that there is someone in this entire world he finds comfort with, and that is Ok Jung. Episode 8 brings together all the simmering political dangers and ups the romantic angst and shippy moments between the OTP so seamlessly that the hour whizzed by and I was left literally gasping for more the moment the credits rolled. Ratings schmatings, JOJ might just be the best K-drama airing right now.
Episode 8 recap:
Lee Soon rushes to In Kyung’s chambers and brushes past the court ladies waiting outside. He hears from the doctor that In Kyung cannot be saved. He rushes in and finds In Kyung resting wanly in her bed, covered in small pox boils.
In Kyung smiles to see her husband and thanks Ok Jung for bringing him as she promised. Ok Jung retreats to give the couple time alone. Lee Soon holds her pocked marked hands gently without fear or disgust.
Lee Soon stays with In Kyung as she rests, and it isn’t until late into the night that she wakes up again. In Kyung says now she can finally close her eyes. In Kyung tries to rise and Lee Soon moves over to hold her. Lee Soon cries and asks her not to leave him, there is too much he needs to atone for with her, so much that he did wrong by her. He apologizes for using her, for not being able to love her. In Kyung smiles and says that because of him her heart felt love and that is the greatest happiness she can ask for, remaining ever understanding and grateful even to the end
Lee Soon says he will be here until she leaves, so she can go in peace. In Kyung dies in Lee Soon arms as he cries over yet another person leaving him. Even if he didn’t love her, I love that he appreciated her goodness and accepted that he didn’t treat her right. She didn’t deserve his transference of anger, but similarly he didn’t deserve to be forced to marry a woman he didn’t love.
Ok Jung kneels outside and cries for the passing of In Kyung. Lee Soon comes out and walks past Ok Jung in a daze. She wants to help him but he raises his hand to tell her to leave him be.
Lee Soon sits before all the ministers in court, listening as they repeatedly urge him to quickly take another woman as his Queen because that position cannot be left empty for too long. I’m sure some time has passed since In Kyung’s passing so this isn’t like the next day or anything ridiculous like that. Minister Min tries to contain his glee because clearly everyone knows his In Hyun is the best choice left.
Lee Soon suddenly sees the spectre of Prince Boksun glaring at him from behind the curtains (omo it gives me the shivers), and it’s clear that having to execute his own uncle sits heavily on his mind. He quickly leaves court.
The Dowager Queen joins the chorus and goes to bug her son Lee Soon to quickly re-marry as well. She demands to know why Lee Soon is so adverse to In Hyun when she’s so suitable to be his Queen. She’s such a harpy here it’s hilarious. She asks what he wants in his future Queen and she’ll find the exact one for him. He wants one as beautiful as Consort Yang in the Tang dynasty and someone who will allow him to have many wives. The Dowager Queen says she’ll make sure In Hyun agrees to be understanding. Lee Soon finally quiets her by pointing out the grass hasn’t even begun to grow on the grave of Queen In Kyung.
In Hyun is called into the Palace to meet with the Dowager Queen, who is pleased that her faction gets another shot at occupying the Queen role. She says that In Hyun was always the rightful Queen and fated to be with Lee Soon. If the King won’t agree to take her as his next Queen, she’ll push things along by making it clear to the world In Hyun is slated to be the Queen. The first thing is to dress her like one.
The two ladies go to prepare royal clothes for In Hyun to wear at an upcoming festival. The Dowager Queen brings In Hyun to the seamstress wing to have her measured and there In Hyun is shocked to see Ok Jung, who is the one assigned to take her measurements. In Hyun asks why she is here and Ok Jung says its due to her own hardship. In Hyun points out they have quite the fate to keep running into each other. Tell me about it.
Prince Dongpyung is practicing archery with Lee Soon. Prince Dongpyung purposes misses to keep the mood light. Prince Dongpyung says he recently saw a court lady he mistook for someone else. Prince Dongpyung says he will never covet the King’s woman and all the ladies in the Palace belong to the King. Lee Soon says he doesn’t care for any court ladies. Prince Dongpyung asks if he can have one if he falls for her. Lee Soon says no, but he might make an exception for Prince Dongpyung.
Prince Dongpyung laughs and says he’s no longer the playboy he used to be.
Lee Soon suddenly sees the ghostly image of Prince Boksun again, this time his face showing up on the target. These ghostly sightings are truly freaky and naturally unnerves Lee Soon. Prince Dongpyung notices this.
Prince Dongpyung goes to see the Great Dowager Queen Jo and tells her that Lee Soon isn’t feeling well lately. The Great Dowager Queen is sad Lee Soon didn’t sleep with the girl she sent him. Prince Dongpyung says using a honey trap isn’t going to entice Lee Soon. The Great Dowager Queen says not quite, this girl has an unique history with Lee Soon. But she’s odd and doesn’t want his affection, she just wants to make clothes in the Palace. Prince Dongpyung hears the part about making clothes and looks worried.
Jang Hyun is dining with Ok Jung’s brother Jang Hee Jae and hears that someone is interfering with his ginseng trade which he has control over. They hear laughter coming from the next room and turns out Minister Min is there celebrating as well, discussing how Minister Min has succeeded in getting his daughter In Hyun to become the next Queen
Jang Hyun goes to pay his respects and pour wine for the future father-in-law to the King. But he is once again ridiculed by Minister Min who pours wine over his head after offering him to “take a drink”. Minister Min gets up to leave but Jang Hyun says he will send a consolation gift tomorrow since its the anniversary of the death of Minister Min’s first wife, who died during the first Crown Princess selection. Afterwards Hee Jae comes in and Jang Hyun says that he’s already made the first move with Minister Min and its all worth staking it on Ok Jung because of the way Lee Soon looked at her. Minister Min goes home and thinks that Jang Hyun is planning something and orders him investigated.
Lee Soon has a nightmare in the middle of the night, dreaming that the vengeful ghost of Prince Boksun is sitting at the foot of his bed. He can’t sleep and goes out to clear his mind.
Ok Jung was up all night designing the outfit for In Hyun to wear at her selection to be the next Queen. She goes out to take a break and sits on the steps. She smells something and closes her eyes to sense the fragrance.
Suddenly a person walks up behind her and she turns around to see Lee Soon. She quickly gets up and pays her respects before turning to leave.
Lee Soon grabs her arm and asks her to stay with him for a bit. He sits down on the steps and pulls her to sit down next to him. Lee Soon reveals how stressed he is, everyone is pressuring him to take another Queen and he keeps seeing nightmare images of the dead Prince Boksun. When will this cycle end – to have humanity he cannot be King, to be King he has to discard his humanity. Today he had to approve executions for entire generations of family members involved in the Noron coup.
Lee Soon asks if she’s afraid of how cruel he can be? Ok Jung isn’t afraid of him, she pities him. Lee Soon finds a measure a comfort in her pity. Everyone around him wants to use him, even his own mother, and that is why even his wife suffered. Ok Jung thinks to herself that he held the Queen in his arms when she died, and she is so envious of that.
When Lee Soon wakes up the next morning, he’s back in his chambers. He remembers talking with Ok Jung last night and that brings a smile to his face. His eunuch notices that the King is in good mood today.
Lee Soon goes to the seamstress wing and all the ladies gather to pay their respects, including Ok Jung who keeps her head down and doesn’t look at him. Lee Soon looks peeved that Ok Jung is ignoring him. He makes up a reason for her to come visit him by asking for new clothes. The eunuch asks why he took the long route today and Lee Soon doesn’t realize he did. He thinks back to Ok Jung promising to come find him in the Palace and is annoyed she didn’t even look at him today.
The head court lady brings Ok Jung along to take Lee Soon’s measurements to make him a new outfit. Lee Soon is surprised to see Ok Jung and the two of them assume the same position as when they first met as adults.
He stands there and she takes his measurements. Lee Soon is clearly affected but Ok Jung remains impassive. That annoys him and he calls her back when she’s done and leaving. He is regretful that he didn’t get to drink her tea last time and he’s thirsty now and wants to drink some. Ok Jung says last time was because of the Great Dowager Queen and she really works in the seamstress wing.
Lee Soon says if she is a seamstress, then he has work for her to do. Lee Soon tosses some clothes at her and makes her mend it right then and there. His excuses are hilarious, like a design is ugly or something doesn’t fit just right. He claims he wants to wear all these outfits immediately so she needs to fix it right now. LOL, I love that he can just be a petulant kid with her trying to get her attention.
The two of them sit in his inner chamber, her sewing and he tries to read a book, all the while smirking at her. This is so sweet and adorable. And so sad that life makes it neigh impossible for them to have such simple quiet moments of togetherness.
Lee Soon keeps sneaking peeks at Ok Jung and he remembers both the young girl he met who read a book very intently as well as adult Ok Jung reading a book in Prince Dongpyung’s library. The images are fleeting and he doesn’t make the connection that Ok Jung was his childhood crush (yet).
Prince Dongpyung goes to see Hee Jae, who continues to lie that Ok Jung went to the Qing dynasty with his mom. But this time Prince Dongyung doesn’t buy the bullshit and flips the table over, about to deliver a smackdown to Hee Jae for daring to lie to royalty. Ok Jung’s mom comes out and reveals that Ok Jung is in the Palace because of trying to free her from slavery. She asks Prince Dongpyung not to blame her kids for her own weakness. She knows Prince Dongpyung has been good to them and she cannot lie to him.
Lee Soon inspects the clothes and claims its not done right. He gives more homework for Ok Jung to do, telling her to take the clothes back and finish mending it before bring it back to him. He asks if she’s drunk and how can he stand in front of the ministers dressed like this. He tells her that she can leave and after she walks out he wonders if he was too mean to her?
Prince Dongpyung rushes to the seamstress wing in the Palace to look for Ok Jung, but he can’t find her though he does startle the other seamstresses when he barges inside. As he’s walking out Ok Jung happens to be returning with an armful of Lee Soon’s clothes. He is SOOOOO happy and relieved to see her, and he calls her “Ok Jung-ahhh” with such tenderness and relief I melt for his unrequited love.
Ok Jung is happy to see him but still preoccupied with Lee Soon related matters. Prince Dongpyung says he thought she went to the Qing dynasty and he would never see her again. He asks why she is here and she says there is nowhere for her to go but here. In Hyun happens to see this exchange between Prince Dongpyung and Ok Jung and looks alarmed that a member of the royal family appears interested in someone of such low birth as Ok Jung.
Prince Dongpyung goes to talk with Lee Soon who is walking with Minister Kim to discuss something urgent. Prince Dongpyung is about to mention the court lady he mistook earlier………when Minister Kim cuts them off and hurries Lee Soon along to court, telling them to discuss this trivial matter later. Er, later is probably too late for Prince Dongpyung, poor fella.
Ok Jung is sewing and thinks back to getting chewed out by the Great Dowager Queen Jo for her not taking advantage of the opportunity she arranged and accepting the King’s advances. She finishes and hands off the delivery to another seamstress.
Lee Soon receives a delivery of new clothes and is surprised that the court lady delivering it is not Ok Jung, though he is told she did make all the alterations herself. Lee Soon goes to the seamstress wing to look for Ok Jung but she is not there. He lies with the excuse to Head Court Lady Cheon that the clothes didn’t fit properly because the measurements were incorrect, it was measured when he was hungry. He wants that court lady to come by after lunch to take measurement again. Head Court Lady Cheon wants to take his measurements right there and he quickly makes an excuse that all he needs to do is lose weight to fit into the clothes. LOL. He tells his eunuch to wait here and bring that court lady when she comes back.
Ok Jung is called to meet Lee Soon and he demands to know why she’s not around when he goes looking for her and why she is purposely avoiding him. Dude, did you forget you told her once never to show up in front of you? Didn’t she say she was here to find Head Palace Guard Lee Soon, but Ok Jung cuts him off and says he’s not. Lee Soon says that he is Lee Soon, just that Lee Soon is also the King. Ok Jung says the man she knew before was man to her, now he is just the King to her. She excuses herself and leaves. Lee Soon is dismayed to hear such a response from her.
Ja Kyung, Ok Jung’s childhood nemesis and also a court lady in the seamstress wing, sneaks a peek at Ok Jung’s designs for In Hyun’s hanbok. She steals the design and makes her own version.
During the selection in the seamstress wing for which design will be worn by In Hyun, Head Court Lady Cheon can tell the two are nearly identical. But she has a good eye and asks Ok Jung what is the thought behind her design because Ok Jung scented her outfit which makes it stand out. Ok Jung gives a very thoughtful answer and her creation is chosen, much to the jealousy of Ja Kyung.
In Hyun hears the dress is ready and wants to try it on in the Queen’s quarters. The Dowager Queen agrees since the quarters are currently empty. On the day of the dress fitting, Ja Kyung sets up Ok Jung by lying that its Palace custom for her to try on the outfit to show the Dowager Queen and In Hyun. Lee Soon hears from his eunuch that the Dowager Queen went to the Queen’s chambers and wonders what his mom is plotting now.
When Lee Soon arrives at the room, he opens the door and sees in shock a stunning Ok Jung standing there wearing the outfit that his Queen will wear.
They stare at each other and then the Dowager Queen and In Hyun enter the room. The Dowager Queen is FURIOUS.
After Lee Soon leaves, Dowager Queen rushes over to slap Ok Jung for being so insubordinate and senseless as to out on the future Queen’s outfit. Ok Jung realizes now that she was set up by Ja Kyung, who rushes forward and cries that Ok Jung just wanted to try it on for her own vanity.
The Dowager Queen orders Head Court Lady Cheon to harshly punish Ok Jung, and then tells In Hyun to have tight control over the court ladies in the back Palace once she becomes Queen. Ok Jung begs not to be kicked out of the seamstress wing and is ordered to become a laundry woman only. She is not allowed to do any sewing from now on.
In Hyun goes to talk with Ok Jung afterwards and tells her to be mindful of her position in life. If she is a court lady, she will remain a court lady and that is her destiny. Do not overreach or aim for higher. She is warning her against Prince Dongpyung and Ok Jung says she just made clothes for his family before. In Hyun says she doesn’t want to see turmoil in the Palace and history of Prince Boksun repeating itself (his falling for Hong Joo). Ok Jung says that will never happen. In Hyun asks what Ok Jung felt wearing the Queen’s outfit and Ok Jung says she has no impression of it. In Hyun is pleased, telling Ok Jung not to feel like that is something she should keep in her memory. Ok Jung subserviently says she will stay true to her status as a seamstress.
When Ok Jung is washing clothes, the other court ladies come to bully her again. They push Ok Jung into the water and then pelt her with clothes. Oooh I hate those bitches. After they leave it starts to rain and Ok Jung has to fish the clothes out of the water.
The Dowager Queen invites Lee Soon to have tea with her and In Hyun to try and bring them closer. Ha, good luck with that. She keeps harping about how In Hyun is fated to be with Lee Soon and how gorgeous they look together as a couple.
It starts to rain and all Lee Soon can think about is the image of Ok Jung wearing the Queen’s outfit and telling him that she only sees him as a King and not as a man. He rudely and abruptly gets up and walks out.
Lee Soon strides through the Palace and orders that all his servants stay back and leave him alone.
Lee Soon rushes to the laundry department only to find Ok Jung in the washing pit picking up clothes in the rain. He walks to the edge and demands to know what she is doing? She tells him that he cannot be here because this is where she works. He asks why she refuses to accept him when she knows he is the King. Why did she come to find Lee Soon but now pushes him away? He laughs wryly about how makes up stupid reasons to see her because of this pointless thing called feelings. So will she keep running away with each step he takes towards her?
Ok Jung explains her low birth and says that is not something she can overreach and overcome. Lee Soon says it doesn’t matter about her low birth, he just wants to know how he can get close to her! Ok Jung blows up at him angrily, telling him that she cannot afford to be with the King because that means she will only be discarded one day. He asked why she dares to say he will discard her! She points out that she traveled so far to come to the Palace to find Lee Soon, but as the King he is so far from her reach that all the road she traveled doesn’t even get her close to him. He is the sky and she cannot dare reach for him.
Lee Soon steps into the water pit. He repeats “sky?” as he walks down to her level. If she sees him as the sky and not as a man yet, then she needs to look carefully. He then says “look carefully, because the sky has falling down for you…..” He strides forward and forcefully pulls Ok Jung in for a heated kiss. The camera pulls back and we see poor Prince Dongpyung is standing by the door and has seen this entire moment. Omo!
Ok Jung struggles but Lee Soon keeps on kissing her, until finally she melts into the kiss.
Thoughts of Mine:
JOJ has turned out to be not just a good drama, it’s a drama that engages the senses and mind at the same thing. I’m soaking in the atmosphere and the action watching things unfold, but also filing it away because it either flows from previously developed narrative or will surely be importantly later. This drama doesn’t have a moment of repetition or a “history repeats itself” onus of fate. This is about choices, and when one doesn’t have much of a choice (Lee Soon, Ok Jung, to name a few), then they make things happen by sheer willpower alone. I really appreciated how the drama treated the Prince Boksun and Noron coup, because it wasn’t a shameful act to seize power but rather a fuck-you against the Heavens who decree one is the chosen ruler while everyone else is at his mercy. It was reassuring that Lee Soon kept seeing his dead uncle’s angry ghost around, because there is a heavy price to pay for killing kin and if he could rest easy then I would be very afraid for Ok Jung to fall even deeper in love with him. He is ruthless but not heartless, which is further evidenced by his genuine despair, anguish, and guilt with In Kyung’s passing. Lee Soon is worthy to be King because he understands how to balance all the varying burdens on his shoulders, and he is worthy of having Ok Jung in his life because he still has a heart that longs for the woman he loves.
I keep worrying for Ok Jung’s fate in the Palace because we all know the more interest Lee Soon shows in her the greater danger she will be in. Part of me loves her so much I would rather Prince Dongpyung take her away from the snake pit and they could live as a happy carefree couple since he isn’t vying for power. But that is not the way the heart works, and Ok Jung clearly has fallen in love with Lee Soon. And my heart also goes out to Lee Soon, desperately lonely and exhausted being at the top of the world, wanting only Ok Jung but she is not someone who he can easily have. If she was a noble woman then he could have made her his consort easily, but being the daughter of a slave she is soooo far beneath him it’s not even conscionable in Joseon society for him to touch her much less marry her. That is the hurdle before them, that and a certain power-minded Minister Min who will do anything to maintain his top dog status in the Joseon court. I’m looking forward to the dueling war of wits between Jang Hyun-Minister Min, Great Dowager Queen Jo-Dowager Queen Kim, Jang Heebin Ok Jung-Queen In Kyung, and likely King Sukjing Lee Soon-Chi Soo. This is a game of life and love where each side will take turns having the advantage, but as the viewer watching two equally matched opponent factions battle it out is the thrilling journey JOJ is taking us on.