“The Red Sleeve” Episode 1 To 8 Review: So Typical But Sooo Much Fun

Published Categorized as Kdrama Reviews

Here is a review of the MBC drama “The Red Sleeve” first half!

MBC is on a slight upward trend this year with its content and “The Red Sleeve” has become its first mini-series in nearly three years to surpass the double digits in ratings.

In writing, the drama is about as typical as you’d expect from a historical setting but it retains the fun some MBC dramas used to have.

A lot of my friends have been urging me to see “The Red Sleeve,” I am personally not the biggest fan of historical content so I am always apprehensive about checking historical dramas, this is one of the dramas I don’t regret watching- as of yet.

Note: this is a subjective review. I will share my personal opinion while keeping in mind how others might perceive it. This is a spoiler review

Let me explain.

Initial expectations


On paper, “The Red Sleeve” is about as typical as you’d expect from a Korean sageuk drama. It hits every beat almost all screenwriters have done in this context. When I read “The Red Sleeve” synopsis a while back, I was worried because the premise was so typical and overused. It still amazes me that such basic ideas that have been done so many times get repeated almost unchanged and not by taking lengthy time between similar projects but attempting the same with such a short span of time.

Regardless, “The Red Sleeve” shows what an interesting cast can do to elevate a project that would’ve otherwise had gone unnoticed.

The script- not at surface level


“The Red Sleeve” plot is typical and in that sense, it could easily become boring. The screenwriter doesn’t try to stray away too much from what you’d expect with historical dramas. However, the screenwriter applies subtle changes that enhance the story and makes it so irresistible. They may be subtle but they help elevate the story and make it unique.

The basic plot of a king who falls for a woman out of his reach and status screams Cinderella vibes, its a tale as old as time. The king underestimates her power and she ends up saving him a couple of times as he saves her too, plenty of times.

With that in mind, the basic plot isn’t anything to go by, but what screenwriter Jung Hae-Ri makes sure to remind us of is to not into jump into conclusions too fast. She excels at maintaining a balance between comedy and seriousness but not at the expense of each other, which isn’t easy to do, believe me.

In such type of scripts, cliches that follow include a set of supporting characters that are either black or white, but screenwriter Jung Hae-Ri doesn’t follow that path, instead, she layers the drama with supporting characters with ambiguous motivations, which not only humanizes the characters but also serves as a teaser because viewers wouldn’t know who to be wary of and who they should be rooting for.

The other thing I personally liked is how complicated the king’s character is, usually, figure characters tend to follow a typical trajectory but not this time. The king is deeply flawed but not entirely terrible either, he isn’t portrayed as a tyrant or as the weakest either. He approaches his subjects with compassion and wisdom. He acknowledges his past mistakes and wrongdoings and isn’t afraid of admitting them.

I liked the scene where he lashes out at Yi San and physically beat him because of the trauma he’s experienced due to his late son’s behavior and his fear of how his grandson might end up.

This is a great Segway to another point, Yi San’s father. The mysterious man who almost every character [regardless of their affiliation] agrees was terrible. I am so curious about his character, his motivations and how he died. On episode 8, we get a glimpse of why he went insane and it turns out to be a very heartbreaking tale.

The performances


Whoever cast these specific actors deserves a raise because they truly carry the drama. In areas where the script either falls flat or becomes a bit boring, the actors swoop in to save it with their charm and their dedication to their craft, a beautiful sight to see.

I missed Junho so much. He’s one of my top 5 fav idol-turned-actors, now you guys know I am not the biggest fan of idols becoming actors due to obvious reasons but every once and a while an idol surprises me and Junho is one of them.

In fact, I had no idea he was an idol until I saw a music video of his group that is called 2PM. I would have never guessed.

Junho commands respect with his performance, the dude is just… I can talk for hours about how perfect he is for the role. He’s funny when he needs to be and serious when he needs to be too. He approaches every scene with such seriousness, dedication and professionalism that you can’t help but gravitate towards him.

And I think not many people are paying attention to how good and talented Lee Se Young is.

Her ability to deliver long lines in difficult language with such conviction is beautiful, I was in awe of her performance. She’s criminally underrated and while Junho is definitely amazing, she’s just as good.

The rest of the cast is doing an amazing job down to the court ladies, the casting was done well. Kang Hoon also does an amazing job at appearing very menacing and ambiguous when he needs to be. I am still surprised why San hasn’t kicked him out yet but again, he’s also done things to warrant keeping him close.

The chemistry


It is very important to highlight just how much Junho and Lee Si Young suit each other, I had to talk about it. Their chemistry is off the charts and it helps a lot with the immersion in the story.

I didn’t expect them to share such amazing chemistry, they’re easily one of the best on-screen couples of a 2021 kdrama.

What to look out for the second half

With historical dramas, even the ones that begin as a comedy, things quickly take a bloody turn in the second half. Most who watch historical kdramas will probably say a similar thing.

I have read a couple of fans theories about what will happen and some say the story is based on true events, if what they say is correct and if the screenwriter plans on following that story, even to some degree, “The Red Sleeve” will have a heartbreaking ending.

With the prediction that it will end up getting bloody soon, it will be very interesting to see whether it can keep up the momentum it created for itself as it moves towards the second half. I think if it keeps up with its pace, the drama can break past the 15% mark.

My wish is for our couple to stay alive. I am almost certain that will happen but I know the screenwriter will tease us a couple of times. What I have been finding to be annoying slightly with the drama is the fact that Deok Im came close to death at least three times so far, the question is, how many more times will she come close to death?

So these are my thoughts on “The Red Sleeve”, so what about you guys? did you like the episodes? let me know what you thought in the comment section below.

Whats your reaction to this article?

By Jass K.

Hi, I am Jass k. I discuss some of the hottest currently airing kdramas on this site in form of reviews an/or recaps, join me in the discussion~


  1. I am with you in that it has bugged me how many times plot points have been repeated. Basically our couple trading off getting in trouble, still doubting the feelings of the other, and not learning or capitalizing off of how they can work together.

    Seriously, I thought we made a turn when she “joined” his secret society in like, episode 4. But no, we’ve been continuing to struggle ever since then and I find it tiring.

  2. I read somewhere that it is also based off a novel which is based loosely on real historical characters. Lee Se Young impressed me in Korean Odyssey where she got to play two different characters and was convincing in both personas.

  3. I agree with your analysis of The Red Sleeve. I love the drama to bits.. I am an ardent fan of Korean historical dramas. I have read up on most of the kings and have watched all the available dramas made in them. This drama could be easily boring and predictable for me, yet it has not been so. The colours, beautiful backgrounds, speech, professional acting by the cast, and of course, the chemistry between the leads leaves me wanting just one more episode each week.. I agree that Lee See Young’s acting is excellent. She is simply overshadowed by the male lead who is also performing excellently. It is usual for dramas dominated by female viewers to bypass the female lead. If her acting has not been on par, the drama would not be enjoying it’s current craze. My earnest hope is 1) the episodes get extended to 24 and 2) for the sake of this Jeongjo, please give him and viewers a happy ending..

  4. Thank you for the review. I am watching the Red Sleeve and even though I do not like the sad stories and sad endings, this one is still keeping my attention.
    I agree that it is a Cinderella-like story, however, what makes it credible and realistic is that it is based on historical facts. The story of Yi-San and Deok-Im is well known, they both existed and their lives were truly heart braking. From what I could gather – she was his favourite concubine (who indeed rejected him many times), she died very young and all their children died at a very early age. He loved her so much that he planted more than 25 thousand trees around her grave. So the ending will either be a heart-braking (she dies, but they would need to show us a leap of time there), or the story ends at the point when she finally accepts to become his concubine. In my view the writers are trying to elevate the story by showing that she played an important role in helping him to ascend the throne and fight the internal intrigues and not just the story of two lovers. There is also a very interesting side plot – the crazy Lady Park, who founded her own private cult – the “Flower Palace” inside the royal palace.

    But once more, the drama would be better being 10 or 12 episodes. The last two episodes were already fillers in my view – they spent at least two episodes trying to figure out their feelings and how many more scenes of poor Deok-Im on her knees asking for forgiveness after another “mistake” can the writer fill in? So I hope for the next half is that they will show us the prince finally becoming the king, internal intrigues finally shifting from just the words to actions and the Flower Palace becoming more and more active and crazy )). As for the acting – I am in most parts in owe except for two scenes where I expected the different reaction (but it is very personal perception of course). The scene where he laughs after founding out (or rather thinking) that she loves him. It was more a laugh of relief (like when you find out you where finally accepted in your favourite university after getting through 10 tests or smth)) and not the laugh of happiness when you find out your beloved person likes you. Who knows, maybe Junhoo did not yet experience in his life that somebody confesses to him like that? :))) And the second scene is where he grabs her throat. When they were showing her in profile, she did not seem to be very perturbed/afraid/shocked. But she should have been. And it would make the scene much more powerful.

    But I will stop here, sorry for writing such a long reply. It is because this drama moves me and it is always a good reason, isn’t it?

    1. And the Director!!!! A female Director Jung Ji In, maybe that’s why the drama is so good – it’s a female take on a historical romance!!!:)). Seriously, I wish there were more female directors in this industry.

      A veteran actor Lee Deok Hwa, who plays Prince’s grandpa said that it was his first time working with a female director, but it was three times better than working with a male director, both physically and mentally (according to soompi website).

      Also, sorry for the typo in the previous post – it is not Lady Park, but Lady Jo )).

  5. please do a review again on episode 11, is killing me . why does the king keep bullying the crown prince. does not make any sense. why would he purposely served the peach and the marinated crab to get all the punishment. makes me so mad watching it. but i guess this is what make the movie such a nice one.

  6. I don’t know if I like the type of love they’re portraying in this drama. He keep forcing himeself onto her, even if deep inside she loves him, the Crown Prince does not have the self control to respect her boudaries. There was this one scene where he grabs her neck in a way i really didn’t like, and one of the latest episodes, while they’re fighting he force a kiss onto her, while she is angry and trying to detach from him. These types of interactions are annoying me a little, but I will wait until the end for the final decision. However it seems to me more like a story about toxic need of possession by a man who didn’t have the chance to experience love and to know how to properly express it, rather than a history of true love and belonging like, for example, “The Lovers of the Red Sky” (which I deeply recommend). Overall is a great drama, and I love it. I love the Chemistry between all the characters and the mother-daugther relationship between her and Court Lady Seo, it’s the sweetest. The chemistry within the group of friends is great too. I love the complicated character of the King Yeongjo, but i love them all really. Recommended

    1. I know, right? Yi San grabbing her neck and establishing his ownership of her was really off-putting. It may be a reflection of reality, but it might also have an effect on the viewers’ (or at least MY) immersion on their budding relationship.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.