In the drama, Hyewon has not yet received her pen name and is known as Shin Yun Bok. After her family was murdered, she had been taken in by Dohwaseo painter, Shin Han Pyeong who recognized her talent and wanted the prestige it would bring to his family. Dohwaseo was the royal painting institute and it was common for painting to be a hereditary occupation.
As a female student who was raised as a boy, Moon Geun Young did an exemplary job portraying Shin Yun Bok. From her mannerisms to her voice, she conveyed a masculine energy that was realistic to her character's circumstances. At the same time, there was a brightness, an innocent simple-mindedness, that drew people to her and inspired them to protect her.
Historically, Hyewon's paintings were controversial at the time. They depicted uncensored scenes of daily life that were embarrassing to aristocrats who did not want to be caught carousing with drink and women. Often considered erotic because of the themes, details and color he put into painting women, it is thought that his style caused his expulsion from Dohwaseo, if he was ever actually a member.
In the drama, Shin Yun Bok gets into trouble for her style right away, fascinating and impressing connoisseurs with her art, while insulting and offending the upper class.
|Hyewon's colorful painting fills up the canvas, while Danwon's more conventional style uses less color and leaves empty space.|
The mutual love and respect the two artists have for each other in the drama are communicated through innocent interactions that are more romantic than flirting and dating would be. Park Shin Yang's performance was at times hilarious and at times poignant, and shows that he really is a master of connecting with the story and his fellow actors.
Whether it is innocence or the complexity of having been raised as the opposite gender, Shin Yun Bok also has a strong attraction to the gisaeng, Jeong Hyang, played by Moon Chae Won. There is more eroticism between the two of them, but the scenes echo the same tenderness as those between Shin Yun Bok and Danwon, and explores the boundlessness of first love.
Out of all the ambitions of King Jeong Jo, the drama chose the focus of his quest as that of clearing his father's name. His grandfather, King Yeong Jo, had executed his father for political reasons. Only by obtaining the lost royal portrait of his late father, could he substantiate his line of succession and thwart the dowager queen's power play. Thus the element of intrigue is provided that involves Danwon and Shin Yun Bok's late father as well.
Adding this mystery and danger was interesting in the beginning, but it played out in a very straightforward manner with no twists or surprises. However, it was still entertaining to watch the two artists follow their leads and investigate the case to its conclusion. It was also nice to see Ryoo Seung Ryong play the art loving baddie, and Bae Soo Bin as the king. The cast had a lot of talented familiar faces including Kim Yoo Jung as the young Shin Yun Bok.
Overall, I thought the drama was beautiful and touching. There were some fatal flaws in the writing, though, that kept it from reaching its full potential. At one point I came to the conclusion that Shin Yun Bok was entirely too selfish and self-absorbed to even be likable. One scene was actually preposterous, completely taking me out of the story, and making me disgusted with the character. There were also large sacrifices that seemed unnecessary and therefore meaningless. The ending could have had more of an impact if the events leading up to it had justified it. Still, the unique concept and focus on painting leave me feeling positive about this drama.