Review: Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung


Taking place in the Joseon Dynasty era, Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung is a historical drama aired in 2019. At a time when it is deemed that the sole purpose of a girl’s life is to get married and have children, Goo Hae-ryung is a maverick amongst the norm. To avoid getting married, she becomes a female historian and thus begins her new adventurous life.

Episodes: 20

Genre: Historical, Drama, Romance, Comedy 

Country of Origin: South Korea

Aired: July 17, 2019- September 26, 2019

Episode Duration: 60 mins ±

Characters Chart

Character name Actor/Actress
Main Roles
1 Goo Hae-ryung Shin Se-kyung
2 Prince Dowon Yi Rim Chae Eun-woo
3 Crown Prince Yi Jin Park Ki-woong
Support Roles
4 Apprentice Song Sa-hee Park Ji-hyun
5 Seol-geum Yang Jo
6 Heo Sambo Song Ji-ru
7 Left State Councilor Min Ik-pyeong Duk Moon-choi
8 King Hameyeong Yi Tae Kim Min-sang
9 Queen Dowager Yim Kim Yeo-jin
10 Hae-ryung’s brother Goo Jae-kyeong Gong Jun-hwan
11 Crown Princess Min woo-hee Kim Ye-rin
12 Historian Min Woo-won Lee Ji-hoon
13 Apprentice Oh Eun-im Lee Ye-rim
14 Apprentice Heo Ah-ran Jang Yeo-bin
15 Queen Dowager’s confidant Mo-hwa Jeon Ik-ryeon


Warning: Major/Minor spoilers ahead

Plot of the Drama and Personal Opinions

The drama begins with the busy and prosperous life of the people in Joseon, a time when all things seem peaceful. But, it’s just the calm before the storm. When a certain book named “The story of Hodam” is brought to the reigning Emperor’s attention, the fragile peaceful façade finally breaks.

Under the pretext of saving the young generation’s mind and undoing evil, an order is passed down to collect and burn all the romance books found in the capital. Their main purpose being prevent people from reading “The Story of Hodam” and destroy every single copy of the book. In order to find the ones behind its publishing, female historians are hired for the first time in Joseon history and that’s how our protagonist enters the royal court.

The beginning of the story is quite fast-paced with quite a few things happening in just the first episode. It, however, slows down a little in the middle, building up quite a bit of suspense. The drama maintains a good balance between romance, politics and comedy. The OST, too, is quite good. The conclusion of the drama, though, was unexpected. But thinking back, it made sense to have such an ending.


Characters and Personal Opinions

Goo Hae-ryung aka Shin Se-kyung:

Goo Hae-ryung, our protagonist, is portrayed as a strong willed, independent minded girl. Going against the norm, she doesn’t wish to be married off. She finds love to be meaningless and is rather interested in scientific studies and believes in equal rights. All of which is apparent in how her home is full of unusual trinkets, how she finds jobs to earn money by herself and how she frees a little boy from slavery. In order to avoid marriage and achieve her dreams, she goes as far as to flee on her marriage day. She doesn’t even fear the Emperor when it comes to standing by what she believes to be right and her beliefs.

I’ll be honest. Though I love Chae Eun-woo, Shin Se-kyung was the reason I watched this drama. The distress and the frustrations that Hae-ryung feels; the struggle to establish herself and her beliefs, the never wavering self-confidence, the happiness and even the sadness- Shin Se-kyung expresses it all beautifully. The jokes and puns, too, were done just about right.

Prince Dowon, Yi Rim aka Chae Eun-woo:

Prince Dowon, played by Chae Eun-woo, is our male lead. Originally, he’s the rightful heir to the throne. But due to a conspiracy that took place 20 years ago, right when he was born, he lost that right and was raised as an idle prince.

Lacking parental love, not being allowed to participate in court matters and forced to live alone; Prince Dowon finds consolation in writing romantic novels. Not having received royal education meant for princes and being isolated from others for a long time, Yi Rim still has an innocent mind and is a romantic at heart. Despite the protagonists being quite different, their beliefs and dream of independence brings them together, little by little developing romantic feelings towards the other party.

Yi Rim seems a weak and naïve character at first but gradually becomes stronger, with finally standing up to his father towards the end. Chae Eun-woo plays the character really well, especially the part where Prince Dowon pretends to be indifferent to his father’s jeers despite barely hanging on and of course, the romantic scenes.

Crown Prince Yi Jin aka Park Ki-woong:

Despite being the crown prince, Yi Jin has a positive and righteous personality. He’s a fairly likeable character throughout the drama. He’s often shackled by his responsibilities as the crown prince and sometimes suppressed by a powerful minister who has the Emperor’s backing. As such, he’s found to be helpless at times. He gets entangled in an ambiguous relationship with an apprentice historian, Song Sa-hee but nothing conclusive comes out of it.

At one point, he’s enticed by his father, the reigning Emperor, to choose the throne and its power over what’s right and that shakes up his long-established beliefs. At this point in the story, it appeared as if he’d really switch sides and that actually made me feel really anxious.

Fellow apprentice Song Sa-hee aka Park Ji-hyun:

Song Sa-hee is a character not too dissimilar to Goo Hae-ryung. She comes from a noble single-parent family. Her father is a corrupt official obsessed with money. However, Song Sa-hee is nothing like her father.

Song Sa-hee is another complex character. At first, she comes off as curt and unfriendly, even cold at times. But as others get to know her, she slowly lets down her walls. In some cases, she’s even stricter than Goo Hae-ryung, when it comes to carrying out her responsibilities; to the point that she even sacrifices her reputation for it.

Seol-geum aka Yang Jo-a and Heo Sam-bo aka Sung Ji-ru:

The reason I mention these two characters at once is because their role is quite similar. Seol-geum is Goo Hae-ryung’s caretaker and has brought her up from when she was a child. Heo Sam-bo is basically Seol-geum’s male counterpart. While Seol-geum’s main purpose of life seems to be seeing her lady happily married and live off of her romantic tales, Heo Sam-bo is a paranoid palace eunuch who constantly worries about his master’s life and throws a fit at the drop of a hat. 

These two characters add a lot of color to the drama with their funny antics and unique characteristics, both playing a significant part in making the drama that much better. Especially Seol-geum, I think she’s absolutely hilarious.

The Antagonists:

Due to a conspiracy that took place 20 years ago- from the present day of the drama- the current Emperor, King Hamyeong Yi Tae came into power and Left State Councilor Min Ik-pyeong helped him. It appears as if the councilor did the Emperor’s bidding when in reality, Min Ik-pyeong was the one controlling all the strings all along.

The Emperor is almost puppet-like, getting flustered and following Ik-pyeong’s every word, while Min Ik-pyeong is like a wolf wearing a sheep’s clothing, pretending to be righteous when, in reality, he’d go every length to hold onto his power and position. He abuses his authority, leaving people with no choice but to follow his “advice”. Even when Min Ik-pyeong was put down, he kept this façade, appearing to be as innocent as ever.


Final Thoughts

All in all, “Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung” is a pretty good drama. Especially if one’s a beginner to historical K-dramas, this would be a good choice. The characters are played out nicely, despite there being some discrepancies here and there, they’re all minor and can easily be overlooked. The scenes are shot well and the momentum is quite consistent as well.