Title: Hong Cheon-gi (literal titled) / Lovers of the Red Sky (English title)
Main Cast: Kim You-jung, Ahn Hyo-seop, Gong Myung, Kwak Si-yang
PD: Jung Tae-woo (Hyena)
Timeslot: Monday/Tuesday 22:00
Genre: Fantasy romance sageuk
Based on the novel of Jung Eun-gwol (the same author of The Moon Embracing the Sun and Sungkyungkwan Scandal novels), the series is about the epic love story of female painter Hong Cheon-gi and blind scholar Ha Ram. Their story is not an ordinary romance as their fate has been tangled by deities. One winter solstice, Hong Cheon-gi crosses paths with Ha Ram – an encounter that would connect their past to the present and awaken an evil being that would make their lives complicated than it already is.
Major trope: star-crossed lovers
It’s a jampacked premiere week for Lovers of the Red Sky as it laid down the foundation of its plot and introduced us to each character.
First, let me sum up the cause of the central conflict for Lovers of the Red Sky. Just like any other sageuk, the first episode started a few years back from the present timeline – a shamanic ritual to release the demon king from the body of King Yeongjong. The ritual coincided with the birth of two people – a blind Hong Cheon-gi, daughter of a painter, and a healthy Ha Ram, the son of a gukmudang or state shaman. The said demon king was thought to be the cause of drought in the kingdom. But years after the successful ritual, the kingdom – now under the rule of King Seongjo (Cho Seong-ha) – was still suffering from long drought and famine. To ask for rain, the current state shaman Mi Soo (Chae Gook-hee) asked the help of her rival and a state shaman she betrayed before Ha Sung-jin (Han Sang-jin). His son apparently is favored by the water deity so they need him to do the ritual. As Ha Ram arrives in Hanyang, he encountered the blind Hong Cheon-gi who taught him how to see the world differently. While everyone’s busy with the rain ritual, a brooding young prince Juhyan (Kwak Si-yang) was lured by the demon king to the painting and started a fire, which eventually causes the spirit to be released. All of which coincided with the ongoing ritual where Ha Ram, unbeknownst to him, was being sacrificed for the rain. The birth god Samshin (Moon Sook) then interfered with the happenings in the living realm. She decided to trap the spirit of the demon king to Ha Ram’s body while his visions would go to Hong Cheon-gi so that he wouldn’t be able to fully use his power. Years later, when the Yin energy is at its strongest, the two met and their short reunion woke up the demon king in Ha Ram’s body.
Now that all of those infos are out the way, let me now talk about my impressions of the characters, their story, and the series premiere episodes in general.
Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram’s love story is a disaster waiting to happen. They couldn’t be together because they would open the world for the demon king, which is really the central conflict for this series. Aside from possibly destructing the world, Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram both have individual problems to think of. Our female lead tends to her ill father while Ha Ram is trying to find a way to take revenge for his family’s tragic ending. Hong Cheon-gi’s sob story is compelling enough that I’m already ready to slay monsters for her. On the other hand, I need more details about Ha Ram and how he ended up being a close confidante of the King. It’s really intriguing. As for the romance of these two, they only spend a few minutes on-screen time but I liked what I saw there. There’s chemistry between Kim You-jung and Ahn Hyo-seop and I hope they would execute their story right in the coming episodes.
Aside from the demon king, it seems like the dealings in the royal court would also make the life of our lovers more complicated. They are surrounded by factions everywhere. Although we haven’t seen it yet the royal court is divided between those who support the ambitious Grand Prince Juhyan and seemingly laidback artist Grand Prince Yangmyeong. We already saw Juhyan’s true colors in the premiere week. He is ambitious and is not afraid of bloodshed just to gain power. It’s a straight character introduction for an antagonist. Grand Prince Yangmyeong, on the other hand, is mysterious. I don’t believe he’s just a carefree artist with royal blood. There’s something more in him like he’s hiding a rebellious streak so that Juhyan wouldn’t be suspicious of him. But of course, this is just a wild guess.
What interests me the most though in this series is the use of the folklore character Samshin, which literally translates to three gods. She oversees childbirth, a child’s lifespan, and their health. Samshin halmo holds the answer to Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram’s fate and I’m really curious how that would play out in the next episodes.
Lovers of the Red Sky tickled my curious mind with its interesting characters and fantasy plot. The first two episodes gave us a lot of details to reel us in but at the same held back on some parts to make us want for more. My only worry though is that things would be too complicated that they wouldn’t know how to settle everything satisfyingly. But since this is an adaptation, I hope they wouldn’t stray away from its original material. Because it would be a shame if Lovers of the Red Sky wouldn’t live up to the standard set by its predecessors – Moon Embracing the Sun and Sungkyungkwan Scandal.
-Painter Choi Jung (Hong Kyung) that’s it. That’s the afterthought. (If you’ve watched the 2021 Baeksang Awards Ceremony, he’s the winner of Best New Actor there for his role in Innocence – the Shin Hae-sun-starrer movie).
Image credit: SBS