Sungkyunkwan Scandal (Reaction post!)

trouble makersSuch a sweet, summery show! It really is a Disney take on a sageuk drama but, as it’s my third time watching, it obviously really works for me. Sure, the dangerous elements might not have had the sharpest teeth — but the teeth were still there. Which meant our characters had to truly earn their victories. Plus! The delightful scattering of steampunk elements! Not at all historically accurate (I’m sure) but just believable enough to accept. (An example: the “radio broadcast” of the big archery tournament via clever use of tin-cans and string.)  [Spoilers for everything below….]

Another thing I liked: Song Joong-ki. He’d pinged me as a promising actor when I’d first seen Sungkyungkwan Scandal (me and the rest of the world, right?). But doing the re-watch it really struck me how well he made use of every moment given him.

In many ways Gu Yong-ha is a gift of a character. Such a delightfully mischievous and campy role is made to be an audience favorite and Song Joong-ki milked it perfectly. Knows it allThe twirling entrances (to better show off his stunning wardrobe), the cheeky winks, being the guy who pretty much knows it all and sees the fun in it… Song Joong-ki was enjoying himself and we got to enjoy ourselves with him.

And then there were his interactions with Jae-shin. Obviously the show was setting them up as the era’s epic bromance — that silhouetted closeup of them in kissing distance while they discuss current events weren’t no accident — but again, Song Joong-ki dialed it up delightfully. I strongly suspect some ad-libbing went on. The amount of handsy-ness, for example. Or that one scene when they were ducking through a doorway and Yong-ha coos at Jae-shin to watch his head (like an overindulgent mother with her most precious child). bromanceIt was adorable and perfect and added delightful sprinkles of humor to their various scenes — even when they’re just hanging out in the background.

(Yoo Ah-in played a large part in all that, of course. But he had the less noticeable job of playing the straightman — the role that generally only gets noticed if you do it wrong. And he did it very well, giving Song Joong-ki a solid surface to play against. But I feel like it was Song Joong-ki’s choice to ham it up as much as he did. And he balanced the silly with the sweet really, really well.)

But what really stuck out to me were those few scenes when things got real and Yong-ha dropped the frivolity to show the real (cynical and scared and angry) man beneath it all. zinger landedWhen he chides Sun-joon for getting out of his hazing — there’s a palpable sense of contempt towards coddled boys, ignorantly protected by their fathers’ status. Or when he faces his fellow students after they’ve learned his family secret. Or that awesome reaction shot when he realizes the Student-body President knows Kim Yoon-shik’s secret.

Song Joong-ki gave Yong-ha so much more depth than a lesser actor would have done. And in turn, that gave the show a lot more depth. It was a Disney-safe world, but there was enough badness to it to have wounded Yong-ha, enough to scare him. Which made his (and his fellow Jal-geum Quartet’s) acts of bravery that much more meaningful.

And then there was Yoo Ah-in. He had a much more restrained role to play, but I think he made a clever character-choice with Jae-shin and it served him really well throughout the drama. Sleepy TigerHe gave Jae-shin a surface laziness (like even talking was an effort and he was kind of pissed people were making him do it) combined with this hidden watchfulness. It made me think of a tiger in the sun. Yeah, he looks like moving is an impossibility, but poke him and you’ll learn different. It gave Yoo Ah-in a lot of range to play with. And it meant  that when he did let his emotions out (like with his father, or when he was screaming at Professor Jung to tell them everything was okay, that the king would protect Yoon-shik) they made a real impact. Again — adding depth and a sense of danger to an otherwise unrealistically safe world.

HyungAnd he was incredibly sweet with Kim Yoon-shik. Very much an older brother, even after he realized she was a girl and began to crush on her. (Actually, I really loved how Jae-shin took Yoon-shik under his wing, while Yong-ha took charge of Sun-joon. It was all kinds of adorable and warm and sweet.) It meant that I didn’t feel too much pain that the love-triangle wasn’t going his way. Because he and Yoon-shik had their own relationship and it could easily transfer into a platonic one.

Plus, Yoon-shik and Sun-joon were so completely perfect for each other! And the show built up their relationship perfectly, without wallowing in unnecessary or borrowed trouble just for the sake of dramatics. True LoveIt was actually kind of refreshing how swiftly they moved from enemies to besties to confusing crush to one-true-love. Each step was earned, of course. But they were both so trusting of and honest to each other. (The big “I’m really a girl!” secret aside. And even then, Sun-joon totally understood why Yoon-shik lied. Because he wasn’t a moron.)

My one single solitary complaint — and it’s just a small bug, really — was Jeon Tae-soo‘s portrayal of Student-body President, Ha In-soo. For a surface villain, he was perfect with his fifty-shades-of-glare acting choice. But when the end comes and he suddenly goes against his father to stand with his (apparently) one-true-love Cho-sun… Even when I knew it was coming I didn’t fully believe it.

glare1

In-soo: chatting about his new puppy

I never felt In-soo’s love for Cho-sun. I honestly didn’t get the sense that he loved anyone. There just didn’t seem to be those kinds of emotions lurking beneath In-soo’s angry-face because he never seemed to drop that mask. Which made me feel like it wasn’t a mask, even though I could tell the show was trying to drop a few hints here and there.

glare3

In-soo: Enjoying a delicious beverage

One such scene is when In-soo flubs his final shots and Yoon-shik wins the archery competition. In-soo looks furious and yet there’s that single tear. Logically, the only explanation was he was doing it because Cho-sun wanted Yoon-shik to win. So it was a selfless act of love — or at least, should have hinted towards him feeling those emotions. But all I got from him was frustration and fury. Or when he reminisces about his first sight of Cho-sun (after she’d made one of those awesome insults that don’t register as an insult until a few seconds later). He sounded so wooden it was hard for me to understand what emotion he was supposed to be feeling. Though I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be another hint that his love for Cho-sun was real.

glare2

In-soo: Just learned he’s going to Disney World!

It’s too bad because a villain with a secretly squishy heart is a particular weak spot of mine. So I see it as a missed opportunity and I wonder how the character would have come across if an actor with more range — like Yoo Yeon-seok — had played the role. But! In-soo did make for a lovely villain and so it certainly didn’t ruin the show or anything.

[Caveat: This is the only thing I’ve seen Jeon Tae-soo in. He may have been badly directed. He may have been really green. So I’m not saying he’s a terrible actor, just… he could have done better.]

Troublemakers squaredBut, other than that, I think the drama did its job well. I even liked the ending — that the gang is all still in the capital, each doing their thing but — I’m positive! — hanging out at Sun-joon’s and Yoon-shik’s home, ready to spring into action if their king needs them. (I was okay with Yoon-hee remaining hidden behind her brother’s name. It would have been a bridge too far for me if suddenly the Joseon era repudiated their Neo-Confucian social norms. That so many of the characters were willing to change their thinking… that was enough for me.)

If I ever made a top ten list, I suspect Sungkyunkwan Scandal would be on it.

… Okay — two more pics because, really:

Could Jae-shin be any sweeter?
Sweet Jae-shin

Or could Yong-ha be any more fabulous?

YongHa Fabulous

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8 thoughts on “Sungkyunkwan Scandal (Reaction post!)

    • It was so fun to rewatch and see how they just did everything right. Maintained their mood, carefully escalated the challenges, kept the pace moving… such a good, fun, heart-warming drama.

  1. OMG paragraphs after paragraphs detailing the awesomeness of SJK as Yong-ha? Betsy, I love youuuu hahahaha. Totally spot on and you did him so much justice! I absolutely loved YAI’s take as Jae-shik too, but I agree with you that SJK acted the hell out of an otherwise possibly 2D character.

    • Hee! Let me tell you about all the pic’s I didn’t post. 😉 Because he seriously rocked the role and I screen-capped like mad.

      It’s funny, though — I didn’t fully appreciate how well Song Joong-ki did here until after seeing him in Tree with Deep Roots. He was so good in that, with such a meaty role to sink his teeth into, that it underlined how much he did with Yong-ha, who, as you say, could have easily become 2D. (Yoo Ah-in, though… him I managed to full on recognize. :P)

  2. Lovely, fun read! 😀 I didn’t realize this was your 3rd watch of SKKS! That’s some serious drama love right there.. Or would that be Song Joong Ki love..? ;D Coz I sooo agree that SJK was delightful in this!

    I hafta agree too, about In Soo being played rather 2D.. I wasn’t too sure about that scene too, where he flubbed the archery contest. Or.. maybe it was meant to be ambiguous?

    I loved this so much on my 2nd watch that I have plans to write a review for it. Hopefully I won’t take as long to finish that up as I did with my Heirs review! XD

    • Hee! I strongly suspect you’ll have an easier time writing about a drama that actually has something worth saying about it! 😉 (Though you managed to find things with Heirs — I tip my hat.)

      As to Sung Joong-ki…okay — this is where I launch into an over-explanation — so prepare yourself! 😉

      SKKS was, I’m pretty sure, the 4th drama I ever watched and the first I found through recommendations rather than following a cute actor. (Started with Boys over Flowers, went on to Personal Preference and Playful Kiss.) And most importantly — it was the first drama I thought my husband might enjoy. And he did! So those were my first two watches — pretty much one right after the other.

      With Song Joong-ki — I definitely picked up that he had some acting chops via those few powerful scenes. But it wasn’t until Tree with Deep Roots that I fully comprehended his talent. Watching SKKS a third time, I kept a much more informed eye on Song Joong-ki (whereas previously I might have been a little Yoo Ah-in distracted 😉 ) and realized how much he brought to the role. How easily Yong-ha could have sunk into an amusing, but not nearly as touching, campy sort of role.

      And then there was In-soo… Yeah, the flubbed shot. Other than that single tear all I read from him in that scene is anger. Though I suspect we were supposed to get something a bit more complex. What really underlined the lack of complexity or depth to his thing with Cho-sun, for me, was the very few, very brief scenes she has with Jae-shin.

      Yoo Ah-in brought some complexity to those interactions just by adding a small amount of concern to his caution. She was dangerous, but Jae-shin had that big-brother instinct (and I think Yoo Ah-in could create chemistry between himself and a wall if asked), and I was tons more intrigued by the possibilities of their interactions. Though I could tell — especially knowing it was coming — that the story was putting in hints with In-soo.

      • Omo!! My experience with Song Joong Ki was similar to yours, Betsy! 😀 On my first watch of SKKS, I was TOTALLY Yoo Ah In distracted. All that Crazy Horse swagger had me completely mesmerized, and so while I was technically aware that SJK was quite delightful, I didn’t really take a whole lotta notice. My bandwidth was all Crazy-Horse-occupied 😛 And then I watched Tree and was completely blown away by SJK’s intensity and awesome delivery. And so, this watch, I appreciated him all the more. The wonderful fun nuances he gave Yong Ha, along with the substance beneath the Pretty. So. Good. 😀

        I believe you’re totally right about the flubbed shot – that it was supposed to mean more, just that Jeon Tae Soo didn’t manage to deliver the kind of nuance that the moment intended. Which is a pity. Coz though he glowered quite well, that’s all he amounted to, in the end. A glowering, angry not-one-of-the-good-guys.

        • Yoo Ah-in definitely brought the sexy. (Or we can call it swagger, too. 😛 ) But Song Joong-ki… he just dove in and did his job so perfectly it was hard to be aware he was working. That was just Yong-ha, up there on the screen, being his fabulous self. And now I’m sad realizing he’s tucked away in the army and we won’t see anything of his for two long years. 😦

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