It’s official: I’m under the spell of Mirror of the Witch and I don’t think I can escape easily now that I am this deep into the drama. How did I know? Well, you know you are just infatuated with a show when you can’t stop thinking about it on the day it airs and you are literally staring at the clock waiting for the show to be out, then waiting for both episodes to be available. Forget about subs, because I can’t wait anymore.
At this point of the story, it’s safe to assume that the introduction part is done and the plot is being set up to lead towards the development and climax of the story. The opinions are divided, since the viewers who went in without any anticipation found themselves being disappointed with the ‘light’ approach after the dark pilot episode, while those who watched with the thought of getting a fairy tale drama found it a nice surprise for the series to be darker than what they have expected. Still, I feel that the story can do so much more because it has managed to balance different tones of the story so far, making it neither too dreary nor too cheery. That being said, the drama knows when to make people laugh and when to make people pay attention to the story it wants to tell.
We did not get to hear much of Yeon-hee’s innermost thoughts with regards to her isolation and the queer situation she was in, but she did not hide her curiosity about the outer world. The books and the things she could her from the market at the town got her curious, so I think she had the same reaction Re: her isolation. It was just that she probably felt that it was disrespectful and she could sense that Choi Guru was trying to protect her. She resembled her mother a lot, in a sense that she was very respectful towards others…well, except in occasions where a thief was entering her area. But being a girl who was almost seventeen, she could not resist the temptation to go out and experience the world for the first time in her life with Poong-yeon’s encouragement and support. But the timing for that was not right at all, and it was on the most dangerous day in her life.
Joon’s attempt to buy his mother’s freedom was actually a very dangerous move too. No master would let his properties escape his clutch easily, just like what Ok did, thus prompting the mama boy to go and tattle about Joon’s plan to his dearest mommy. Tricking Joon into believing that his mother being beaten into a pulp was very traumatic, but I have to give some credit to Lady Sohn (Jeon Mi-sun) for taking a safer route for her own self in dealing with the matter. She needed to teach Joon a lesson but she did not want to risk her credibility by giving a bad treatment to her husband’s concubine. She already got her share of revenge while punishing Joon’s mother earlier, so why risk her position again when she could use tricks against Joon? She was
Joon’s sole life goal at the moment brought upon him a tragedy, and one night’s event changes Yeon-hee’s life forever.
The quote said by Yeon-hee (originally from Poong-yeon) had to be one of the best lines from the drama, although Yeon-hee could not even imagine the worst case scenario was about to happen to her when she uttered those words to Joon, who seemed to understand her plight of being the outcast of the family. She might not say it out loud, but those words felt a lot like a consolation to her, each time she thought of the reason why she was living separately from her family, surrounded by those talismans and alone, most of the time.
“There is no such thing as people who should not be born in this world. My brother told me that. No matter what kind of person you are; no matter if you are noble or lowly; no matter if you are sickly or not; everyone born into this world was born with their own purpose of making the world go around. Life is exactly about finding your role in this world. So, don’t be so sad. There must be a reason for you to be born.”
Was she thinking that everything happened because she disobeyed her father’s order on that night of her seventeenth birthday? Perhaps, the most heartbreaking moment for Yeon-hee was when she realized that she was indeed an outcast of the family and dangerous to boot, to the point of having an elder – someone whom she thought to be her birth mother – to bow to her, pleading her to leave their family forever. Plus, she learned that she was someone who was not supposed to be born into this world. We did not get to explore her most personal thoughts (yet?), hence I really hope that we will get to see things from her point of view and how everything that came crashing into her life on that night changed her, be it for the better or worse. How would she perceive her own self post-revelation? For now, she seems to be holding it pretty well…but who knows? Her encounter with Joon might spark another conversation that will lead her into voicing out her thoughts.
Joon’s fate, despite knowing it all and being well aware of his status in the household, did not mean that he had it easy either. Getting his hopes crushed repeatedly made it even more difficult to see this bright, good-natured man being kicked around by his step-family, or rather his lords, since he was the servant’s son. Watching his ‘mother’ being beaten up badly was already a traumatic experience itself, enough to push him to the edge and lead him into making a very dangerous decision: running away from the house. Unfortunately, everything crumbled when his mother died in a fire while he tried to save Yeon-hee, turning him into a man holding the knife inside his heart without any ambition, unlike before. Still, he is too good natured even in his so-called revenge as the price for his mother’s life. Knowing that he will become one of the most respectable icons of Joseon medical world, it is probably due to his instinct of protecting and saving instead of harming that even in his act of ‘harming’ Ok, he was still too kind, or maybe simple-minded. Too bad Ok was a sly, cunning man who knew the way world worked, and he returned the deeds to Joon tenfold, worse than what he experienced.
In a way, both Joon and Yeon-hee’s destinies were almost parallel to each other despite being as different as the sky and the Earth, but they were both forced to rethink their respective roles in this world. It was somehow heartbreaking, but at the same time, the flickering hope to see them overcoming their cursed life, both literally and figuratively, promises a fulfilling journey ahead for them to prove people wrong.
Now, their paths had crossed again: five years after their first encounter; five years after the fateful night which changed their respective lives forever; at the most delicate moment of their life. The meeting was like a blast into the past for both of them. Joon was suddenly the giggly and smiling young man he was, and Seo-ri became the old Yeon-hee she had buried deep inside her cursed body years ago. They returned to their past selves at the isolated house, with Joon as the unwelcomed visitor and Seo-ri as the annoyed owner. So many things had changed even within the two people except some things. I actually love how Joon’s curiosity trampled his fear, despite being so close to the afterworld for destroying the Banned Book by accident. He had a feeling that it was the same Persimmon girl he met in the past but he soon realized that her strong denial would not change no matter what he did. Both of them were reluctant to let go of the connection from the past and Joon was ready to let it go. So, it was a twist to have Seo-ri being the one who made the decision to preserve the connection, despite knowing how dangerous it was for him, and for her too.
I am more concerned for Poong-yeon (Kwak Si-yang), though. He was physically capable of holding fights, but the curse would render him weak and helpless when it was activated, as seen in several instances. He could be easily swayed and distracted; the worst case would be to have him at Hong-joo’s disposal and we are well aware that she is capable of doing so. I do wonder what his mother had told him about his father and Yeon-hee’s disappearance, but it was assuring to know that he did not hold any grudges towards her for the time being. There is no doubt that his affection will be the fatal force to him and he won’t even care about the repercussions to his own life, as long as he can protect Yeon-hee. Plus, with his being in close proximity with Seonjo (Lee Ji-hoon) most of the time, it will only make his life at stake as Hong-joo is nearby with the Crown Prince’s curse soul.
Years of cultivating her powers had turned Hong-joo (Yum Jung-ah) into a formidable, undefeated femme fatale she is at the moment. When I thought that it was the best she could do with her skills, she went around proving that she could extract one’s soul from his body. She already did it twice and the Crown Prince became her most prized possession: first, as a curse detector for Yeon-hee/Seo-ri, and second, as a soul under her command for the great plan she has ahead. Her will for revenge was so strong that she could plan everything slowly and effectively, waiting for everything to fall into their designated positions in her grand plan, and it was still strange to me how forgiving Choi Guru was to her. It turned out that their ties went back to the past not only as rivals or acquaintances, but she was once a disciple of him. No wonder he was so reluctant to deal with her countless of times with the hope that she would repent but so far, there’s no turning back for her.
One could argue that Choi Guru could easily try to talk it out with Yeon-hee about the curse before the breakout on the seventeenth birthday, but I think that he was someone who was difficult to read. Or it was just his protective side taking control over him, just like what he did with Poong-yeon. It was too early for someone important like him to die on that night, but is that really him? Or is it just another soul planted by Hong-joo into Choi Guru’s body? The Red Robe murderer was most likely Choi Guru under the spell, but what confused me was Choi Guru’s real intention when he escaped Hong-joo’s secret cave. Why did he go back to the house to retrieve the last page of the Banned Book of Spells? What was the reason he went to Cheongbinsa Temple to wipe off the protection field there? And what was the reason he decided to hide the last page of the book in the first place? So many questions that will be answered in the upcoming episodes, of course.
The time jump of five years brought along a slew of new characters as well as cameos, and we have all the main characters assembled together in one place. There are a lot of familiar faces from the director’s previous drama Maids, and I adore the cast a lot, simply because I love seeing them again. Sadly, the actor playing Joon’s best friend Dong-rae, Choi Sung-won (No-eul from Reply 1988) had dropped out because he was diagnosed with leukemia while filming the drama, so that was why his was nowhere to be seen after the time jump 😦 His character has been replaced by a new character Soon-deuk, portrayed by Dohee.
As much as there are several things parallel to each other in the drama, you might be aware that the drama incorporates the history of that time into the plot, turning the story into a mix of facts with fictional twists. It assumes that the viewers are familiar with the basic history of Joseon, which is like a double-edged sword. For local fans, the drama is easy to follow because the story does not dwell long on the background of the characters based on the historical figures, hence the story does not feel draggy. However, it is a totally different situation for the international fans like most of us, since we don’t really know a lot of these figures saved for a few we have seen in other series, mainly Korean historical dramas or sageuk. Thus, some of the scenes feel jarring and viewers are left with a lot to think and match for themselves. I think it is something that does not have detrimental effect on the story line, but we can easily lose interest over things we cannot figure out or make sense out of them.
The introduction of the royal family does not feel confusing at first, but now that there is another new character being introduced into the drama, the confusion escalates. Questions like “Who is this new king? Did the Crown Prince survive?” and “Who is the dying king in episode 6 flashback?” are some of the proofs of the said confusion. To be honest, this is a risky move that might cost the drama to lose its viewers, especially from the international side >.<
The new king in episode 5 is King Seonjo, and you might recognize the name from recent sageuk like Hwajung and King’s Face (where Lee Sung-jae, the actor playing Choi Guru, portrayed an older version of the king). The royal family tree is a bit tricky at this point in history, because not all kings inherited the throne from their birth father. I think it will be easier to understand to start from the common ancestor of the characters present in the drama: King Jungjong, the 11th king of Joseon.
Although there is no Jungjong in the drama for now, he is important to the background story as he was the Dowager (Queen Munjeong)’s husband. She was his third queen consort and this king actually had a sad love life, with his first queen being deposed by the ministers and the second queen passed away after giving birth to his eldest son. Thus, he married his third wife on top of having royal concubines. The dying king who had his soul snatched by Hong-joo in the flashback of episode 6 was Jungjong’s first son and the 12th king, Injong. In history, the king suddenly passed away only after 9 months taking over the throne after Jungjong’s death. It was believed that Injong’s death had something to do with poisoning, but no further investigation was carried out because the suspect was no other than his stepmother who took control of the power after he died, Queen Munjeong.
Queen Munjeong was as powerful in the history as what the drama suggested earlier on, ruling behind the screen. She was very young when she entered the palace as the third queen and giving birth to princesses one after another did little to improve her status among the Inner Palace women. Mothering Myeongjong was the best thing she could do to consolidate her position because as the second legitimate son of Jungjong, the young prince was second in line to the throne after Injong, who was already the Crown Prince at that time. Plus, the Crown Prince was without any son, so the throne fell into Myeongjong’s lap, with Queen Munjeong as regent during the first 9 years of his reign as the 13th king.
The drama takes into play the Dowager’s fear of losing the throne to someone else after her years of hard work, thus prompting her to urge for Myeongjong to have a son as fast as possible to avoid having the same fate as his stepbrother. When Queen Insun gave birth to Crown Prince Sunhoe, it seemed like a perfect happy ending, but unfortunately, the prince died when he was barely 13 years old. The drama took liberty to ‘prolong’ the character’s life until he is 17 to tie it with the curse. With the Crown Prince gone, another figure came into the picture and also this drama.
Seonjo was also a royal relative, since he was Jungjong’s grandson through his illegitimate issue with his concubine. After his only son died, Myeongjong transferred his affection to his step-nephews and one of them was Seonjo, then Prince Haseong. He displayed maturity from young age, illustrated through a story. One day, Myeongjong invited the sons of his stepbrother Prince Deokheung to the palace and gave them a chance to try his crown (ikseongwan) on. The two older siblings put it on without thinking much about it but Prince Haseong refused to try it on his head, expressing that it is not appropriate to put on a crown belonging to the king. His careful attitude appealed to Myeongjong and he expressed his intention to make the prince his heir. When Myeongjong fell ill and passed away, it was decided that Prince Haseong would take the throne per Myeongjong’s wish, so he became the 14th king, Seonjo. Episode 8 had another twist, which was related to the selection of the next king. Hong-joo made use of the feeble and sick Myeongjong to pick out the next king, who would also become the ‘vessel’ for the late Crown Prince’s soul. Seonjo was the first king in Joseon history to have come from the illegitimate descendant of the kings, since his birth father was Jungjong’s illegitimate issue. Although he was made the adopted son of the previous king to ensure the legitimacy of his reign, that did little to avoid the stigma that would follow him throughout his life to become his biggest source of inferiority complex.
Another real life figure in the drama is Heo Joon, and his character’s age is different from the real age of the figure he is based on. There are conflicting records on his birth year, from 1537 t0 1539, and there were claims that he was born as late as 1546. However, Joon’s character is as the same age as Yeon-hee, so the character is also born in 1551, according to Crown Prince Sunhoe’s birth year. Hence, there is at most 12 years age difference between the figure and the character. I also think that the time jump has something to do with real Heo Joon’s entrance into the palace as a part of the royal clinic. The year 1571, which is possibly the current year in the drama, was also the year where the earliest record of his position in the Royal Infirmary (Naeuiwon) was present. If we are to follow the history, Joon will go on to become Seonjo’s royal physician, attending to the king and curing his ailments, earning him a lot of recognition before he was exiled after Seonjo’s death because of his failure in his duties.
It looks like the Banned Book of Spells will have its influence on Joon as his future endeavours of being a medic and a healer, since he has memorized everything from the book. The drama totally meant it when it made the reference to his Dongui Bogam, on one of the contents which was also considered ridiculous: how to become an invisible man. Now that Joon can memorize everything in one glance, it will be an added advantage for him to pave his way to his future, with the help of the recipes in that banned book. Hehehehe!
The drama does have its weakness, though, like the glaring age logic. The prime example is Yo-gwang, whose age is actually older than how he looks. I actually thought that he was 18 years older than the leads since he was already there before Yeon-hee was born, but it turned out that he was even older than that. I was surprised to see him appear beside Choi Guru, Hong-joo, and the dying King Injong in the flashback scene, and that would make him 23 years older. Let me do the Maths for you then.
1445 – The year Injong died……………………..(17)
1550 – The year Yeon-hee was conceived ….(22)
1551 – The year Yeon-hee was born…………..(23)
1567 – Yeon-hee’s seventeenth birthday…….(39)
1571 – Current year………………………………….(43)
That would make his current age at least 43 years old, assuming that he was at least 17 when he first appeared. Did he use any incantations to look younger or did he drink any youth elixir? Or did he find the Fountain of Youth and kept everything to himself?
The mystery remains….
I am still finding out how the talisman works logically, but it seems that the shield talisman used to protect Yeon-hee worked just fine prior to her turning seventeen, where her curse and power were fully activated. The talismans burned to ashes when Yeon-hee’s body was activated to become the host to the curse aka the black magic, hence allowing it to enter her body. Her power is likely radiating from her body and it burns the talisman when in contact with her. The burning talisman when she wore them in episode 4 and when she crossed the boundary in episode 6 proves the theory, unlike what happened when she crossed it in episode 3. Back then, her power has not been activated yet but once she reached her seventeenth birthday, her power could be noticed easily in the magical realm, making it easier for Hong-joo to track Yeon-hee down when she was outside the protection field. However, when the talismans caught fire by themselves (as witnessed by Yo-gwang), was it a sign that she was already running out of time?
Yeon-hee’s power is another mystery, since it has direct effect on her hair. Her hair would turn white when she exerted herself, for instance during her fight with the curse and when she lifted Joon on the cliff, but it was normal when she used it moderately. But who would have thought that Joon’s choice to become a human shield to her on that night actually turned Joon into one? The imprinted pattern (from the shield used to reflect the moonlight onto the black spells) on his chest turned him into a walking shield, almost like a human talisman to deflect the black spells from affecting Seo-ri, unless he gets burned or dies. I hope not. So, will he become the mirror of the witch then? We shall see, but if we will get to have more of Joon and Yo-gwang’s interactions and Seo-ri can cultivate her power without being disturbed by the black magic, then it will be so great.