The new year snuck up on me and so did MBC sageuk drama The Red Sleeve Cuff ending this weekend. Like, so soon? The drama was extended by 1 episode so ended with a total of 17-episodes, which adds to the standard worry that it will end draggy anytime there is an extension to a hit drama to milk out the viewership. I can now report that, according to K-viewers, the drama ended as strongly as it started off. They are calling it “Dragon head and Dragon tail” as opposed to the normal complaint of “Dragon head and Snake tail” for when something starts off strong and peters to a middling conclusion. The plot isn’t anything to spoil as the drama planned to tell the story of Lee Jeongjo Yi San and his romance with real life Consort Ui Deok Im and history tells what happens to their love story and life together. From the success of this drama hopefully it continues to bring back more viewers in 2022 to prime time network television. The final two episodes brought in ratings of 17.0% and 17.4% so great start to year for MBC. Hopefully it builds on this momentum and produces more dramas in 2022.
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Bawled my eyes out watching ep 17, haven’t shed so.much tears over a drama ending since Bu Bu Jing Xin and Uncontrollably Fond.
One of the best drama this year, strong acting and characterization, tight and nuaced writing, good directing and beautiful cinematography.
Oh f********ck. BBJX and Uncontrollably Fond are two dramas that I have cried so much over that I needed to be re-hydrated just to survive.
I still cannot EVER re-watch BBJX, but whenever I need to cry and cry and love Kim Woo Bin some more I re-watch the last two episodes of UF. And without fail I end up crying so much I need to be tucked into bed after.
I don’t think I can finish Red Sleeve now, older me doesn’t have as much endurance…..
Nevertheless, thank you for the lovely review @madqueen!
You should. I am a fluffy rom com viewer who dislike saguek.
But this is a very writen tale. Acting is intense. The side characters are memorable.
One of the best saguek I’ve watch and I hate blood- filled sagueks so if you exclude those… this drama left me a very satisfied viewer.
My heart might be broken for the real King. Vs Junho. But the drama is worth watching. Vs some of the crap around.
I know where you come from. I am someone who avoids sad endings to spare myself the pain. But its like missing out on A Walk To Remember because of the ending. The journey is so beautiful no matter how painful the ending is. I recommend that you watch it and stop at epsiode 16 and consider that the end. It will be wholesome if you want to avoid the tears that will follow.
And thanks for your blog posts over the years. It was your posts that got me started on Lie to Me, King 2 Hearts, BBJX and some other dramas that I love.
Do try finishing Red Sleeve… it’s ending reminds me so much of BBJX. The love that was so intense and also flawed in a way that makes me wonder if the OTP would be happier if they never got together at all.
I so agree with you. I cried a lot at the last episode. What a way to start a year. Lol This drama is very well executed. Kudos to the production team and the casts. Salute to the acting of the MLs. Both were thespians! I hope to see them. Acting together soon
Me too @madqueen, i haven’t cry so much since ages over a drama . It was to the point that i could’t even sleep . It stills lingering and i need to watch a comedy as soon as possible . I tend to avoid sad endings because of a chronic depression . But i couldn’t helped to watch this beautiful drama . It was a masterpiece for me .
I cried a river on epi 17. This is a a lovely drama. Very well executed!
YAY! So ecstatic for the cast and crew! Although the writing went to hell for some of it, I still enjoyed the drama overall. And that beautiful but bittersweet ending??? ? LSY was most luminous in the last two episodes. Her scenes just cut to the bone. Geezus. I’m rooting for ALL of them at the next Baeksang. ALL of them.
Man, when will MBC see such high ratings again? Also, now that Red Sleeve has left the Fri-Sat race, I wonder which of the other dramas will take the lead in the ratings battle? ?
Anyways, I’m looking forward to the cast fulfilling their over 15% ratings promises. Congratulations!
Congratulations to our underdog! The saving grace of MBC! It started with ratings lower than the other drama but soon enough the viewers were drawn to it and it kicked off better than most thought it would. We got bashed and belittled many times, now we have the last laugh and multiple awards whereas the other one’s ratings keep reaching a new low. Nothing beats quality! Now off the cast go to their well deserved vacation!
The Red Sleeve is the proof with solid writing, directing and acting a drama can bring in the viewers since they will recognize its quality.
Maybe for a sageuk but sadly, On the Verge of Insanity had all three and the viewers didn’t notice.
@Mimi if it may you less sad, know that I love OTVOI. It was a great drama . And it was a shame that it wasn’t watched .
Cried my heart out but it’s satisfying. It does reminds me of BBJX ending when you can see that they can’t win against fate but they were happy and now they are happy with each other.
I think adding ep 17 is a blessing because if you feel so sad you can go back to episode 16 and feels the love. I feel like I understand them and wish them all the best.
I like how Kdrama find their footing in sad ending without being weird, one of gem after Queen for Seven Days.
I have never cried this much for any drama. Like even after being prepared for the ending given the history, it was still so painful to see it live. I am dealing with withdrawal symptoms as we speak. The acting directing, music score, production team, everyone were just amazing. The writer messed up the pacing but people let it pass because the rest of the stuffs were just perfect.
I wish we could have gotten more episodes so that her life as a concubine and a mother could have been explored even better.
Regardless, over all, it was worth my time. Was not interested much in sageuks but red sleeves one of my all time fav dramas now. I already knew Seyoung but this drama introduced me to Junho. And i am thankful for that. He is indeed a good actor.
Mbc finally hit the jackpot. This is their first drama in 6 years to cross 15 pc ratings.
If MBC were smart and didn’t air 2 episodes back to back that too on 2 days, the ratings could have been even higher.
Yesterday epi 17 ended at 1: 00 am in Korea. People were wide awake just to watch the finale thus helping in achieving the finale ratings.
As for the drama just like everyone said, it was a cryfest. The ending was bittersweet but satisfactory which made me forget some of the questionable moves of the writer
Cannot imagine that Red Sleeve is also the script work of Ruler Master of the Mask writer. Both have same high ratings. The difference only is that the former’s high ratings is due to script quality while the latter is due to beloved top grown up child actor and actress.
Isn’t Park Hye Jin the writer of Ruler Master of the Mask while RS is written by Jung Hae Ri?
Gosh the last episode is really sad
Honestly can some one enlighten me- do you think she ever loved him? For me, it felt really one sided.
Sure she likes him and was attracted to him
But love…? If given a chance to leave, she would have gone with no regrets. And her parting words to him about in another life.. how she will wish he would.. (I won’t elaborate but those who watched know) – i mean I could literally hear the king heart broke into pieces
i like the drama but this OTP I never felt that the love was conquering all and like there’s no way death or life will take that away. I understand the difficulties of the era and the situation they are in.. yet I contrast this with 7 days queen and trust me I cried buckets with that too – although that OTP were also torn apart but you know for sure both loved each other to the end and would have waited for each other if there was an afterlife or anything close to it.
For this drama, I really don’t know – actually if there’s an afterlife she would have been there for her friends but the king .. maybe not. Given a chance to live her life again, I believed she would have left him.
She surely loved him, but loved herself more. Eventually she gave in to him but I do not believe so willingly. The circumstances were against her living the life she wanted and it became more convenient to live the life he wanted her to live. Yet she can never achieve happiness, because by loving him, she lost herself.
Their love story was flawed but it actually showed the trials and tribulations faced by women in 18th century. One of the reasons why red sleeve is being loved so much in sk is because it threw in some pinch of realism to its plot unlike some fusion sageuks whose characters mostly act like a modern day people. No matter how deep their love was the division in society based on class and gender always prevailed.
If you remember, the drama/novel’s main theme was “The King Loved the court lady ,but did the court lady love the king?”. Tbh there are enough historical proofs regarding Jeongjo’s love for uibin . His epitaph written on her tomb is one of those . However no one knows what actual Uibin felt. Thus the author of the og novel made a story out of this to try to imagine their life based on Uibin’s pov.
Even in the drama there is a line by the 2nd lead that says”who cares abt a court lady’s feelings”. That’s why deok Im’s feelings may appear vague to many people.
Now ,coming back to ur question. Imo , she did love him. It’s just that she also wanted to be her own person and not just exist as the king’s woman.
The king gave her a chance during their first night that he would let her go. Although she didn’t want to be his concubine as she would have to change her life for him, but she couldn’t bear to not see him for the rest of his life. It was a tough choice but she chose to stay.
During the death scene ,she asked him to pretend to not know her in their next life . I guess this was based on her belief “if i can’t have it all for myself, i would rather not want it”. She was his person but he wasn’t hers. This was the thing that bugged her most.
And then finally when he asked her if she never loved him. Her answer was, “if that was the case i would have ran away already”. Even her friend years later on told the king that she indeed loved him and everything else was just her bravado.
Now in the ending scene, we can see that deok im asked him to go and fulfill his duty.(It is believed that eunuchs used to call the kings to come back to life 3 times when they die. Deok im also asked him 3 times to go back). But this time he chose her over his country. Many people believe it was their after life and that Deok Im waited for him . She finally accepted him wholeheartedly cause this time it was just the two of them , not a king and his concubine, just like she always wanted .
Hope this helped. Phew.
I feel she accepted to stay in his last proposal to let her go was simply due to circumstances plus that she also liked him a lot that she wouldn’t want not to see him ever again. I use like because love is not like that. She obviously love her friends and would go hell and earth for them but with him; it was always a little restrained, a little not here nor there. Now that you mentioned that the theme was “the king loved the court lady, did the court lady loved him” then I’ll say they nailed it perfectly – because honestly it was never absolute.
I just felt they never had that connection
He respected her yes – but in the scene when she asked if what they would be if they were just commoners. I feel her disappointment. This would have been her dream, I bet you that if she have met a commoner that had his personality (and looks let’s be shallow lol), she will have pursued this love a little more solidly. In fact her friend demonstrated this – the courage to love and make her choice, be happy in that decision even if the price was to die.
Deok Im was never like that towards the king
It was always a little of affection, pity, attraction and loyalty all mixed up together
The sad thing is I think he knows that.
She alluded to loving him yet loving herself more, with her conversation with CL Seo. And even as a child she would choose to live against all odds than to die unnecesarily or live harshly.
And With her dynamic with San, she knows that he is King first before Man. And she knows serving the king would be a better and safer choice for her, than loving the man who is primarily king.
In this way, She is unlike other FL who are perpetuated by Love, DI as a FL that is characterized by choices. So between a choice of herself and San, she choose herself. Between love and life, she choose a life that is well lived.
But there were many times that when San proposed, there were glimpses of hesitation in DI part, that is most likely her being swayed a little cause she does like/love him. But she immediately bottles that love up, and time and time again choose herself.
The nearest moment that she was probably express/say her love for him was when she found out she was pregnant and she was waiting for him. That was the part where They will finally ‘become a family’. She nost likely was thinking to give San that yellow fragrant pouch that she made with San’s sisters. That pouch was probably her telling him in a way, that the family they were making aka the love that they have. But sadly San decides to go to the queen, because he is king first. That was her reality check, thus she bottle her feeling yet again…
She does love him, fiercly and heartwrenchingly, but it withered her. Cause not all love conqueres all..
I felt like tearing up reading it. Thanks for making it more clear.?
I liked that he went to the queen. I thought it was actually a very compassionate thing to do to a woman who was unable to have children. Apparently, in real life, DI was friends with the queen. I think it is unfortunate that the drama didn’t include her in the story and show that women didn’t have to be having cat fights behind the scenes 24/7.
she did love him but didnt express it in front of him like he did… if she wanted she could have chosen to continue as a court lady at the expense of never seeing him again… he was ready to fully let her go but she held on to him at the end… that’s when he consummated their relationship… her way of showing her love was sacrificing the little bit of freedom she had as a court lady but she was afraid that if she fully gives into him and if he drifts apart from her after a while she wont be able to handle herself… so she never confessed her true feelings to him…
AMAZING AMAZING AMAZIIING. I started watching this drama simply because I thought I didn’t have anything else to watch. I liked Lee Se Young from Doctor John and had 0 expectations for Lee JunHo because I didn’t know him and didn’t see any of his dramas before. I was BLOWN AWAY.. by everything. The story, writing, dialogues, direction, cinematography, pace… i can list every little detail and say it was perfect. Was there one thing I didn’t like? The fact that it was so perfect it hurt. This will be a classic for me from now on. Something along Pride and Prejudice. I do not believe I have the nerves to watch it again. It will remain a beautiful memory that will last till eternity just like its ending.
The best thing about this drama is that I got to meet the powerhouse that is Junho, I am sooo happy that Lee Se Young got the recognition she deserves and most importantly that this beautiful masterpiece was directed and written by women.
Forgot to mention ACTING!!!! Mesmerising performances.
You said it all. I did have few problems with the writer because I was following the og novel and thus developed high expectations for the story flow from the drama. But apart from that everything else is perfect.One of the best dramas of 2021 and certainly the best sageuk last year.
Seyoung just blew away my mind in the last 2 episodes. the way she portrayed her conflicting emotions related to her love for jeongjo was just amazing.And Just like you, it’s my first time watching Junho’s acting. I hope he gets a nomination in Baeksang. Winning is difficult because so many factors are contributed. Still a teeny weeny bit of me would still be hoping for him to pull off a Kang Ha neul.
As for Seyoung, hope she gets a nom too. But the competition for best actress is going to be extremely tough.
I’m rooting for Junho and Seyoung at Baeksang. I think Seyoung has a lower chance getting nominated. Park Eun Bin of King’s Affection is there, not to mention Son Ye Jin drama is coming up.
Episode 17 had me bawling the whole time esp the second half where they show the narrative of the remaining life of Yisan. Lee Junho has outdid himself once again. He was nowhere to be found in this drama but Yisan / King Jeongjo. I find Lee Jun-ho to be one of the few k-actors who can fully immerse into the character and I think that what’s making his performance more convincing.
I know Lee Se-young is a good actress and I watched this drama because of her but I was scared as her performance lacks consistency in the first few episodes of the drama, but lucky she found her footing. She was particularly amazing in the finale episodes.
I’ll applaud the direction and writing of this drama ???. For me the ending is one of the most creative ending in kdrama land. The Drama of the Year was well-deserved not just on MBC but in all kdramas of 2021. Well done!
I’m happy for them. A lot of big projects failed and it was the little ones who successed this year.
But for story, I didn’t feel anything in these last 2 episodes. I think they should have chosen a 20 episodes format because the flow of the story was bad. I didn’t have time to care about their love story or their son, they were already gone… Where were her funeral cortege and overall her epitaph? I was expecting the drama will end like it started.
Lee JunHo was really good in this role.
For Lee Se-Young, I didn’t really like her as Deok-Im, but it was a mix between her acting and the writting. I felt they made her too detached from the King or her friends. I can’t really feel for her.
My favourite parts were definetely the ones between the King and the Crown Prince. I really liked how Sado’s shadow always was between them.
the orange pouch – was it for him?
I was wondering why she kept it.
Her belongings after she died in that box were all memories of her early interactions with him. I think this is significant – he probably gifted her more stuff as a concubine but she only kept those pieces of paper. she probably only loved the man who wasn’t king yet but I do believe her love never reached the climax and became more of a resignation or compromise in their marriage life. It’s realistic but hearts out to the king. Honestly when he said “what about me?” When she asked for her friends at the deathbed – I cry you a river sob…
Junho is so good!
He’s going to get lots of offers after this.
Does MBC have any more sageuks planned? They should and not fusion ones either. Sageuks based on historical figures just have a different feel to them.
I hope MBC can keep their ratings up, but looking at their upcoming dramas, I see ratings struggles ahead.
Of the best saguek series in a long time and it kept me on my toes every weekend. Great cast and storyline and the fact that it is a historical drama with real life figures makes it more tragic and moving. I hope there is a sequel in the modern era to continue their heart-renching love story but it probably won’t happen cause it pretty much wrapped it up in the last episode.
So happy The ratings are so high. What great news for MBC. At least some audience will be checking their new dramas after two good dramas. The Red Sleeves and The Veil.
One thing is for sure now it is definitely a year for Sageuks. I guess it’s now safer to say that with sageuk you will get decent ratings and if the story and acting is good, coupled with a strong cast they may even hit the jackpot just the The Red Sleeves.
I love the drama as much as many commentors and audience of the drama. Acting ( by our lovable main leads and the whole team ) and Directing are Brilliant,Perfect.
Which more words of praise can be added !
But the drama weakest link is the Script. The script may take the credit like a good one among many worse plots.
But its quality, dipping in the middle, is undeniable.
Acting definitely saves that weak link.
The first six episodes are interesting and superb.
Then the plot is less interesting when the court lady cult appears .
It takes much time for this cult thing and less screen time for our main couple in those episodes.
( I even considered dropping the show in those episodes,but can’t bear to abandon Junho and Seyoung Acting ).
It should be either Assassination in the Outer Palace or Marinated Crab Manipulation , never both.
The plot is repeated, male lead is in trouble and female lead saves the day.
By taking too much time in the middle, the ending is rushed and not great as I want it to be.
Their interaction with each other as a married couple ,with her friends and their eldest child ,the whole arc is less than described in the novel and not explained well .
We deserve those happy parts after so much heartwrenching .
Also I kind of hoping to see the grandeur funeral of Uibin Seong after the first episode.
Also the whole epitaph thing.
And I never see it.
So for me , the drama is not perfect like my fav ,Bu Bu Jing Xin.
But at the end of the journey, more good memories than the bad one and it has a special place in my heart.
I am so glad to be a part of SanDeok Journey and well ,looking forward to another project of Junho ,Seyoung and Our Director.
The plot aside,
Junho and Seyoung couple chemistry is totally out of charts , they are
like the actual Jeongjo and Uibin Seong.
No wonder many fans are shipping them like they are the reincarnation of our star crossed lovers , haha.
Well , in BBJX ,they made the sequel (and married Nicky Wu and Lu shi Shi ) did ease the pain ).
On the Crazy Side , Junho was attacked by drama fans when he posted a picture with Yoona at Gayo first before posting a picture with Seyoung at MBC award.
Leave the poor man alone .
I mean he is an entertainer. The fans shouldn’t pull So yeji Thing on him.
Saeguks especially traditional ones definitely perform better than some of the modern-day dramas, esp those overhype ones. Looking forward to see more of this genre in 2022.
The best thing about this drama are the story and Lee Junho’s superb acting. Can’t say much about the actress coz im not a fan of her and never find her actractive visually.?
Red Sleeve is my least anticipating drama among sageuks this year.
First , its screenwriter is the same as Ruler:Master of the Mask which made Kim Sohyun dirty.
Second , the idol actor Lee Junho is casted instead of the rumored Kim Kyung Nam.
( Yeah yeah .I know I am shallow. But I have never seen Junho act before and 80 percent of idol acting is not good. )
Third, it is a retelling of Yisan.
Yisan (2007 ) is one of my favorite Classic dramas and I love Lee Seojin and Han Jimin acting in it.I thought no drama could surpass it.
Now I am glad I had given Red Sleeve a chance.
It’s a touching love story ,being told from another angle.
Yisan doesn’t include Uibin continous rejections of Yisan.
Here, I can see the 18 century woman’s struggle between her love and her life and it’s beautiful.
Not to mention I discover Junho Acting .
He is a brilliant actor though he is also an expert singer, dancer and composer in idol industry.
He is amazing talented in both fields , I fall in love with him.
I can’t imagine another two actors in Our Main Leads ,even the original rumored Kim Kyung Nam and his rumored main lady.
KKN can show his acting skill as much as he wants in One and Only.
Thk goodness Junho was cast I cannot imagine Kim as King let alone as Crown Prince. And who was the supposed rumored leading lady? Just out of curiosity.
Park Hye Soo was the rumored leading lady…thanks God, they declined because I wouldn’t even have watched it. Junho and Seyoung was a pairing made in heaven. Chemistry was off the charts! And acting was phenomenal.
I really admire this drama. I don’t know if it’s because of the female writer-director team but this the most feminist sageuk I have seen. A lot of sageuks gloss over how limiting, suffocating and restrictive it was to be a king’s woman in Joseon but this drama was so much more realistic. I also loved all the varied female characters and the female friendships. Well done to everyone involved with the drama!
Lee Junho = a very good actor. He also sings and dances very well. Hope his future is bright! This drama is of great quantity. Love it.
I do not believe that either the king or consort died in episode 17.
My first reason is the clue offered by the drama storyline. Red Sleeve, as taken from the Koreandrama.org description, “is a record of a royal court romance between the king of Joseon who believes his duty is to his country first above love, and a court lady who wants to protect the life she has chosen”. I think the conflict this creates is indisputable and evident in all of the first 16 episodes.
Now also consider that episode 17 is mostly filmed as a stream of consciousness dreamscape, which finds the king reliving as part of a dream many past events from episodes 1 thru 16, as well as new, much darker images.
Many of these events, old and new, have tragic consequences to people having a relationship with the new king. For example, the death of the old king, the death of the king’s consort, the death of their children, one born one not, the death of the friends of the consort, and the death of dowager’s brother, etc.
Episode 17 spans many, many years. But in just the one episode the king ages rapidly, grows a beard from one scene to another, and eventually finds him wearing reading glasses…in aggregate suggesting an unrealistic dream sequence.
Also episode 17 includes many very obvious references with dream-like qualities that, among others, finds the old king (long since dead in an earlier episode) suddenly alive and sitting along a roadside while engaged in a conversation with the new king, and later the new king eating food prepared by one of the consort candidates only to have the consort replaced in a blink of an eye by the then deceased consort that he loved. Such gross inconsistencies are intended to clue the viewer that what they are watching is not reality…but instead a dream.
The brilliant filming of this episode captures the chaotic, turbulent inconsistencies of a dream and is intended to message the consequences of “love” and “relationships” largely ignored, then lost for good. Examples include the deaths of the old king, the consort, the future children, and friends of the consort, etc. And all the while, he excelled in his duty to the nation…at great personal cost. Even one of the king’s ministers complimented him as a great king.
So this is the nature of most of episode 17. Through the use of a dream, the director focuses upon the personal cost of being “a great king”, where he has sacrifices “love” for “duty”. This notion exactly follows the storyline mentioned at the beginning of this message.
The dreamscape aspect of episode 17 finally ends when he wakes up with his head in the lap of his consort…who did not die …(except in his dream).
As expected, upon waking, a relieved king readily wonders if it was all just a dream. But his consort quickly, and repeatedly, suggests rather flatly (and a bit ghost-like) that he is wanted elsewhere, that the others are waiting for him. At this moment, consort’s demeanor is intended to convey (as seen many times in the earlier episodes) her tired resignation to the king’s relentless focus on “duty” over “life”.
So the king agrees that he must return to “duty”, walks to the closed gate, and reaches for the handle…only to pause at the last second. At that moment, he suddenly remembers some of what he experienced in the dream and refuses to open the gate.
Some have incorrectly suggested that the gate represents a barrier between life and death, that he can go back to the world of the living by walking through the gate. But that is not the case. Instead the gate is a barrier between his old way of life of “duty” first and a “new” way of life where “duty” and “love” coexist and are not mutually exclusive. So by staying with the consort and not passing through the gate, the king discards his “old” way of life.
Having made his decision, in the final moments of episode 17, the consort’s demeanor brightens dramatically…. and the king and consort make brief comments about the hope and promise of a new beginning.
I must say that episode 17 is likely the finest episode I have ever seen across 100’s of dramas. It has an enduring, sophisticated message and is extremely well filmed.
Sorry about the long post.