Korean Drama Podcast Review: Nokdu Flower / Her Private Life
Click below to listen to my midway point check in with this 2019 historical Kdrama, NOKDU FLOWER, as well as my first impressions of episode 1 of HER PRIVATE LIFE.
I really hope you enjoy listening.
Yoon Si Yoon shooting absolutely everybody in sight? Yes please! – Cho Jung Seok fighting for what he believes? Yeah! – Han Ye-ri …. um …. buying stuff? Sure, why not! – Listen as Lee Evie talks about her current kdrama obsession with a NOKDU FLOWER midway point weigh-in. Also a bit of a waffle on Korean history and a short overview of the first episode of HER PRIVATE LIFE.
Tell Me your thoughts!
KDRAMA PODCAST SHOW NOTES:
Welcome to the Lee Evie kdrama podcast. My name is Lee Evie and I’m an author of historical fiction set in Old Korea. Mainly, I’m an obsessive kdrama fan and since I’ve no one to talk to about it in real life, I’m going to talk to you, so strap in for my kdrama show.
So I guess the reason for this whole podcast is because you know, like I said, I’m really really into kdramas. But to be honest in my real life, I don’t really have friends who are into the same shows that I’m into or watch the same stuff that I do, and when I really really love something it gets really frustrating not being able to talk in detail about it and get really excited.
So I think I wanted to start this podcast to give myself the opportunity to get excited about these things that I just love!
So for my very very first ever show today. I wanted to talk about the Kdrama NOKDU FLOWER.
NOKDU FLOWER KOREAN DRAMA DISCUSSION:
I love Kdramas. I like the modern ones and I like the historical but I have to say I have a very special soft spot for the sageuk dramas. I really like the dramas that explore the history of Korea. I find that stuff really really interesting and I love the opportunity to learn more about Korea’s history while watching a show.
NOKDU FLOWER has really been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of learning a little bit more about Korean history and particularly this really really tumultuous time where Nokdu Flower is set.
It’s during the 1890s and it’s such a fascinating period of history that I have to admit I knew nothing about before I picked up this show. It’s been really exciting learning about it and also quite distressing because like most history of most countries, it is bloody and awful and tragic and sad as so many true life stories are.
So pretty much I have watched up to episode 15 as I record this, or because they’re half episodes, I guess that’s episode 30.
This is kind of a midpoint check in with a drama and I’m just going to talk about some of my thoughts about the overall story up until this midway point that I’m up to.
First I want to talk about the reason I picked it up. Yes, it was because of you and Yoon Si Yoon. He is one of my absolute favourite actors. Not just Korean actors, but actors in the whole world. I think he’s wonderful and I’ll pretty much try out anything that he’s in and give it a red-hot go see if it’s worth watching. I don’t always watch his dramas to the very end if they don’t appeal to me, but I definitely like to give them a go.
I was actually unsure about picking this one up. It’s a bit petty but Yoon Si Yoon is not the main male lead in this story and, you know, this is a serious sageuk. So I was a little bit worried about really really liking his character and then watching him die tragically, which, at the halfway point, I’m pretty sure that it’s coming.
This is a pretty tragic intense drama.
At the beginning of the drama we have these two brothers. So the other brother is played by, and I’m probably going to pronounce his name wrong so I’m very sorry … Jo Jung Seok. So I have never seen Jo Jung Seok in a drama before this one. Obviously, I know he’s in Oh my Ghost and I keep reading that drama is so amazing and that I should watch it, but I totally have not watched it and I guess I’ve never been that keen to check him out. But I have to say after watching Jo Jung Seok in this drama, I get it now. He is so charismatic and he’s such a good actor. He really feels very much so larger-than-life in this.
So basically, Jo Jung Seok the main character, Yi-Kang is his name. He is this kind of thug guy, I guess, and is an illegitimate son, which means he just has zero rights. Everyone looks down on him like he’s dirt and because of that, I think he kind of acts like dirt, like he’s become an animal because everyone treats him like an animal, including his own family except for his brother, Yi-hyun.
Yi-hyun, I’m gonna have trouble with these names…. So Yi-hyun is played by Yoon Si Yoon, and he’s a legitimate brother in a almost Yangban family, and he really believes in the world. In the world being a good place and he’s working towards making it a good place.
I really loved that at the start of this drama you have these two brothers and they are opposite in every way. You have Yi-Kang who is really down and cynical and he thinks the world is a horrible place and he’s going to be horrible to the world. And then you have the perfect brother Yoon Si Yoon, who believes the complete opposite and is the noble son, and then the drama, through the different circumstances that both brothers face, they have their shift where they have opposite trajectories.
They kind of become each other in some ways, which is really really fascinating and something I really enjoyed to watch. Obviously., it’s lovely to see Yi-Kang find hope in the world and find a cause to fight for, and find a way to become a good man, but it was particularly fascinating to see Yoon Si Yoon’s journey as he goes to the very depths.
I really expected the drama to just make him bad, you know …. Oh he’s gone all the way to the bottom and he’s just going to be a bad guy now…. but it’s so much more nuanced than that. We get to see Yoon Si Yoon constantly struggle with not wanting to be the person that his circumstances are forcing him into through everything that happens to him. It’s just like it’s not his fault. He is such a tragic character.
The third lead in this is played Han Yeri, who is an actress that I had seen once in one other drama, which I admit I didn’t finish but I believe was called Conspiracy of the Court, a miniseries sageuk, a very serious one and actually I think that it might have been a really really good show but at the time that I watched it, which was quite a few years ago, I hardcore could not handle an unhappy ending! These days I’m much more open to stories however they present themselves. I just love stories so much and I think I’ll watch anything. It doesn’t really matter. I love happy endings but I can watch things that are pretty tragic now, whilst back then I really couldn’t handle that at all. And I have to say that show, conspiracy in the court starring Han Yeri, I really hope I’m remembering the name of that drama correctly and I’m not going to Google it because I sort of can’t be bothered … sorry about that ….Well, it was a pretty tragic drama and her character basically gets sort of raped on screen which is just hardcore. It was too much for me to handle, it was so tragic but in hindsight, I guess it was trying to be a little bit more realistic about what life was like back then, particularly for women, and for women struck down to the slavery status who had zero control over their own lives or their bodies or just anything.
So I guess in a way now looking back, I can really appreciate how far that drama was willing to go and appreciate it trying to portray more truthfully what life would have been like.
I love watching sageuk dramas where girls dress as boys and kick ass and are really really cool. But the truth is life would have been very very harsh and I do like that fantasy escape element of it, but I think it’s good that more serious sageuk dramas exist as well, to more accurately reflect that time period.
So anyway, my point was I’ll probably go back and re-watch that drama at some point, but I’m clearly getting off topic.
Like I was saying earlier this drama is set in a really interesting and frightening time period in Korea’s history.
It chronicles the Donghak Peasant Revolution or Donghak Rebellion, which was an uprising against the corruption in the government and the way that the lower classes were being treated at the time. It’s very very interesting but very very sad as well.
I got interested in the time period so I did a little bit of research around the history of it and what I found out, which made me feel so sad., was that the true result of this rebellion was that it led to the Sino Korean War, which was Korea getting invaded by Japan and a war on Korean soil, which again ended a few years later and there was sort of tumultuous peace for just a couple of years and then that in turn led to Korea being annexed by Japan, and then occupied right up until World War Two.
It kind of breaks my heart to think that all these people of Donghak, these peasants, these hundreds of thousands of people trying to create a difference in their world and standing up against corruption and trying to ask for rights and trying to abolish slavery, these people they died for what they believed in but ultimately their sacrifice led to the country being invaded and I just found that to be such a heartbreaking thing. It’s just so sad.
So a lot of the Donghak leaders followed the Donghak religion but my understanding is that estimates say that a huge majority of the actual peasants who rose up and fought for the Donghak army were doing that to try and better their circumstances rather than particularly following that religion. What they were fighting for was the abolishment of slavery and the class system, to allow widows to remarry and a lot of different things like that.
I don’t know how true it is or fully understand the situation, but for instance in the drama, one of the characters who is a peasant fighting for the Donghak Rebellion, he’s a butcher as a trade, and from what I’ve seen in dramas and read a little bit about on the net is that even with the slavery status in Korea there were different levels. So one slave could be really low, or slightly higher and some of the really really low levels were gisaeng and also workers like butchers who worked with flesh, which was considered, extremely lowly.
In this drama, the character who’s a butcher you find out that he has just got an animal name. So they are so low that they don’t have human names and it’s a big sort of moment in the drama when this guy asked some of the other characters to go… I guess back then you had to go and buy a name for your kids. I don’t fully understand it. But you know … he asked for someone to name his children because they didn’t have names because they were the children of butchers and they were too lowly, and that’s the kind of stuff that the Donghak rebellion was trying to actually get rid of.
But unfortunately, this huge peasant uprising put a lot of pressure on the government and the government’s military wasn’t really very good. So basically what they did, because Korea at that time was sort of like a tributary state of China is my understanding, and I guess they went and called the Chinese Court to send backup in case they couldn’t handle this rebellion. So China immediately sent troops into Korea, and Japan who at that time had opened their borders to Western technology and trade and was really rapidly modernizing was sort of looking for bit of an excuse to get a foothold in Korea, and they actually had a treaty signed with China that neither country would send forces into Korea without first discussing it, but when China got the call to send troops into Korea to help fight the Rebellion they did so without telling Japan or, I think I read that they said they did tell Japan but who knows …. basically Japan immediately sent troops into Korea in retaliation and they marched all the way through Korea straight to Seoul and set up in the city.
And I’m up to a part in the drama now where the Japanese army has just openly attacked the palace and gone in and captured the Korean royal family. So basically the king and queen are still the king and queen, but they are being now controlled by the Japanese government and it’s so sad that this is what the Donghak rebellion led to.
I guess back to talking about the actual drama instead of the history, which I do find so fascinating, but the actual drama is definitely chronicling all the events of this rebellion one by one how they happened. And obviously the fictional characters are inserted in there with the real life leaders and the way that things happened at the time and I think that they’ve done a really good job of showing the different sides and some of the different sides that I hadn’t thought about before.
I have to say that Yoon Si Yoon’s character journey is really really interesting to me and I feel like I was saying before the thing that I love the most about his character journey is that he isn’t a good guy that gets turned bad. Even when he does terrible things you can see him fighting it inside and wanting so badly not be that type of person or live that kind of life and yet circumstances are just squeezing him tighter and tighter and, literally to survive, he has to become very hard very fast and I guess the storyline that I really liked with him was, you know, he’s very idealistic and he thinks the world is this beautiful place, obviously it has room for improvement, but he believes it’s possible and yet he gets recruited into the local army by the government and he gets sent off to fight against the Donghak rebellion, and meanwhile his brother is fighting for the Donghak and it was really interesting to get both sides.
We get to see Yi Kang fighting for what he believes in, Donghak and abolishing slavery and making everyone equal, and then we get to see Yoon Si Yoon, who truly believes that everyone should be equal, but he’s being forced to fight for the government against those things he believes, and seeing those conditions that these mandatory soldiers had to face is pretty intense. It’s so just consistently awful, and he gets pushed into the worst situations and you can completely see why he becomes a little bit opportunist. Why Yoon Si Yoon will grasp any chance to not be the lowest low soldier on the ground because he wants to live through this experience and he wants to go home and the worst thing ever, is that the only reason he’s there, because he’s actually a scholar and he was on a list of Scholars to undertake the Civil Service examination and so shouldn’t have to fight, but his mentor, this man who is a nobleman that Yoon Si Yoon hugely respects, has actually gotten rid of this list specifically to ensure that Yoon Si Yoon gets picked up by the Army and forced to go to war!
Because this noble man doesn’t want Yoon Si Yoon to marry his sister, simply because Yoon Si Yoon is a lower class than his sister, who is a noble woman.
So that was it’s pretty tragic.
You know, this person that Yoon Si Yoon really respects has basically fucked his entire life over. I’m gonna say I mentioned at the start of the episode that I’m a writer and I have to say that watching this drama and particularly watching Yoon Si Yoon’s character trajectory and journey, you know, it’s not just from being a good guy into a bad guy. It’s seeing him do things he never thought he would do, do things that are completely against his own ethics and watching him coming back from it, pulling back, but then then sinking deeper and then pulling back again. Constantly readjusting where the line is for him.
It’s this constant struggle for Yoon Si Yoon to not become the animal that everyone always said his brother was and I really loved watching it. I think it’s very complex and clever. I think that Yoon Si Yoon is a fantastic actor. I think he’s really wonderful and I really liked seeing him in such a meaty role. There’s a lot of complexity going on in this character and I’ve really really enjoyed so far of what I’ve seen of his arc, but like I said before, this is a scary drama. It can be quite upsetting I think particularly because it is so closely based on these real events. And I know that the characters are being inserted and they are mostly fictional but the things that they’re experiencing is so hard, and get your heartstrings pulling, when you think about what that might have been like and what it might have been like particularly for a character like Yoon Si Yoon (Yi-hyun) who really gets the worst end of the stick at every turn. But yeah, it’s a fantastic watch.
The female lead in this drama is played by Han Yeri, she is a merchant and her name is Song Ja-in. I really like this actress so much, and now have realised she’s in the drama Hello My Twenties, so I quickly went and started watching that one as well. And I think she’s very magnetic in this. I think she’s got a lot of presence.
At the same time, I do feel like she’s a little bit inserted in to give us insight into certain events. She’ll just happen to pop up when they want to give the viewer a little bit of insight into a particular battle or into what’s going on in a military camp or in the city and I get it, you know, I think particularly with sageuk dramas, sometimes it can be hard to provide really meaty roles for women … 😦
I guess this is why you know, so often the female leads in a lot of these shows kind of get relegated to the background and I really hate that, I love watching a really strong female lead in a drama, but I also understand it. I guess the truth is of those times, women were so restricted in what they could and couldn’t do that in a lot of cases, they weren’t exactly present on the battleground and during these events. So I mean, I do get it. I wish she had more to do, but I get it.
I do think Han Yeri’s storyline is interesting though as a merchant. I guess the show’s trying to give us a little bit of insight into that side of things and her life. She’s a businesswoman, she is out to make money, but after meeting Yi Kang, she slowly begins changing. She falls in love and on top of that, she begins to see the world differently and wonder if she’s doing the right thing, you know, just worrying about money instead of people and the future of her own country.
So it is an interesting character trajectory for Han Yeri, but at the same time in such a huge scope of a drama with these intense historical true events happening, I guess some of her stuff can feel a little bit inserted just because we need her in the drama, you know, you’ve got to have a female lead. She’s got to have something to do! So it isn’t perfect.
But in saying that, the love story between her and Yi Kang, the brother who is part of the Donghak rebellion, is really good. I really liked it. I think it’s very quiet and very simmering with tension and longing and glances and it’s quite small scale. But I think it really suits this drama. You know, Yi Kang is very aware that he is a frontline soldier in a very very scary war and that most likely he’s going to die at any moment. And he doesn’t want to break Han Yeri’s heart and for half of the drama I have to say as well that he also doesn’t think he’s worth anything. He thinks that he is complete dirt and I don’t think that he truly believes he deserves anybody to love him.
So they have a lot of conflict along their way to confessing their feelings, even when they do start getting their act together. I’ve really enjoyed that side of the drama. The love story. I think both of them have a lot of presence and their scenes together are very filled with tension and romantic longing. I think it’s really good. But it’s definitely not a major focus of this story at all.
WRAP UP OF NOKDU FLOWER:
That is my weigh in for the drama up to episode 15, of the Korean drama sageuk, NOKDU FLOWER.
From what I have seen, I definitely recommend this show. I think if you like sageuk, if you like Korean history, this is a great show to check out. It is fascinating. The history of it is fascinating. It also looks great, all the countryside that you see, the action I think is shot really well, and obviously all the costumes, the settings. Everything’s great. And I think there’s a lot of nuance to the characters. There’s really interesting stories being told and I think it’s getting very largescale. It’s about the fate of Korea itself at this point and the royal family and the government and everything. But you know layered beneath these really huge happenings is much quieter stories of redemption and love and figuring out what you believe and what you’re willing to do for what you believe.
I think that those are all really interesting elements of a story and I think this is a great one. So I would definitely recommend.
HER PRIVATE LIFE EPISODE ONE:
Before I finish the show today. I just wanted to weigh in also on the very first episode of Her Private Life, which I just watched. I’m a bit behind on this one. So basically I wanted to talk about a couple of things that I really enjoyed about this first episode, but I’m going to keep this one brief.
The number one thing that I really love is Park Min young. She is excellent. She just looks absolutely beautiful in this, running around and her crazy bright pink power suit. I loved seeing her stalking this celebrity that she’s quite attached to. Yeah. I really enjoyed. It’s really good fun. I particularly love the way that she struts around. You know, I think I get so used to, particularly in a lot of modern contemporary set kdramas where the female lead is very, you know, she might be a candy. Or very downtrodden. I kind of love in this that she wears these bright bold colours, she knows she’s beautiful. She struts around swinging her hips in a high heels and she looks freaking great.
So I kind of love that, I guess, ownership of it. It’s actually pretty cool.
The male lead in this is Kim Jae-wook who has been in heaps of Kdramas I’ve seen but never as a lead, he’s great in this. I really enjoyed him in the first episode and two things that I really thought were great fun…. well this might make me sound silly but I love it when he meets Park Min Young when she is dressed up, you know, like a proper fan in her fan outfit with the black hat and the mask and he can’t tell who she is and he basically gets swarmed by all these scary fans and he bashes into her on this ladder and they both fall on the ground and she lands on top of him and then basically she just runs away and leaves him, you know, kind of just quite bowled over by the whole experience… and Kim Jae-wook turns around and in English he goes….
“Wow, what the fuck…” but then the subtitles underneath it, instead of saying what he said they say “What on earth is going on with her ….”
And I was like, that’s not what he said. So maybe I’m a bit petty. I thought that was pretty funny.
And then the last thing that I really loved was the very end of the whole episode where the two leads finally come face-to-face at the Art Gallery where Park Min-young works and Kim Jae-wook is coming in as the new director and he walks in and the sun is in her eyes. She’s up on a ladder. She looks absolutely beautiful and they have this moment staring at each other trying to figure each other out and then they realise who the other is and obviously…. she immediately falls straight off the ladder and I just loved that instead of having that moment that we always have where he catches her in a real swoony way and bends over and looks into her eyes and she looks up at him in complete shock…. instead of that he just stands there and watches her completely impassively as she falls flat on her face on the ground and then that’s the end of the episode….
I thought it was a really really cute little episode. Really good fun show so far.
PERSONAL UPDATE FROM LEE EVIE:
So to finish up my show today, I’ve got a personal update. So as I’ve mentioned earlier, I am a writer. I write historical fiction set in Old Korea and I particularly focus on the Joseon dynasty, which I find really really interesting. So basically at the moment, I’m in the process of prepping some manuscripts ready for publication next year. What I’ve specifically been doing is actually trying to source an editor who can help me with the final steps of the manuscript prep who actually has Korean heritage and can understand the language and the culture and history and help me particularly with things like character names, but also history and setting….
Maybe you can tell from my accent…. I am not Korean. That’s not my own heritage. So I particularly particularly wanted to have someone who was Korean to make sure that the stuff that I’m saying is correct and accurate for the time setting that my books are in.
I’m feeling really excited to be pulling these stories together at the moment and I’m really excited about sharing them. I’m really hopeful that people will enjoy to read them. Fingers crossed!
So I will keep you updated on that as I go.
And so that is it the end of my very first episode of my show. Thank you so much for listening!!!! Until next time over and out.
Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!
LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea. Discover Lee Evie’s historical fiction novels by clicking on the images below!