I’m not the biggest fan of Joseon era stuff — the costumes just don’t do it for me, frankly — but I’d heard so many good things about this one, I gave it a try anyway and OH EM GEE, YOU GUYS. What a delightful way to spend 16 hours of your life.
(Only 16 episodes! What are you waiting for? You can knock that out in one day and still get a solid 8 hours of dreaming about dreamy time travelers in afterward!)
What’s it about? Kim Boong-do is a 17th century scholar and queen’s bodyguard who acquires a mystical talisman that transports him to the present day any time his life is in danger. As you do. Meanwhile, Choi Hee-jin is struggling actress who gets her big break playing that very same queen in a modern KDrama. They meet and fall in love but fate and court intrigue keep getting in their way.
Another time travel drama? Really? I know, but this one actually uses the device really well! So many time travel stories seem more concerned with jumping into hilarious anachronistic hijinks than exploring the causes or consequences of what’s happening. But this one takes the time to establish rules and reasons for the way its time travel works.
It also doesn’t gloss over either the culture shock or the logistical challenges of jumping back and forth, which makes the reactions feel more genuine. We actually get to see Boong-do observe and reason out explanations for the things he doesn’t understand, be it currency, modern cuisine, how to use a payphone or even how to open car doors.
And unlike stories where the time travelers seem curiously incurious about their own history (Rooftop Prince, I am looking at you here), Boon-do heads straight to the library to find out what happened to everyone he knows. And then he carefully decides what actions to take to adjust events without messing up the entire flow of history. Which he can do because, unlike stories where the focus is just on finding a way back to the correct time, Boong-do’s talisman allows him to jump back and forth at will.
This picture has nothing to do with anything.
I just wanted to point out how smoking hot they both are.
This presents a lot of interesting opportunities to actually use the idea of time-travel as more than just a gimmick or an obstacle to overcome. And the story takes full advantage of this, allowing both the heroes and the villains to figure out the rules of how it works and then work those rules to their own advantage. None of these people are idiots, and it’s great. Basically, I love this story’s approach to time travel.
Yeah, that’s nice, but what about the romance? I write this having moved immediately onto watching Boys Over Flowers, and let me tell you there is nothing like an inferior drama populated with spoiled, petulant man boys to make you extra appreciate a mature romantic hero like Boong-do.
Because, seriously, you guys: Boong-do is such a legitimately fantastic hero. He’s got a kind heart, a strong sense of justice, a wry sense of humor, and — unlike too many other KDrama heroes — very little personal ego. He tends to think things through logically and calmly and then do what he thinks is right, despite the personal consequences. He’s also clever, quick on his feet, and unflappable — which are all useful traits in both a time traveler and a boyfriend.
This is a nice contrast to Hee-jin, who’s more reactionary and tends to jump into things without looking. We’re not rewriting any gender stereotypes with these character bios, but it works because the leads are so charming together.
I will admit it took me a little longer to warm up to Hee-jin than Boong-do — mostly because she’s kind of a mess? And I definitely rolled my eyes a bit about her tendency to put herself and her intelligence down. What really sold me is that the drama makes it clear that she isn’t dumb at all. (And in case the audience manages to miss that point, Boong-do even blatantly spells it out at one point, telling her flat out that he wouldn’t like her if she was actually the idiot she claims to be.)
Their relationship is also refreshingly free of the dynamic where the girl is always needing to be rescued. Because Boong-do is the fish out of water, Hee-jin helps him out more than he helps her — although he’s not afraid to step in when she needs it, either. They have a lovely, playful, reciprocal dynamic where it’s clear each just really enjoy the other’s company.
But what I especially like about them is how respectful and honest they are about their feelings — this isn’t one of those dramas where the all the conflict could be resolved in about five minutes if everyone would just talk to each other, already. There are real external issues they need to overcome instead of contrived angst drummed up to stretch the story out.
(The 16 episode time frame probably helps with that as well. As it is, we’re left with a story that feels like it ended precisely when it should.)
Okay, but is there seriously boning? Yes! There is actual, honest-to-God boning! GLORY HALLELUJAH.
Also, she has to stand on his feet to kiss him here. Just saying.
I mean, don’t expect Outlander levels of soft core porn. This is still a KDrama, okay? But you will get non-robotic kissing — with tongue! — and the leads walking up in bed together like it’s no biggie. In a genre usually restricted to longing glances and awkward back hugs, that’s practically full frontal?
And it certainly makes more sense than pretending attractive young people who’ve acknowledged they’re in love and know they don’t have much time together would never touch.
Also, there’s this alternate ending, which is hilariously advertised as SEX!!! but really just contains some heavy shirtless petting:
Shirtless petting in a KDrama! Is this the apocalypse?!
Special shout outs to: The writers, for also offering up a refreshingly different take on amnesia. Taking a trope so overused (and lazily used, I might add) in so many dramas and working it into the plot organically — not once, but twice! — without making me roll my eyes in exasperation is an impressive feat.
So, should I watch this? Um, hello? Did you miss the part where I said there was off-screen boning? OFF-SCREEN BONING, PEOPLE. I don’t know why I even had to say anything else. Go watch it now.