Enjoyment: 10/10. Quality: 8/10.
Maybe this isn’t the time for a review of The Three Musketeers (or maybe it’s the perfect time for a review of The Three Musketeers) since this projected three seasons epic seems to have landed on a one season prequel – BUT I DON’T CARE. It was still one of my absolute favourite dramas of 2014 and all hope is not lost! It hasn’t been OFFICIALLY cancelled as far as I know. It can still make a come-back! Please?
Plot: Anyone who has read the classic Dumas novel (or seen any of the numerous screen adaptations) is going to recognise both the characters and the overall plot. But for the rest of you:
Park Dal-hyang/our d’Artagnan (Jung Yong-hwa) is a poor country boy determined to pass the military examination and make it as a palace official – all for the love of a noble woman (Seo Hyun-jin) he met five years earlier when her family passed through his village. She promised to wait for him and with that in mind he sets out for the capital city and the military exams. Unfortunately things do not go as planned. After two months on the road Dal-hyang arrives in a city that was not quite what he expected, with less money than he had at the start, he encounters three strange, but capable men (our three musketeers: Crown Prince Sohyeon/Athos (Lee Jin-wook), Heo Seung-po/Porthos (Yang Dong-geun) and An Min-seo/Aramis (Jung Hae-in)), and he finds out the love of his life has not, in fact, waited for him and has been married for close to five years – to none other than the Crown Prince.
Of course the story doesn’t end here. Dal-hyang passes his exams, gets involved with the Prince and his men, keeps loving the Princess, the King is unstable, the Prince has a dark past and war is brewing.
Discussion: I love the original The Three Musketeers, I’ve read the novel and I’ve watched quite a few of the adaptations (I recommend BBC’s The Musketeers for fellow fans) but I think this might be my favourite adaptation. Who would have thought a novel set in 17th century France would work so well in 17th century Joseon? Obviously the drama’s been adapted to fit the setting, and there are a few typical k-drama tropes thrown in (I’m not complaining – that’s part of what makes it special).
This drama did a lot of things right:
- The high budget shows and the drama is beautiful
- It’s FUNNY
Both overtly and, um, introvertly? My favourite thing will always be imagining the court gossip:
- What is up with the Crown Prince?
- Why does he keep secretly disappearing?
- Where does he go?
- Why doesn’t he like the Princess?
- Why are there no royal babies?
- Why does he surround himself with pretty men he picks up along the road?
- Why is he suddenly so obsessed with a poor country boy he stands up to his father to make sure the boy passes his tests, starts sending him secretive (and heated!) looks, gives him his SWORD and sends all his men away so that he can have a secret “conversation” alone in country boy’s room.
The audience of course knows the reason for all this but I just like to imagine what they would talk about in court. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if that head eunuch did not have at least three contingency plans for when the Prince was caught in bed with another man I’ll be severely unimpressed.
- The action scenes were so much fun to watch and I loved the choreography
- Everyone’s acting is very engaging
I had never actually seen Jung Yong-hwa act before but I still managed to be pleasantly surprised. He might not be amazing at every single acting technique but he manages to engage the audience, his physical acting is impressive, his comedic timing is good but most of all – he has an incredible rapport with every single one of co-actors. That’s important.
Watching Lee Jin-wook in this actually made me look up both Miss Granny and Nine: Nine Time Travels which says something about his acting and I was amazed when I realised that Yoo In-young (who plays Jo Mi-Ryung or Milady de Winter) was Han Yoo-ra in My Love From Another Star. What a chameleon! I want to watch her in everything. Seo Hyun-jin as the Crown Princess slowly but determinately learning to survive, navigate the palace politics and most importantly – be happy, did an amazing job to draw the audience in and be on her side. It wasn’t easy, given that the Crown Princess spends a lot of time hiding who she really is and what she desires.
- The characters!
The characters are my favourite thing (out of many great things) in this drama.
Innocent country boy Park Dal-hyang: Destined to become a great general! Stands up to the Prince (gasp!)! Provides emotional support for the Princess! No one (absolutely no one) can resist him! Spunky and loyal!
Dead-eyed smiling, secretive Crown Prince Sohyeon: Is he a sociopath? No? Yes? Who cares?! No, it was just his terrible past! Was that a joke? No? Yes? Who cares?! First loves (bleurg)! Second loves (yay)! Accidentally liking his love rival better than his wife (although he comes around)!
Secretly the strongest character Crown Princess Yoon-seo: Character growth! Making the best of a really, really unfair situation! Learning to stand up both to her husband and to her enemies! Great chemistry with everyone! Loyal!
Cutie pie An Min-Seo: Cutie pie!!! (Did he really take the time to stop, take out a handkerchief and wipe Dal-hyang’s forehead clean of blood in the middle of hunting a murdering general whose escape could very well mean war? Cutie pie!!!) Shocked and appalled reaction faces!
Always laughing Heo Seung-po: Wohoo, drinking and gambling! He can’t tell his children apart! His wife is ugly! Haha! (No, but seriously, he wasn’t that bad)
Milady, my love, Mi Ryung: Mi-ryung! She got character assassinated. I should have expected it, given the novel, but I was still sad. She could have been so much more. **SPOILERS** For the longest time I was holding on hope for the happy ending to be Crown Prince and Mi-ryung making up, faking their own deaths (which would have taken care of that pesky historical death of Crown Prince Sohyeon) and Dal-hyang and the Crown Princess running off together. I’m not claiming to be realistic.
Everyone else: While the King was not exactly a good guy, he wasn’t exactly a bad guy either and I think the drama did a good job of portraying a person with serious anxiety issues (not that that is an excuse of his behaviour) and how that impacted on his ability to rule. I came to really like General Ingguldai and where there more seasons I would have liked to see him and Dal-hyang interact more (though I like to see everyone interact with Dal-hyang).
So what did the show do wrong then?
Apparently a lot according to the Korean audience, given the low rating the future seasons being postponed indefinitely, but according to ME, who watched faithfully every week, even staying up until 4 to catch it freshly subbed?
**SPOILERS*** I loved her character. Resourceful, intelligent and driven. She was another character (besides the Crown Princess) who made the best of her situation, using whatever means were available. I’m never going to blame a woman (be she real or a fictional character) for using her body to survive. But I knew as soon as I saw that scene that Mi-ryung would be “lost”. I’ve yet to see dramaland “redeem” a character after that. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t hoping! But she fell further and further and soon she was just a villain and not a complicated female character with a potential future.
- Hmm, that’s it.
What can I say, I love this drama. I heard people were complaining about the pacing, that it took too long setting up the plot and the relationships but I don’t agree. By the time of the final episode the relationships felt earned, in a way they wouldn’t had everything worked out in episode 5. What, the Crown Prince was just supposed to let go of his past? Dal-hyang and the Crown Princess were just supposed to fall out of love? Dal-hyang should just trust everyone immediately? Nah, they needed to work on it and that took 12 episodes. I buy that.
So, in conclusion: I enjoyed every second of this drama. Everything wasn’t great all the time, but at least it was entertaining. The drama probably would have been better had it gotten all the seasons that were planned (and now I’m never going to see my bromance in China :´( ) but I think the one season works as a stand-alone. A+, would recommend to anyone, especially if you like action-adventure.