하녀들 / Maids
12th December 2014 to 28th March 2015
Jung Yoo-Mi, Oh Ji-Ho, Kim Dong-Wook, Lee Shi-A
Joseon period, love triangles, slavery, underground rebellion
The heroine starts off as a privileged nobleman's daughter in Joseon Korea, but falls through the bottom of society into slavery when her father is wrongly executed for treason. She undergoes hardships, some cheerfully inflicted by those she offended while an insensitive noble lady. So she's not perfect. But through these hardships she becomes a better strong nobler person. So she isn't a helpless damsel waiting for a prince. The plot involves the lost son of a king, a secret society seeking to restore the Koryeo dynasty, ambitious ruthless ministers.
This is high melodrama, a lot of cultivated meanness, a nobly suffering persisting heroine, lovely period dresses, some great believable performances particularly by the lead actress who carries the whole drama. A lot of Korean TV dramas rely on having celebrities in the main roles who cannot act. There is also more structure more shape to this drama, and characters who change as they go through their stories.
The drama starts with a powerful flashforward which jumps back to the heroine washing her face before her fall, linked by a water theme which recurs at various points. Another important theme is what the heroine walks in and on, which symbolises the stages in her story arc as she falls and adjusts to having fallen. Her changing costume reflects her declared status in society, she notably copes with her changing status better than those around her who can't let go of what she was.
The writing is critical of the slave system in Joseon Korea, of the way the aristocrats lorded it over the dehumanised at the bottom of the system who were trapped there. I suspect at the time itself even the slaves in a way supported the awful system, for instance the heroine's maid is slavishly loyal to her mistress. The writing and direction manage to avoid this being a run of the mill drama.
So for me a wonderful drama. Intelligent writing. Lovely meanness.