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I recently finished watching SBS’s Rooftop Prince. The drama aired from March to May, 2012, and centered around a prince and his underlings, who are transported into the future to solve the mystery of his crown princess’s death. The drama starred Micky Yoochun as Prince Lee Gak/Yong Tae Yong. Han Ji Min played Park Ha/Bu Yong. Jung Yoo Mi played Hwa Yong/Hong Se Na. And Lee Tae Song played Yong Tae Moo/Prince’s brother. Lee Min Ho (Man Bo), Choi Woo Shik (Chi San), and Jung Suk Won (Yong Sul) played Lee Gak’s sidekicks.
When Crown Prince Lee Gak is transported 300 years into the future to present day Seoul along with his three retainers, they believe that it is their duty to solve the murder case of the Crown Princess in order to return to Joseon. They land in the rooftop apartment of Park Ha, a cheerful woman in her mid-20s, who eventually believes the odd quartet’s predicament and becomes their guardian. As Park Ha educates the four on life in the 21st century, Lee Gak comes across Hong Se Na, who seems to be the reincarnation of his wife. Taking on the identity of Yong Tae Yong, Lee Gak slowly begins to unravel the murder of Yong Tae Yong and in turn moves closer to solving the murder case of the Crown Princess. As he finds himself in love with Park Ha, he figures that maybe the Crown Princess was not so perfect after all…
At the beginning of the drama, the viewer sees a Korea of 300 years ago. There is a monarchy. A king. A crown prince, Lee Gak. And a murder mystery.
We then flashback to about a decade or 15 years earlier, when the main characters were all children. At that time, the search for the crown princess began. Prince Lee Gak only asks for one thing: that his bride be pretty. In one of his courtier’s households, the father picks young Bu Yong to be their offering for the crown princess position, bypassing the older sister, Hwa Yong. While Hwa Yong is hurt, she tries to accept the truth, but one day she accidentally burns Bu Yong with a heating iron, causing the younger girl to scar. Hwa Yong is then chosen as the crown princess, and Bu Yong is forever left to live in her sister’s shadow.
We then return to the main leads when they have all reached adulthood. We see that Hwa Yong and Lee Gak have a happy marriage, because he doesn’t look below the surface. Bu Yong is their ever present shadow, embroidering pretty things for her sister to pass off as her own, and using her knowledge to distract the prince from the fact that Hwa Yong does not understand half of what he says. The audience sees that Bu Yong is also in love with the prince.
One morning, Lee Gak awakens to find the crown princess dead. When he is not able to find the answers that he needs, he sets out to solve the mystery of her murder on his own. He gathers a team of individuals and begins searching for clues. Man Bo is the brains of the team. Yong Sul the brawn. And Chi San becomes the ears, ferreting out all sorts of rumors. The crown prince is attacked along with his team, and in attempting to escape their killers, they are transported into the future. Our present time.
The four fall into Park Ha’s rooftop apartment. She reluctantly accepts them into her home, and teaches them how to adjust to the modern world. While initially skeptical of their stories, she comes to believe that they are truly from the past. She tries to help them in any way she can. Park Ha feeds them omurice, puts them to work for the things that they have destroyed in her home, and eventually they all become friends. Park Ha even begins to like Lee Gak, and beings to think that he may like her too.
Park Ha is an individual who has a sad history of her own. Park Ha’s father married Hong Se Na’s mother when Park Ha was a young child. Se Na is completely evil in this time period. She got Park Ha into trouble for shoplifting, did not watch her when she was supposed to, and, finally, she let a truck drive away with Park Ha in the back, not telling anyone what had happened to Park Ha. Park Ha was subsequently in a car accident, and lost all of her memories. Park Ha was adopted by a family in the USA and came back years later, only to find that her father had died the day before. She has lived through all of this, and still has the courage to dream. She hopes to have a fruit shop, and works hard for that. She tries to create a family with Hong Se Na and her stepmother.
Despite all of Park Ha’s efforts to become a family, Se Na refuses to recognize her as a sister. Se Na thinks only blood connections matter, and Park Ha has no such connection to her. She warns Park Ha to stay away from the two of them. She goes to the lengths of stealing Park Ha’s deposit check, thus causing Park Ha to lose the shop she had leased and the money that she had already deposited. Hong Se Na works at a company, and is dating one of the directors, Yong Tae Moo.
Yong Tae Moo and his father are constantly plotting to take the family company from its owner, the chairman. Tae Moo’s father was the result of an affair the chairman’s husband had with another woman. Due to that, the chairman will never consider them as the successors of the company. Two years before the present time, Tae Moo went to New York and “accidentally” killed his cousin, the true successor to the company. His cousin’s name is Yong Tae Yong. Tae Moo accidentally pushed Tae Yong into the ocean, and rather than attempting to save him, he left and pretended that he had never met Tae Yong in New York.
Through multiple interactions with Tae Yong’s grandmother and Se Na, Lee Gak realizes a few things. He has figured out that Tae Yong must be his reincarnation in this present time. He believes Se Na to be the reincarnation of his crown princess. He begins to pretend that he is Tae Yong in this time period, hoping to attract Se Na and marry her. He believes that if everything is the way it was in the past, then he would be able to solve the mystery of the crown princess’s murder and will be able to return home.
Despite the closeness he begins to feel with Park Ha, he decides to follow through on marrying Se Na, knowing that this is the only way he and his team can go back to Joseon. But Tae Yong has begun to wonder why they landed in Park Ha’s home, rather than landing closer to Se Na. He then discovers that Park Ha was his sister-in-law, Bu Yong, in his time period. He also begins to notice the devious character of Se Na, and discovers that his crown princess wasn’t the sweet, innocent woman he believed her to be. He finds out that Se Na and Park Ha are sisters, and suggests to Park Ha that they may even be biological sisters. Park Ha discovers this to be the truth. The two share a mother that abandoned both of them at different times.
Lee Gak eventually rejects Se Na, and tells Park Ha that he loves her.
All throughout this drama there has been the corporate tale of Tae Moo trying to get the company. He tried to kill Tae Yong/Lee Gak multiple times. He kidnaps Park Ha to get Lee Gak to sign papers. He tries to get rid of Park Ha, so that she can’t reveal his deeds, and tries to unveil the imposter he knows Lee Gak to be to get control of the company. He even discovers the real Tae Yong in a vegetative-like state in Chicago and brings him home. That backfires on him, as well. Tae Moo also sends Se Na over to steal a laptop with evidence of his misdeeds, and Se Na accidentally kills Tae Yong’s grandmother. Lee Gak and Park Ha fight to stop Tae Moo from taking over, because Lee Gak believes that he owes this to Tae Yong, especially when Tae Yong’s grandmother dies on his watch.
One such attempt is an attempt to run Lee Gak down with a car. Se Na entices him to a lakefront, and Tae Moo revs up the engine to run him over. Park Ha arrives just in time to push Lee Gak out of the way. She is gravely injured, and lands in the water in a pose identical to which the crown princess was found in in the past. Lee Gak gets her medical care, but her liver is too badly damaged and she cannot survive without a liver transplant. Lee Gak tries to guilt Se Na into giving Park Ha a part of her liver.
Tae Moo, who has decided to escape overseas, forcibly takes Se Na with him. The police and Lee Gak arrive in time to capture him. Se Na saves Park Ha and goes to the police to give herself up.
Lee Gak’s team disappear one by one, and eventually, Lee Gak fades into the past, leaving Park Ha all alone in the future.
Lee Gak and his team appear in Joseon time, where they solve the mystery. An attempt was made on Lee Gak’s life by the Joseon Tae Moo (a minor prince who hopes to take over the throne). He and the crown princess’s family sent poison to the crown princess, who then sprinkled it on Lee Gak’s snack. Bu Yong discovered the plot, and came to save the prince. While she could not reveal the plot, thus endangering her family, she did not want the prince to die either. She willingly eats the snack, and then tells her sister to change clothes with her. This way the crown princess would be “dead”, and no one would continue investigating this attack. But Hwa Yong could no longer be the princess. If a nobody like Bu Yong died in court, this would invite further inquiry, because people would need to know who the real target was. Hwa Yong agrees.
Lee Gak unveils Bu Yong’s family. He then searches out Hwa Yong, and confirms that she is not Bu Yong. An attack is made on his life by Joseon Tae Moo, but Lee Gak survives. Lee Gak sentences all the males to death and the females to exile. He then lives out his days knowing that Bu Yong had loved him, and that he will love Park Ha to the end of his days.
In the present, Park Ha meets an awakened Tae Yong, who has miraculously come out of his coma. With the image we see of Lee Gak at the end, we are meant to believe that Tae Yong is truly the reincarnation of Lee Gak.
The drama started out in the Joseon period and we saw a mystery unfold. We then jumped into the future, where we saw comedy with Lee Gak and his team learning to acclimate to the present day. The drama then began to focus on the corporate take over, and became a melodrama with loud overtones of soap opera elements. Finally, we went back into the past and resolved the mystery that had been plaguing our characters from the beginning. While I would give this drama a 4/10 overall, there were a lot of reasons that I really disliked this story.
Tae Moo’s Ineptitude:
I found myself forward through a lot of this drama, because frankly I was tired of watching Tae Moo just fail all the time. I mean, how inept can someone be? Tae Moo made countless attempts to get the company, discredit Lee Gak, kill Lee Gak, and, yet, he never won. How can anyone enjoy that level of ineptitude?
Focus of the Drama:
The focus of this drama was all over the place. I came in expecting a romantic comedy. All the parts of the romance/comedy, I liked. I have some problems with the ending, but that’s for another section. The murder mystery was surprising, but I enjoyed that, as well. What I did NOT like was the endless corporate stuff or the makjang with the birth secrets. That went on for 10 episodes too long.
The Abundance of Horrible Characters:
Besides the ridiculous amount of time wasted on the corporation, I did not like the characters in this drama for the most part. I would characterize them in three general categories. And it seemed that the latter two categories overpowered the first category, and made the drama a miserable watch for me.
We had our good people: Lee Gak, Park Ha and his team. When they were on the screen, I laughed a lot, my heart was touched, and I cried for them. I wanted them to get their happily ever after.
We had our other characters: the manager that was on Tae Yong’s side, Tae Yong’s great aunt, Se Na’s mother, Chairman Jang, the girls’ real mother. When these people were on the screen, I wasn’t too bugged by them, but I never felt that I had to watch any scenes they were in, either.
Finally, we had the villains: Tae Moo, Yong Dong Man (Tae Moo’s father), Tae Yong’s grandmother, and Se Na. Tae Moo and Dong Man were unlikable because of their ineptitude, their values, and because I didn’t care one bit about the company. Tae Yong’s grandmother was just annoying. How could she be so easily manipulated and so harsh to Park Ha? No sympathy here just because she’s old. Finally, Se Na was a total sociopath. She was evil to Park Ha, didn’t care about her own mother, and would lie and manipulate to get everything she wanted. There was not one person in that drama that she loved, except for herself. Whenever she was talking, it was like nails on a chalkboard for me. She made me cringe. I did not buy her transformation at the end. She probably donated because she knew the police would get her, and thought that this would buy her some leniency. Finally, I really think that Hwa Yong subconsciously, but deliberately, burned poor Bu Yong in the Joseon period. Se Na is one of the more hateful characters I have seen, and she made this drama a miserable watch for me.
I did not like the inconsistencies in the drama, and I felt that the writer dropped the ball multiple times. One, we can see that Lee Gak truly believes in reincarnation. Which, okay, I’ll buy because maybe it’s a cultural/religious thing. But how can he so easily fall for and be comfortable in a relationship with Park Ha? The woman was his sister-in-law!
Then, he hears about one rumor of his Hwa Yong (that she burned her sister’s face), which we saw was an accident, and he uses that as an excuse to stop the wedding/break up with Se Na? Fine, I can buy that while he didn’t know about the murder plot and the crown princess’ participation, that just meant that Hwa Yong had the same character as Se Na. But it felt he was using that as an excuse to be with Park Ha.
Additionally, why do we see Lee Gak realizing multiple times that Park Ha is Bu Yong? I thought he got it when the handkerchief fell over her face. But he then “gets” it again when they’re doing laundry. Which was confusing.
Additionally, we never get to see why Lee Gak was allowed the chance to go into the future. I don’t know, one conversation with a monk or even the personification of fate would have helped. I can understand that maybe fate/destiny/the gods were angered that Tae Moo/Se Na would get away with their evil deeds in both time periods against poor Lee Gak/Park Ha and think to give the two a chance at some sort of love, but seriously? No explanation at all?
We never get to see what Park Ha found out when she read the historical text about Lee Gak’s reign. She never mentions it to anyone. But there was something shocking in there, since she was shocked. And I wanted to know, dammit.
Finally, how the heck does Tae Yong wake up from his vegetative state? No mention/explanation is made of that, even though we were told earlier that there was no hope of recovery!
Finally, I am truly unhappy with the ending. The reincarnation of Lee Gak is NOT Lee Gak. The character that we have come to know and like lived out his days without Park Ha. (Although, I have to wonder whether he was truly alone. Didn’t he need an heir?) Park Ha has to live her life without Lee Gak, although she can find a second love with Tae Yong. Finally, Tae Yong will only ever be second best to Lee Gak.
And that is a truly depressing ending.