While I was on leave for the past two weeks, I promised myself that I was going to do one of my favorite things, which is to marathon a Korean Drama, no matter how physically and emotionally taxing it would be. You see, I’ve been watching KDramas since High School, and when I do watch a KDrama, I have this habit of watching it until the wee hours of morning (the latest I stayed up was for Stairway to Heaven – 5:00 in the morning) until my eyes can’t handle it anymore, so I really have to watch it on the weekends or when I am on vacation. So, after finishing the first season of Homeland, I popped in my copy of Rooftop Prince while the family’s electric bill steadily rose.
For my review, I will not be going into it episode by episode but instead take the series as a whole. Here there be spoilers.
The series begins in Joseon (the predecessor of modern-day North and South Korea.) where we see Crown Prince Yi Gak (played by JYJ’s Yoochun) waking up to find that his beloved Crown Princess Hwa Yong has drowned in the lotus pond near the Palace. Flashbacks show that when Yi Gak was a kid, the King basically conducted a job fair open to all noble families, and the only position they were hiring was for the Crown Princess, also known as Yi Gak’s future wife, Salary Grade level: REALLY HIGH. So the Hong Family, whose household head is one of the Ministers of the King, had to choose between the oldest, Hwa Yong, and the youngest, Boo Yong. Now who’d you think they’d choose? Surprise! They chose Boo Yong over her unnie. Now, Hwa Yong, being the supportive sister that she is, “accidentally” burned the cheek of Boo Yong while she was ironing her younger sister’s clothes. Since Boo Yong has to live with the scar forever (and the mask covering half of her face), they family decides to enter Hwa Yong’s name for consideration.
Now back to “present-day” Joseon. The Crown Prince gives out riddles, which to his surprise, was answered by Boo Yong. So he leaves her with a challenging riddle, with the promise of fortune if she answers it. Now, take note of this.
What dies though it lives, and lives though it dies?
Boo Yong answers the riddle that night while the Prince and Princess were having some snacks, particularly dried persimmon coated with white powder. And a few hours later, the Crown Princess is seen floating in the lotus pond.
Now the Prince, obviously grief-stricken, vows to find his wife’s killer. So he recruits his Joseon Power Rangers, to help him investigate. A lead brings them to the forest which apparently is an assassination attempt, and in the ensuing horse chase, they end up in Seoul, Republic of Korea, year 2012. Specifically, the rooftop apartment of Park Ha (played by Han Ji Min).
Now Park Ha’s childhood isn’t rosy. Her dad, after being separated with her biological mom, starts living in with a fish vendor Man Guk and her daughter, Hong Se Na (HEY WHY DOES PARK HA AND HONG SE NA LOOK LIKE LITTLE BOO YONG AND LITTLE HWA YONG?). Se Na hates Park Ha’s guts and does the following acts (but most likely not limited to):
1. Framing Park Ha for shoplifiting
2. Leaving Park Ha on the back of a moving truck
Note: this all happened in their childhood
Park Ha, now all grown up, goes back to Korea after living in New York for how many years with the promise of meeting her biological father. She does meet him, but at his funeral. She meets Man Guk and Se Na, and two years later she is seen living in Seoul for good. All things seem normal until Yi Guk and his posse materialize in her living room.
Now in present day Seoul, His Highness and his Joseon Power Rangers encounter fish-out-of-water situations such as riding any form of motorized transportation and buying food. They, including Park Ha, has to deal with the battle for the inheritance of the korean Home Shopping Network, between Yong Tae Moo + Hong Se Na (surprise!) + Evil Daddy (who has this uncanny ability to bring people to the hospital) and Yi Gak’s look a like, Yong Tae Yong. Also add to the mix the idea of reincarnation, and Yi Gak’s belief that he must marry Se Na, not only because she looks like the Crown Princess but because it might help solve Hwa Yong’s murder.
There’s also this sub-plot of the missing biological mother. Oh, let’s not forget: Yi Gak and Park Ha fall in love too.
In my opinion, Rooftop Prince is an engaging Korean drama. I have to give my props to not only Yoochun and Park Ji Min, but also Lee Tae Sung as Yong Tae Moo. Lee Tae Sung played the baddie so convincingly that I wanted to punch him in frigging face, which I don’t normally feel when watching other KDramas. However, I feel that the inheritance sub-plot was overplayed, and the series was a few episodes too long.
What made this drama stay with me was their take on reincarnation, and how one could still meet his/her proper soul mate even though your fate with each other was denied at some point. At the end of the drama, we realize that it was Boo Yong who drowned in the river because she chose to eat the poisoned persimmons after she found out that her sister was in cahoots with Yong Tae Moo’s Joseon reincarnation. Boo Yong/Park Ha saved Yi Gak’s life twice (actually three if you count the arrow hitting the pendant).
By the way, the answer to the riddle? It was ‘Lotus Flower’, also known as Boo Yong. For the flower to live, the seed must die. And for the flower to reproduce and create a seed, the flower must die. But it’s also an allusion to this drama’s take on love. For Yi Gak to survive the assassination attempt, Boo Yong must die for her love. But for Park Ha to live and to love, Yi Gak must return (and eventually die) in the past , so that his reincarnation Yong Tae Yong may live.