Lovers of the Red Sky paints the story of star-crossed lovers Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram who were caught in the middle of a war between scheming royals and a fight between deities and a devil.
The earlier part of the series’ exposition detailed the backstory of Hong Cheon-gi (Kim You-jung) and Ha Ram (Ahn Hyo-seop). The characters met when they were young and got separated after a tragic event. That sounds like the usual backstory of Korean period dramas, right? What makes their backstory unique was its fantasy element. Their birth was mired by cursed of unearthly beings which complicated their fates. This whole part was told in a detailed way that some find it too much for a first episode. I was okay with it though as it is always the case for sageuk dramas and I didn’t expect Lovers of the Red Sky to be an exception to that formula.
Once the character introductions were done and everything was set up, the series then settled into a much smoother narrating pace. The middle part of the series was where we really got to know Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram.
After the tragic rain ceremony, the fates of this lovers got twisted. Hong Cheon-gi, who was cursed to be blind by the devil, was able to see again while Ha Ram went blind. Despite this change of fate, Hong Cheon-gi still got the short end of the stick. She had to care for her ill father and at the same time, prove that she’s a good painter and not just a forger. Ha Ram, meanwhile, was taken care of by King Seongjo (Cho Seong-ha).
In the middle part of the series, they were able to show how talented Cheon-gi really is as a painter. Because of Cheon-gi’s heightened sense when she was blind, she has this ability to put a different perspective in her paintings. The episodes where the art competition took place has clearly showcased that talent. It was in those episodes that my interest in this series peaked at its highest. The point of that part of the story was to build Cheon-gi’s credibility as the destined painter of the divine portrait that could be used as a vessel for the devil. But what I enjoyed the most in that part was the visual experience in every scene that Kim You-jung paints. The series excelled in those scenes. I didn’t know that watching someone paints can be as thrilling to watch as the other action-pack sequences in this series. It also built a perfect foundation to the emotional scenes in the finale where Cheon-gi lost her sight again and had to paint with her senses alone while receiving help from his dead father.
Speaking of the devil, the Demon King Ma Wang was sealed inside Ha Ram’s body when he was young. He lost his vision to prevent the evil creature from using his powers. All throughout the series, Ha Ram plotted his revenge on the royal family, who he thought ordered to kill his father. His vengeful heart was what prevented him from getting closer to Cheon-gi in earlier episodes. It was also the same reason why Ha Ram fell into the scheming hand of Grand Prince Juhyang / Yi Hu (Kwak Si-yang). He almost sided with the wrong guy but it’s a good thing that Cheon-gi and Grand Prince Yangmyeong / Yi Yul (Gong Myoung) were there to steer him back on the right track. All of these happened as a build-up to the plot twist in Ha Ram’s individual story arc – it was the Demon King who killed his father, not the royals. It could have been a good and shocking plot twist but the revelation fell flat. It felt more like a minor misunderstanding that could have been resolved in earlier episodes. Which was a shame since Ahn Hyo-seop really put an effort into portraying Ha Ram’s anger in the build-up scenes. Or maybe I felt that way because of the timing. The characters had to dealt with a lot of conundrums in the last part of the series. It was as if the writer chose to just close everything in the last arc. So the reveal on the secret behind the death of Ha Ram’s father got overshadowed by their need to fight Ma Wang. Ahn Hyo-seop’s climactic performance when he found out the truth behind his father’s death was still worthy of praises. It matched how Kim You-jung delivered in her own character’s emotional scenes in the finale.
I do understand that Ha Ram’s revenge arc was used to propel the main conflict – sealing off Ma Wang permanently. And since it’s supposed to be the series’ main conflict, I expected a lot from it. But it became the root cause of my main disappointment with the series. I was excited to see the deities that were introduced in the pilot episode. It looked like they would incorporate them well in the narrative but alas, the stories of Samshin and Ho Ryeong weren’t fleshed out enough. I couldn’t understand when they could actually intervene in the lives of our characters. Because it seems they only do that on a whim. Some might say that they really can’t meddle in the living realm but that explanation is weak especially because I’ve seen other series dealing with gods and goddesses meddling in human affairs. I don’t know if they just wanted to maintain the mystery of these characters or they don’t really have any story prepared for them. But anyway, I guess I just expected too much for all these folklore-ish creatures. At least, the CGIs used in their scenes look amusing especially in the final battle between Samshin and Ma Wang.
In the end, all loose ends in the series were tied up neatly. Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram went back to their normal lives. After all of their sacrifices, they got compensation from the King by reinstating their status. Cheon-gi’s vision also went back after they permanently sealed off Ma Wang. Even the painters and Cheon-gi’s found family in Baekyu Painter Society had their own happy and satisfying ending. The only open-ended scene we witnessed was the battle between Yi Yul and Yi Hu. We would never know who won but our bets are of course on Yi Yul.
The subplot of these brothers was also one of the things I liked in this series. Prince Juhyang was an ambitious evil royal through and through. I would have like to see a more dramatic downfall for him but I guess, the drama’s main antagonist really was Ma Wang since the last episode focused on battling this evil creature while Yi Hu was put on the back burner. Meanwhile, Yi Yul was a character I adore all throughout the series. I’m glad they didn’t really push a love triangle subplot since everything else in the series was already complicated. Also, I think I won’t mind if the producers would make a spin-off out of the story of these two brothers.
Lovers of the Red Sky is clearly made for those looking for a plot-driven series with fantasy elements and wouldn’t mind if there’s little to no background for such mystical wars. Its strength, however, comes from its line-up of actors who played their role – even the minor characters – really well. It is also quite refreshing to watch just two ordinary people as the main characters in a period drama instead of the usual sageuk where the leads are always of royal blood. Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram went through a lot and the happy ending they got was what they truly deserve – something the fans of this series deserve to witness too.
Image credit: SBS