Scholar Who Walks the Night
Genre: fantasy, historical, romance
Set in a fictional imperial dynasty, the story centers around the young daughter of a nobleman who loses everything when her father is framed for a crime. She starts crossdressing in order to sell books to make ends meet, and ends up meeting a handsome and mysterious vampire scholar. The mystery also includes an evil vampire residing in the palace who is the master puppeteer in the political arena, and will stop at nothing to prevent the Crown Prince from ascending the throne.
I’m not ashamed of admitting I watched this drama primarily for Lee Joon-gi. I’m a fan and he truly is too beautiful to be real – those cheekbones and sculptured nose and the smouldering eyes. The man is super talented but he may appear too effeminate to some to consider him swoon-worthy. I find him fascinating and beautiful, and also age-appropriate to drool after since he’s several years older than me whereas the usual kdrama actors attracting my eye in contemporary dramas are not. I just get super uncomfortable if they are younger than my sister and rather see them as potential students than fantasy romantic partners. Ahem.
I did not expect much of the vampire drama based on a manhwa, to be truthful, but I trusted Lee Joon-gi’s acting chops and he delivered. It is his portrayal of the vampire scholar Kim Sung-yeol that holds the drama together and I believe a lesser actor could not do so much with this limited script and clichéd plotlines. Let’s be honest – vampires are kind of overused and passé and I feel a monster exhaustion when it comes to them. This will be the only vampire anything for me this year and I enjoyed it, especially the titular character.
The drama isn’t brilliant but it also isn’t bad – it’s the dreaded middle ground. There are moments where you catch a glimpse of what this drama could have turned into with a meatier script and a deeper philosophical exploration of what makes someone a monster or a human being but we get a more fairy-tale like story. The black robe our scholar has to wear to get out in the sun and not turn into dust was a lovely nod to other Asian folktales about magical robes. In fact, the lore of Asian vampires is slightly different from ours and I loved the many plot-twists we got to enjoy because of that.
The romance began to plod along at some point thereby taking away my initial warm and fuzzy feelings. The main couple is cute and there is conflict they have to overcome but seeing so many pairings done this way makes it harder to fangirl. I also had too many flashbacks to noble idiot moments of past vampire books and movies. Still, the couple here works well together, but I liked our vampire far more than the female cross-dressing lead Jo Yang-sun. A centuries old vampire has a far more interesting tale to tell due to his immortality.
The quest to destroy Gwi, the evil vampire manipulating the royal family, is the central point of the drama. Well, the conclusion to this puppy is somewhat disappointing because you realise something could have been done before and the entire search for a lost diary and its plan superfluous. It’s why this drama needed better writing. Gwi himself is fascinating and the actor portraying him had a great time, I can tell. The vampire here isn’t just downright evil with no redeeming qualities. He had so much more in himself that I was almost sorry to see him go.
The same could be said about the prince Lee Yoon. At first he did not appear all that interesting but gradually I liked him more and more. His role transformed from a fringe player into one of the central characters of the drama, which was a nice surprise. I just wasn’t all that keen on his alliance with a female character that was a dead-ringer for our vampire scholar’s dead lover (Choi Hye-ryung). I had no idea why the writing needed this besides recycling an actress and the too obvious ‘dramatic’ element. I believe other viewers were baffled about it as well.
The ending is not satisfying at all, or at least it wasn’t so for me. I would have been happy had they wrapped it up at the palace with the death of Gwi – it was a perfectly natural conclusion. None of that one year later crap. Another unnecessary time jump as a conclusion of a drama was just too much for me because it seems most dramas I watched this year decided to wrap up their storylines this way. It’s just lazy writing people.
So, yes, you may find plot holes big enough to jump through but you won’t really mind since you’ll be hooked on the lyrical and picturesque moments, the costumes, and musical score. It’s a drama to enjoy when you aren’t hungering for something too philosophical or dramatic. Watch it for some great performances but don’t expect writing brilliancy.