Monday, October 26, 2020

REVIEW: Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung (live action TV series)

Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung is a Korean historical drama with romantic aspects. I watched it on Netflix.

This is set during the Joseon dynasty. Goo Hae-Ryung is an intelligent young woman who, rather than getting married, wants to become one of the first female historians in the royal court. Meanwhile, Prince Dowon, the less beloved younger son of the king, has spent his life confined to the palace, not permitted to take part in politics or life in the royal court. He passes the time by secretly writing wildly popular romance novels and can't stand it when he overhears Hae-Ryung's less-than-positive assessment of them. 

After Hae-Ryung becomes an apprentice historian, her and Prince Dowon's paths become intertwined. Together, they eventually uncover the secrets at the root of both their pasts.

I'll be honest: my K-drama stamina is pretty terrible. Occasionally I really get into something and finish it fast, but it's more common for me to start a show and then just...never finish it. That's almost what happened with this one. I started watching it, stalled partway through, and then didn't continue on until several months later. I finished the series in short spurts, during my lunch breaks at work.

The show started with a sort of "opposites attract" dynamic, set up in a way I enjoyed. For once, the guy was the incurable romantic while the woman was the more practical and unromantic one. Hae-Ryung had a tendency to pick apart the details of romantic stories and thought Prince Dowon's novels were silly. Prince Dowon was a little younger than Hae-Ryung, starry-eyed, and enjoyed pretty romantic fantasies.

As the series progressed, the political aspects moved more to the forefront, and it became easy to forget the initial setup. The female historians had to deal with hazing and government officials who wouldn't let them do their jobs, books were banned and confiscated, Prince Dowon was sent to an area in the grip of an epidemic, the king grappled with the role of the royal historians, hidden Catholics were rooted out, etc. At a certain point, the political aspects began to reach as far back as the day when the current king first assumed the throne.

I enjoyed the political drama, Dowon's relationship with his older brother, and the developments involving Song Sa-hee, one of the other female historians. Hae-Ryung and Dowon's romance had its good points, but it was probably my least favorite thing about the series. I liked Hae-Ryung and Dowon as friends, but they didn't quite work for me as a couple. Dowon was occasionally a little too starry-eyed for me - in particular, the part where he offered to run off with Hae-Ryung made me tired, because the reason why they couldn't was obvious, and he put Hae-Ryung in the horrible position of having to spell it all out for him.

The ending was, unfortunately, the weakest part of the series. It felt too fluffy, light, and perfect to be believable, even knowing that several characters died off-screen. Still, the bulk of this series was interesting, and I got a kick out of the court bureaucracy moments and focus on historians' professional integrity.


  1. I didn't know you reviewed TV shows, too! I sent you a message on Goodreads, BTW.

    1. Yup, as long as I'm in the mood for it I try to review everything I read or watch. Although I did have a long reviewing slump in the past year that resulted in a lot of stuff not getting reviewed...

      And yeah, I'll go check my messages. I mostly just do updates and feed reading on GR and forget the rest exists sometimes.