What do you get when you mash up a detailed fantasy full of mythological creatures and supernatural forces vying for power and a historical romance with no basis in real history? The delightfully deep and lovely Lovers of the Red Sky. Come see if this newest entry into Kdrama historical dramas is right for you!
The Story So Far (buckle up because it’s a LOT)
Once upon a time, two mothers gave birth — one under the Sacred Tree, one in a nobleman’s home. While these mothers were focused on other things, the Crown Prince/soon-to-be King of the nation was busy extracting the hungry Death Spirit from his father in their attempt to bring peace to the land. The Crown Prince, with the help of the Taoist high priest, trapped the Death Spirit in a portrait of the elderly king that had been painted by a divine painter, an artist whose gifts were magnified by a spiritual power. The Death Spirit, Ma Wang, was understandably upset and threw a fit as he was getting trapped in the painting, stealing the life of one of the mothers. She prayed to Sam Shin to protect her baby, and Sam Shin showed up in all her ethereal butterfly-like glory, baby in one arm and massive power flowing from the other one. Seeing an opportunity, she tied the fates of the two babies together.
The two babies grow up a bit and meet as children during the days leading up to a Rain Ritual. Ma Wang, in his fit throwing, also stole the water from the sky and people were getting hungry. No one likes a famine. The court’s head shaman had managed to get the Taoist high priest kicked out of his position and determined that his son Ha Ram — the boy born the night of the Death Spirit ritual who also happened to have a knack for finding water — should lead the Rain Ritual. Ha Ram came with his father to court and met Cheon Gi, the baby girl Sam Shin had saved. Cheon Gi is blind, but still shows Ha Ram how to have fun in her part of town. During the Rain Ritual, the two fall into the water and Cheon Gi’s blindness and the spirit of Ma Wang are transferred to Ha Ram, and the rain breaks overhead.
Fast forward another 19 years and court machinations bring Cheon Gi — who is now a gifted painter and caretaker for her father, the crazy divine painter — and Ha Ram — the blind man who can read the stars and direct the court — into each other’s lives. There are shenanigans involving a painting forgery ring, a disgruntled Grand Prince who thinks he should take the throne away from the Crown Prince, and the displaced shaman who wants her place back, and epic conflicts between the vengeful Ma Wang, the subtle Sam Shin, and other supernatural beings who want order brought back to the world.
Drama Geek: I think the Maknae might be in love. LOL. The story so far has all the pieces to become a pretty epic story. I really enjoyed the plot for the first two episodes and loved that the mythology of Ma Wang and Sam Shin was being explored once again. I also really like the actress who plays Sam Shin and her fairy wings.
Karie the Maknae: Drama Geek is very right. I’m in love! The drama is already exploring Korean mythology with Ma Wang and Sam Shin and the other supernatural creatures that abound, the politicking has layers instead of just old men in wispy beards trying to control the kingdom, and the romance is charming.
Kdrama Jen: I loved Moon Embracing the Sun, so I knew I wanted to check this one out. I am in the mood for this kind of drama right now. There are a few plot points that are not fully on point, but this drama has a lot of heart.
Kim Yoo Jung is wonderful as the bright and talented and spunky and filial Cheon Gi. Her love for her crazy father spurs her into dangerous pursuits, but she manages to get out of things by the skin of her teeth OR with a little help from Sam Shin. Ahn Hyo Seop is perfect as the calm Ha Ram, and he’s very good at showing just how deep his still waters run. Also, when Ma Wang takes over his body, Ahn Hyo Seop shows incredible range as he gives life to Ma Wang’s desire for revenge.
Drama Geek: I was delightfully surprised at Ahn Hyo Seop’s grounded portrayal and thought he was very convincing while flying through the air possessed by Ma Wang. Kim Yoo Jung is not impressing me as much. I have loved her as an actress and enjoyed most of her previous works. I just don’t know that she’s giving me anything different than I’ve seen before and I want her character to be more, or different, or just something deeper. She has plenty of time to give me what I’m after, even if I’m not sure what it is.
Karie the Maknae: Same. Kim Yoo Jung is delivering exactly what is expected of her, and I’m okay with that because it fits the role. Ahn Hyo Seop is a fantastic surprise — he was so cheerful and artless in Still 17 that I’m still taken aback a bit by his seriousness and sincerity. I can *feel* the difference between Ma Wang and Ha Ram, and nothing has come off as shallow or cheesy. He’s going to be an actor to watch.
Kdrama Jen: I have loved Kim Yoo Jung since she was the younger version of the female lead in Moon Embracing the Sun. She is so well-suited to historicals. Yes, she is playing pretty much the same character she has played in other dramas, but she still sparkles and shines. I also was surprised by Ahn Hyo Seop. There is also a gratuitous fan service workout scene within the first few episodes that allows us to admire his commitment to physical fitness. He is still a bit green to me as an actor, but I can see the potential.
The Institute and Palace Crew
Cheon Gi has had the run of the Painting Institute since she was a child, and has friends and found family among the students and staff. Yoon Sa Bong is loveable and relatable as the institute’s housekeeper and sometime mother/aunt to Cheon Gi. Kim Kwang Gyu does a good job of being the perpetually exasperated headmaster of the Painting Institute, doing his best to discipline Cheon Gi when she flouts the institute’s rules while also giving her the chance to pursue her passion despite her gender.
Over in the palace, the grand princes are a study in contrasts. Kwak Shi Yang plays Grand Prince Ju Hyang, who isn’t satisfied with his position in life and is determined to take over the throne at all costs. He’s attracted to the power that Ma Wang offers him, but not quite stupid enough to take it. Gong Myung plays Grand Prince Yang Myung, third in line to the throne and content to elevate arts and music in the kingdom through his patronage instead of pursuing power. He’s charming and happy-go-lucky, but still dignified when the situation calls for it.
Drama Geek: I’m giving the rest of the cast time as well. I love Gong Myung’s Grand Prince and I’m a little meh about Kwak Shi Yang right now. I really hope we get something like Rookie Historian where Cheon Gi is allowed to spread her wings as a painter and it isn’t just a plot point to connect her to the palace.
Karie the Maknae: The found family aspect is a lot of fun, and creating some much-needed humorous moments between the prince and the shaman concocting dark plots and the demon running around and killing people willy-nilly. I thought at first that Gong Myung’s Grand Prince would only be silly, but there’s a little layer of something more serious there, and I’m interested to see where it goes.
Kdrama Jen: I am not fully sold on all of the other characters, but it is still early, so there is time for them to win me over. I am interested to see how the princes either fall into darkness or fight against it. I do like the fellow artists. I just want to give them all time to really come together and for us to sort out all the various plot lines.
Would We Recommend?
Drama Geek: I LOVED the first two episodes and was really excited but then was a little less excited about three and four. I think it will take time for me to decide, but I’m positive if you’re looking for a beautiful fantasy drama, this one will be a fun one to follow.
Karie the Maknae: YEP YEP YEP. I’m completely entranced, and it’s safe to say that watching Red Sky has been the highlight of the last two weeks for me. It’s hitting all the right notes, and I’m just praying that the story stays strong.
Kdrama Jen: I am enjoying it. I was really invested in the first two episodes as well, but also found myself noticing some of the little things that are more common with less experienced actors—maybe a facial expression that didn’t quite work or a gesture that felt over-acted. Still, I WOULD recommend this drama. It has been a while since we have had a historical/fantasy to turn our heads. I this Red Sky is worth trying!
Until the next time Sam Shin meddles in things, we remain —
Dramas with a Side of Kimchi