Many people feel the same way about The Three Musketeers, so I heard there was a K-drama adaptation from 2014 I knew I had to check it out.
Set in the Joseon dynasty during the reign of King Injo (1623-1649), I’m pretty sure the story takes about as many liberties with Korean history as Dumas did with French. Notably, one of our main characters is Crown Prince Sohyeon, who was apparently (possibly) murdered by his father for bringing western innovations to the country including science and Catholicism.
There’s also a narrative framing story about scholars arguing whether or not General Park Dal Hyang (our D’Artagnan) was a real historical person or not – which nicely acknowledges the original novel, where Dumas claims this whole thing is a genuine reflection of the historical shenanigans of the Comte de La Fere and his friends.
But let’s start at the beginning, with
D’Artagnan Park Dal Hyang and his horse. His horse is unnamed but you know I’m gonna call her Buttercup.
It is young Dal Hyang’s dream to travel to Hanyang (the Paris of Joseon Korea) to take “the exam,” a test of military skills and fortitude which separates out the best of the best for positions in the King’s army. (There are also administrative exams to earn a place in government but let’s face it, Dal Hyang’s not going to Hanyang to do paperwork)
Dal Hyang puts great stock in his father’s advice, knowing that his dear old Dad is the only man in their distant rural village ever to have travelled to the Big Smoke. He also has failed to notice the angry, sarcastic looks that his mother has been shooting in his father’s direction.
The minute Dal Hyang is on the road, his mother explodes in fury, lambasting her husband for manipulating their son. He’s never been out of the village, it turns out, his advice is all crap (including that quite vital bit of advice about calling on Minister Choi with a letter and inviting himself to stay in his house) and oh yes, that bloody horse is far too old and won’t make the journey.
I am completely in love with Dal Hyang’s mother at this point.
So in true D’Artagnan fashion, our boy’s horse collapses four days into his “month-long” journey, and he has to nurse him back to health, then meets all kinds of other terrible delays along the way. Including tigers.
“I think your horse is smarter than you.” Great quote from a random dude trying to convince Dal Hyang that detouring around a tiger is always a good idea.
[I long for a fanvid or a gif that shows the scene where BBC D’Artagnan lectures the bad guy about how long you can reasonably gallop a horse, and then cuts to Dal Hyang’s horse falling over in a dead faint. Someone get that horse an agent, he’s gonna be a star!]
By the time he gets to the city, of course, it’s taken him twice as long as it should have, and there is no room at Minister Choi’s house or anywhere else because it’s the day before the exam! Our hero then gets mugged by a flashmob and loses most his money.
When he is scammed into paying a small fortune for a room he has to share with a bunch of other blokes, he stumbles into a violent conspiracy – nobles paying violent criminals to beat up men who are “talented” so they won’t do well in the exams. Outraged by this injustice and bleeding from the ear, Dal Hyang goes tearing out in the middle of the night and comes up against three beautifully dressed mysterious strangers on horseback.
OH YEAH BABY.
The three are not named at this point but thanks to hindsight and Wikipedia I can tell you that yes, their Musketeer archetypes are basically what you would expect. The cheerful round-faced one is Porthos, the serious one is Athos, and the ridiculously baby-faced one who is slender and polite is Aramis.
I’d give you their Korean names, but there’s a thing I don’t want to spoil yet, so we’ll get there.The Three Strangers are startled by Dal Hyang’s obvious insanity. He pours out his mad story about ruffians and keeps demanding to borrow one of their horses, which causes much bemusement. Especially when he actually has the effrontery to climb up on Ahn Min Seo’s (Aramis) horse behind him to save time and force the issue.
The three strangers are finally convinced by Dal Hyang’s earnest passion for justice, and agree to investigate, bringing our boy along for the ride.
When I say investigate of course what I mean is: fight scene.
It’s all resolved rather quickly and Dal Hyang is still no wiser about who his new heroes are, though they’re obviously some kind of authority in this town. As they prepare to ride off into the darkness he asks their names and is only told that they are called “The Three Musketeers.”
As the three ride away, we learn that they don’t call themselves this at all – one of them just came up with the name on the spur of the moment. They love it though so they’re keeping it.
WHO ARE THESE BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS?
Turns out they are rather important people, in a slight (ha!) change from the usual canon. The “Musketeers” head to some kind of fancy paper hotel with some of the most bored dancing girls you can imagine. “Athos” has a private war meeting with some fellows while his two friends exclaim over a highly suspicious letter belonging to Dal Hyang that they found on Ahn Min Seo’s horse.
Dal Hyang, meanwhile, wonders what Musketeers are, and why they travel in threes.
“Hanyang is big I guess. All the talented people hang out together.”
When he returns to his own dodgy bloodstained boarding house, Dal Hyang finds his letter from his father still there, but the other one is missing. What other one? Why is there another letter?? What’s going on??
Turns out the letter is of the love variety and possibly of the treasonous conspiracy variety. Ahn Min Seo and Heo Seung Po show the letter to “Athos”, and he shares their concern. There’s more to young Dal Hyang than meets the eye.
Speaking of more than meets the eye, there’s definitely a different power dynamic going on here than is usual for the Three Musketeers.
Dal Hyang receives a rude message on an arrow, telling him to come meet his three new friends again if he wants his letter back. Outraged to have had his privacy violated, he tears off only to find himself in a paper office with a very grave, serious “Athos.”
Who keeps giving him polite orders like he expects him to obey him. That’s a bit odd, right?
This show is like 50% dirty looks and meaningful exchanges of glances. Which may or may not be out and out eye-fucking. Dal Hyang is apparently unable to read body language, and so is confused for much of this scene and utterly shocked when “Athos” reveals that he has read the private letter and now plans to interrogate him about it.
Yoon Seo, daughter of General Kang, once stayed in Dal Hyang’s village five years ago, and the two of them were in love. We learn this through the occasional flashback to them prancing on a beach, Danny-and-Sandy-style (Summer Lovin’ Happened So Fast!) and through the letter itself, in which the cheerful, teasing girl encourages Dal Hyang’s suit of her.
Our boy has spent the last five years training endlessly all so he can fulfil his dream to come to Hanyang, take the exam, and then find Yoon Seo to marry her. He has no idea why this mean Musketeer keeps insisting that his precious love letter might be evidence of a conspiracy… until “Athos” breaks it to him that Yoon Seo is already married. To the Crown Prince Sohyeon. So… yeah. Out of luck, dude. Also, that letter starts looking like a pretty dangerous piece of evidence of treason.
Dal Hyang is devastated. There are actual tears rolling down his face, as the emotion overwhelms him. “Athos” questions him further, obviously still concerned with the political ramifications of this – how could anyone not know who the Crown Princess was?
The answer, of course, is that he lives so far away. It took him TWO MONTHS to get here. Also, he’s really emotional right now, so can you please stop accusing him of conspiracy?
Ahn Min Seo and Heo Seung Po have been waiting outside, and are shocked when “Athos” emerges and declares the lad innocent. He’s a little shell shocked at having caused so much pain to this young lad he hardly knows. Oh, the feels.
“I know I should torture him but instead I think I’ll buy him a drink to console him,” the Musketeer decides.
But what about Yoon Seo herself? She is in the Palace, readying herself for bed, when her husband unexpectedly calls on her. Sadly, this is not a booty call.
Because of course, GUESS WHO HER HUSBAND IS?
Yes, our “Athos” is in fact Crown Prince Sohyeon. Yoon Seo is his wife, though I’m not sure if they have an especially warm relationship given that she’s not used to him visiting her at bedtime.
Sohyeon is actually here to troll his wife. Amused by Yoon Seo’s past as a beach bunny with a taste for pretty peasant boys, he teases her with a straight face.
He also seems to be a lot more defensive of Dal Hyang’s feelings than those of his wife which is hardly a shocker considering that canon Athos is a complete misogynist: not a fan of the ladies. He is far more upset that this talented young man is now heartbroken and probably not going to do well in the exam than he is that his wife’s reputation is hanging by a thread.
There’s an element of wistfulness here too, when Sohyeon asks “where did that bold girl go?” He doesn’t recognise his timid, polite wife as being the same woman who wrote that letter to Dal Hyang, and regrets perhaps that she has been so intimidated by him that he will never get to know her like that.
Meanwhile Yoon Seo gets to try out a whole bunch of ‘gobsmacked’ expressions including one where her mouth literally hangs open in horror.
Dal Hyang is indeed planning to give up on the exam and go home – he has nothing to fight for now, and mopes to his surprisingly understanding horse about how Yoon Seo is lost to him forever, living over in the Palace.
The Three Musketeers have other ideas. Dal Hyang still doesn’t know the identity of any of them, but he does know they represent some sort of authority. So they go and blackmail him into doing his best in the exam. Sohyeon makes it clear that he’s holding on to the letter for the time being, while Ahn Min Seo and Heo Seung Po entertain themselves by slandering their Crown Prince: terrifying young Dal Hyang with how violent and sly he can be.
Sohyeon grumbles at them about this, but they get away with it. Boys, you are evil, but your plan is not without merit.
Dal Hyang competes with all the other men, and mostly gets first (in one case second) place in the various events, including archery, spear, iron archery, archery on horse, and so on.
He is delighted to be one of the 28 finalists selected to perform in front of the King himself. King Injo makes himself comfortable and picks archery on horse as the event he’s going to judge.
Which would all be fine, except that Sohyeon turns up too, to see the show, just as Dal Hyang is about to go on.
Meaningful looks ahoy. Dal Hyang is mortified as the Crown Prince gazes at him from across the field. Note: it’s a really bad idea to freak out someone who is about to do some shooting from horseback.
I assumed at this point that Dal Hyang would acquit himself, get top marks, and earn a place in the King’s military – but I forgot for a moment that the whole point of the beginning of D’Artagnan’s journey is that he does a metaphorical face plant as soon as he arrives in Paris.
So, yes. Dal Hyang is so distracted by the burning bedroom eyes of Sohyeon (I’m sorry, but the meaningful looks have definitely gone beyond bromance at this point, I’m not wrong, am I?) that he stumbles on the horse, shoots badly, the arrow goes into the rump of another horse, and causes a stampede of epic dramatic proportions that terrifies everyone, including the king. Well, especially the king.
If Dal Hyang gets out of this without being executed, it will be a miracle. This is why you don’t use your power and prestige to fuck with the heads of impressionable young men, Musketeers!
The horse acting in this show is seriously amazing, though. They are obviously trying to one-up each other in competition for the Horse Emmy.
The episode ends with Sohyeon bursting into laughter because it is really, really funny. Dal Hyang, however, is frozen in horror at what he has done…
And that is how they met. And there are like 12 episodes still to go. This is GOLD, Musketeer fans. Get your own copy now. Though I warn you, I ordered mine on ebay and ended up with a dodgy pirate version. Still, it has English subtitles, which is more than you can say for the DVD of the Russian Musketeer extravaganza which is still my favourite and my best…
“The Three Musketeers” is a 2014 Korean drama starring Jung Yong-hwa, Lee Jin-wook, Yang Dong-geun, Jung Hae-in, and Seo Hyun-jin. Loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel The Three Musketeers, the series follows three Joseon-era adventurers who serve Crown Prince Sohyeon as his warrior guards. It’s basically awesome. There are twelve episodes, and while I don’t have time to review them all for my Musketeer Media Monday essays, I do plan to watch them all at some point if only to find out how they fold Richelieu, Rochefort and especially Milady into the tale. There may be live-tweeting. I promise nothing.
This Musketeer Media Monday post was brought to you by the paid sponsors of Musketeer Space, all 70+ of them. You guys rule! Previous posts in this series include:
Musketeers in an Exciting Adventure With Airships (2011)
Musketeers Are All For Love (1993)
Looks Good in Leather: BBC Musketeer Edition Part I (2014)
You Can Leave Your Hat On: BBC Musketeer Edition Part II (2014)
It’s Raining Musketeers: BBC Musketeer Edition Part III (2014)
Mickey Mouse the Musketeer (2004)
Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies Style (1973)
Musketeer in Pink (2009)
Musketeers Break My Heart Seventies Style (1974)
Musketeers in Technicolor (1948)
Musketeer on Mars (2008, 2012)
Bat’Magnan and the Mean Musketeers (2001)
Russian Musketeers Own My Soul (1979)
All the Musketeer Ladies (2015)