I love stories of underdogs who triumph against all odds. Prince Yeoning is the epitome of an underdog. Having a mother from the lowest caste in Joseon society, in an era where family background determined one’s worth and destiny, he surely was not acknowledged as a true Prince by most of the upper class nobles and royal families. He himself did not believe he was a true Prince, so he lived a reckless life. Which in turn did not attract much respect from others. His own wife treated him with half contempt (although we can also argue that he was to blame for her treatment).
We see another example of this scornful treatment in the conversation Lord Min shared with Prince Yeonryeong while Prince Yeoning was being interrogated by the royal guard.
Lord Min: “You must be worried, My Lord (DAEGAM) the Prince. Prince Yeoning, who is close to you, humiliated His Lordship Prince Milpoong. There must be consequences to his actions.”
Hwon corrected him: “It is His Lordship Prince Yeoning! My brother is not just Prince Yeoning.” Lord Min rebuffed him, saying that Prince Yeonryeong should know who to bow down to at times, since a king needs his subjects. But this Prince cared not so much for sucking to the powerful.
This is one of the reasons I find Geum’s relationship with his younger brother all the more endearing. Their brotherly love transcended status and expectations from others. They sort of belonged to different societal status. But when they were together, they were true brothers. The younger brother used honorific speech towards him all the time, while Geum felt comfortable enough to use informal speech towards Hwon.
And as mentioned in the first random ranting, this brotherly love was powerful enough to change Geum. When he realized his brother’s throne (and life) was in danger, he starts coming out of his own self-denial, in order to help his brother. One of the things he does: exactly the opposite of what the horse trader Kaedol asks of him. Instead of hiding away till things quiet down, he sends Cho Hong to the market, to begin a chain of rumors that will turn the popular opinion about Prince Milpoong upside down.
And why does he go to Prince Milpoong’s house to thank him for the golden frog? In order to mock him, yes. But it is mostly to scare Tan, and to incite him to send his minions to the gravesite, “to hide the corpse away.” And so he follows, to another dangerous expedition, to catch the criminal.
Besides the younger brother though, there is someone else that unexpectedly causes the Prince to come out of his shell. It is his father’s calling.
This is a turning point in Prince Yeoning’s life. His father the king has called him secretly, telling him that his son has many attributes that will make of a good king, and to please let the world see them. To hear such words of praise in the midst of rebuke, hurts him and confuses him. But it is also a source of encouragement. He has always thought his father disapproved of him… And the saddest realization, that the king is dying. It felt like a last wish, an earnest petition for the Prince to turn his life around and start living a life worthy of a Prince.
It is after this meeting that he wrestles with himself. “Will I get drunk on wine… or on dreams?” As his servant Jadong well says, he is an idealist by nature. But being a half-blooded Prince, he knows he has no power to change the world. And yet, his own father the King is prompting him…
They say servants are similar to their masters. Jadong is another idealist who dares not to dream of a better world. I find his conversation with Prince Yeoning towards the end, quite intriguing. He is earnestly gazing at the Prince, calling him a dreamer. And yet, he asks him to please, let the dreams be just that: dreams. To never move forward lest he be disappointed. But to my ears, it feels like he is actually asking the Prince to do something.
I love superhero stories. Of people looking weak and foolish, hiding a secret identity, with a secret mission. I feel like Prince Yeoning is a bit like that here. Looking foolish, like an airhead being caught red-handed cheating on exams, stealing and making trouble in Prince Milpoong’s hunting trip. Giving unreasonable excuses to the royal guard about sexual orientation, playing the game of “I am a loser.” But going on a dangerous mission to uncover dark secrets about his murderous relative, in order to save his younger brother. And yes, meanwhile, he saves Yeoji’s life too… twice already. Not that he really cares for her that much at this point, but it is just the right thing to do: “to save a woman in distress.”
And that last scene, where he shows up suddenly to announce: “Oh My! How can this be? That so-called-witness… he’s here.” Why did I think of the hero from THE SCARLET PIMPERNELL? So clumsy looking, sounding almost drunk? A foolish looking man who sees and understands what is going on better than anyone else. A hero in disguise.
The Scarlet Pimpernel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scarlet_Pimpernel