Combine Ma Boy with Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency and what do you get? The Tale of Nokdu – a fictional story based on the 2014 webtoon entitled Joseon Love Story: The Tale of Nokdu by Hye Jin-Yang.
When Jeon Nok-Du’s family is attacked, and very nearly left for dead, he decides to secretly follow the perpetrators in order to catch their leader so he can find out why someone wants them eliminated. His search culminates at a widow’s village where no man is allowed to enter. So that he can continue his mission, Nok-Du adopts a clever female disguise and, dressed as “Widow Kim,” becomes a resident of the village. He is taken to the courtesan house where he finds himself the roommate of a courtesan in training named Dong Dong-Joo. Through a mishap, while living as Lady Kim, Nok-Du accidentally finds himself auditioning to be a member of a tiny handful of elite female assassins. When Dong-Joo discovers the woman living with her is really a man, Nok-Du does his best to convince her to keep her mouth shut and not expose his little secret to the world. Can he ascertain who wants his family dead, and why, before his cover is blown?
Jeon Nok-Du grew up on a remote, little island with his parents and older brother, his mother passing away when he was a teenager. He is an excellent student of martial arts, taught by Master Hwang Jae-Gun, who also happens to be a neighbor and friend. Master Hwang’s seven year old daughter is enamored with Nok-Du and under the impression she has been promised to him as a bride.
Dong Dong-Joo’s family was viciously slaughtered when she was a young girl, the king claiming her grandfather was plotting treason. As the sole survivor, Dong-Joo grew up as a courtesan in training, although her performance skills leave a lot to be desired. She has taught herself how to construct and shoot a bow and arrow because she plans on someday killing the king to avenge her family’s murder.
Cha Yoon-Moo is a handsome, charismatic man who often hangs out at the courtesan house and cooks, however, that is just his cover. The man is actually the king’s nephew, Neungyang, who has known Dong-Joo since they were children. He is in love with her and will do whatever it takes to win her heart. Neungyang covets the throne and is secretly plotting a rebellion.
Gwanghae is a paranoid and lonely king. He came to sit on the throne even though his father was against it and his current position means more to him than anything else, even his own flesh and blood. Although he has talked himself into believing the secret, dastardly deed he committed 20 years ago was warranted, Gwanghae knows in his heart he is a selfish tyrant and loathes himself. Because he finds it difficult to be at peace enough to sleep, he goes into the city at night disguised as an officer of the law, and befriends Nok-Du and Dong-Joo.
You can read about Hang Dong-Yoon, the man who plays the part of Jeon Nok-Du, in my Solomon’s Perjury review. One thing I didn’t mention in that review is that while he was a student at Hanyang University he happened upon a robber with a lethal weapon that was threatening a clerk at a convenience store and came up with “a quick plan to have the culprit arrested.” His actions were reported in the media and he was recognized with a commendation from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for his heroism. After that incident, he began receiving casting offers. Dong-Yoon served his mandatory military service before he went into acting, so Kdramaland will never have to be without the man.
For information about Kim So-Hyun, the gal that plays Dong Dong-Joo, you can go to my Radio Romance review. Just a little FYI – during filming, Kim So-Hyun fell off a horse, receiving a minor injury which put filming on hold until she had recovered.
If you check out my Evergreen and My First First Love reviews you can read a bit about Kang Tae-Oh, the handsome actor with the dazzling smile who plays evil Prince Neungyang. At first it broke my heart to see him play a bad guy, but he did it so well it just made me respect his acting skills even more than before.
In all honesty I wasn’t always able to figure out what was going on in this show. Once certain things came to light (many, many episodes in) I understood everything, but as it was playing out I did have several moments of “I don’t get it.” Thankfully, I stuck with it and was able to clear up the fog.
Can Hang Dong-Yoon pass for female? Absolutely yes. He’s tall but there’s a very large widow in the village that might even be a bit taller than he is. He grew his hair out for this role and his features are soft and comely. I read that he also went on a strict diet so he’d look feminine in a hanbok. (Those things de-emphasize any sort of bust-line and are bulky so they show off zero curves. I see no reason anyone would have to diet to look good in a hanbok.) His hands are obviously masculine but they aren’t showcased so that wasn’t a problem. I’d say Dong-Hoon made a great widow, right up until the time we see him with his shirt off and then his incredible six-pack and broad shoulders definitely scream male.
I want to explain this review’s opening paragraph. Anyone who has seen Ma Boy knows actress Kim So-Hyun plays the part of a girl who becomes roommates with a guy masquerading as a girl, and in Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency a poor guy is shocked when he discovers he comes from the highest bloodline in the country. Those happen to be the two major storylines of The Tale of Nokdu so I say the originality of this drama is a big, fat zero.
Now let’s talk about the technical aspects of the show. That gets nothing less than full marks. I was particularly impressed with the way slow motion is used in this drama, coming in perfect places and lasting for the perfect amount of time. Camera angels are clean and imaginative and the action sequences are excellent, right down to the fancy wire work. Also, I didn’t catch a single “oops” throughout its 32 episodes.
The Tale of Nokdu has been a huge success for KBS2, its first week garnering between six and eight percent ratings, a feat which has not been achieved since 2016’s The Man Living in Our House. The drama was also shown simultaneously on Wavve (a new South Korean online video service in direct competition with Netflix) which, due to what is being called “The Tale of Nokdu effect,” increased 4.5 times in paid subscribers. The Tale of Nokdu happens to be the first series produced by Wavve. The drama ranked third place in online video consumption of the dramas that were airing at that same time. Also, Jang Dong-Yoon ranked third and Kim So-Hyun ranked fifth on the list of the ten most talked about actors and actresses in South Korea. However, in spite of all the hoopla surrounding the drama, this fictional historic romantic comedy failed to impress me. Personally, I never thought it went past just okay.
As for the drama’s music, the upbeat Baby Only You, performed by NCT U, has some great rapping in it. Gummy’s voice nicely compliments the ballad Most Perfect Days. My favorite ballad is Sunshine Wind Starlight, passionately sung by Park Jae-Jung. The ballad Scar, performed by Kim Yeon-Ji, reminded me of Suddenly, sung by Kim Bo-Kyung, from City Hunter. Although the melodies are slightly similar, the female voices are very much alike – too much vibrato and the chorus is an overbearing crescendo. I don’t really care for either song.
The scenery in this drama is exquisite. It’s a visionary feast everywhere we look – a secluded beach bordering a vast ocean, a bamboo grove perfect for a sword fighting scene, mountain paths that lead to fresh rivers and pools, fields and fields of orange flowers and tall waving weeds… wow!
I’m glad I saw The Tale of Nokdu even though I wouldn’t put it on my top ten list of 2019. It’s a decent drama, but don’t worry if you decide to postpone watching it a while. May I suggest When the Camellia Blooms, instead? Now, that one’s a ten!
Excellent use of slow motion
Kang Tae-Oh’s evil character performance
Exciting action/fight scenes
Difficult to follow at times