Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung is a drama set during the Joseon Dynasty starring Shin Se-kyung (Goo Hae-ryung) and Cha Eun-woo (Prince Dowon) as the two main protagonists. The show consisted of 40 episodes but was merged into 20 episodes for Netflix. Although marketed as a romance, this show has an overall plot that includes classism, feminism, and the importance of history. The story revolves around Goo Hae-ryung who decides to forgo marriage and apply to become a female historian. During her time as a rookie historian, she inadvertently discovers that history was rewritten by corrupt officials, prompting her to reveal the truth. Throughout the drama, Goo Hae-ryung meets three other strong female characters creating a period drama that centers around women who are not afraid to step outside of societal standards.
K-dramas set during older periods, like the Joseon Dynasty, can be limiting when it comes to creating female characters. Stepping outside of their traditional roles could be dangerous, unrealistic, and might even lead to death. Goo Hae-ryung does get close to being severely punished at times for her actions but she manages to get herself out of these dire situations. Her character is audacious and often shows off both her literary and scientific knowledge. However, she is also practical showing she can start fires and tend to the ill. As a rookie historian, Goo Hae-ryung and the other female characters face discrimination and lack of respect despite being government officials. They are criticized for choosing to take jobs instead of getting married like respectable noblewomen. While the drama does center around her, it has huge cast of amazing characters that help flesh out the body of the plot. With such a big cast, it is impossible to get to know each character deeply, but the writers do take the time to develop the characters of three female characters.
These characters, similarly to Goo Hae-ryung, also step outside typical female roles in this K-drama and they all take part in helping Hae-ryung discover the truth behind the dethronement of the previous king. Mo-hwa (Jeon Ik-Ryung) starts off as a mysterious character who is both skilled in combat and medicinal knowledge. She works as a secret agent for the queen as she tries to dismantle the current royal court. Song Sa-Hee (Park Ji-Hyun) is Hae-ryung’s coworker and also a female historian who is seemingly used as a ploy by her father in political affairs. However, she pushes back against her father’s schemes and instead helps to take him and his allies down. Lastly, the Queen Dowager (Kim Yeo-Jin), plays the most crucial role in dismantling the current royal court. She makes subtle moves and has been carefully waiting for 20 years to enact her revenge for the death of her son. All in all, all three characters tend to push the boundaries of what is appropriate for a woman during the Joseon Dynasty making for a more interesting K-drama.
Although this K-drama had strong female characters, it does not mean that the male characters were weak or flat. In fact, Min Woo-won (Lee Ji-hoon) and Prince Yi Jin (Park Ki-Woong) both play big parts in the overall theme of the K-drama as well as being supportive characters for Hae-ryung. Min Woo-won is reluctant at first in accepting female historians, however, he eventually grows to accept Hae-ryung and acts as her mentor on how to be a respected historian. Prince Yi Jin is the benevolent crowned prince who often butts heads with his more aggressive and intolerant father. Ultimately, it is through his kindness and forward-thinking is what makes him a likable character who is able to see the necessity of changing with the times.
Lastly, Prince Dowon, who is the main male protagonist and the romantic lead is depicted as a sensitive and naive prince who secretly writes trashy romance novels. Although they do share their love for reading, Prince Dowon does not share a lot in common with Hae-ryung. He is often used to diffuse the political tension in the story as his scenes tend to be more comedic and, of course, romantic. Overall, he tends to be a flat character seemingly only there for the sake of visuals. However, the K-drama does develop his character as Hae-ryung inspires him to become a more active prince and venture outside of his comfort zone. He is also accepting of Hae-ryung unconventional personality and is willing to stand by her side despite her hesitant attitude towards marriage.
On top of feminism, this K-drama also tackles the concept of classism and cultural expansion. The drama goes against traditional rules stating that status and family does not determine a person’s worth. It introduces characters of different religions, different cultural backgrounds, and different scientific knowledge. Mow-ha, for example, was a poor young girl before she was recruited to attend a school created for people of all backgrounds. The writers do a decent job of introducing these topics into the story and centering the plot around it without making for a boring or overly preachy show. It breaks up the seriousness of it all with romance and even comedy giving it diversity.
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung tackles a period drama by incorporating strong female characters that help dismantle the classist and sexist order during the Joseon Dynasty. The drama has a huge cast of amazing actors and actresses that bring together a story about the importance of being on the right side of history. It combines drama, romance, and comedy creating a multi-genre show about Goo Hae-ryung’s journey as a rookie historian.
(Images from via MBC)