“Secret Door” is one of the few dramas I was anticipating after “The Joseon Gunman.” I couldn’t wait to watch this series because finally, SBS has stepped up to do a live representation of one of the biggest mysteries of the Joseon era. Korean history still can’t provide a clear explanation behind the execution of Crown Prince Sado by his father, King Yeongjo. In fact, it is still debated today whether Sado’s death was part of a political conspiracy or not. Just thinking about it, the premise sounds shocking, captivating, and at the same time cruel. Does the premiere of this drama deliver the same amount of hype and satisfaction I was expecting? Certainly. Not only does it have a strong and wide cast, the beginning starts off at a good pace with the introduction of the various characters and the political tension rapidly increases within the walls of the palace.
The story behind Crown Prince Sado
As mentioned earlier, the death of Crown Prince Sado remains a mystery. King Yeongjo issued a royal decree that ordered his son to be sealed within a rice chest. After a week, Sado died from starvation. In the Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong (an amazing literary work, by the way), Lady Hyegyeong was extremely afraid of her husband’s sanity, living in fear that Sado might kill her and her son. The crown prince at the time was under pressure by the king as he was groomed to perfection and greatness; his father had very high expectations for him. At a mere disappointment, Sado wasn’t able to fill his father’s unreasonable demands, causing him to develop erratic behavior and engage subtly in violent acts against the Court.
As much as “Secret Door” keeps a portion of factual events, it integrates imagination in order to deliver the writer’s vision about the antagonistic relationship between Sado and his father, Yeongjo. In the show, Sado and Yeongjo’s ideals will clash as Yeongjo fights to gain more power and Sado defends the idea that this same power should be distributed to the people. With rumors and speculations circulating around the lands of Joseon, Yeongjo learns Sado is planning to kill him and is forced to take action against his son.
Was it a political conspiracy framing the prince?
We’ll never know.
About the cast
King Yeongjo (Han Seok Kyu) is a cold, scheming, and calculative man. Well-versed in Confucianism, he pushes his ambitious dreams forward by seeking more political power and tries to prove to others that he can be a competent leader. He doesn’t express himself much and, deep inside, he has an extreme hunger for knowledge and recognition. In order to protect his throne and his people, he has to make heartbreaking and hard decisions, even to the extent of confronting his son, Crown Prince Sado. I found the first poster interesting as Yeongjo wants to strangle his own demons and in turn suffocates his son as a consequence.
As the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Sado (Lee Je Hoon) struggles to live up to his father’s expectations. He is scared of King Yeongjo and often hides his fear behind a smile. An opportunity arises when the prince is put to the test by solving a murder case and he discovers a dark secret that may change him forever. As for his wife, Lady Hyegyeong (Park Eun Bin), her relationship with Sado is slightly hostile and she tries to conquer her husband’s heart to no avail. Realizing it is not possible to win her husband’s heart, Sado’s ideals of a society with equal rights shatter her dreams and she decides to abandon him in order to protect her son.
Seo Ji Dam (Kim Yoo Jung) is an adventurous woman who aspires to become a writer. Her witness of a murder becomes a bridge to achieving her dreams of finding justice for the working class. She gets involved in the investigation and shares the same ideals with Crown Prince Sado. She likes to challenge any kind of authority and questions the common practices and traditions of Joseon.
Honestly, it is really hard to judge for “Secret Door.” There are so many characters and I am glad the screenwriter is taking the initiative of presenting the entire cast with a cohesive prologue and slow introduction. This aspect lets viewers understanding some behavioral elements emanating from the characters. Per example, at the beginning, before the ascension of King Yeongjo, as a prince, he witnessed the death of one of his presumed followers and was forced to sign an agreement with a power hungry faction, the Norons. At the throne, shackled by the Noron officials and being displayed as a puppet for years, he finally chooses to break free, organizing a ploy to burn down his library, where he suspects the signed document is hidden. His smile says it all – a feeling mixed with high intelligence, exuding charisma and scary manipulation. Goosebumps!
Lee Je Hoon is an excellent choice for the role of Crown Prince Sado. I’m not very concerned about his acting because he delivers exactly what I imagined for this show: a caring prince who is a combatant for the people’s freedom. Another example is Sado witnessing a commoner being physically abused by one of the military guards and doesn’t think twice before helping him. Je Hoon is an actor from whom I can feel the emotions behind the script and his performance is quite exceptional. This is shown in one of his scenes when he begs his father for rescinding the abdication under extreme weather conditions.
As for Kim Yoo Jung, I can’t still shake the image in my head of her as the young Dong Yi I know from the drama of the same name in 2010. Although, this doesn’t change the fact that she’s a talented and rising actress in the industry. Perhaps it was a disappointment because she’s playing a character somewhat similar to her previous portrayals in historical dramas. I hoped she would play a different role for a change. However, she delivers her acting very naturally, as a brave woman challenging the customary philosophy of Joseon.
If I were to give a rating score for “Secret Door,” it would have 4.0 out of 5 stars based on the first two episodes. If you are a drama passionate fan like me, the suspense is there and the story seems unpredictable for now, which will leave us plenty of space for discovering crafty conspiracies and digging out hidden secrets.
The group Block B is also promoting this show with an exclusive soundtrack. The song is a fusion title, incorporating epic instrumentals with contemporary transitions between rap and powerful rhythmic vocals. The song may not sound appealing to most sageuk followers, but it may grow on you like it did for me.
The show has an immense cast. You may think that with so many actors and actresses involved in “Secret Door,” there may be a big chance of having a poor story development with characters we cannot relate to. However, that’s a gamble I’m willing to take for the sake of entertainment. I’m always curious about the fate of Crown Prince Sado and I was very disappointed how it was ultimately shown in “Warrior Baek Dong Soo.” Perhaps his story will be redeemed in “Secret Door.” I need to admit I hope the story will take on a path of darkness for Sado, but so far, it seems the series is heading towards transforming Je Hoon’s character as a warmhearted martyr and making him out as a misunderstood and dehumanized dark prince history has presented us.
Are you ready to witness the cat-and-mouse game between Sado and his father?
If you have seen the premiere, what were your impressions of the drama?
Don’t miss out “Secret Door” airing on Mondays and Tuesdays on SBS – 21:55 KST!
You can view the highlight preview below:
The drama is available in our Soompi’s sister site, KDrama.com