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Thanks to Teri and Paloma’s suggestions, I picked up The Three Musketeers a few nights ago and well, the result is that I’ve been on some kind of drunk, emotional frenzy for the past three nights. It sure feels like it’s been forever since I last marathon a show with giddy and sincere excitement and to be honest, I’ve yet to recover. If you ask me to sum up The Three Musketeers in a few words, only one comes to mind: fun.
For my long, scattered thoughts about the show… feel free to trudge ahead, though keep in mind spoilers abound.
Coming from the PD-writer duo behind last year’s intelligently written and mind-
fuckedboggling Nine: Nine Times Travel, I don’t think we’re wrong to keep our expectations high about this show and I’m relieved to report that they delivered. I’m assuming you are already aware that The Three Musketeers is slated for three seasons, which is still a rarity in Korean dramas that I hope will change, and legit I am so glad to know this because it means more fun hijinks and adventures, combined with just the right pinch of chemistry and camaraderie among the casts to give us a narratively solid, emotional journey. That last part really excites me because that was what I thought Nine: Nine Times Travel lacked- it was so tightly written, cleverly paced and acted, yet throughout its run I felt emotionally hollow.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case with The Three Musketeers. Admittedly it is not (yet?) as intelligently written as the writer’s last work and episode one was rather choppy and definitely tonally campy and gimmicky that it took some getting used to, but I thought the show immediately corrected itself in episode two and kept upping the ante with each episode. What I’m trying to say is, if the first episode didn’t hook you in right away – totally expected. The trick is to give the next one to three episodes a try; if they still don’t gel with you then maybe the show simply isn’t your cuppa and that’s okay.
On that note, I do wonder if The Three Musketeers lucked out with me – that it’s simply the right timing, mood and preference because I’ve been in the mood for something offbeat and emotionally solid, which the show gave me in bountiful. However, I also think it’s got a lot to do with the casting- correction, it’s got a lot to do with Lee Jin Wook. By that I mean his whole package: charisma, eye-smile, deadpan line delivery, chemistry and rapport with the rest of the team and above all, the depth in his portrayal of the making of a man and leader through his character, Prince Seo Hyun.
Even though I’m uncertain to claim this show as Lee Jin Wook‘s best work thus far (and I’ve watched him in a few) and especially so when I think of how he carried Nine: Nine Times Travel, what I will claim is that everything about him in this show worked to a tee. Like a glove that fitted perfectly, it’s like the character and plot were tailor-made just for him and hot damn, those sageuk costumes too. I could watch him in Joseon era forever, ’nuff said. In my opinion, whatever acting shortcomings that he has (and let’s be honest that while he is a talented actor, he is still budding in prowess) he makes up with overflowing charisma. Rather than simply being easy on the eyes (which admittedly, not gonna lie, helps heaps) he has presence because he carries himself with ease and candor. I am so happy that he’s smart at picking projects that showcase his stronger elements while further sharpening his skills and ah hell, I’m just really happy I’ll get to see him for two more seasons! Personally, this is my favorite role of his.
Back to his character the Prince, I must say that it is extremely refreshing to have a hero who is intelligent – seriously, he exemplified that. He is quick on the uptake, does not equate bravery with stupidity, and exercises maturity through constant self-reflections on the kind of leader, husband, son, and friend that he is. He isn’t afraid to admit to the parties involved when he is wrong, and makes the effort to correct himself each time. I love how he carries himself too; he’s a man of his time, yet his views are often an era ahead (unlike his father, the weakly King).
I also absolutely love that people communicate in this drama – secrets for instance, are kept such because they actually will jeopardize lives if revealed and so there’s none of that noble idiocy which Kdramas love too much. Then there’s communication that happens between my favorite ever, the royal couple, who are always on the same page when it comes to their feelings towards each other. I can’t describe enough just how much I appreciate this aspect of the show, because the princess is honest-to-God actually vocal about the prince’s cold treatment towards her and whenever she’s caught by him, she doesn’t try to pile lies atop of lies to save her pride and vice versa. On a non-romantic front, the same kind of communication happens between the prince and his men, especially Jung Yong-hwa‘s Park Dal-hyang. They started off not really liking each other or more like keep trying to seize each other up, but they’re always honest about their sentiments of each other and so when loyalty and friendship at last blossomed, it’s delightful to watch.
Speaking of Jung Yong Hwa, here he is… serviceable… if I’m putting it nicely. He’s definitely not as bad here as he was in Heartstrings (where he literally put me to sleep) but I’m not about to shy away from stating that I initially found his acting laughable and especially so in the first episode. Like I said before, at times this show is tonally campy and especially so in the first episode but honestly, his acting contributed to that some. For instance, in a scene that required him to look surprised, I feel like I could practically see him thinking “This is my shocked face!” as he bulged his eyes and hung open his mouth and again, I thought the same way in another scene that required him to be angry. Thankfully, his character is instantly likable and Jung Yong-hwa is endearing in his portrayal of Park Dal-hyang so his greenness didn’t deter me away from the show. I daresay my patience paid off and that I thought it made sense too, why he got this role because as the show progressed, I understood how his greenness worked in his favor. In this first season, his character Dal-hyang needed that touch of naïvety, not yet colored by the injustice and cruelty of the world. All in all, I look forward to his acting progress in the second and third seasons – bring your A-game Yong-hwa, you’re proof that effort and practice do pay off!
As for Yang Dong Geun and cutie-pie newbie-ish Jung Hae-in (I did notice his bit-part in Bride of The Century), to be honest I do feel like they were somewhat wasted in this first season. I’ve read so much about the former because he is an A-list actor, though I’ve never seen any of his earlier work, and so I thought the emphasis would be more balanced among the men but that’s not the case. This first season focused on the prince (rightly so) and Park Dal-hyang, so the other two were more like key pieces to complete the puzzle. Sure they were important, but I felt that they weren’t layered with depth and stronger presence, unlike the other two. I’m not, however, too worried about this because I have a feeling the writer will shift focus on them in the next two seasons. This aside though, I thought they were stellar and spot-on as two-thirds of the musketeers – equal parts wit, humor, and heart. I’m glad it’s these two actors and happier that I’ll get to see them steal the show two more times!
Another aspect of the show that I thought was interesting and surprisingly refreshing is its style – it is exposition-driven or more specifically, ‘reveal first, retrace steps later’. What makes it a really fun watch is that the backtracking part is often done creatively, not through mere flashbacks. For instance, the show utilized delivered snail-mail letters in place of direct narration several times, in line with the era within the show. This, combined with the director’s liking for split-screens, overall gave us multi-layered perspectives of what happened. I dig this style a lot.
Saving the best for last, my favorite thing about the show is actually… the romance and how it played out. Yes I know and nope, not sorry that I’m such a sucker for romance. Credit must be given to everyone – the PD and writer duo for the golden casting of Lee Jin Wook and Seo Hyun Jin as the prince and princess; the writer for her characterization of these characters; and of course, the two actors for fitting into their roles seamlessly.
I bet some people thought of the Princess as a crybaby – okay, I thought that way initially – but I’ve got to give it Seo Hyun Jin, sincerely, for playing a character that could’ve so easily come off as annoying, with so much heart and restrained finesse. I’ve never seen her before actually, but aw man, she is so endearing as Princess Yoon Seo who’s lonely and feels trapped physically and emotionally – confined within the palace and stuck in a loveless marriage. Fortunately, she keeps trying to improve her situation to her level best- even though it does mean she keeps embarrassing herself.
What I appreciate about her character is that while she is not the typical female lead we will immediately name when we think of strength, spunk – basically, from a feminist perspective – I love that she’s still all woman: gentle, soft, and full of grace. For a woman of her times and in her position as a member of the royal family, she is not spineless because she does step up to the occasion when the need arises. How much do I love that comeback of hers to Mi Ryung in episode ten or so of the show? So, so much – I literally pumped my fists in delight!
I know I’ve said this, but in all sincerity, I find her extremely endearing. There are girls like her in real life, you know them too, who seem too gentle and fragile against the hard and harsh world, and although they’re typically thought of as weak, I often find an unspoken beauty and an unmistakable strength in their grace. Don’t underestimate them because it takes as much courage as anything else, to stay gentle in a world that’s determined to turn us hard. To me, the Princess defines this so characteristically that honestly, had I been a guy who has a girl like her, I would want to protect her too, as in literally protect that innocence and purity; I think the Prince and I see eye-to-eye on this and I love him even more for this.
They have an average of two scenes per episode (how do I know this? Because I re-watched them all ha!) but the wonderful thing about The Three Musketeers is that this show doesn’t waste its scenes away with filler materials and menial plot points. In fact, I would argue the opposite ergo that they didn’t give us enough! I totally wanted to see more romantic moments between the royal couple, especially because what an uphill task it was for the Princess to open up the Prince’s heart and take residence in it… but yes, although I could do with another kiss, I did think their last scene was so beautifully done. The intimacy leaves me aching and better yet, this scene was played out largely wordlessly. Pretty please writer and PD-nim, can we have extended romantic scenes of these two? I swear this isn’t my perverted mind talking and I don’t mean you need to head in that direction- I’ll leave you to task on how best to creatively execute this because this is how much I respect both of you in delivering quality work.
…and that’s it, that’s a wrap from me – scattered thoughts definitely haha, my apologies. This show isn’t without flaws, but they’re so trivial in the greater scheme of things. I admit I do find it kind of funny that I didn’t love the PD-writer team’s first project i.e. the hugely popular Queen In Hyun’s Man with its heavy dose of well-executed romance, and respected but never completely fell for the brilliantly written and twisty Nine: Nine Times Travel, yet here I am totally head-over-heels for The Three Musketeers, which I think took the best element from each – romance and mindfuckery, respectively – and balanced them without going overboard. In short, I think the extremely talented PD-writer duo has succeeded in delivering a heartfelt, emotional journey through The Three Musketeers.
I hope, hope, hope that they will confirm the première date for season 2 soon because ugh, I’m excited just thinking about it. Can’t say no to more Lee Jin Wook in sageuk costume, le sigh honestly the sight of him in his royal glory undo me.
Closing note- fun places for season one goodies: breathlesssurvival’s quick-bite coverage of the royal couple and HeadsNo2’s recaps. There’s also a lot of YouTube videos (even BTS on tvN’s official channel!) but I’ve yet to find a specific favorite. I do have a favorite soundtrack though and it’s this song, meant for the Princess: