Landing strong rating numbers is a sure sign a drama is off to a smashing start and rightfully so! “Tale of Nok-Du” dives headfirst into the story of a young man named Nok Du (Jang Dong Yoon) who is forced to disguise himself as a woman in order to infiltrate a mysterious village run by widows and uncover the riddle behind his true identity. His journey is intertwined with that of Dong Dong Ju (Kim So Hyun), a gisaeng-in-training (female courtesan) who clearly has her own agenda and aspirations.
From the teasers and stills, I had expected the drama to be quite tense (imagine all the potential oopsies moments!) and thrilling, and I must say, “Tale of Nok-Du” sure has delivered all of that. With the extra perks of busting my gut every few minutes and inducing starry-eyed sighs, this drama has got me hooked! Here’s what I loved and hated from the first four episodes.
Warning: Spoilers for the premiere episodes below.
LOVED: Nok Du’s successful disguise
Playing disguise is an old trope, but not all dramas that play this card do it well. Some dramas featured women only changing their hairstyles to be disguised as men, with makeup still outlining their feminine features instead of obscuring them. “Tale of Nok-Du” does exceptionally well in this aspect; we aren’t just getting a man in a pretty pink hanbok, but he fully commits to the pretty pink make-up, airy bangs, and high-pitched voice to pull off the disguise.
Nok Du’s transformation from a chiseled (those abs don’t lie) man into a blushing lady who wins the hearts of men is gold, and I’m loving that look of pure shock and disgust he makes every time a suitor tries to get a little handsy. Fingers crossed that Nok Du doesn’t drop the ball soon!
Also, toes crossed that Nok Du drops that makeup tutorial, ‘cause boyyy that’s one look we’re going to have to come back to for that spring-summer glow!
LOVED: The budding friendship between Nok Du and Dong Ju
You can bet that things didn’t get off on a good start for these two. I mean, meeting and then landing in jail together doesn’t exactly make for the best bonding material, but I’m excited to report that they are on their way to a super cute dongsaeng–unnie (younger sibling-older sister) relationship! Despite initially grousing that the other person is a pain and bother, this has become sort of like playful banter for them as they grudgingly care for each other anyway.
The absolute cherry on the cake is also how such caring moments swing from aww to oof in a matter of seconds with Dong Ju sometimes coming close to exposing Nok Du’s gender with her innocent kind gestures. Read: Getting flung to the other side of the room just for being good-hearted and trying to remove Nok Du’s pants to apply herbs on “her” burnt bottom. Oof!
HATED: That Nok Du has to part from his family
It’s clear that Nok Du shares a loving relationship with his father and brother, and I, for one, am living for the little flashbacks of their interactions. While the show hints that Nok Du might not truly be their son and brother, the two men still care for and protect him like he is part of their family.
It’s not clear why the father was disapproving of Nok Du studying or learning martial arts (oh, and going onto ships for some reason), but the fact that he nonetheless learned some cool swash-buckling skills shows how determined Nok Du is to safeguard his little family from the dangers that dog their every step.
So far, we do know that his mother passed, and her last words to Nok Du are a riddle waiting to be unraveled. From choking on her attempt to tell him his real identity to rapidly switching gears and vehemently claiming it’s his fault the family is in the state it is in, the mother figure in Nok Du’s life sure has some surprises in store for us! Little tiger cub taking on the burden of protectinhis.family!
LOVED: The mysterious widow village
The central location of the plot and also where our hero and heroine currently reside, the village and its whole concept and duality are interesting to me. Just imagine a village populated by women who have formed a self-sustainable community where everyone is encouraged to work based on their strengths. The strong and powerful ones form the village guard, who patrol and throw out invaders of the male variety, while others become seamstresses and wine-makers that supply the gisaeng house bordering the village.
And somewhat surprisingly, the village is very welcoming and gracious to the gisaengs, who command respect here.
The village also seems to have its own secrets, with some of the widows forming a contingent of assassins who distribute information, participate in search operations, and kill their targets without batting an eye.
LOVED: Dong Ju’s defiance and righteousness
From little flashbacks, the show’s hinted that Dong Ju was not born into the gisaeng house and was instead the young daughter of a noble family that was extinguished violently.
Even though her circumstances have led her to the gisaeng house and to becoming a gisaeng-in-training, Dong Ju still maintains a fiery strength and kind heart. Becoming a gisaeng is in none of her plans, and she’s quick to jump to the aid of other young girls who are targeted by demanding nobles. It’s this righteousness that had Nok Du’s heart (and ours too!) fluttering.
Bravely shearing her locks in place of the head. courtesan who’s also like an adoptive mother to Dong Ju, just how sweet can this girl get?!
HATED: The unexplained relationship between the nobles
The scenes in the widow village are interspaced with scenes of the nobles and royalty in the drama, and so far, the complicated web of unexplained relationships has got me royally confused. There’s no introduction to the identity and position of the nobles as well as how they are related to Nok Du.
The sense I get is that one faction is secretly trying to protect Nok Du after sparing his life when he was an infant brought into hiding by the man he now calls his father. And the other is the one loyal to the king that tried to kill baby Nok Du and still is trying to hunt him down.
But whatever their relationship, I’m hoping the next few episodes will iron these details out and we can get fully on-board with the mystery of Nok Du’s true identity!