A prince who felt all alone in life gains a few comrades he can trust in a world saturated with power-hungry people who would do anything to retain that power. He learns that greed can trump the pride of the most upstanding people and that to beat people who work behind the scenes, he has to work in secret himself.
Lee Je-hoon is doing a magnificent job as Crown Prince Lee Seon. He is nuanced as the especially emotive young man who only longs for justice, but finds it very difficult to attain. He is overwhelmed by the keen minds of those who are older and wiser in the political realm. The intricacy of the political schemings in "Secret Door" is engaging and lays the stage for a multitude of character developments, emotional beats, and plot intrigues. All the savage political doings create a lot of misery, which in turn result in tears, brooding, and loneliness. It is the expression of loneliness where "Secret Door" excels. Rather than feeling overbearing like in many K-dramas, the tears and solitary brooding is exceedingly effective. The scenes parallel each other as each character suffers because of a single incident. Seon and Ji-dam feel helpless when they cannot fight the powers that be. The king is saddened by the difficult decision he makes, the ones that ruin lives, but he does them without true remorse, just with a bit of sadness for hurting his son. The juxtaposition between the three is beautiful.
Along with that idea is the very distinctive relationship between the king and his son. The king loves his son, but must groom him for the throne, a lonely and brutal place where he can trust no one nor allow compassion to rule him. Han Suk-kyu is exceptional as the manipulative king with clear goals and a web of political restraint to fight against. He wants to groom his son to be king, but also fears being usurped by him. The dichotomy of his feelings and his position create juicy internal character conflicts that are reflected in Han's detailed acting.
The parallels between different concepts are also very clever. Like the brooding scenes, the scenes between father and child are paralleled and contrasted. The king wishes he could support the prince's dreams, but he cannot. He must push him to do what is needed, no matter how much it hurts Seon. In contrast, Ji-dam's father supports her aspirations in a way that the king can only dream of doing. It's a tragic comparison, but very effective.
Also, this episode shows the temper that Seon is known for in history. It is instigated by righteous anger, but it is still scarily explosive and sudden. This is the type of anger that could morph into something much more unstable as time passes on and the pressure on Seon increases. At the same time, the show has given him comrades in Ji-dam and Cheol-joo who can slow this progression and give the show a little fun to boot.
Again, I have to mention the music in the show. It cleverly creates tension in a way that musicians themselves fancy with repeated figures in the cello in the lower register. It's a technique that minimalist composers use to creative a feeling of unease and that equates well with the mental states of the main characters.
The team that Ji-dam and Seon form is quite heart-warming. They share similar goals and are both young and idealistic. The way she constantly surprises him with her gumption, cleverness, and courage is the foundation for solid friendship and potential romance. The chemistry between the actors is solid and strong despite the age gap. It's a pairing I can't wait to see more of.
Lastly, Minister Park, the politician of dubious actions and good intentions has become very intriguing. He wishes for justice, but goes about obtaining via shifty means. His Machiavellian methodology contrasts with Seon's and Ji-dam's goals of pure investigations and the attainment of justice. To the young people, the method must also be pure for the result to be pure. For the jaded elders that is not so and that is a powerful point that the show makes. As time goes on, the young ones are pulled towards the darker paths in pursuit of their goals. It is a tragic journey they make, but it makes for really good television.
Written by: Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Secret Door" Episode 4"
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