‘100 Days My Prince’ Review: K-Drama Makes Cliches Work

100 Days My Prince

Skip to the final section for a quick, spoiler-free rating.

100 Days My Prince Series Recap

The story of 100 Days My Prince (Korean title: 백일의 낭군님) begins with a childhood love. A young Lee Yul, nephew to the Joseon King, falls in love with a young Yoon Yiseo and promises to marry her. Meanwhile, Lee Yul’s father and the ambitious Kim Chaeon frame and massacre Yoon Yiseo’s entire family.

Sixteen years later, Lee Yul’s father is now the King of Joseon, and Lee Yul the sullen, wayward, and paranoid Crown Prince stuck in an unconsummated marriage with the daughter of the all-powerful Vice-Premier Kim Chaeon. With the country in a drought, the court and public blame the natural disaster on the lack of intimacy between the Crown Prince and Crown Princess. In a fit of rage, Lee Yul decrees that all spinsters and bachelors over the age of twenty must get married within a month, or be flogged to death.

Lee Yul subsequently figures out the Crown Princess’ secret pregnancy and knows that the baby can’t be his. But before he can take action against her and her family, he’s ambushed by assassins. Gravely injured, he’s saved by Mr. Yeon, a commoner who then advantage of his amnesiac state by tricking him into marrying his daughter Yeon Hongshim, who’s secretly Yoon Yiseo.

Lee Yul, now “Wondeuk,” begins his titular one hundred days of marriage to Hongshim. Despite his memory loss, he retains the speech and mannerism of a haughty nobleman and is suspicious of his new identity. Hongshim also finds him to be more trouble than he’s worth as he lacks basic life skills and common sense. But over time, he falls in love with his wife and learns how to live like a commoner.

Just as he comes to embrace his life as Wondeuk, Kim Chaeon finds and restores him to his rightful position, believing an amnesiac crown prince to be easier to control. Against the workings of the Vice-Premier, Lee Yul recovers his memory piece by piece and unravels the mystery behind his assassination. He also remembers Yeon Hongshim is his childhood sweetheart. Together, they overthrow the tyranny of Kim Chaeon and save Joseon.

Wondeuk and Hongshim

There are several notable tropes that serve as the foundation of Wondeuk and Hongshim’s relationship, and 100 Days My Prince handled them in a way that makes the progress of romance between these two characters feel natural instead of relying on the audience’s expectations that they must fall in love because they’re the main leads of a K-drama. 

For example, in typical Asian drama fashion, our leading man Wondeuk/Lee Yul grows up never forgetting his childhood love, Yoon Yiseo. But instead of him harboring some sort of linger obsession with a random girl he met who was nice to him once, as it often is the case in other dramas, he’s driven to look for her by the very real and understandable guilt from watching her entire family die by his father’s orders.

What follows is his amnesia, which not only does the job of providing the perfect foundation for a slew of comedy and miscommunication, but frees Lee Yul from the constraints that comes with being the Crown Prince, allowing him to become “Wondeuk” and fall in love with Hongshim while being, arguably, his truest self. 

This drama puts in the work of making its main leads grow through shared experience and confrontation of not only each other, but themselves. And what comes out of a pretend marriage built on deceit, lies, and secrets is one of the sweetest, most honest romances you’ll ever find in Asian drama land—second only to Kkeutnyeo and Gudol (Hongshim’s best friend and her husband) of course.

Dissecting Kim Chaeon 

Watching 100 Days My Prince early on, I thought Kim Chaeon was a lacking villain, created to play a role but with little reason to explain why he is the way he is. To tell the truth, I still kind of feel that way about him, even though he turns out to be a bit more complicated than I anticipated.

Kim Chaeon starts out as an enigma of an antagonist. You kind of don’t understand what he wants, so much so that I initially wondered if he was a red herring and the actual villains were the Queen and her family’s political faction.

His actions comes off peculiar at first. He forces Lee Yul’s father to become king, but won’t allow him to keep his wife/Lee Yul’s mother as Queen. Okay? So he successfully replaces her, only to let the replacement queen and her family become the thorn in his side sixteen years later. But hey, that’s all right. His daughter is married to the Crown Prince. Except wait, he may or may not have masterminded the Crown Prince’s assassination…

Everything he does makes sense if you watch on and follow the threads closely. He wants to replace Lee Yul’s mother because she came from the former king’s family. Her replacement turns out to be more crafty than he anticipated, and he isn’t able to stop her family’s rise to power in time. His assassination of the Crown Prince, it turns out, is to protect his daughter’s crown princess position after she fell pregnant by someone who’s not her husband. So yes, his actions do line up to his overall motive—to be the true power behind the throne. 

Except, at some point, the audience and multiple characters in the series have to start wondering why he didn’t just take the throne for himself all those years ago. Why stop short of absolute power? Instead of being king—and he could’ve been king—he chooses to be a puppeteer over and over.  

Along that same illogical train of thought, in the face of accusations of treason, he colludes with a foreign force to bring down his country. And instead of loving his children and ensuring they live a happy life, he chooses to sacrifice his life and saves his family via the blank royal decree, except he’s doomed them to live out their days as prisoners and exiles.

We eventually get a glimpse into his inner psyche during his final conversation with his daughter where she tells him how much she hates being his child. He reveals that he had nothing growing up, that there’s an ever-growing desire inside him to not have to answer to anybody, and that nothing he does ever seems to fulfill it.

It’s only then we learn that this is a man who’s lived his entire life in survival mode, and who, despite all his cunning, doesn’t really understand himself or what he wants, which explains everything about this character to me. In universe, he’s a lost man living moment to moment, trying to stave the hunger he experienced as a child growing up in a dog-eat-dog world. On a story-level, he’s a one-dimensional villain whose only function is to be a hindrance to the protagonist, which he’s very effective at, even if it means his choices come off arbitrary and incoherent. Hey, this random line alluding to his tragic backstory should make enough sense to cover up the plot holes!

An Overly Upbeat Finale

Someone once said to me that you can tell how historically accurate a historical Asian drama is by how happy the ending is, and I agree. 100 Days My Prince, a drama of pure fiction, ended very happily. 

For the people of Songjoo Village, life goes on for the better. Mr. Yeon clearly acquired some nicer clothes and renovated his house. Kkeutnyeo and Gudol are expecting their first baby while acting as warden to Kim Chaeon’s son, a job they’re collecting some nice cash on. Park Seondo is stripped of all his wealth and sentenced to eternal servitude under the new county magistrate, Park Bokeun. Even Machil manages to turn his life of loan sharking around.

In the capital, the Kim clan is no more. Lee Yul reconciles with his father, who fixes his marriage with the Queen, who, as it turns out, isn’t looking to unseat the Crown Prince in favor of enthroning her own son as much as she wants to spend more time with her husband, who just wants to see his eldest son married before retiring with his wife to the countryside. Even Eunuch Yang returns to serve by Lee Yul’s side, now with the leverage that he once almost died because of Lee Yul to make his job easier. 

The last twenty or so minutes of this drama is also the weakest, if only because there are no consequential conflicts driving the reconciliation between Lee Yul and Hongshim, now a noblewoman. Realistically, it’s probably a good thing that the couple took some time apart after defeating Kim Chaeon to settle into their new selves. Narratively, the separation serves no purpose and drags things out too long. Nevertheless, watching our main leads finally coming together for real with the support of their friends is immensely satisfying.

Oh, and I’m so happy that the Crown Princess is alive and well with her son.

Other Thoughts

  • Jung Jaeyoon strikes the perfect balance as a second male lead—not too great that he overshadows Lee Yul, not too awful that you dislike him. His face-blindness is an amazing use of plot device by this drama. Plus, his relationship with Ae Weol the gisaeng is a highlight for me
  • The complicated yet clearly real love between the Crown Princess and Mooyeon is fanfiction worthy material
  • The whole subplot with the Ming Dynasty envoy and his daughter feels out of place and serves too obvious of a contrast to Lee Yul and Hongshim’s situation
  • Prince Seowon is an angel

Final Rating and Recommendations

100 Days My Prince is insanely bingeable and insanely good. The main romance is the perfect example of when a fictional relationship can be based on cliches but not be dictated by them. The ending is almost too upbeat and cheesy, but you honestly won’t mind it after the emotional rollercoaster that is this drama. The comedy is top-notch, with amazing costumes and a well-plotted story, not to mention its amazing cast: To fans of Exo-K’s D.O., this is a must-watch.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Leave a Reply

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