During the reign of King Su Zhong, Tong Yi, a water maid wins Queen Ren Xian's trust by her sincerity. The king is moved by her prayers and her talents in music. Tong Yi becomes a concubine with the rank of 'Hee Bin' and rejects the queen throne. She bears a son who will later become the 21st king of Joseon, Yeongjo.
Story/Introduction on characters
1. Han Hyo Joo as Cui Tong Yi
Her father is in charge of the sword clan but dies with her brother when they are framed of killing the nobles. She is determined to find the truth and becomes a slave. She is later brought into the palace as a member of the musical bureau by changing her surname. Admiring her talents, Su Zhen gives her a promotion to work as a member of the survilience bureau after she clears her name of poisoning the queen.
She knows how to examine the corpses. She is intelligent but sometimes neglects others' feelings to put them in danger or to hurt them just to make herself feel better. She compares herself to a dog which will let let go of clues if she finds any.
She later escapes out of the palace when she has evidence of Su Zhen's evil deeds. She returns to the palace with Su Zhong's help. Knowing the risks of surviving in the palace, she uses her wisdom and love to train her son to become a good ruler. But many will sneer at her stupidity to let Yu Zhen off repeatedly. This person is just too fake - unbelievable that she can be so forgiving.
Although some of her latter scenes are better, I find most of her expressions annoying. The way of expressing shock and being innocent initially can be so fake. She irks me and I am serious - they can be so irritating!
Kim Yoo Jung (child)
She doesn't know why she can't get to wear beautiful clothes and she steals a set. This set of clothes save her life when her whole clan is prosecuted. This child actress is quite natural - I find her better than Hyo Joo.
2. Ji Jin Hee as King Su Zhong
He disguises himself as a judge to blend into the commoners to know their lives better. He runs into corrupted officials and Tong Yi tries to get help by stepping on his back to get to the other side of the wall. He is slowly won over by her wisdom and falls for her. He gets the cobbler to sew the deer skin into a pair of shoes for her. To protect her from being harmed by Yu Zhen, he makes her his concubine - also a way to show that he loves her. He is later torn between the love of two sons.
Ying Zhong later looks for Tong Yi after Ying Zhu becomes the next king. Tian Shou and Ying Zhu visit them. Both hold each other's hands to walk together.
Although Jin Hee is fine in the role, I still prefer him in 'Jewel in the palace' as he plays a second fiddle role here. His pairing with Hyo Joo doesn't appeal to me as much as his pairing with Lee Yeon Ae.
3. Bae So Bin as Che Tian Shou He is a sword clan member and falls down the cliff with Tong Yi's family. He treats her like a sister. He survives and has never stopped looking for her all these years. He gets into the musical bureau and is overjoyed to see her there. He later joins the pollice bureau. Su Zhong sends him to protect Tong Yi. He later realises that he loves her but hides his feelings upon knowing that she is his woman.
A sentimental performance from So Bin. He can be tough and can also be gentle. This role is special as it is difficult to portray the inner feelings and thus steals the show from Jin Hee.
4. Lee So Yeon as Zhang Yu Zhen
She comes from a commoner family and is sent by Tai Xi to serve Su Zhong. She has helped Tong Yi to escape from the palace guards when she is young so she is grateful to her. Su Zhong gets her to become his concubine, much to Queen Ming Sheng's displeasure.
After giving birth to the crown prince, she becomes Hae Bin. She later replaces Ren Xian to be the queen. She frames Ren Xian of poisoning her to oby drinking the poison herself. She uses green beans for the cure but Tong Yi finds the stains in her clothes. To consolidate Jing Zhong's position as the prince, she and Xi Zai use the defence logs that have military secrets to exchange. Their scheme is exposed and she becomes Hae Bin again. However, she vows to make a comeback. She prides herself to be the mother of the land.
Lee So Yeon isn't Kim So Yeon from 'All about Eve' but they look like sisters! She is brilliant in the role as a woman to commit evil deeds in order to save her own skin.
5. Park Ha Sun as Queen Ren Xian
She becomes the queen after the first queen dies. After knowing that Yu Zhen bores a son, she is resigned to the fate that her position will be taken over soon. Zai Xi frames her of killing Queen Ming Sheng through poison. Su Zhong gets so mad that he disposes her of her position. She stays in a village and gets through by simple means.
She doesn't blame Su Zhong as all odds are against her. Su Zhong feels guilty after discovering that she is being wronged. Tong Yi and Long Ji clear her name and she persuades Tong Yi to accept Su Zhong. She later becomes the queen again. She gets suspicious when Yu Zhen allows the ordinary physician and not the royal physician to check the ill Jing Zhong. She intends to choose a princess for him. This makes Yu Zhen tense as she doesn't want anyone else to know about his secret of being impotent.
She is critically ill before telling the rest but Tong Yi still manages to know about it. Before she dies, she tells Su Zhong to be wary of Yu Zhen so she can't be the queen. She deserves the newcomer award as she presents the composed nature well.
6. Jung Yin Young as Xu Long Ji
He is the chief police and is Tong Yi's father's friend. He pities Tong Yi for losing her family and lets her go even though he suspects Tong Yi's father of killing his father. When he doesn't know her identity, he gives her lots of help. There is internal struggle in him to reveal her identity but in the end, he decides to help her before the air si cleared.
7. Jung Dong Hwan as Wu Tai Xi
He frames Tong Yi's father to get killed. He is part of the south fraction and supports Yu Zhen to be the queen or he will lose his post.
8. Lee Kye In as Wu Tai Feng He isn't as intelligent as Tai Xi but he tries to help him in his evil activities.
9. Choi Chul Ho as Wu Run He is Tai Xi's uncle so we know that he is also a bad guy. However, after becoming a commoner, he becomes a better person.
10. Kim Yoo Suk as Zhang Xi Zai
He is Yu Zhen's elder brother who seems to be a womanizer but he is very cunning and scheming. He is never wrong in judging people. Just a look at Tong Yi, he knows that she will be a big threat in future. Moreover, the fortune teller has warned Yu Zhen that there is always a star that goes opposite her. Su Zhong is angry over the defence logs affair and banishes him from the palace.
He does good deeds as a coverup in order to return to court to deal with Tong Yi again. He gets information on the sword clan, claiming that they are harming the royalty.
11. Son Ii Kwon as Hong Tai Run He regards Long Ji as his opponent and is always out to kill the innocent. Long Ji prevents him from doing so. He is stripped of his duties over the defence logs issue after he wants to kill those involved.
12. Shin Guk as Du Shang Ji
He is the chamelain who is always by Su Zhong's side. He knows right from the start that Su Zhong loves Tong Yi and has to drop hints.
13. Kim Dong Yoon as Shen Yun Zhe He belongs to the West clan but is framed but the South clan. He has helps Tong Yi back to the palace.
14. Park Jung Soo as Queen Ming Sheng
She is Su Zhong's mother. She belongs to the West clan and questions Yu Zhen's motive to enter the palace. She opposes to her being a concubine to find all ways to frame her but Tong Yi saves her. Later, she dies after being poisoned.
15. Kim Hye Sun as Court Lady Zheng
She is the assistant chief matron who stays by her principles. She gives Tong Yi lots of help when she just comes in to pass the tests. She chooses to work for Tong Yi too in the midst of the crisis.
16. Ahn Yeo Jin as Court Lady Zhao
She is with cahoots with Yu Zhen to be her helper to steal the defence logs. Unlike Court Lady Liu, she is a more gentle lady who is softhearted.
17. Im Sung Min as Court Lady Liu
She is with cahoots with Yu Zhen so that she can become the chief matron. However, She learns from her mistake as Tong Yi just demotes her and doesn't chase her out of the palace over the defence logs issue. She tries to steal them but is caught redhanded. She even tries to help Tong Yi to resist against Yu Zhen later.
18. Jung Yoo Mi as Zhen Ren
She is as intelligent as Tong Yi and also supports Queen Ren Xian. She has considered her as a rival in wits but later, they become good friends. She even chooses to work under Tong Yi when no one is willing to offend Yu Zhen as Tong Yi is Su Zhong's favourite.
19. Kang Yoo Mi as Ai Zhong She talks aloud but is very timid despite her size. She is Tong Yi's good friend too.
20. Lee Hee Do as Huang Zhou Zhi
He is the one who brings Tong Yi into the paalce. He is greedy over pety stuff and bullies her but I nreality, he dotes on her and often help her. He is Su Zhong's wine mate.
21. Lee Kwang Soo as Ying Da He is also a musician and regards Tong Yi as a younger sister. Su Zhong jumps when he often likes to pat on Tong Yi's shoulder so he often reminds himself not to do it.
22. Kim Hye Jin as Xue Ji
She is a courtesan who has fallen for Tong Yi's brother in the past. Thus, she agrees to Tian Shou's request to take care of Tong Yi. They even come up with documents to prove that she is an orphan with no identity of the past as a slave. She gets Zhou Zhi to bring Tong Yi into the palace to ensure her safety. When they meet again, she hides her to protect her again.
23. Choi Ran as Lady Yin
She is the second wife so she pins all her hopes on Yu Zhen. She is the one who poisons the queen and even causes Tong Yi's maids to become ill. Tong Yi discovers the royal library account book that contains the bribe note and also discover that the cosmetic lady who sells the face powder to the palace maids have the poison in them.
Later, she puts curses, hoping to kill Tong Yi's son. She is a materialistic woman and thus her children are like her. Even though Tong Yi stays out of the palace, she refuses to let her off and burns her place after knowing that she has met Su Zhong. This causes Su Zhong to bring her back to the palace and she is later executed too instead.
24. Lee Hyung Suk as Prince Yan Ning (later King Ying Zhu)
He is Tong Yi's second son who lives outside the palace for 6 long years. He likes Ren Xian and searches for herbs for her. During the process, he finds a scarecrow with her name. This is too late to save her but Tong Yi wants him to be a free person to get away from the power struggles. Yu Zhen will never allow this.
Su Zhong chooses RenYuan as the queen after Yu Zhen's death. She doesn't like Tong Yi and plans Ying Zhong's marriage. Thus, he will have to move out of the palace. Tong Yi wants him to stay to consolidate Jing Zhong's position. She uses the royal law to show that she can choose her own daughter-in-law. He becomes a good king under Tong Yi's guidance.
25. Yoon Chan as King Jing Zhong
He is Yu Zhen's son as the crown prince. Due to him, Yu Zhen can still maintain her Hae Bin position. He is discovered to be impotent after he faints one day. He wants to find out what is wrong with him and reads the medical books with Ying Zhu.
Both brothers still maintain good ties to sneak out of the palace together. He is caught as a thief and Yu Zhen and Xi Zai hold Ying Zhu responsible for this. He manages to use his wits to get out. He tries to reason with Yu Zhen that it is his own fault but she will not listen. She accuses Ying Zhu of leading him astray. She sends killers to go after him and Tong Yi. Tong Yi is injured and Su Zhong tends to her. Tian Shou vows to find out the culprits and is successful. Xi Zai and Yu Zhen get nervous.
Jing Zhong confesses to Su Zhong about his condition and this gives him a big blow. Su Zhong orders Lady Yin, Yu Zhen and Xi Zai to be sentenced to death. Tong Yi refuses to be the queen to protect the two princes. Jing Zhong then keeps a distance from Ying Zhu. Su Zhong annouces that Jing Zhong is his only successor. Ying Zhu promises Tong Yi that he will protect Yan Ning when she is out of the palace. Ying Zhu replaces him to become the king in future.
26. Choi Jong Hwan as Zhang Wu Lie
He is the governor of Hon city who helps Xi Zai in his evil deeds. He helps in his comeback and arrest all Tong Yi's subordinates. This gives her no choice but to reveal to Su Zhong about her real identity. Su Zhong has to punish her by kicking her out of the palace. It is this time she gives birth to Ying Zhu. Strangely, he helps Ying Zhu to stay in the palace after his marriage as he has the military power.
He lures Ren Yuan to chase Tong Yi out of the palace. Tian Shou has no choice but to get his personal soldiers to protect her. This is Wu Lie's way to transfer his attention so that he can attack Jing Zhong to frame Tong Yi and the rest. This will force Su Zhong to punish Tong Yi and Ying Zhu but his plan is backfired and he is executed.
27. Prince Yong Shou
He is Tong Yi's first son who is rumoured to replace Jing Zhong. Su Zhong gives him this name, hoping that he will have a long life. That makes Mdm Min and Yu Zhen angry over it. He dies from measles as a baby.
28. Oh Yeon Seo as Queen Ren Yuan
She is a scheming woman who plans all for herslef. She doesn't like Tong Yi but she has no choice as Jing Zhong is impotent. She makes Ying Zhu as his adopted son to protect him since Tong Yi wants to protect Jing Zhong by giving up the queen status. Tong Yi then decides to leave the palace so that Ying Zhu can really treat Ren Yuan as his own mother. She leaves despite Su Zhong's opposition.
Most favourite character
Su Zhong, he shows wisdom but can be too sentimental at times. That is why Yu Zhen tricks him successful repeatedly. He manages to outsmart her in the end by showing who is really the emperor.
Most hated character
Xi Zai, he is vicious and is a smiling tiger. A close second is Tong Yi - I find her really annoying - she can be so stubborn without listening to others. She nearly implicates so many people to die with her.
It is by Jang Na Ra - the song is beautiful.
Tong Yi exposes the corrupt officials' crimes and she expects Su Zhong to protect her. However, he is lousy in martial arts and they have to flee.
Yu Zhen is framed of poisoning Queen Ming Sheng. Tong Yi examines the dead physician's fingers to prove her innocence.
Tian Shou is in tears when he finally finds Tong Yi. Not once but many times as she is often missing.
Su Zhong follows the music to discover the missing Tong Yi and hugs her in tears. The funny part is - it is not the acting that moves me but it is the music!
Tian Shou and Su Zhong are at their wits end when Tong Yi is critically ill. Su Zhong even tells the royal physician to use the red ginseng from his daily tonic for her instead.
Tian Shou is heartbroken upon knowing that Tong Yi is with Su Zhong. He quietly destroys all evidence of her past to hide from the rest.
Su Zhong makes Tong Yi his concubine in order to protect her from the South clan officials. She is clueless what happens but she wears the glamourous clothes and also the deer skin shoes to walk into the palace.
Su Zhong doesn't know why his heart beats fast when he reveals his feelings to Tong Yi. He is overjoyed when she accepts his two small jade rings. Their first night isn't in the cosy palace quarters but in a small room in the countryside.
Yu Zhen gets Court Lady Zheng to look for the defence log books in Tong Yi's place. In the meantime, she will 'imprison' her and the rest at the royal banquet. Tong Yi places vinegar on the floor and also on the book. The stains will be left on Yu Zhen's fingers if she reads it and also on the court ladies' socks if they attempt to steal them. Tong Yi has never expected that she needs to use the same method to prove Yu Zhen's innocence and guilt.
MBC pinned high hopes that it would do as well as 'Jewel in the palace' but the highest was only 35 points. Many did not like Jin Hee's pairing with Hyo Joo so much. She worked with So Bin in 'Shining Inheritance' before this and they did not end up as a couple there. What's more for this one. Many regarded Su Zhong as the third party who went between them, saying that he was too old for the youthful Tong Yi.
Jin Hee had hoped that he would be involved in this big production after 'Jewel in the palace'. He tried not to show his excitement when getting the script. He did not mind being the supporting role as he would be the king in this drama. He and Hyo Joo went to Hong Kong and Taiwan to promote this drama. Both of them enjoyed the Chinese meals there.
Many reporters were moved when they watched how So Yeon acted in the last scene where Yu Zhen drank the medicine. She found that she was a pathetic and sentimental woman. She was unwilling to part with the team which she had worked for 9 months. Hyo Joo was pressurized to keep up with Yeon Ae's standard. She knew that she had shortcomings to treat every scene like an exam so she had to win. She was grateful to Jin Hee for helping her. This was the first time to work with a senior.
Ha Sun and So Yeon got along well with her. They still keep in touch and she often calls Ha Sun as elder sister. All were overjoyed when Jin Hee wanted to arrange gatherings with them. So Bin took up martial arts lessons to get prepared for the role too.
Below are the awards that the serial has won :
2010 MBC Drama Awards: Grand Prize (Han Hyo Joo), Male Top Excellence Award (Ji Jin Hee), Female Excellence Award (Lee So Yeon), Female Newcomer Award (Park Ha Sun), Drama of the Year Award, Special Child Actor Award (Kim Yoo Jung, Lee Hyung Suk), Golden Acting Award (Kim Yoo Suk), Female Popularity Award (Han Hyo Joo)
2010 Seoul television awards : Best Actress (Han Hyo Joo), 2010 Seoul International television festival : Best Actress (Han Hyo Joo), 2011 Baksang television awards : Best Actress (Han Hyo Joo)
I must confess that I dislike watching Korean period/historic dramas as they are very slow moving. 'Jewel in the palace' nearly kills all my interest. There is no exception for this one. I only watched it as it is shown on television daily and I had no other choices. Almost all in the drama look the same in the palace clothes and I have a hard time distinguishing who they are.
The parts on Su Zhong wooing Tong Yi can be romantic and hilarious but Tong Yi is a troublemaker to me. I find parts of Tong Yi escaping safely unbelievable. Most of the time, she see her running for her dear life. No other one can have such luck like her. She is like a cat with 9 lives - she is just fortunate to have those around her helping her out besides using her own head.
Still, the power struggle between Yu Zhen and Tong Yi are well depicted. Both are smart women - one to frame and another to find the truth. They keep on wanting to show that who the winner is in the end. It is sad that Yu Zhen's schemes bring her to nowhere except her downfall.
I don't find Hyo Joo's acting fascinating. Her acting is uneven - the beginning part shows blank, deliberate shocked or pretentious horrified expressions. Others act so much more natural than her although some are overly stage-like that I suspect myself watching a Chinese opera. How did she get to win so many awards? I simply do not get it. The efforts of others are paid off except for So Bin. To me, So Bin has been robbed of his chance as he has proved his ability. Why didn't he win anything?
On the whole, this drama is watchable as it is said to be loyal to history and is very close to the truth. Those interested in Korean period dramas can still give it a shot. The setting is nice and this time round, the Qing officials are finally depicted correctly.
Sukting's ratings :
On acting : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)
On story : *** (Scale of 5)
On songs : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)