As far as I’m concerned, the Sungkyunkwan Scandal I adored existed only up to episode 15. I consider the rest of the drama run to be mostly white noise I don’t quite care for.
A few weeks ago, I had thought if I should write like some sort of conclusive review then, because I didn’t want the drama ending to mess up my general perception of Sungkyunkwan Scandal. But I never really got around to it and sure enough, I should have. One of the many bad habits I have is that a drama ending tends to cloud my judgement. If it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I tend to just remember that, instead of a drama’s whole run, which is probably okay overall. And vice versa. An overall mediocre drama can rank higher in my book if they rocked the ending.
But anyways, by now you’ve probably realized my distaste for Sungkyunkwan’s ending. It’s not so much as the ending that I disliked, but really, the entire last stretch of the drama. I’m talking mostly about episode 15-20, and this is my honest opinion. I am truly disappointed at the loss of focus and direction of the drama. At the beginning of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, the drama was able to balance out every aspect of the storyline really well. There was enough thrill in the school competitions, the school politics, there was the budding friendship and the romance, and of course the gradual intensity of the search of the royal secret letter, Geum Deung Ji Sa.
Yet, what the drama ended up doing was literally just zeroing on the romance and it seemed to content to forget about everything else. In the end, Sungkyunkwan Scandal butchered everything I loved about it by overdoing the romance and understating the rest.
Case in point: I don’t mind that Micky Yoochun’s Lee Sunjoon found out about Park Minyoung’s Kim Yoonhee’s gender late in the game. But I also wanted the drama to reveal that the rest of the public THEN, not in the frickin last episode. I mean, female, in a male only school is a BIG deal, yet they spent like 15 minutes on it when they should have done that 4 episodes ago. I think the writer missed the opportunity to do the big reveal and by the time she realized that, it was already too late. Putting this bit of plot line in the ending, it’s just that we already know things would work out well, so what should have been a dramatic blow in the narrative sense, was completely stripped off to a mere blip on the road.
Also, what about Geum Deung Ji Sa? I’m neither Korean nor a history buff, but even I think that should have played way a bigger role in the last few episodes. I want the Jalgeum 4 to embark on a sincere quest to recover GDJS. Like Harry Potter’s adventure to find and destroy Voldemort Horcruxes, or Iljimae sailing to Qing to prevent the Joseon being invaded by them. I want a real thrill of the quest, these four scholars using their brains and physical power. Hell, it didn’t need to evolve the entire drama like Evasive Inquiry Agency or Harvest Villa, just one or two episodes were enough. We did see scenes of their search for GDJS, but they incited no organic spark, they still felt like half hearted scenes passing in between the main couple’s newfound romance.
If I could decide what happened, here’s what I would do. This is disregarding what happened in the novel and ANY historical event relevant to this issue. Episode 15 middle, Lee Sunjoon found out about Kim Yoonhee’s gender. Episode 15 end, the school and public found out about it. Episode 16, King’s wrath, school’s wrath, public’s wrath, basically Kim Yoonhee suffers. Sunjoon fights for her and they realize each other’s feelings. Hong Byukseo must continue to spread message about GDJS to push for a real search for it. Ep 17 middle, King relents about Kim Yoonhee after continuous advising from Prof Jung Yakyong and the urgency stirred by Hong Byukseo. Ep 17 end, King secretely puts the Jalgeum 4 to the task of recovering GDJS. Ep 18, evil Noron ministers find out about the task and try to obstruct their way. They also use Yoonhee’s gender to appeal to the public’s anger. Ep 19 middle-Ep 20 middle, GDJS found, turned in to the King who uses it to achieve reformation in Sungkyunkwan and palace politics. Rest of ep 20, happily ever after-ness.
But then again, I’m just indulging myself.
So that was just my dissatisfaction at the last quarter of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, the ending itself was really…fluffy. Apparently it sparked quite some riot among the Korean audience cos they said the ending butchered the historical element. Well, I can’t really comment on that. By the time the last episode aired, I was prepared for anything. I had no more expectation and just couldn’t wait to see the drama ended. Plus, I don’t fully understand the dialogues in the last episode and hopefully my opinion will change for the better once I watch it with subtitles (if I’m in the mood, that is), but I do have a lot of questions with regards to the GDJS conclusion.
The writer probably wanted to give a satisfying ending, but it was almost like a kid’s play instead. I get that this is a youth campus drama at heart, but the ending did not stay true to the depth and profoundness Sungkyunkwan Scandal had previously shown. When I was watching, it made me feel like I was stupid, as a viewer. I wanted to say, ‘Drama, I can take a more complex ending than this, you know.’ HOWEVER the ending had a high cheese factor, nevertheless, there were many moments that made me smile. I guess since I’m a sucker for happy ending, the last episode sort of did fulfil that requirement.
Overall thoughts on characters:
I love Yoonhee as a smart cookie. This is a total blow to Playful Kiss’s Oh Hani and I really enjoyed that. I wish we have more brainy female lead like her who’s not only bubbly and kindhearted but also intelligent. What Oh Hani has over Yoonhee, however, is that lovable quality that comes with having flaws and overcoming them. Whereas Yoonhee is a pretty established character from the get go, the typical cinderella K-Drama female lead who shines her light in everything she does and whom everyone worships. Other actresses have been able to appeal to me personally even with this cliche, but I felt Park Minyoung failed in that area.
Yeorim Gu Yongha is another established character who, over the course of the drama, showed meagre growth. And I’ve long resented to the fact that Sungkyunkwan Scandal wasn’t going to dig into the potentiality of his past (they did a quick sweep of it, basically). Yet I admit to having been thoroughly entertained by his antics in 20 episodes. He is my favourite character simply because of that. I guess it’s also the fact that we don’t really see this kind of character a lot. It’s amazing how detailed Song Joongki is in portraying Yeorim, facial expressions, mannerism, every twitch seems well calculated on his part.
I think this drama has been about Lee Sunjoon’s personal development as much as it is about the friendship of the Jalgeum 4, or in a lesser degree about Moon Jaeshin’s closure with respect to his brother’s death. I love that his self righteousness is played to the extreme and that’s what endears him to the viewers, but it is nice to see that as we go along, he learns to see the world from a more realistic and a less moralistic eye. Micky Yoochun pulls in a pretty surprising performance for a new actor and methinks he’s gonna have to consider acting field seriously cos he does spot some acting talent.
Well, you all know my fangirlism toward Yoo Ah In. I’ve already said that his character Guhro Moon Jaeshin is not my favourite. But I do appreciate that he shows personal growth. The first time we saw him, he was such an angry person, only caring about his own problems and anguish. And now he learns to open up and care about other people, even people who’s not from the same political ‘camp’. Yoo Ah In came out of this drama, I think, with the biggest bang, and there will be lots of anticipation for his next project. I can’t wait either. Let’s hope he takes the rest he needs and come back to acting pronto.
Overall, Sungkyunkwan Scandal will remain one of the most memorable dramas of the year, if not THE most memorable drama. When things were good, it was a crazy addictive drama. I’ve skipped classes to watch the new episode and spent the day refreshing its Soompi thread even though I had a midterm the next day. I’m trying not to let the fact that the drama falters toward the end affects my overall judgement. But yeah, in my own private world I will think of it as a 15 episode drama instead. And if you ask me, I will give 9/10 for the first 14-15 episodes and 6.5/10 for the rest.
So long Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Thanks for giving me 10 interesting and mostly exciting weeks!