What deep, dark secrets are hidden in the diary? Seo Ji Yoon is a modern-day art history professor who happens to stumble upon the secret diary of Shin Saimdang (1504-1551), a Korean artist, writer, calligraphist and poet who was the mother of Yi I, one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars during the Joseon Dynasty. The diary sheds new information on the life of Saimdang and her relationship with Lee Gyeom, a painter, calligrapher and musician who was a childhood sweetheart and soulmate of Saimdang. Will the diary help Ji Yoon unravel the mysteries surrounding a painting of an unknown woman from the Joseon Dynasty?
Cast & Credits
Having had studied Art History in Uni and with it being my favourite module, you can understand my initial excitement when I realized this is a drama about art history but in Korea! Only 2 of my biggest interests intertwine like that. I wouldn’t miss the chance to savour this rare opportunity!
Saimdang is a wonderful drama but not without flaws. It takes place simultaneously in the past and the present, depicting the past and present lives of the characters. Starting in the present it centers on a woman who tries to prove that a painting is or is not authentic facing serious enemies in this endeavor of hers.
Simultaneously and very flexibly the story travels to the past as we get to see the whole story behind the painting in question and how this is connected to our main flawless female character Saimdang and her life.
I can totally understand why viewers found this boring and disappointing. Most of the drama depicts Saimdang’s life but focuses a lot on events rather than romance, politics or other juicy things saeguks are known for. First half of the drama focuses on how Saimdang grew to become a memorable and powerful figure of her time creating and sustaining her own business. There are classic villains who try to destroy her but everything is more connected the job development rather than her personal life. The second half was a bit rushed because of the trimming of 2 episodes and the re-editing was very obvious to the point it reduced the drama’s quality. Still, it stays in the same lane of events.
I read comments from Korean netizens expressing their disappointment in the drama’s direction. More specifically, they disliked the fact that there wasn’t much of Saimdang’s drawing and painting showed. I cannot argue with that. Simultaneously, I can safely say the story line that took place in the present was rather disappointing and ill-developed. I can totally understand their idea behind it but they spent too much time perfecting the past story –which ended up being, understandably, a tad boring for some people- that the present one just rounded up being a constant back and forth.
All that being said, I cannot quite put my finger on it but this drama just charmed me to the point I was completely unfazed by all the -otherwise- stern drawbacks.
I thoroughly enjoyed the backstory. Some of it a bit clichéd – classic evil 2nd female lead who is just too self-centered for her own good- but all of it really interesting and really well-written as far as I’m concerned. Against all odds, I loved the business part of the story, it was inspirational seeing a woman overcome so many pitfalls and achieve greatness!
One of the main parts that I especially appreciated was the female empowerment of the drama. Saimdang on her own is such an incredible character, empowering and just inspirational. Even if we barely got to see her drawing, the passion for it was well-depicted and the characterization was just brilliantly presented!
Moreover, I enjoyed several parts of the past story illustrated like the education for non-wealthy citizens, or how women were looked down upon but were undeterred by it. Plotlines that involve weak and easily manipulated kings are nothing new and play significant roles here as well.
Continuing to my favourite part, the romance. I'm not the biggest romance fan, I tend to rather cringe but here… here it was special! I can understand why some people would find the romance here disappointing. There is no skinship at all; barely any intimacy while everything is kept on a platonic level. Rather frustrating. However, there is no need for obvious affection when you have Song Seung Heon’s eyes just depicting everything better than a gesture ever could. My heart ached in every scene he looked at Saimdang and I was completely blown away by their tragic and heartbreaking love story. Strongest part of the drama for me, but you have to be into doomed couples to like this.
The drama did have some boring parts, but I enjoyed it throughout. I can’t say I felt fulfilled by it, rather depressed especially during the last 5 episodes, but it just felt special in ways I can’t put into words.
Lee Young Ae. Acting giant and I feel a bit intimidated to actually judge her acting. She was amazing, overflowing with charm and experience; she was a blast to watch on screen. I thoroughly hope it won’t take her another decade to comeback.
Song Seung Heon was luscious in ways I can’t describe. I usually complain about kdramas lacking actual manly characters since all those flower boys have taken the industry by storm. He brought exactly what I wanted to see. Manliness, masculinity all spiced up with actual emotions and sentiments. His character just elicited unlimited emotions out of me, his acting was out-of-thing-world good and he had amazing chemistry with Lee Young Ae.
Other than them, the full casting was amazing and most of it quite memorable, namely Oh Yoon Ah as the evil 2nd female lead, Choi Jong Hwan, Yang Se Jong and the rest really made the drama shine.
Considering most of the reaction I saw was rather negative or indifferent I wouldn’t openly recommend this to everyone. Saeguk fans would probably like it and people interested in tragic and unfulfilled love.
God knows how much i love his character. the one who would clear the path for the comfort of the person he dears, a person that remains loyal even after all those years of finding solace by wandering, a man with virtue. on the last episode when they recap lee gyeom's life i cried shit loads of tears. i felt terribly happy for him (terribly because of his tragic life; happy because he found his inner self in that tragedy)
and of course Saimdang. this drama depicts her journey from a carefree teenager to a mature woman. Saimdang has to be the strongest female character i've ever known, having to go through such ordeal in life. an obedient daughter to a loving mother and a respectful wife. i swear her patience and perseverance are on a whole new level. and i really love her conversations with her children especially the one she had with maechang under the blooming trees so heartwarming and she's very well composed.
my favourite part of this drama is of course the romance. No u dont have over the top lovey-dovey romance in here, no u dont have romantic scenes with all the sugary conversations that makes u want to jump off the window due to the sweetness. the romance in here is very subtle. u know there's love but u can't see it, u just feel it's there (i'm not making any sense here, too blinded by their love). the look on lee gyom's eyes every time he look at Saimdang is so deep that it pierced through the screen right into my heart XD.
now for the plot i think the modern part is totally unnecessary because; 1. very little screen time 2. it feels out of place. i read people commenting on how the plot is very cliche with political fights and vengeance etc. honestly that cliche plot is critical for the characters development. it's not that bad, the plot was just okay but interesting enough to make me watch it until the end. one thing for sure is that this drama is really really really slow and i usually drop slow dramas by 3-10 episodes in but this drama? theres something about it that kept me going, weird enough i dont know why. if and only if they had not cut the episode to 28 i personally think the ending would be better. u know when they introduce the characters they write the character's future below the name, like how woo was supposed to be an artist hyun rung a successful scholar. i thought they were gonna show it but no hmm. all and all i really love this drama and will definitely watch it again.