We get to watch Saimdang and Lee Gyum's love story implode rather fantastically for the majority of this episode. In general I don't mind the whole tragic doomed love cliché, but here it comes off as rather weak. More than ever I find myself wondering which of these events are based on actual historical record and which are sheer dramatic embellishment. If Saimdang actually married another guy because her parents were making a socio-political decision, I would have much rather seen that.
Really, I would have accepted just about any explanation except the royalist conspiracy to violently attack poor people begging for food, spurred on by Saimdang's inspiring poetry. Just typing that out makes me acutely aware of just how silly that all sounds. But more than that it's out of place. Class conflict is being broached much better in "Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People" if only because that drama recognizes that the upper classes have material motives to engage in wide-ranged oppression. Whereas in "Saimdang: Light's Diary", King Jungjong (played by Choi Jong-hwan) is just kind of a jerk.
Choi Jong-hwan also plays Ji-yoon's academic nemesis Jeong-hak, and I'm not particularly happy about the creative decision to parallel these characters. The analogy doesn't really make sense, considering how Jeong-hak doesn't have power or position anywhere near in comparison to a king. The guy's just an unscrupulous scholar who cares more about the facts than his own reputation.
Academic politics have much, much lower stakes than statecraft, which is why I'm so principally concerned about where "Saimdang: Light's Diary" is going. Saimdang's main visible output is through her art which, as far as I can tell, speaks to human emotions that go beyond any single era. If she gets too heavily caught up in political conspiracies, Saimdang is less an actual character with agency and more a mere plot token to be shuffled about by other characters.
That gives me uncomfortable flashbacks to "Jang Yeong-sil - Drama", which also had a very strong concept of exploring Joseon from the perspective of a famous person not involved in statecraft...then the production team decided to make the drama about statecraft anyway. It's just such a waste of potential. We can get all the stabbing killing stuff from any old historical drama. Let's hear more about why Saimdang is an important cultural figure, and why her work is still being studied in the modern day. That's the real exciting hook here.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Saimdang: Light's Diary" Episode 4"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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