Hong Chun Gi (홍천기). That is the novel penned by author Jung Eun-gwol, who was also the brain behind the novels adapted into the popular series Sungkyunkwan Scandal and The Moon that Embraces the Sun. Hence, it is natural for the dramaland to be excited when Hong Chun Gi was reported to be adapted into a drama, and the series finally premiered this week. Going by the title Red Sky/Lovers of the Red Sky, the series is also the first historical drama to air in the second half of 2021 after the dry season in the first half.
Although the drama was billed as a fantasy historical romance, many probably missed the fantasy part of the description, leading to mixed reactions after watching the first episode. Personally, if I were to compare Lovers of the Red Sky with other historical series, it might be closer to Mirror of the Witch (마녀보감) than Painter of the Wind (바람의 화원). Or Arang and the Magistrate (아랑사또전).
The first episode is a good introduction to what is happening and what is going to happen in the future, but my ears don’t miss the fact that they are using the soundtrack from Tree with Deep Roots during the demon sealing scene. It is probably a homage to the director’s past work, as well as the fitting background to the cameo by Han Sang-jin, playing Ha Ram’s father. The demon comes out of the abdicated king’s body and gets sealed into the portrait of the said king, but not before cursing the people associated with the ceremony. This is where fate begins for the two babies born on that very day, and they just happen to be the children of two important people in charge of the ceremony.
Fast forward to 9 years later, where the babies have grown up but still living in the aftermath of their father’s involvement in the ceremony: Hong Chun-gi is now a young blind girl living with her father, who is not in his right state of mind. As for Ha Ram, he has to live in hiding after his father survived the assassination attempt. But then, the curse of the demon brings them together again on the day preceding the rainmaking ritual, this time with a hefty price to be paid by the children.
19 years later, Hong Chun-gi (Kim Yoo-jung), having regained her sight on the day of the rainmaking ritual, is a skilled painter, working hard to cure her father’s sickness, while Ha Ram (Ahn Hyo-seop), is rendered blind to limit the power of the demon residing in his body. He is living a double life: an officer of the Department of Astrology who has gained the trust of the king and a mysterious leader running an underground intel agency, Wolseongdang. The second episode throws some tidbits teasing the viewers, prompting the questions about the details regarding Ha Ram’s curse and how Chun-gi’s ability will be able to protect them all.
Besides the leads and their entwined fate, there are also the princes on the sideline, who are responsible for setting the sealed demon free in their escapade: Grand Prince Juhyang (Kwak Si-yang) who is all about the thirst for power and feeling bitter for not having a shot at being the successor to the throne; and Grand Prince Yangmyung (Gong Myung), who is as free as a butterfly and possesses a deep appreciation for art. A love triangle is inevitable, but I am also looking forward to the real motive behind Ha Ram’s intel group: is he trying to make the royals pay for his family’s misery? And how does he deal with Juhyang’s strong will to sit on the throne and have the demon to himself?
Honestly, the first week makes me regret the decision to watch it because now I am left with burning questions and lots of time to kill for the wait. The CGI could have been done better in some scenes, but the effects will probably be featured in shorter amounts in the future episodes. Maybe seeing the scenes one after another makes it even more jarring between them and some stand out as compared to others. That being said, it is a nice attempt at a strong fantasy element featured in a drama and there is definitely that dreamy vibe frequently seen in fantasy dramas, but consistency is needed to make it engaging until the end. Hopefully, the story won’t falter in the middle and the CGI will fare better in the upcoming episodes.
This is probably out of topic, but I was actually scared to see the local reaction after the premiere of Red Sky. It is the second historical drama on SBS after Joseon Exorcist, so all eyes are on the drama. It is probably the reason why several names and agencies featured in the drama have been changed from those in the original novel. While it does not hurt to be extra careful, this might be a more frequent occurrence in the future, where the names based on historical figures will be changed into fictional characters in order to allow more freedom of storytelling without being bound to history and allegation of distortion.