[Best Friends Forever] The Joseon Jalgeum Quartet
by Guest Beanie
The first Korean drama I watched was Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and even after dozens and dozens of dramas that followed (and quite a few that took over the title of Best Drama of My Life from it), it still holds a special place in my memory. And that’s not only due to sentimental reasons as my first K-drama, but also (as all of those who have seen it know) because it truly was a great series.
The initial pull for me was the cross-dressing trope. I’ve been a sucker for that one since childhood, so if there is a story about a girl posing as a man, I will most definitely read it or watch it, period. After a few episodes, I even managed to get onboard with the love story and somehow suspend my disbelief that someone would fall for Lee Sun-joon over Moon Jae-shin (Nice to meet you, my first and only Second Lead Syndrome, let’s never see each other again, thank you!).
But whenever I remember Sungkyunkwan now, it’s not really the gender-bender shenanigans that first come to my mind, nor the cute love story, nor even that second lead heartbreak. Instead, the first thing I always think of is how awesome all the main characters were and how beautifully their friendship was depicted. So when I saw this month’s theme, my thoughts flew right past the wonderful Because This Life Is Our First’s girlfriends and all the other great slice-of-life drama friendships out there, and instead they landed on the threshold of my K-drama viewing experience—the adorable friendships of “Joseon F4.” So, what was so great about it?
Well first, all members of the “Jalgeum Quartet” were well-developed characters, interesting in their own right, and each of them was presented with a compelling backstory. And there can be no great relationships of any kind without great characters to have them, is it not so?
Second is the fact that—putting aside the love story which naturally took a significant amount of screen time—all one-on-one relationships inside of this foursome were extremely well-drawn and depicted with equal care, which truly made the viewers believe that every character had a special relationship with the other three. For me, this is what makes this one stand out from many other dramas with a similar group of friends.
Too often, the second guy appears to be there only to spark jealousy in the first lead, and the female lead barely perceives his existence (SO annoying), while the third guy may be only slightly more than comical relief (and everybody treats him almost as some random person they just met). Even when the drama informs you that those boys are the best of friends, and when the girl states her appreciation for the second or third guy, you just don’t feel it.
But in Sungkyunkwan, regardless of who eventually fell in love with whom, every relationship that Yoon-hee formed with each of the three boys felt like a real friendship and I had no problem in feeling and believing all of it: the bickering friendship-turned-to-love between her and Sun-joon, the sincere and warm friendship between her and Jae-shin (only enhanced by his one-sided crush), the long-term under-the-radar bromance between Jae-shin and Yong-ha, the affectionate, easygoing Yong-ha’s attitude towards both Sun-joon and Yoon-hee, and finally, the reluctant budding bromance between Jae-shin and Sun-joon.
It is still impossible for me to decide on my favorite pair here, because each of those particular friendships had something that distinguished it from others, all while sharing a strong group bound. Isn’t that exactly what happens in real life? If we are lucky to have more than one friend we cherish and hang out with, we never have entirely same feeling while interacting with each of them separately.
And finally, being a sageuk and all, there was the epic factor: a whole pile of heart-tugging, goosebump-inducing moments that showcased their caring for one another in genuinely epic ways. Like early in the show when Jae-shin lights the extinguished fires on the archery ground at night for Sun-joon, who has been practicing shooting that whole day and refuses to stop. Jae-shin does this even though at that point in the story, he doesn’t like Sun-joon at all, but Sun-joon’s determination to stick to his principles and practice through his injury makes Jae-shin start to respect him. I’ll never forget when those flaming arrows landed—my first hyperventilation and jumping-on-the-couch moment!
Or later in the show, when these two have finally become friends, and Jae-shin gets on his knees in front of his father to beg him to spare Sun-joon from being a tool in his revenge, even though avenging his brother’s death was the only thing Jae-shin thought about since childhood. Goosebumps… OR when Jae-shin is wounded during his nightly rebel activities and Yoon-hee and Yong-ha hide him and take care of him… OR at the end of the series, when all three boys throw themselves down on their knees before the king to beg for Yoon-hee’s life.
Although now I may have other dramas that I would call my favorites before Sungkyunkwan, if you say “gorgeous drama friendship,” I will always think of this first: