I am so deeply, deeply in love with Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love. It’s like the drama creators looked into my heart and put all of my favorite things on screen, just for me. The sheer amount of flirty-flirty Crown Prince Lee Soon and Ok-jung get up to… I loves it!
Spoilers through ep. 4 below:
There’s flirty-flirty in a library (a library! love amongst book-love! oh show, have you been reading my diary?), flirty-flirty at a party, flirty-flirty in a washroom (much more romantic than it sounds — an open space filled with the flutterings of rich, colorful fabrics), flirty-flirty over swordplay, flirty-flirty in the woods… And both Kim Tae-hee and Yoo Ah-in are bringing their chemistry-creating A-game to their scenes. My computer screen melts whenever they make eye-contact.
I adore a good romance. Honestly, part of the reason I’ve fallen so hard for K-dramas is that they do romance so well. And Jang Ok Jung is bringing the romance in spades. Every time Lee Soon and Ok-jung cross paths they meet cute. He’s rescued her in a variety of ways, from snooty party-goers to dangerous bandits. And she’s challenged his assumptions and wrong-footed him in turn. So it’s adorableness and gallantry, banter and sexual tension galore. All of the stuff I eat up with a spoon.
But! It’s not just a string of encounters between two star-crossed lovers — a self-indulgent repeating of romance-tropes. There is a strong story at work here. Both Lee Soon and Ok-jung are trapped in the confines of their station. And both are making a mighty struggle to break free. (I think that frustration and that struggle are what they both see and respond to in the other.) And I’m also adoring how cleverly the narrative is unfolding the intrigue and power plays underway.
Ok-jung wants to free her mother from slavery and free herself from her Uncle Jang’s clutches. Lee Soon wants to free the throne from Lord Min’s control (and corruption in general) and rule in a way that benefits his people. But Uncle Jang and Lord Min are formidable foes. And they each have their own agenda. Agenda’s that aren’t necessarily focused on our two main characters, but definitely require their being good little puppets.
Much of the power plays revolve around who will become Lee Soon’s wife. So our main’s aren’t the only puppets being played. And I also adore that the women coming in as possible brides are fully realized characters in their own rights. (I love that In-hyun seems a truly good and principled person, despite her corrupt father.) That’s the reason I’m getting feminist-vibes from the storyline. The sisters aren’t really doing it for themselves (to misquote the famous song); it’s the Joseon era after all and their choices are severely limited. But they’re thinking for themselves — and I can see their thoughts and principles and desires shaking the strings of the men controlling them. (Certainly In-kyung nudged her father into accepting Lee Soon’s proposal, helping to cause the repercussions that decision will make.)
Though, Ok-jung is fighting really, really hard to push the limits of her choices. In many ways she’s a modern heroine trapped in the past. But without the time-traveler’s knowledge that things will actually get better. Which makes her struggle that much more challenging and pathos-filled.
I am beyond eager to see the next episode. If this were a completed series I’d be forgoing sleep to watch it in its entire. As of right now, Jang Ok Jung owns my heart and I love it almost beyond the telling. The only question is how many times will I rewatch the episodes I do have before ep. 5 comes out?
(Super good news! The show is being recapped! Check out Koala’s Playground for her recaps.)