First Impression: Secret Door

Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked

–  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



One of the more anticipated drama productions of 2014 focuses on the tragic story of Prince Sado. As conventional history would state, he suffered from mental illness and regularly committed acts of debauchery, a very un-Royal disposition. Due to his overwhelming madness, his father, King Yeongjo, had put him to death by locking Prince Sado in a large wooden rice chest on a sweltering summer day.

Was Sado truly mad? Or were there a stable of puppeteers directing his every action?

SBS’s Mon-Tues sageuk takes on the latter version, even including Prince Sado’s possible Holmes and Watson combo thrown in the mix. Posters of Secret Door are exquisitely designed and even the trailers have been artistically dramatic.

First peek at Secret Door begins…

30 years before, Donggoong Palace (Four years into King Gyeongjo’s reign)

An assassin’s sword swishes ominously and the King is splattered in blood. But whose? He is understandably shaken and calls out for Kim Taek Wan. An unidentified male falls onto the King. Someone else had eliminated the assassin. Kim Taek calmly enters the King’s room, “Your Highness, are you alright?”

This man is strangely too calm in a bloody setting 😮

Kim Taek coerces Yeongjo into agreeing to stipulated terms (by the Norons) and his ascension to the throne is secured. If he refuses to agree, death will be his outcome. This is what it’s like to sign a pact with the devil o_O

10 years before (20 years into King Yeongjo’s reign)

King drunkenly trudges up the steps towards his throne, slumps to the floor, head gear tossed aside and proceeds to take off his foot coverings. The most “powerful” man in all of Joseon has his life in the palm of a “blind man” just because of the incriminating document. He asks Moon Soo to round up the “Blind Men” and clean up his messed up life once and for all.

MS runs toward Seungjeongwon, believing that the “Blind Men” are sealed there. However, someone committed arson at the library in the night, to the horror of MS and other Ministers. One man is secretly gleeful: King Yeongjo.

10 years after arson at Seungjeongwon (30 years into King Yeongjo’s reign)

The head of the Blind Men asks “Did he disappear for good? Everything will go back to the way it used to be. If we find Maenge, Joseon will be a gambling world again. A scholar is rifling through drawers and every nook imaginable to find the Maenge at Heawoojung. He sees paper panels on the wall, and carefully peels from the top corners.

Crikey. It’s the secret document which Yeongjo signed decades ago.

Alleyways in the city

Lee Sun and his friend are looking for a specific shop in the city. The former is excited to get to the destination, but the latter is the opposite end of LS’ enthusiasm. The place where they are headed for may be targeted by authorities.

A young girl is carefully navigating her way through narrow lanes, seemingly sure of the direction she is heading. She picks out a container fashioned out of bamboo from the edge of a rolled-up mat which is placed against the wall. How did she know that? Who is this girl? 😮

She rings the bell at someone’s abode, “Gwangmoon-ah!” and a dog comes out, with a similar bamboo container hung around his neck. She takes out the note kept within. Yet another location, flips the window and voila! another bamboo container.

Library business is illegal in the city. Over 20 businesses have been caught. Because it’s so secretive, it’s hard to find. From the parasitism at the Kibang, to the students and teachers at school, everyone is illegally borrowing books.

LS believes what is happening is not right. He tries his luck moving tiles on top of a fence, hoping to find some evidence of said intrigue, and dislodges one where a bamboo container is snugly placed. Eureka!

Royal Grounds

The Crown Prince has gone to *Saechek? (* Joseon’s version of Rent-A-Book), a court lady chastises one of LS’s eunuchs at LS’ quarters. He is sternly reminded to keep LS whereabouts on the  “safe side” and not create any unfortunate events due to his carelessness.

King is performing his morning exercise routine in another area of the Palace. KT is advising him to take care of the female con artists who tempt men with their sexuality. King turns a deaf ear, continues his exercise movements.

KT:  This will be your last warning. [King’s Eunuch listens in]

King:  Listen to you! (laughs) I should fix your problem before I die.

KT:  Your Majesty! I’m doing *Daerichungjung! (*taking care of the city for the King)

King:  If you have something to say, call the Crown Prince.

KT walks off, livid with the King’s response. Has he forgotten who placed him on the throne? King asks eunuch to place a tail on KT.

By the city street

LS is enthralled by the secrecy of Saechek, opens the container, reads the note and places it back into the bamboo. His friend is getting antsy, asking him to hurry up and hide the bamboo quickly before they are caught in the act.

“Oy! What are you holding in your hand?” Oh-oh. Too late.


As the authorities approach LS, the girl sneaks up behind the officers and gestures to them to “follow” her. The guys are dumbfounded. She signals a little bit more clearly: Throw that Bamboo To ME! But LS, rather slow ‘upstairs’ still doesn’t get it. Frustrated, she yells at him “Throw the Saechek to me, you idiot!”. Officers whirl around, but she covers them with her cape, dodges them, grabs the Saechek and jumps over the fence. Woo Hoo! 😀

Girl and The Guys take off in different directions, chased down by the officers. LS ends up running back into the city where he sees how the common folks are brutally treated for renting books. When did reading become a criminal act?

LS is overcome with rage and picks a fight with the authorities. Hoo Boy o_O How is his ‘friend’ gonna extricate the Crown Prince safely from this situation? Scuffle continues with a few more officers and even HeungBok becomes a victim. LS attacks the officer who tackled HB and pummels him to the ground.


Twelve minutes into episode 1, we already get a glimpse of how extreme LS can get when his emotions blind anything rational and logical in him.

HB:  No! No! NO! … [in a low voice] Your Highness, if people find out who you are…

LS and HB realize the sticky situation they’re in. Officers with swords drawn are keen to teach them a lesson – until a “noble man” enters and easily subdues the authorities. Oh? A bodyguard to the rescue? He informs LS to return to the palace immediately. He whistles for help: Enter Silver and Scout XD (for those who are too young, the names refer to horses rode by the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto 😀 )

Even as LS rides back to the palace, the disturbing scene he just witnessed can’t be easily forgotten.s

The Mysterious Saechek Library

The resourceful girl enters into a private compound, looks around cautiously before letting herself into the building via a deck that supposedly is covered in dried vegetation. Rather cool props there 🙂 The basement of the residence is the Saechek Library where inscribers are busy churning out more copies.

The girl rushes into the enclosure, startling the entire group. “JI DAM-ah!!” She tells them her escape from the enforcement officers and how two idiots nearly cost their operation.


LS runs like the wind to his quarters to change into his Royal robes. In the meantime, three ninja-clad men reports to the King’s eunuch of LS’ adventure in the city. King now knows where he went. LS then gallops (with his entourage trying their best to catch up with him) over to Hyegyeong Palace where Crown Princess stands at attention, waiting for her partner to arrive.

Both have paid their respects to the King and seat across from him. King just looks on at LS, asking why he is perspiring so much. Did he exercise too much? No, father. King gets up and crouches in front of LS “Are you sick?” He takes Crown Princess’ hand and tells her to take better care of LS. Then he takes LS’ hand and places it over Lady Hong’s “Your efforts will affect the city.”

LS and Lady Hong leave the King’s quarters and she is certainly not happy with LS’ tardiness. She knows he went to Saechek in the city, and if she knows, the King would definitely know as well. She faces LS’ entourage “I wonder exactly how you’re assisting the Crown Prince” and leaves him.

“You want to know why I went to investigate this morning?” LS asks his eunuch who complained about his ill-timed activity “arrest everyone who’s paying to borrow books in the palace.”


It is such a process to prepare new books for circulation. This is a time when there are no printing machines, so every book is a result of scribes, paper craftsmen and binding experts.

Ji Dam hands over a book that has intricate cover “*Peal Sa Bon” (*handwritten copy of the original) “We need it by today”

JD’s Dad:  Ji Dam-ah. Emotional books are what is in demand these days. Books about murder are not popular anymore.

JD:  What are you talking about? What is this then? (hands over a small piece of paper)

JD’s Dad:  [reads the note] I would like to meet you in person (then in the requester’s voice) – I think you’re intelligent. I want to see you in person. I know who the culprit is. I hope you come and see me.

JD smiles, thinking the note is referring to her, not her dad (who runs Saechek). She can’t possibly bring her one and only copy of her favorite book, that’s why she’s putting in a rush order for a copy of her copy for her rendezvous with the stranger. Does this even sound remotely safe in Joseon time? o_O Dad is so cool. He reaches in the corner of his messy desk and pulls out a copy of her treasured book, “The story was amazing” Aww, Dad you so Daebak!

The same book is in Lady Hong’s hand. Why is this doing here? It is illegal!

LS in a meeting with other Ministers are discussing the viability of allowing people to borrow books. One Minister is against it, believing that Saechek should be controlled by the government.

LS:  Assistant Gwan, are you there? (in a loud voice)

Eunuch:  Yes I am. [enters with other maids who are carrying stacks of books – they are all Saechek books collected in the Palace]

LS:  You said that borrowing books should be government regulated. [LS walks along the aisle of the meeting room] As you can see, there are lots of civilian books in the palace. I found over a hundred. Normally up to 30 people share 1 book. So, half of the palace is reading these Saechek books. If it’s really happening in the palace, *Yuhang has to be the worst (*palace where civilians live). Yuhang would be full of these books if it’s all over the city.

The irate Minister quickly cuts in and asserts that is why the government needs to control. Another agrees, adding the Saechek is about money too. LS says it’s about providing happiness to the civilians that is beneficial, so that is a good thing.

How could you call a crime benefiting, cries the opposing Minister.

LS:  What did you say?

Everyone realizes LS’s short fuse had been lit. Spines are stiffen, bracing for the repercussion from an angry Crown Prince. LS picks up a book from the pile and sits directly in front of the outspoken Minister, “Sang-Iyul Jisa? You read Choon Yang Jun” Whoops, there it is! 😮 GOTCHA!

LS:  I think you read Choon Yang Jun, a book about Sang Iyul Jisa. It’s about it being wrong for a man to steal another man’s woman. The story in this book is about justice.

Other Minister:  But the storyline is inappropriate.

LS:  You’re reading ‘The Story of Hong Gil-Dong”, right?

OM:  It’s illegal anyway.

LS:  So, everyone who is reading “The Story of Hong Gil-Dong” is a criminal? Do you think they’re going to form a gang?

OM:  That’s not impossible

LS:  If its possible, the the whole world is criminal. How can you think that people are going to form gangs by reading books? The publication of books by civilians will be allowed from now on so put an end to the crackdown!

Some ministers are glad for this decree, but there are those who aren’t. One of them is Kim Taek.

King Yeongjo

He laughs out loud when his eunuch reports what went down between LS and the ministers.  He sees LS’ logic in making the said decree, and continues the hard work of fishing. Seriously Yeongjo? o_O

7 Ministers

KT thinks publications from low class civilians is a travesty. KT and his cronies are grumbling about the latest decision made by LS. They discuss the best gameplan to overturn LS’s ruling. But their perspective of next steps to be taken are largely to benefit their status in the future. Righteous Moon Soo who had been standing to the side, flipping through a book questions them the role of civilians in their plan. Their mouths are zipped close.

Post Ministers-meeting, KT crosses path with MS in the corridor, the former teases about LS’ youth and his idealism. Poker-face MS asks if KT is afraid of LS’ youth? No, he’s not afraid. He is jealous, and worried at the same time because LS may be dangerous to all of them one day.

Crown Prince’s Quarters

LS enters his study with Chae Jegong (who becomes a Prime Minister during the reign of King Jeongjo) talking candidly about the face-off with the opposing Ministers. MS joins in as well. There is a sense of respect and camaraderie between these men. MS asks LS if he thinks he has won over the Saechek issue.

MS:  What I saw back there was you winning with actions, but losing at politics. Allowing publications by civilians is never going to happen.

LS:  I can’t believe you’re defending those Noron gamblers.

MS:  Noron gamblers? You lost because you disrespected us. Politics is about persuasion, not just action.

LS:  This is a simple problem. I’m just trying to give people books to read

MS:  Of course… Why do you think that a simple problem was illegal for 400 years? Why did our previous king did not allow it? Oh yes… we should think about why first. It looks like a simple problem but you should think about why he hasn’t allowed it first if you don’t him to become your enemy.

LS:  Enemy? That’s inappropriate!

MS:  You’re going against the King’s law. You’re working hard for it, but you aren’t king yet.

LS:  I’m going against the King’s law? You’re the one who taught me everything I know. When you’re telling me I lost, you should also be ashamed that your student lost.

King Yeongjo, still by the pond…

Politics is getting more complex. The King must clear the air. The group (Blind Men) is too strong and never been challenged, until LS came with blazing guns on Saechek issue. But Yeongjo thinks it’s good that the supposed strong men are searching for ways to survive. Nice to give them a teaspoon of their bad medicine.

But why do I sense that Yeongjo will use LS as a means to sic the Norons? LS may not be king, but her bears the responsibilities of a king :/

Portrait painting

The Crown Prince sits for his portrait as the artisan bends over to work on the intricate patterns and rich colors of the royal robe. Camera pans up the Prince, and it’s Heungbok in Prince’s robes! The artisan turns out to be LS! LOL! LS is still fuming about his hollow victory over Saechek. GB wants to get out of the robes, but LS wants to stay in his for a while longer. They feel much more comfortable than the heavy embroidered ones. It is mentally exhausting being part of the Royal family.

LS asks HB what his dreams are: not to be worried about his mother’s illness and to see his younger sister marry a great man.

Lady Hong makes a trip to LS’ place. She is informed LS does not wish to meet any visitors (including his wife?) She barks at Choi Sanggung for equating her with “visitors” and make it sound as though she bothers the Prince a lot.

CS:  (raises her head and proceeds with confidence) You DO bother him a lot. Whoaaa!! Shiatz!! o_O

Lady Hong just stares back at CS and marches into LS’ bungalow without any announcement of her arrival. She sees the role reversal between HB and LS. She scolds him for allowing HB wear his robes (which he thinks it’s fun), she holds up a Saechek book and accuses him of spreading such vile in the palace. That. Is. The. Last. Straw. He already had a VERY bad day. HB takes the chance to quickly scoot out of Ground Zero, his heart lodged in his throat. And he realizes he is still in the Prince’s robes.

LS:  You shouldn’t have come in when I didn’t allow you to. This is more than a crime, but –

LH:  Fixing the politics in court is more important that you think

LS:  [looks to the side and inhales deeply] Okay then. You should leave now.

LH:  If it’s about having fun you should’ve kept it to yourself (referring to Saechek book). Why did you announce that Saechek would be allowed now? When will you ever stop being like this?

LS:  [claps his hands and laughs] Your statesmanship is amazing. Are you against me as well?

LH:  Is having an interest in politics a crime?

LS:  An interest? [grabs her arm and pulls her close] Are you interested in me? Or in my position?


KT is alarmed when HB is asking around who Joopa is. Ghosts of the past are coming to play now?

Yeongjo and his medicine

The Noron ministers who opposed LS’s decree are serving medicine specially brewed for the King. He refuses to take it. They even follow him on his walkabout insisting that he takes his medicine. He seems to finally comply, until he notes some one young and new in his entourage. The young eunuch had been working in the palace for only two days. Yeongjo teases him palace work must be hard as he looks wan for his age. He offers his medicine to Jae Won. Almost everyone freaks out, telling Yeongjo he should not offer his meds to a mere commoner.

However, one wonders how ballsy this young eunuch must be to refuse an offer made by a King. And Yeongjo certainly does. A fruit does not fall far from the tree, so he must’ve learnt to be disrespectful from the two ministers. King gets riled and splashes the medicine into the Minister’s face. Officials are scribing the event.

Yeongjo is feeling reckless and asks them if he’s getting too old to be King? After all, getting to the throne is not just about legitimate bloodlines, but the acts of King Makers too. “*SUNWEE!” he shouts (*abdicate).

Chae Jegong relays the King’s decision to abdicate. LS is shocked.


All Ministers are hurrying to the Great Hall.

Sunwee is a warning to the position of *Junwee (*position of Crown Prince).  The king is already 60 years old, but he’s still assisted when he retires for bed. The Crown Prince has to achieve recognition because there’s already a *Yongjong (*King’s baby). We must come up with a solution
– Lady Hong



LS is extremely worried, but tries his best not to show it. He looks back at the flank of Ministers and to his entourage, seeks some comfort and strength from Choi Sanggung.

LS_ministers_sunweeThis is not the first time for LS. Fifteen years ago, he had to do the exact same thing at Donggoong Palace. No wonder LS has affection for Choi Sanggung. She had been his minder, and perhaps a mother figure, ever since he was five years old. She wakes him up, dresses him up in his robes and piggybacks him all the way to the Great Hall. It is night time. The ministers behind young LS proclaim in unison “There is no way, Your Majesty! Please listen to us carefully!” That must’ve been a rather scary episode for a boy of 5 years.


Young LS cries, and CS comes to him and encourages LS to cry even louder until the King listens to them. And there’s no telling how long it will take to change the King’s mind to abdicate. It can take days, weeks, months… Seasons. Seems Yeongjo has used the Sunwee card a few times during his reign.


Kim Taek

We return to the first scene of this episode where KT inquires of someone’s disappearance. HB is in deep trouble for asking around about Joopa. And if it’s absolutely necessary, eliminate him for good too.
NOOooo! I was digging the bromance! 😥

HB’s room is turned upside down. Who would’ve done this? His vials of wet paint tumble all over within the special wooden chest, with red dripping ominously onto the scattered canvas on the floor. He quickly runs over to another room where scrolls are left on a counter, frantically looking for the one that kept the dreaded secret document. He holds one, peels off one corner, and pulls it out to reveal a blank page beneath. CRAP!

“Are you looking for this?” his fellow artist asks. DOUBLE CRAP! “HB… (he is visibly shaken) What is this?”


HB snatches it and tries to exit but his friend stalls him “Is this why you did this?” pointing to a yet-to-be-finished painting project of a King’s Procession. “The Maenge, whatever… we should burn it.”

HB:  Be quiet.

Friend:  This could be dangerous for you! [This idiot keeps yapping loudly about how dangerous it is to have the document]

HB will handle everything, he will bring it to LS and friend better lock his mouth and throw the key away. He goes all the way to the Great Hall where LS and the Ministers are still pleading to the King. LS’ eunuch doesn’t allow HB to meet LS (UGH!! These are crucial points in history dude! It could’ve taken another path! 😮 ) HB passes a note to the eunuch anyway saying he will meet up with LS later.

HB walks back towards his place when he sees three men in black standing guard at the main entrance to his place. HB quickly hides behind a tree trunk, but one of the guards (with night vision) saw HB crouching. HB is fearful, drops his package, and flees in the direction where he came from .

Eunuch informs Yeongjo of KT’s absence from the night’s plea. A sure clue to KT making his move to attain what he wants… but what would the hint be?

HB is in an enclosure, where he has decided to decode the Maenge. GOOD THINKING! He re-writes the document using a code breaker source. This is likely the only way to ensure “longevity” of said document. Once complete, he closes the notebook: It is Saechek’s copy of “The Story of a Murder” WOOT!! Webs are being woven as we speak! That’s JD’s favorite novel. However, HB adds a stroke to the Saechek stamp on the book cover, thus leaves a clue to whomever is observant of the change.

Expanding on the significance of said alteration:

The booklenders stamp their books (as) “Seo Family Book Lend(ers)” to (indicate) those books belonging to them. What HB did was to add extra strokes to the hanja (character) for “book” (and turns it into) “drawing”.  (It is) a very clever way to do it– as the (new hanja) character now points to HB’s occupation as a painter.

cr: HartofSeeker of Soompi Forum


ep1_HB01  ep1_JD01






HOLY BADA$$ of a Premiere!
I’m still sad about the short-lived bromance,
but games are now afoot, Watson!



  1. I also looked forward to this drama because I’m familiar with the history of Prince Sado and also Lee Je-Hoon who is such a superb actor. After watching the first and second episode, I’m very excited to be looking towards the next episodes.


    1. Hello! Mannaseo bahngap seumnida 😀

      It’s fantastic to meet someone who has deep understanding of the titular character, and I look forward to reading your insights as the drama blooms 🙂

      Am not surprised this drama shot up the rankings after only two episodes in ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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