The veteran director of classic “Jewel In the Palace” and wildly popular “Yi San” returns with another historical epic in this tale of a young commoner who rises to become the king’s concubine and bear him the heir to the throne. Based on the true story of a woman in the Joseon era, Han Hyo Joo, much-beloved for her roles in “Iljimae” (2008) and “Shining Inheritance” (2009), takes the lead as the titular heroine.
An ensemble of rising stars fills out the cast, with Ji Jin Hee (“The Man Who Can’t Get Married”) as the king, Bae Soo Bin (“Shining Inheritance“), as a guard who watches over her, and Lee So Yeon (“Temptation of an Angel”) as the rival concubine. The drama, incidentally, boasts two pairs of reunions for Bae Soo Bin, who starred with Joo in “Shining Inheritance“, and then starred with Lee So Yeon in “Temptation of an Angel”.
Dong Yi (played by Han Hyo Joo) is orphaned at a young age when her father and brother are unjustly executed. She is watched over by Cha Chun Soo (Bae Soo Bin), a friend of her brother’s who promised to look out for her. Naturally kind and gentle, she gains a position as a a water maid at the palace, where she quickly wins favor, particularly from the queen, and she becomes the queen’s trusted companion.
When the queen falls ill, Dong Yi cares for her, and her kindness brings her to the king’s attention. When the queen dies mysteriously, probably poisoned by another power-hungry concubine (Lee So-Yeon), Dong Yi becomes the royal concubine, shining brilliantly in the court.
As Lady Choi Sook-bin, she bears the king a son while struggling to survive and maintain her position in the tumultuous court life. Protecting her son with all her wiles and wisdom as he grows up, she strives to make him someone worthy of the throne, and successfully brings him to succession as the 21st king of Joseon, Yeongjo.
Han Hyo Joo carries the complex role of this extraordinary woman with her usual grace, charm, and nuance, and the drama boasts top-notch production and cinematography values. It has been steadily climbing in ratings to hit just below 20% by its 10th episode.