Historical K-dramas, also known as Sageuk, have always provided us with some of the best Korean entertainment content. Historical shows such as Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Mr. Sunshine, Mr. Queen, and Moon Embracing the Sun have had great successes in the past. And more recently, The King’s Affection and Alchemy of Souls have captured the imagination of viewers everywhere.
It is for the love of these shows that we will be looking at some of the clichès that tend to crop up in historical K-dramas.
The palace has secrets and is dangerous
Even though it is one of the most guarded establishments in the kingdom, danger lurks in every stone of the palace. People are always hiding deadly secrets and one wrong move and it is off with your head. Allegiances are important and loyalty is not meant to be fleeting.
The royal family getting dressed by the subordinates
In every historical K-drama, there is a scene where the royal members are being dressed by their subordinates. This is understandable given that some of the royal garments are heavy and need someone to help put them on.
This scene also shows the opulence and the luxury that comes with the power of being a royal member. Symbolically, they show the heavy responsibilities placed on the shoulders of the royal family by the kingdom.
Arranged /forced marriages are a common trope. Political marriages were integral to running the kingdom. Powerful families and allies use marriages as a symbol of their peace treaties and to gain power.
The King’s power is limited
In most historical K-dramas, the king is a figurehead. He, on most occasions, lacks the power to bring about the changes he wishes. The real power lies in the hands of a few scholars and bureaucrats who have ministerial duties and come from powerful lineages.
The chief state councilor is plotting a treason
In most historical K-dramas, the chief state councilor is always planning to overthrow the government and gain power for himself. He will secretly plan with his confidants and give the King misleading advice. They end up committing treason because their greed is bigger than their desire to grow the kingdom.
Betrayal in the family
Power struggle in the royal family is one of the main reasons why a palace is a dangerous place. The king has many queens and they each strive to please him and be his most favored. They also wish to have their sons crowned as the heir to the throne. They will use their powerful families to scheme and get what they want.
The King is always poisoned/killed in the coup d’etat
The King’s life is always in danger but unfortunately, it is those close to him that end up putting a knife in his back. In the case of historical K- dramas, it is less of a knife and more the occasional poison in his favorite brew.
Practicing sword fighting and archery
This is one of my personal favorite scenes and perhaps yours too! It is mind-blowing the skills they display during these action scenes, with sword fighting and archery displaying feats that see them so fast on their feet.
The crown prince and the queen confiding in their close servants
If there are people who are always stressed in a historical K-drama it has to be the close servants of the mischievous crown prince or the queen. The crown prince is always trying to pull a quick one over them. He will quietly escape the palace, and secretly go on dates with his secret lover and they have to cover up for him. The queen is always trying to be her best and win over the king.
Crown prince/king sneaking out of the palace
As a young man, the crown prince can sometimes find the palace constricting and wishes to explore beyond its walls. However, he just can’t go out; it is dangerous and takes a lot of safety measures. Also, he will be followed around by his bodyguards which is stifling. The only solution to this is to quietly sneak out.
Ambush in the forest
Is it a historical K-drama if one of the characters is not ambushed in the forest? According to historical K-dramas, the best secret ambush has to be done under the cover of trees. Heavily armed masked men will fall from the trees, magically land on their feet and proceed to display amazing sword fighting and archery skills.
In every fighting scene in a K-drama, a character will end up on a rooftop trying to flee or epically sword fight on the rooftop. They will showcase some amazing balancing skills and leave the viewers in awe of the actors’ core strengths.
For one reason or the other, there is always a need to put on a disguise in historical dramas. It is either to find a clue, trick the antagonist or hide in plain sight to save their lives. Disguises are crucial and they keep getting more wild and funny.
Poor commoner girl gets a job at the palace
There is always a poor girl who is a random commoner who ends up working as a servant in the palace. In most cases the scenarios go as follows; she is unfairly sold to the palace as a slave to pay off her family debt.
In the second scenario, she infiltrates the palace in disguise or as a spy on a mission. Lastly, she tries to get a job at the palace as an act of self-sacrifice to be able to support her poor family.
The crown prince falls for the poor girl
Historical K-dramas takes the cake when it comes to the forbidden love trope. Initially, the crown prince will meet this beautiful girl in one of his unauthorized adventures outside the palace. The girl will either be in disguise or just minding her usual business.
She always has no clue that she is talking to the prince so she won’t be careful about what she says or how she addresses him. In a wild, predictable twist, she gets a job at the palace and they begin to develop feelings for each other.
The shaman/fortune tellers
The King and the queens would rely on these fortune tellers to warn or give good news about the future. They are normally tasked with predicting and setting dates for important events such as royal hunts and royal weddings.
The emissaries visit
Diplomatic relationships between two nations have always been important. An emissary visit in most historical K-dramas is a break or make moment for the king, the crown prince, and the whole kingdom. The stakes are too high and anyone who makes a slip-up might as well be signing their death certificate.
Traditional entertainment performances
This is one of the best ways historical K-dramas promote the traditions and culture of Korea. There is always elegance and beauty in these scenes, and they range from plays (like those seen in The Crowned Clown) or singing and dancing.
Once a suspect is arrested, he is tortured to admit to the truth. The ironic thing about these scenes is that the culprits are the ones doing the torture on a poor scapegoat they chose to take the fall.
Suspicious prison deaths
The traitors are always at work to get rid of anyone who knows too much or the scapegoat they set up to take the fall. They will do their best to get to them and end their existence before they spill the truth. In most cases, the suspects die under mysterious circumstances in prison just when he was about to be brought before the king or the crown prince, to tell the truth.
And there we have it, our picks for the biggest clichés in historical K-dramas.
What do you think of our list? Have we included your favourites? Or have we missed any that you’ve noticed? We love to hear from you so do feel free to let us know in the comments below.