The Red Sleeve – First Impression

This has to be the fastest first impression I have ever written since I started this blog. If that doesn’t show how impatient I am for the premiere of The Red Sleeve (옷소매 붉은 끝동), well, I don’t know what will be the proof! Ever since the official news was first announced about the drama, I was over the moon, to be able to see another retelling of the historical figures during the era of King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo, this time being a drama adaptation of the popular novel 옷소매 붉은 끝동. I haven’t had the chance to read the original novel myself, but from what I’ve seen of the snippets posted here and there, it seems like a beautiful story, albeit a heartwrenching one, of King Jeongjo and his one and only royal concubine from a humble origin, Lady Seong Uibin.

The opening starts out light and cheery with a tinge of horror, until both younger counterparts of our main leads, San and Deok-im, are hit with the news of a death in the royal palace; it is of Lady Yi Yeongbin, King Yeongjo’s royal concubine and San’s birth grandmother. I was wondering why did they choose Lady Yi’s passing to be the point where the fate of our leads began intertwining with each other, but the revelation is truly a meaningful and sad one. As if it is a premonition to what Deok-im will later face in her own life, she listens to how people around Lady Yi reminisce and view the royal concubine’s life from a third-person point of view.

Aside from San, who sneaks into Lady Yi’s room with Deok-im. she meets with King Yeongjo, who defies the custom to visit his dead concubine. This is also a very nice introduction to Yeongjo (Lee Deok-hwa), the king who was known in history as the father who locked his own son in the rice chest and left him to die. He was known to be stern in the court, yet he was also kind towards palace maids, like how he treats Deok-im. I can’t help but to think that the ‘great thing Lady Yi did for him and the country’ was Lady Yi’s report about her son Crown Prince Sado’s erratic behaviour, which led to the Crown Prince’s execution. Yeongjo mentions about Lady Yi’s origin as a court maid, just like Deok-im, and laments about his life from a Prince until he becomes the King. But then, when he hears that Deok-im is a maid from the Eastern Palace (where the Heir aka San resides), he muses absent-mindedly, saying that who knows, Deok-im’s fate might turn out to be like Lady Yi. Ah, is that a well-wish, or is that a curse?

Deok-im also hears from Court Lady Jo (Park Ji-young) the reason why she is sent to Lady Yi’s room by herself, and Court Lady Jo’s view of Lady Yi is something I can’t help but see as another foreboding for Deok-im’s future life. Sure, Lady Yi was a court maid who received the King’s grace, which guaranteed her position as a member of the royal family and allows her to die inside the palace, different from the fate of a mere court maid who would have to leave the palace if she falls sick or grows old; still, only Lady Yi herself could vouch for what she had to endure while she was alive just to be granted the so-called exception at the end of her life.

Perhaps, it is a relief that Deok-im has a very reliable teacher in Court Lady Seo (Jang Hye-jin), who tells Deok-im to take pride in her job as a court maid. Maybe it’s because she’s aware of the reason why Deok-im is so adamant in earning 100 nyang? She is the sweetest teacher who nags at her pupil but at the same time will stop at nothing to protect Deok-im from danger. Will we get to see how Court Lady Seo and Court Lady Jo’s different values clashing against each other?

Another scene which made me bawl is when Yeongjo finds out that San is reading a banned book. You just can’t show Yeongjo in a drama without his temper and complex regarding his birth mother’s status, but we also get to see how fragile San’s position in the court despite being the only feasible candidate as a successor to the throne at the moment. There are people who want to see him demoted (I assume that the scheming concubine shown in the episode is Lady Moon sukui) and dare to invoke Yeongjo’s wrath. Despite being young, San is after all a child who has witnessed his own father, Crown Prince Sado, left to die, and he has to work hard to become the perfect heir and live up to his grandfather’s expectation. It is interesting though to see more of the inner workings of San’s mind, like the reason he deliberately leaves the banned book in his library as if he’s waiting for it to be discovered.

As much as I’m curious to how Deok-im manages to evade San’s attention all those years since she’s always running around here and there, I’m so looking forward to how she will realize that the boy she talked down to back then is actually her master. Or maybe, San will be playing the role of Deok-ro in front of Deok-im for a while? I assume that we will get to see lighthearted moments before we delve into darker territories of history…including Deok-im rejecting San twice.

Ah, I forgot to say how I like that they are using the courtesy name for the male characters, for instance Deok-ro. His given name is Hong Guk-young, but he’s being called by his courtesy name. Plus, they are also referring to Lady Yi using the style jaga (자가) unlike the usual (but wrong) style of mama (마마). Yeay for correct details used in dramas, no matter how small it is! But then, I still think that the English title is a bit misleading, considering that the only part of the sleeve that is red is the cuff…

27 thoughts on “The Red Sleeve – First Impression

  1. Woa nice to meet your review again mimiiiiiiiii haha because you know, i went back here before I started this drama to read again about sado (tmi i found out seyoung played as Jeongjos sister child version in the past but didn’t find the name here? In royal princesses post) and yeah your blog is kinda reference for many people ^^
    You haven’t checked this drama characters yet? Who’s gonna appear and not? Spoiler, this drama includes prince hwawan in the story, and Seo hyorim who plays her already had her last filming. And ah, i thought you won’t talked bout this drama when you replied someone who missed your blog too? Kinda a bit sad but thank you for coming back and let us know your opinion. So worthy..
    Will you update your royal princesses post with this drama character?
    Also I found out this drama has similarity telling as crimson moon? Sados there also afraid of ghost and the story also revealed bout his mother played role in his punishment. hehe i only watch limited show bout sado. I didn’t watch yisan

    1. Hi! Having the drama on Friday and Saturday nights means that I get to enjoy it over the weekend, so I have some time to write lol
      I only read the characters’ names and deliberately avoid browsing through the character description (although the history itself is already a huge spoiler XD Oh yeah, I also saw about Seyoung’s old role as Princess Cheongseon, and that was back in 1998.
      I might write a separate post about the characters in The Red Sleeve later if time permits 😉 I’m not sure if the drama will get into detail about Sado’s death and the first scene of the first episode was actually from the story Deok-im was telling her friends (The Tale of Janghwa and Hongryeon), not Sado.

  2. trivia:

    The actress who portrayed Royal Concubine Yeong (영빈 이씨) was Nam Gi-ae, who by coincidence portrayed Sukjong’s 4th Queen Consort Queen In’won (인원왕후) in the drama “Haechi”

    Crown Prince Sado was kind of a granny’s boy (which irked Yeongjo), and it was Queen In’won’s death (followed in a month’s span by Yeongjo’s neglected 1st consort Queen Jeongseong) that sent Crown Prince Sado down the deep end

  3. This is the first time I came here, Mimi! I’m so glad to find your blog because you seem really passionate in writing your review of a sageuk drama. It’s in-depth and unbiased, really helpful! Big thank you!^^ Also, I have the exact same first impression as yours regarding The Red Sleeve. Totally agree with what you said above!

    Also, childhood meeting is indeed a cliche trope in Kdrama, but little Deok-im & Lee San’s meeting was very engaging and it laid the basis of their story in a no-nonsense way. And if I should add to your list of Deok-im’s fate hinted in the first episode, I think it’s the scene where she comforted San. The moment she gently wiped his tears with her red cuff is like symbolizing her fate as a mere court lady who will then turn into someone very precious to San, who will stay loyal to and comfort him when things get really hard.

    PS. Deok-im is such a likable female lead so far; she’s intelligent, quick-witted and has a strong will to live as the person Seong Deok-im rather than someone’s maid.

    1. Hello Fallinsunshine!

      You’re welcome! Glad you like it, and I try not to geek out too much in case it scares some people away with all the details 😅

      Ah, now that you mention it, that reminds me of one of the teasers where Deok-im’s presence is literally a light in San’s dark destiny 😭 It’s like an irony for little San to hold the light for little Deok-im’s path when their fate will switch when they grow up…

      Have you seen the second episode? Deok-im is a human vitamin! I hope that we will continue to see Deok-im’s strong character in the episodes to come ❤️

      1. I like it that your review is in-depth for someone like me who’s not really into Korean history but familiar with it because of sageuk series (means I’ve done some research for better understanding😅) You said all you’ve got to say for an introduction!😉

        Oh yes, I’ve watched ep 2 this morning and I can say that I’m fully sold now! There’s no going back for me😂 Deok-im has my heart and my eyes were glued to the screen watching her dynamics with San. I didn’t expect this to be this funny. But I guess, we’re stocking up on all the fun and lightheartedness before the dark days come. How I wish the writer wouldn’t follow the history and give Deok-im and San the happiness that they deserve!

        Hoping to see you updating more often on The Red Sleeve, Mimi!😚

        1. Seeing their banters was truly a highlight for me…and I feel the same too. Sometimes I hope that they can have a happy ending unlike the historical figures, but I also want to see the drama’s take on the history bits. I really like (LOVE!) what I have seen so far, so I’m looking forward even more to what the drama has in store for us.

          Maybe I will just make a master post about the historical bits of the drama and update it each week..let’s see…

  4. Hi mimi! I just saw the 2nd episode and I an wondering if you can perhaps do an explanation on the title for the princesses? Because I do know that their positions could be a little bit different since their father is a criminal and I noticed that the maids address them differently from how you would address a King’s daughter (well, since they are a King’s granddaughter…). Also, I am curious about their hairstyle. I am wondering why is it tied up in a bun unlike deok im (in a braid). Does that mean that they had already gone through the coming of age ceremony hence the bun hairstyle?

    1. Hello!
      The princesses’ title should be Gunju since their father was only a Crown Prince, but I can’t hear clearly what Deok-im called them (it’s —자가). The maids referred to them simply as 상감 마마의 손녀분들 (literally ‘the King’s granddaughters’). For more info about the princess and their ranks, you can check out this post:

      The timeline of the drama when compared to history is still vague at the moment, but from how Deok-im referred to them as jaga (자가), both princesses are already married at this point of the that explains the bun and the long hairpin they wear. Their husbands will show up in later episodes too since their names are included in the list of characters 😁

  5. The streaming service I use calls it “The Red Sleeve Cuff” and notes “Adapted from the novel “The Sleeve’s Red Cuff” (옷소매 붉은 끝동) by Kang Mi Kang (강미강).” FWIW.

  6. Thank you so much @Mimi!
    Your blog has been a treasure for sageuk lovers.
    Feel free to geek out. I’m barely holding it in. LOL.

  7. First time posting here, but I’ve had my share of saguek. For the first years of my saguek watching, i dont really put much into knowing much on history, manners, culture and such. But over the years I’ve been more curious and interested and your nlog has been so insightful, so I just want to convey my appreciation and respect at your posts.
    Learning more in history and culture has added another layer to enjoying dramas. And you post are just the bomb… i can really feel you passion.

    Really enjoyinh this drama since it pertains to the life of courtladies. We haven’t had that since Jewel In the Palace… i think…

    1. Hi Rein!

      Thank you for visiting, and thank you for the kind compliment 😊 The history behind dramas always make me excited to share whatever new things I find along the way, because I know the feeling of learning something new, especially when it is related to dramas we love!

      You’re right, Jewel in the Palace offered a detailed insight into the court ladies and court maids, and dramas since then only took bits and pieces of the aspects pertaining to court ladies without much focus. The court ladies we saw in dramas were most the side characters, so there was no way of giving them the limelight. I hope we will get to see more of the court ladies’ life in this drama soon ❤️

  8. HAIL, KING YEONGJO. He deserves a best actor award as King in this drama THE RED SLEEVE. He stood out amongst the actors. Junho is my favourite actor and he was perfect in this role as Crowned Prince. Superb acting and no wonder he is my favourite actor. But Lee Deok hwa as King really caught my interest.

    1. The acting powerhouse that he is (ㅠ.ㅠ) Yeongjo might be harsh at times, but the way Lee Deok-hwa carries the character makes me cry when he laments about his life. I’m totally going to miss him and his Yeongjo will be a memorable role for him, indeed!

  9. Hello, do you know if this novel is available in English? I have only found it in the original language. I would love to read the book.

  10. I read your blog about the titles in Joseon, but there, you said that “mama” was the style for all female members of the Royal Family. However, here you said that is wrong and the correct form is “jaga”. So who used each of those styles? For example, the wife of Yeongjo (Queen Jeongseong) would be called “jaga” or something else while he was still just Yeoning-gun? And when she became “sejebin” would she be called “mama” or “jaga”? Also, what were the correct styles for the Grand heir and his wife?

    1. I used to think that ‘mama’ was the standard for all royals as what was depicted in dramas, but upon further reading, I realized that it was not the right way to address them. I really need to edit my old post to prevent confusion ^^;

      When Prince Yeoning was still a Prince, his consort would be the Princess Consort and the style to address her would be ‘manim’, as in ‘gunbuin manim’. Queen Jeongseong was the only Crown Brother’s Consort in the entire history of Joseon, so I assume that her status would be on the same level as a Crown Princess, hence the style ‘manora’ would be the right one. ‘Mama’ was actually reserved for only Crown Prince and above. ‘Jaga’ was for the princess and the highest ranked concubine, Bin. As for the Grand Heir, the correct style would be ‘gakha’ as in ‘seson gakha’ as recorded in The Veritable Records of King Injo. I cannot find anything about the style for the Grand Heir Consort, though.

      In The Red Sleeve, instead of ‘seson gakha’, they are using ‘seson jeoha’, which implies that he is “the Grand Heir who is residing in the Eastern Palace (aka the Crown Prince’s quarters)”.

      1. Thank you. I always thought “manim” was used for married noble women (like the Queen’s mother, I remember seeing it in Dong Yi, with Lady Yun, but I guess that’s wrong). Do you know if the mother of a Queen had a special style? And it’s interesting concubines of lower ranks wouldn’t use the same style. So what will Deok-im be called before she becomes Ui-bin?

        1. The usage of styles for female depend on their own rank, as well as their spouses’ rank in the government. ‘Manim’ was used by those of senior post (like ‘daegam manim’) as well as their wives (‘anbang manim’). The style of ‘daegam manim’ was also used to address Grand Prince and Prince, so their consorts naturally used the same ‘manim’ style as well. Mother of the Queen shares the same title as the Grand Prince’s Consort, Bubuin, so the style would be the same as well, ‘manim’.

          I haven’t seen any mention about the correct style for concubines below Bin, except that it was implied that the style ‘mamanim’ (like the one used for the highest ranked court lady, Sanggung) was used for the rest of the concubines. We will see how the drama depicts the usage of the style 🙂

  11. Hi again, I noticed in several Kdramas inlcuding The Red Sleeve Cuff, The Sun embracing the Moon and others, where the King goes out of the palace deressed with commoner clothing.
    Is this just fantasy or are there any record about that type of behaviour, where the king goes out to spend time among regular people to see how they live and what was going on??

    1. There was no official record in the Veritable Records regarding the secret outing of the kings, but there is a story about King Sukjong wearing civilian clothes and meeting a geomancer during one of his many trips. Sukjong was said to be a fan of secret outings for him to see how his citizens were faring.

      Crown Prince Sado was recorded in the Veritable Records of Yeongjo to be having a secret outing to Pyeongyang, incurring the king’s wrath. King Jeongjo was described to be visiting gisaeng parlour secretly a few times due to his brother-in-law’s influence during his Grand Heir days, according to his mother Lady Hyegyeong in her Memoirs.

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