First Impressions: Royal Secret Agent

Royal Secret Agent or Royal Secret Inspector is set during the Joseon dynasty and centres around Sung Yi Gyum (Kim Myung Soo) who ranks the highest during a state examination, landing a prospective administrative role. Unfortunately for Yi Gyum, he gets caught in a mishap for gambling and must pay the price by becoming the King’s secret agent, forced to travel out of Hanyang to investigate corruption and crimes committed by officials. Joining him, is his loyal and friendly servant, Park Chunsam (Lee Yi Kyung) and female investigator Hong Dain (Kwon Nara) who poses as either a courtesan or male scholar as a disguise.

I’m so glad I gave this series a second chance since I wasn’t all too impressed by the first episode when it was initially released. So to anyone reading this, you might have to observe some forbearance and stick it out till at least the end of the pilot episode if you have similar misgivings. Thankfully, the drama really does pick-up by the second episode once the ball gets rolling and our entourage sets out to do some sleuthing. In general I’d say what happens in Hanyang isn’t all too exciting but once there’s a change of setting, it’s riveting and fun – I knew there had to be a good reason for the drama breaking into the coveted double-digit ratings.

My misapprehensions about the first episode probably speaks volumes as to the pacing of the series but overall, it does follow the standard stride of sageuk dramas and to historical drama lovers out there, this one is most likely a gem to watch. What makes the show truly unique and nostalgic in some ways is the tone and atmosphere, similar to many loved sageuks yet the detective concept in a Joseon setting makes it fresh, intersecting with comedy and romance.

A lot of what makes the drama such an entertaining watch, is getting to know the characters themselves. Our three central figures contrast in the most distinctive ways, contributing something to their group during their missions. Yi Gyum exhibits a high moral standard despite all the misadventures he comes across and the minor rules he’s willing to break. Chunsam can be impulsive but means well and to no surprise, Lee Yi Kyung delivers on the comedic front when it comes to the affectionate servant. Hong Dian on the other hand, has her own secrets but falls pretty easily for Yi Gyum even if she claims otherwise in haughty tones. Heh.

The character dynamics is an absolute treat, and although each of them individually are endearing, it’s when they’re together that the drama becomes a true delight to watch. I relish in the witty banter that’s been missing in a lot of other series currently out there! It definitely adds a little je ne sais quoi to the romantic chemistry that makes it great.

I’m also of the opinion that Myung Soo is a bantering master that can execute witty dialogue in the same manner that Lee Yi Kyung is a born natural at comedy. Kwon Nara holds her own ground as the amiable and temperamental Hong Dian but the writers did get lazy in one specific aspect of her character, and that’s placing her as the damsel in distress archetype even though she’s a female inspector and by virtue, should be somewhat decent at self-defence? Err, I will not be able to overlook that drama writers. Regardless of this major flaw, Hong Dian isn’t a ‘weak’ character and still brings something to the table as an investigator and provides a lot of information from her facade as a courtesan or discovering clues during their missions.

In terms of how Royal Secret Agent fairs against other dramas out there, this one easily claims a spot at the top; its only real competitor being another sageuk that’s luckily in a different time slot, airs during a different day of the week, and is extremely dissimilar. If you truly love a well-rounded sageuk and enjoy the historical genre, then this drama may meet your criteria since it is a solid show that’s bound to keep you entertained. Even with a lack of historical accuracy, the series is simply fun and well deserving of its popularity.

Release Date: December 21, 2020

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