A completely addictive Korean historical drama (sageuk), I watched 100 Days My Prince (2018) in a two day marathon while waiting for upcoming episodes of an ongoing drama I was watching to arrive on schedule. I didn't know going in that this K-drama would be so captivating and enjoyable, but I should have known, given the excellence of this great ensemble cast, and the writing of scriptwriter No Ji Sul, who had written the unforgettable masterpiece Scent Of A Woman in 2011. I finally watched this in 2020, and I wouldn't have waited two years if I had known it would be that mesmerizing a drama!
I've been watching the leading lady Nam Ji Hyun (23 when she made this drama) since she was a little girl in the 2005 fusion sageuk Rebirth: Next, and had really loved her in Angel Eyes (2014) playing the younger version of Gu Hye Sun's character, and her role in Late Night Restaurant (2015) playing Oh Ji Ho's young fiance (lucky girl!). She has a wonderful warmth about her that makes her an exceptional actress.
Leading man D.O. (full name Do Kyung Soo from world famous Kpop group EXO) had very much impressed me in the masterpiece It's Okay, That's Love (2014), playing an imaginary character who haunted Jo In Sung's character's schizophrenic mind, and as a psychotic criminal in I Remember You (2015). He's pleasant to look at, no doubt, but with each drama or film I watch him in I realize that underneath that pretty boy outward appearance is an actor with great substance and depth and intelligence for one so young. There was one scene in this drama, in particular, that made my mouth drop down in awe due to his superb acting, when his character cradles the blood stained clothes of a friend who had died to protect him from assassination. I felt my hot tears pour down at that unforgettable scene. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13 KJV. I can just imagine what an even more impressive actor D.O. will be ten years from now, and after he finishes military service and becomes more manly in appearance instead of boyish. Watch out, K-drama World!
Rounding out the excellent main cast was veteran actor Cho Seung Ha (Gu Family Book) as the dastardly villain of the story (phenomenal performance, how I hated his character!), my particular favorite Kim Sun Ho (You Drive Me Crazy!, Catch The Ghost) as second male lead, playing a coy Royal Librarian, Jung Hae Kyun (Black Dog, My Mister) playing the supportive adoptive father of the female lead character (he's always excellent), and for comic relief Lee Joon Hyuk (The Wind Blows), and veteran actor Ahn Suk Hwan (Partner, Chuno) playing an oafish politician who inappropriately lusts after the much younger leading lady character. It is so much fun to watch so many familiar faces pop up in Korean dramas. They make you smile when you recognize them in the cast.
Also, the two child actors who played the leads as children are worth noting, because they were simply fabulous, even if their time on screen was relatively short: Jung Ji Hoon (Goblin, My Mister, Circle), and cutie pie Heo Jung Hun, who had played Han Ji Min's character when young in Hyde, Jekyll, and I. Every time she was on the screen and smiled so pertly my heart melted, she was just that adorable!
The Story: During the Joseon era, a young boy named Lee Yool (Jung Ji Hoon, child, D.O. adult), the nephew of the current King sitting on the throne, likes to play at pretend battles with his male friends, but he always needs to win to be happy, which leads to some bullying by him of children who can't keep up with his martial arts' skills. During one particular "battle", a strong and brave young nobleman's daughter named Yoon Si Yeo (Heo Jung Hun as a child, Nam Ji Hyun as an adult) enters the scene and rescues a bullied boy, and tells Lee Yool off to his face: "You're supposed to be kind to people weaker than you are", she lectures him. Despite himself, Lee Yool is impressed by this brave little girl and starts to befriend her. They grow to like each other and they cast former enmity aside. Lee Yool even promises to marry her someday, as cherry blossoms fall down all around them.
However, in the adult world, plots to disrupt the Kingdom begin to brew, initiated by an ambitious Left State Councilor named Kim Cha Eon (Cho Song Ha), events which will threaten the happiness of these two childhood friends. Cha Eon wants a weak King on the throne so that he can control him, and recognizes that the current King's brother (Jo Han Chul) is perfect to fill that role. Being a coward at heart, this brother goes along with Cha Eon's plan to get rid of the current King, his brother, by force, so that he can take his place on the throne. This all works out almost too perfectly for the evil forces in the Kingdom, and the only one to object to the new King happens to be a righteous and noble minister, the father of little Si Yeo, who is murdered right before her eyes by the evil Left State Minister. He thrusts a sword into him with all the Satanic hate he can muster. Also watching events on the sidelines, in shock, is little Lee Yool, who will become a Prince now that his weak father will take the throne as King. The two childhood friends are torn apart by these tumultuous events, and little Si Yeo has to run away for her life with her protective older brother named Moo Yeon, and eventually brother and sister are parted by fate and she is raised by a kindhearted poor man (Jung Hae Kyun) in a distant village, whom she learns to call "father", in place of her biological nobleman father who was murdered. Si Yeo's name is changed to Hong Sim to protect her identity, because of course the Left State Councilor wants to kill her since she was a witness to her father's murder. Meanwhile, Prince Lee Yool grows up harboring resentments against his weak father who is now the King and easily manipulated by the Left State Councilor, who holds the real power in the Kingdom. As a maturing young man, Lee Yool blames his father for the early death of his beloved mother, which occurred under mysterious circumstances, and to make matters worse he is married off to a girl he does not love, Kim So Hye (Han So Hee), the daughter of that same evil Left State Councilor! The only things that bring Lee Yool any happiness are 1) becoming proficient at martial arts, 2) studying Confucianism, and 3) memories of that brave little girl he had grown to love in childhood. His only friends are his devoted bodyguard named Dong Joo (Do Ji Han, lovely performance), and a Royal Librarian with a good sense of irony and fun, named Jung Je Yoon (Kim Sun Ho, who always brightened my mood whenever he showed up in a scene). Je Yoon becomes a kind of secret advisor to the Prince, and even later he grows fond of Si Yeo alias Hong Sim, too, so yet another kind of Second Male Leaditis Syndrome befell me, as I watched his cute scenes with actress Nam Ji Hyun blossom on screen. I always knew she would never forget the Prince, but at times I couldn't help rooting for Je Yoon anyway.
The Left State minister Cha Eon then finds out that his daughter the Princess, who is married to Lee Yool, is pregnant, but since he knows his daughter and Prince Lee Yool have never consummated their marriage, since the Prince does not love her, he realizes soon enough he will somehow have to get rid of Prince Lee Yool permanently before he discovers his "wife" is pregnant. When Cha Eon asks his daughter who the biological father of her child is she refuses to answer him, wanting to protect that man from discovery. The wicked Cha Eon secretly orders his private soldiers to assassinate Lee Yool, but during a chase through the woods the Prince's bodyguard comes up with the idea that they should switch clothes and separate, and the poor bodyguard is murdered in the Prince's place. While falling down a hill in the escape, Prince Lee Yool hits his head on a rock and blanks out. When he is discovered later, unconscious - by none other than "Hong Sim's" adopted father - and nursed back to health by him and his "daughter" Hong Sim - Lee Yool does not remember his identity when he wakes up. They give him the fake name of Won Deuk, and they pretend Won Deuk was an ex-soldier who is her fiance, hoping to keep the lusting paws of a local politician named Park Sun Do (Ahn Suk Hwan) off Hong Sim. They even hold a fake marriage ceremony, with all the funny locals in the village they live in attending and cheering them on.
Even though Lee Yool as Won Deuk no longer remembers he was a Prince, he still strangely holds some of the same personality traits and quirks he had before, such as a rude way of speaking (his standard line to everyone is "This makes me uncomfortable" - it got to be a bit of a joke after awhile), and fussiness with the run down cabin they live in, and the plain food offered him (as a Prince he of course was served wonderful gourmet food!), plus troubles relating to women and to the plain people in the town. Eventually, some of his strengths as a Prince come into focus, for instance he can read Chinese (when most poor people of that time period were illiterate), and his skills at the bow and arrow and sword are incomparable. He slowly gains the respect of the poor village people, which enhances Hong Sim's standing in the community as well. They even make extra money by transcribing books into Chinese for the local bookseller, which helps pay off debts that are owed. As time goes on Lee Yool alias Won Deuk falls in love with his fake wife Hong Sim, and she feels closer to him as well. Will he ever recover his memory, or return to the palace as a Prince, and if he does, will the evil Left State Minister stop targeting him for assassination, or plan another one all over again? What will happen to the Prince's legal wife, who supposedly is carrying his child? Will Hong Sim ever be able to recover from the loss of her "Won Deuk", whom she has grown to love, as a real wife would love her real husband? Will they ever remember that they were once childhood friends? What about Hong Sim's long lost brother, Moo Yeon (Kim Jae Young as an adult) who saved her life as a child? Will she ever see him again? What will happen to the current King, who was placed on the throne after the deaths of too many innocent people, even his own brother? Will he abdicate in favor of his far more moral son, or will a harsh punishment be delivered to him instead?
The multiple side stories going on in 100 Days My Prince add lots of cool interest to this drama as well (too many to go into here without giving away major spoilers), and I can guarantee that if you start this saqeuk you will become majorly hooked on this borderline masterpiece and probably want to marathon it the way I did. Check it out if you have a long block of time you can devote to it, especially if you like historical dramas. Overall this drama has a very sweet ambiance to it, and many poetic screen moments that will linger in your memory long after you have concluded the drama. Don't forget to bring tissues ... and Enjoy!