Original Air Date: July – September 2019
For the first time in the Joseon court, female historians are hired including the smart and independent Goo Hae Ryung. While working in the palace, she meets the hidden Prince Lee Rim.
When I was new to the drama world, I was mostly sticking with the romcom genre. I was avoiding historical or saeguk dramas for a while. But once I got a little more versed in Korean culture and history, I finally made the jump with Sungkyunkwan Scandal, which I really enjoyed. Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung has a very similar vibe with the light-hearted humor and the depiction of a very strong and smart female in an era where males were dominant and females were supposed to take care of the home. When you are ready to try something new, I think both of these dramas are excellent gateways to the saeguk world. I think that Sungkyunkwan Scandal was a little better, especially with the acting, so I would recommend that one first to a newbie.
What I loved about Rookie Historians is all of their characters from the leads to the side characters and even the minor ones. Their personalities were all so well developed and I got pulled into their world.
Shin Se Kyung was amazing as the titular character, Goo Hae Ryung. She was by far my favorite. She had no desire to get married at 26 years old. She wanted to live free and make her own mark in the world. She was incredibly well educated, literate and a thinker ahead of her time. She wasn’t afraid to challenge others, even the king, with her moral and ethical take on problems. She also had a great sense of humor which constantly made me laugh out loud.
Prince Lee Rim was played by Astro’s Cha Eun Woo. His acting is still pretty green with occasional glimpses of deeper emotional acting. But he was still able to depict the Prince’s naiveté and innocence well. He also had a lot of funny moments with his banter with Hae Ryung, or his attempts to try to be smarter than her but failing and probably best, when he was proud of himself for a joke or his “suaveness.” Somehow when he smiles, you forget that he’s not the greatest actor and can’t help but to smile back at your tv.
Both leads had some great people around them that helped to bring the comedy and the friendship. The other female historians were all strong females too and got to shine in their fight for justice and to be respected. The male historians eventually got flushed out too and I loved how their growth from ridiculing the female historians to fighting alongside them to go up against the king. It was also cute how they would have “after work” drinks and play drinking games, very similar to the modern Korean dramas!
Probably my favorite side character though was Prince Lee Rim’s eunuch. His humor and comedic timing was excellent. His character was exaggerated for the laughs, but it just worked so well. He was also such a kind fatherly figure that Prince Rim missed his whole life.
The first half of the drama was fairly light and had me laughing. It got a little more serious as it went on, but it still held to the comedy to not make it too weighty of a drama. What I appreciated was that despite the light-heartedness, this drama tackled some very big themes, but was still able to deliver it in a thoughtful way. It wasn’t in your face and trying to lecture you, nor was it trying to be polarizing, it was depicting societal issues and challenges. It also is fascinating to me how these are issues that our society is still dealing with today. For example, the running themes were female empowerment, female equality in the workplace, censorship, historical accuracy, religious persecution, resistance to science and medicine and there was even a vaccine controversy!
Prior to watching this drama, I didn’t know about the historians in the Joseon era. It was fascinating to me to learn about their role and their huge importance in history. So much is known about Korean History because from 1413 to 1865 the Royal Historians recorded everything in 1,900 volumes called the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty. It’s been deemed a National Treasure of Korea and is included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World registry. An ongoing question that runs through this drama is asking the question “Can history ever be written completely objective?” And “What is the truth in history?” Time and time again, we see people trying to distort history to make themselves sound better. The historians are willing to give up their lives to make sure that the truth is told. Their diligence and integrity were admirable. I was equating a lot of their struggles to a modern-day journalists who often gets censored when trying to tell the truth.
I should note that this show is not based in reality in the sense that there never were female historians allowed. So the writers took the liberty to create more of a “what if” scenario. What if females were able to break the barriers in the 19th century, what if western science was allowed in Joseon times, what if freedom of religion were possible. How different would modern-day Korea be if some of these small seeds were planted and accepted in Joseon times?
I thoroughly enjoyed Rookie Historian. It was a modern twist to what sometimes can feel like a stuffy historical genre. The drama had a light-hearted comedic feel, but still tackled some important issues that are present in modern-day Korea and the United States! I loved the role reversals from typical K dramas, where our lead female was the strong smart one and the male was the more flowery sheltered naïve one. Shin Se Kyung did a great job playing her role along with a lot of the supporting cast. I think if you are a Cha Eun Woo fan, you’ll love him no matter what. This was the first drama I saw him in (I later watched True Beauty and My ID is Gangnam Beauty). I think he was strongest in this role, but he still has a long way to go in his acting.
If you are ready to take the jump into watching saeguk’s, then this is a Must See. If you aren’t yet, Add it to your list and watch it when you are ready to expand your Korean drama viewing.