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Series / Dong Yi

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It will be a long time before she gets to wear those clothes....

Choi Dong Yi, a commoner child, was living a peaceful life with her coroner father and palace musician brother when one day, she found a dying man lying by a riverbank and was unwittingly caught within a massive political conspiracy involving the murders of key government officials. Tragedy ensues when the conspirators framed the illegal but innocent commoners' secret society Geom Gye for the murders and proceeded to exterminate them. It turns out that Dong Yi's father is the leader of the society and he and Dong Yi's brother are killed in the process. She survived however and managed to enter the royal palace to work as a servant in the Bureau of Musicnote , so as to preserve her own life as well as to wait for an opportunity to redress the wrongful deaths of her father and brother. From then on, she has to contend with the rich but complex (and often difficult) life in the palace as well as the incessant palace intrigues that lurks in the background while still maintaining a positive outlook in life.

Dong Yi is a 2010 South Korean historical drama that is loosely based on the life of Consort Suk of the Choi clan, a concubine of King Sukjong of Joseon (r. 1675-1720) and mother of the future King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776). It can be considered as a spiritual successor to the earlier historical drama Dae Jang Geum in the sense that both series features a Plucky Girl protagonist who is subjected towards numerous trials and tribulations within the palace and ultimately overcomes them all through hard work, determination and sincerity. There are notable differences however. While Dae Jang Geum revolves around the culinary arts and medicine, Dong Yi focuses on music and investigation, the latter being the driving force for many of the arcs in the series.

This series provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: "It does not matter whether you are born a noble or a commoner; what matters is that you have a noble heart."
  • Ambition Is Evil: A rather tragic case for Lady Jang. She was initially portrayed to be ambitious only, and refusing to resort to underhand methods to realise her dreams. Things began to change after her brother revealed that he has been supporting her from the sidelines by using those methods she despised and urged her to accept the plot he was brewing. The last straw came about when she realised that King Sukjong was beginning to favour Dong Yi, making her lose all her fetters in achieving her ambition.
  • Blue Blood: The yangban scholarly-elites are essentially the nobility during the Joseon dynasty, although their titles are technically only semi-hereditary. Nevertheless, class-based differences are very pronounced, even during the time period this series is set in, and can be observed by the regular depictions of the elites' contemptnote  towards the commoners throughout the series.
  • Broken Pedestal: Dong Yi used to look up upon Lady Jang as her role model. Indeed, it was Lady Jang herself who initially gave Dong Yi a boost in her career. Things changed after Lady Jang became involved in the plot to poison the Dowager Queen.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Gaedura, Dong Yi's childhood friend who parted ways with her after the latter entered the palace, appeared again later in the series. Turns out he was responsible for the revival of the Geom Gye.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Some of the methods and findings in Dong Yi's early cases reappear again later in the series, such as the usage of the scytale, and the ginger-stain detection method.
  • Child Prodigy: Prince Yeoning shows signs of this, being able to memorise and understand classics that even adults tend to find them hard to comprehend at the age of seven.
  • Chilly Reception: Dong Yi received one from the palace maids of the Office of Investigations when she was assigned there, due to their perceptions that Dong Yi had entered the Office as a result of favouritism and not merit. It took some time before she proved her worth to her fellow colleagues.
  • Crash-Into Hello: How Dong Yi first met King Sukjong (who was in King Incognito mode then). Hilarity ensues.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Dong Yi played a slow, instrumental version of the theme tune a few times using a haegum in memory of her deceased brother who used to play the same instrument. This became a plot point when King Sukjong heard and was enchanted by it and spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the player, but failing all the time until the most dramatic moment.
  • Death Faked for You: Chun Soo pulls this off to allow Dong Yi to escape arrest for a crime she did not commit early in the series. It works only because the then Chief of the Police Bureau Seo Yong Gi acquiesced the faking out of his own misgivings over the case.
  • The Determinator:
    • While Dong Yi is definitely a Plucky Girl, there are times when this trope fits her better, especially in the scene when she survived a fatal wound in the chest so as to be able to pass on an important evidence for a case she was investigating.
    • A more straight example would be Chun Soo, who survived a cliff fall and the subsequent plunge into icy-cold water, all of that after being stabbed multiple times, so as to uphold his promise to return to Dong Yi.
  • Dying Clue: The hand signals the dying Inspector-General showed to Dong Yi, who will spend many years trying to figure out their meanings.
  • Establishing Character Moment: King Sukjong. In his first proper scene, he was shown personally investigating a crashed meteorite within the palace grounds, ignoring the superstition of it being a harbinger of misfortune. That and his subsequent altercation with his ministers in court over the meteorite established him as a Reasonable Authority Figure who values hard evidence and is not afraid to challenge his ministers if he feels they are wrong.
  • Every Episode Ending: Every episode will end with a close-up shot of Dong Yi before cutting into the credits.
  • Frame-Up: How the Geom Gye, or Sword Fraternitynote , was exterminated. Its revived incarnation also suffers the same fate.
  • Friend on the Force: Yong Gi is one for Dong Yi; she often consult him regarding cases that are beyond her powers to investigate, such as cases outside the palace.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Shim Woon Taek is a good example of one, himself being a yangbannote . When he first appeared in the series, he was an exiled scholar wandering from lodgings to lodgings in the distant district of Uiju, and generally annoying its government officials with his witticisms along the way. The hedonist aspect of this trope is completely averted however.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Qing officials speak in actual Mandarin Chinese in their private conversations, albeit with a noticeable accent.
  • Historical Fiction: While most of the main characters are based on actual historical figures, most of the events depicted in this series are fictional and exist only due to the Rule of Drama.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Chun Soo to Dong Yi. Also played with the Queen towards King Sukjong's harem.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Lady Jang's brother used this to defend himself after his plot to poison the Dowager Queen became known to her.
  • Interservice Rivalry: The Joseon court is often fractured due to bitter factional struggles between the Southern and Western factions, which inevitably allowed King Sukjong to reinforce his authority by playing them against each other.
  • King Incognito: King Sukjong is fond of inspecting his country incognito, and it was in one such tour when he met Dong Yi.
  • Last-Second Chance: Dong Yi tries to offer one to Lady Jang near the end of the series. She refused to take up.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Lady Jang, after reflecting on her past deeds, have only this to say: "My only regret is that I truly loved you."
  • Missed Him by That Much: Used a few times to highlight the main characters futile searches for each other. Interestingly, this trope is still in force after the characters knew each other in person, as they didn't realise that the person(s) they are looking for are already known to them.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Lady Jang began to attempt this against Dong Yi when her other methods of removing her failed.
  • Mythology Gag: The pair of jade rings which King Sukjong bought for Dong Yi originally appeared in the historical drama Yi San where they were owned by King Yeongjo, who mentioned that they used to belong to his late mother.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Lady Jang's brother gave her this assurance after receiving reports that Dong Yi was fatally wounded. Guess what happens afterwards....
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lady Jang's brother Jang Hee Jae acts like this to ensure that people ignore or underestimate him.
  • Out Gambit: How plots against Dong Yi tend to fail later in the series.
  • Plucky Girl: Dong Yi. This trait of hers is the defining premise of this series.
  • The Promise: Chun Soo promised to find Dong Yi no matter where she is, so long as she placed the symbol he entrusted her with. He did.
  • Properly Paranoid: Dong Yi shows shades of this later in the series, which is how she is able to Out Gambit a number of plots against her. An example would be she ordering her room to be applied with liberal amounts of ginger-water to detect any intruders who might want to steal the Registration Archive she hid in her room while she was out attending a banquet. It also helps that she has Shim Woon Taek advising her.
  • The Quiet One: Chun Soo, and to a lesser extent, Yong Gi. You don't want to mess with either of them.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: King Sukjong, Queen Inhyeon, Seo Yong Gi and Matron Jeong; all of whom were impressed by Dong Yi's sincerity and determination and eventually became trusted allies of her.
  • Scenery Porn: Used a few times in the series, including the opening scene which features a lone angler fishing in a calm river surrounded by lofty peaks. Who was then murdered.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Before she became a Royal Consort, Lady Jang was told by a travelling Taoist that she, who has everything, is destined to be the shadow of the light of a girl, who has lost everything. The girl is none other than Dong Yi, and Lady Jang's eventual downfall is largely caused by her incessant plotting against Dong Yi.
  • Silent Scapegoat: Dong Yi's father willingly took the blame for the murder of Yong Gi's father so as to preserve his life by preventing him from inquiring into the murder further.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: This series showcases both ends of the scale, with Dong Yi representing idealism and Lady Jang representing cynicism. The series ultimately settles on the idealistic end of the scale, although the path towards it is definitely not easy.
  • Smart People Play Chess: King Sukjong and Lady Jang are shown playing baduk together from time to time, and they are among the smartest characters in the series. Lady Jang even made use of one such session to advise the King over a political issue.
  • Smug Snake: The entire Jang family sans the crown prince. Special mention goes to Jang Hee Jae.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Dae Jang Geum, both of which are directed by the same director and feature similar themes, and actors including the male leads.
  • Standard Royal Court
  • Stalker with a Crush: The son of the Director of Music is one towards Dong Yi. His obsession over her (who is completely unaware of his presence) does not cease even after she became the king's consort.
  • That One Case: Seo Yong Gi is haunted for many years over the pleas of a young Dong Yi towards him, who insist that her father was framed. The case was officially closed but her mysterious disappearance only served to compound his misgivings over the case. And it was only years later when he met her again and discovered the truth.
  • Those Two Guys: There are two pairs of note: one is the music supervisor and palace musician, and the other is their superior, the Director of Music, and his son; both pairs are mainly present for comic relief only, though they did advance the plot in a few cases.
  • Time Skip: Used a few times throughout the series.
  • Token Good Teammate: The crown prince is the only good person in the Jang family.
  • The Unfettered: Lady Jang shows shades of this, being willing to do anything to achieve her dreams.
  • Tragic Villain: Despite her insistence that she would have committed the same deeds again if given another chance, it is evident that Lady Jang would not have fallen so rapidly if not for her family's machinations behind her back. In fact, she is the one who ended up having to clean up the mess left by her mother and her brother's plots, which tend to backfire more often than not.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Lady Jang tries one by poisoning herself so that she can accuse the deposed queen from plotting against her.