Oh, my heart! Jang Ok Jung: Live for Love is done. It was a hell of a love story and Kim Tae-hee and Yoo Ah-in did a hell of a job. And… wow. So many tears and yet so much satisfaction. Definitely an addictive, romance-filled (to the brim!), watch.
And… okay everything I’m about to say will spoil everything… AKA: Spoilers below…
I loved, loved, loved that it was Ok-jung’s choice to come back to the palace and take the poison. I mean, I obviously wish there’d been another way out. But she’d never allow Lee Soon to sacrifice his throne for her. She loved him too much and he was too good a king. That was foreshadowed when Lee Soon was near death and Chi-soo first rescued her. She returned to the palace, despite the danger, because she’d chosen to be by Lee Soon’s side and by his side she would stay.
That strength of character is the reason Lee Soon fell in love with Ok-jung in the first place. So I knew that running away was just not in her nature. But, in choosing to come back it turned the execution around. It became a declaration on Ok-jung’s part, of her love for Lee Soon and their son, rather than the repudiation the retainers were hoping it would be.
I also loved that Lee Soon was prepared to (and effectively did) sacrifice his throne for Ok-jung. (He didn’t expect her to return; as far as he was concerned, his reign was over.) It showed the depth of his love for Ok-jung, that in the end she was more important than his status. It showed that what he’d said to Prince Dong Pyung at the very beginning — that’d he’d give up his throne for her — was true. He never did let go of her hand.
Which leads me to… Oh my Prince Dong Pyung!!! His reaction to the whole debacle was the most heart-wrenching part for me. When he takes the poison from the kitchen maid to give to Ok-jung? Tears! Tears, streaming down my face! To see him so shattered and yet doing whatever he could to make sure Ok-jung was treated with love in her last moments… Gah, I’m tearing up right now just writing about it.
So that part of the story — the love story of Ok-jung and Lee Soon was fabulous. She dies in his arms, knowing he loves her. He knows she loves him. It’s tragic, but not bitter. Sad, but almost reaffirming — in that it shows a love that deep can exist.
I also really liked the final notes between Ok-jung and In-hyun. I’d always felt like, in different circumstances, those two could have been friends. I’d even say that, if the Dowager Queen Mother had just stepped back, let her foolish pride and petty politics go (or, you know, died a lot earlier), their friendship might have happened within the palace. Neither women were cruel connivers at heart and I wish they’d been allowed to develop their relationship without politics getting in the way.
But! I was happy they had good moments towards the end. I can buy that, newly restored and victorious, In-hyun would be graceful and allow herself to be kind. I’m cynical enough to think it wouldn’t have lasted. Politics would have reared its head and pressures would be brought to drive Ok-jung out. (Though I’d like to think that, on her own, In-hyun would have handled things better.) But for that brief window… yeah, I can see it.
Jae Hee fans will most likely be disappointed by the light touch his character had on the story. The way the story developed, Chi-soo was very much a background character. The love between Ok-jung and Lee Soon was so strong right out of the gate — there wasn’t room for a love-triangle. There wasn’t a plot need either. The challenge of a commoner loving a king was plot-stirring enough.
That said, I liked Chi-soo’s use as the means of rescue for Ok-jung. And I liked his moment where he decides to show his love for her by honoring her love for Lee Soon and returning her to the palace. It was a nice noble note. What I didn’t like so much is tied to what I didn’t like over-all with the drama. And that’s his involvement with Choi Suk Won.
Choi Suk Won is a problem I just cannot solve. Within the drama’s framework she’s fine. The amoral street-kid willing to do anything and everything to get what she wants makes for a good villain. The steps she took to get rid of Ok-jung were in-character and believable (taking advantage of circumstances is what she excelled at). But there is no way, no way she lives on in the palace after that. Let alone becoming companion to Lee Soon, mother of his children, and future mother of the King.
After Ok-jung’s death she’d have Lee Soon, Chi-soo and Prince Dong Pyung all out to get her. Lee Soon would never trust her with his son — not after she put so much effort into killing Ok-jung. And her political support would be shaky. As Ok-jung pointed out, she’s of even lower class than Ok-jung and plenty of those retainers would have plenty of daughters to take on the role of queen. Choi Suk Won is crafty and cunning — but I cannot see her taking on that many foes and emerging so victorious.
If she were a fictional character I’d be fine because I’d figure her fall was eminent. (Though a brief epilogue saying as much would be nice.) But because she’s a historical figure, and because I know her history is a good one, I just can’t make her fit. I wish the writers had used a completely fictional character to fill the unexpected villain role (In-hyun’s chief maid might have done — she certainly hated Ok-jung) and either have Choi Suk Won, the historical figure, show up in a brief cameo at the end, or just not mentioned at all.
Or, have her be far more sympathetic to Ok-jung — really treating Ok-jung as a role-model and teacher. Then they could have had it seem like her caring for Lee Soon later was being done for Ok-jung, not to spite her.
But! That’s a fairly slight bobble. It’s a side story and I can kind of tuck it out of sight. On the whole, I really enjoyed this drama. It was an emotional roller coaster, and there were some flaws, but the core love-story was really, really well told. So, through my many, many tears, I was happy.