The Matchmakers went under the radar for a lot of us when it aired last year. It’s a sageuk (historical drama) and I don’t watch many of those. I got interested in this one because I heard it was fun, with a lighter tone and fewer men in scraggly beards than usual. So did it live up to the buzz?
The drama is about two people who are widowed, and according to tradition, not allowed to remarry. That’s why it had to be set as a sageuk, because in a modern story a second chance at love is allowed. Poor Jung Woo (called Prince Gyeongwoonjae most of the time) is not allowed to have a job either, which irritates him no end. Having passed the civil service exam with the highest score, he expected a good position. He is smug and arrogant at times and awkward at others. He is played tongue-in-cheek by Ro Woon, who has been seen lately in Destined With You and The King’s Affection.
On the surface Soon Deok seems to be the perfectly behaved yangban (noble) widow, staying at home all day doing the family sewing. But, secretly, she jumps the back garden wall and goes around town in disguise as a matchmaker, at which she excels because of her gift for reading people. She is played with considerable spirit by Cho Yi Hyun, who was in All of Us Are Dead and was one of the twin interns in Hospital Playlist.
Yes, there are plots. Consort Park had been a favorite of the king once, and wants her son to become the crown prince. She resents the king having chosen the queen’s son instead, but it’s not official because the Ming Dynasty hasn’t approved it yet.
There are a lot of ministers in scraggly beards but you really only need to know two of them. The Defense Minister is the brother of Consort Park. Minister Park announces to the court that they should postpone the crown prince’s marriage because of a virgin ghost and “old maidens” that are causing bad luck – but then forgets what else he was supposed to say.
The Left State Councilor, Lord Jo, is the brother-in-law of Minister Park, and pretty much leads him around by the nose. You can tell these two apart because Lord Jo is older and has a grayer beard. He fills in the rest of Minister Park’s thought – they would have to postpone all other marriages while they looked for a wife for the prince, and that would cause more bad luck.
Lady Park is the wife of the Left State Councilor, and the sister of Consort Park and Minister Park. She is the brains behind the operation, but lets her husband think that everything is his idea. From time to time the two men think they know better than she does and go against her advice. Just watch how that turns out! By the way, Lady Park and Lord Jo are Soon Deok’s mother- and father-in-law.
Out-plotting the Plotters
The Queen knows that the crown prince has to be married before they can send the application to Ming. She is very tactful, and suggests to the king that he get Jung Woo to help them. After all, he’s the smartest man around, having gotten the highest test score. She doesn’t know that Jung Woo is the person who thought up the “old maidens” excuse for the Parks!
This King of Joseon is the nicest king of Joseon you will ever see, but he still likes to get his own way. He coerces Jung Woo into out-plotting the Parks. They decide that they can dispose of the bad luck argument by marrying off some of the more notorious “old maidens.” You can recognize this actor, Jo Han Chul, by his laugh. He was the hapless office manager in High School King of Savvy, and lately, he’s been the police team leader in Stealer: the Treasure Keeper.
The Crown Prince, Lee Jae, although only 14 years old in the story, is a strong character and has his own opinions. He’s not averse to being married, which after all is not anachronistic for that time period. He is in danger several times and is always proactive in taking care of himself. He is wonderfully played by Hong Dong Young, who is actually only 12 and has already been in 14 dramas.
The hijinks commence, with Jung Woo being tasked with arranging the marriages. Of course, he has no idea what to do, and enlists the help of the most popular matchmaker, Yeojudaek. What nobody knows is that the real Yeojudaek is in hiding because of some mystery or other. Soon Deok is using her name and is doing all the matchmaking.
The “notorious old maidens” chosen for arranged marriages are three sisters who have consistently refused to marry, preferring to take care of their blind mother. The eldest is Ha Na, who is smart and brave but is considered bossy and difficult to get along with. Interestingly, hana is the native Korean word for one.
The second sister is Du Ri, who is loud and stands up for herself, but is thought of as bad-tempered and a shrew. She helps to support her family as a seamstress, and often does work for Soon Deok. After all, Soon Deok is supposed to be sewing all day, and she doesn’t do any of it herself. The native Korean word for two is dul (or tul).
The third sister is Sam Soon, who has her own mystery going on. She actually would like to be married, but she is not regarded as pretty and also has to wait for her older sisters to get married first. She is a friend of Yeojudaek – at least, we all know it is Soon Deok in disguise as Yeojudaek. Korea has two systems of numbers, and sam is the Sino-Korean word for three.
Soon Deok’s sister-in-law, Ye Jin, is not part of the “old maidens” project, but her parents, Lady Park and Lord Jo, are arranging a marriage for her too. Soon Deok asks her if she is seeing anyone, and Ye Jin acts scandalized and says she wouldn’t do anything so low class. This is the point where we begin to suspect Soon Deok is not as good at reading people as she thinks!
Quite a few “old bachelors” are considered as partners for the three sisters. There is some back-and-forth, but there are a few to watch for. One is Soon Gu, who is Soon Deok’s brother. He is a police inspector and investigates several crimes such as the virgin ghost case.
Shi Yeol is a student at Sungkyunkwan, and his father gets an important promotion during the course of the story. Soon Deok meets him while matchmaking for another family, and thinks he would be good for Ye Jin. He meets Du Ri and clashes badly with her, and then keeps running into her unexpectedly.
Bu Gyeom is yangban but is an orphan and hasn’t got much money. He has no important relatives to help him to a government position, so he puts his time into farming and improving his land. He is a childhood friend of Ye Jin.
Two invaluable helpers for the matchmakers are Jung Woo’s butler, Oh Bong, and Merchant Hong, who owns the bookstore where Yeojudaek and Sam Soon hang out. Watch for this scene, where they help Jung Woo practice talking to the “old maidens.” Notice the straw braids over their shoulders and the signs that say Du Ri and Ha Na!
The show is beautifully shot with some lavish scenes, such as the king’s awards ceremony. It’s well-written and paced, with a lot of memorable characters and side plots. The story never gets dull. There is trouble here and there and a murder or two, but a lot of fun is thrown in, which works out well because I hate to see my main characters squashed down too much.
I enjoyed the show a lot! There’s not just one love story but several. We see relationships change and don’t always know how things are going to end up. The two leads are fun to watch, from him coping with sudden chest pains and trying to get a handle on things to her trying to keep her family from finding out. Except for Ye Jin. She already knows. You can watch the whole thing on Viki.
See you for the next hidden gem!
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi