In a completely different turn of events from my previous post… Oh my gosh I’m loving Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love! (Not the title, though. It’s a bit awkward.) We get an adorable and painful and character-trajectory-creating backstory and I am now so, so invested in both Ok-jung and Crown Prince Lee Soon and I’d really like them both to have a happily ever after but — *sigh* –history.
But still! Their initial meeting is so adorable (they’re both after “dirty” books — but for vastly different reasons) and he’s impressed with her gumption but also his glimpse of her *gasp* collar-bone, and she’s mainly impressed with his being interested in her (from what I can tell — because of her loneliness) but also his awkward heroics. They wind up in the middle of a street riot and his efforts to pull her out of harm’s way lead to a cute almost-dance.
And I like that though we have the two meeting young (fate!) they don’t fall into the sudden and deeply pure love of the usual sort. That’s shown when they go through the “cruelly torn apart” phase of the “meet young” handbook.
It’s less cruel, cruel fate and more his responsibilities as Crown Prince rearing their ugly heads. His clash with the ministers was so, so compelling (I can see the reason he’ll be setting them all against each other in the future — per my quick Wikipedia search) and sets up the future clashes to come, a taste of which we got in the first episode. But I can also see how it drove all thoughts of the girl he’d been crushing on from his mind. Especially since he fell into a fever afterwards.
On the other hand, I can understand why Ok-jung felt compelled to wait for him. It wasn’t the faith of a pure love, it was her desire to raise her above her common-status and her hope that he could maybe do that for her. Or maybe a slightly purer hope that she’d met someone who wouldn’t care about her status? Either way, I liked that they both wanted something from the other — not in a bad or low way, but in a human, complex way.
That complexity carries through with the villains of the piece as well. Ok-jung’s uncle, Mr. Jang, is driven by motives that seem understandable — revenge for his dead daughter. But his methods are really, really wrong. He causes the street-riot (going against the commoners). And he eventually causes the death of Ok-jung’s awesome protecter and teacher, Lady Kang. (So, so cool that the teacher-figure was female, by the way — more on that below.) So he’s not really one to cheer for.
Then there’s Minister Min (Queen Inhyun’s father), who I really didn’t like because he humiliates the Crown Prince (and enjoys it) and tortured an innocent court lady for political gain and seems to want a war… but who stopped the riot Mr. Jang started and seemed to actually be on the common-man’s side. But then pulled out an extreme “elite” card to humiliate Mr. Jang. Which meant my loyalties switched sides like a dozen times in that scene and I was deliciously, deliciously confused about who I wanted to win that face-off. Or whose side I should eventually be on.
Really, I think, the answer is neither. They are neither of them deserving, but I can’t see anyone — not even the Crown Prince — being able to take on both at the same time. But which devil do you choose? And that is the question I adore and that I adore the show for tackling. I presume it’s the choice the Crown Prince is going to have to make as he chooses between the women each man backs.
So we’ve got the political battling of two (apparently equally) ruthless and cruel men, the Crown Prince standing in between them as their goal — but with a mind and goals of his own, and the female characters getting set up as the pawns I suspect they were in history. But the backstory tells us the Crown Prince is well aware of the battle and the method and has some moves of his own in mind. And — most compellingly for me — it tells us that Jang Ok-jung is aware of the game as well.
But the reason I find that so compelling is I think she’d prefer to not play their game. That, if she plays at all (which — obviously she’s going to be playing) it’ll be with totally different goals. So the drama is asking us to take her seriously as a person, not a pawn. Which, combined with her teacher being a self-employed woman who mentors Ok-jung on what she needs to stand on her own, has me leaning, cautiously (oh, so, so cautiously) towards taking this in as a very female-friendly tale. Maybe even a feminist one. Crazy talk? That’s what I’m eager to find out.