I’ve been craving for a good fantasy K-drama for a while now, so I am super thrilled to have Lovers of the Red Sky on my screen. To be fair, I’ve come across its trailer a while back, but I didn’t think much of it. I’ve never been much of a Sageuk fan, but when you add fantasy elements inside, now that is a story I am willing to invest in.
Episode 1 Recap: The Red Sky
The episode opens up with a narration about the three deities that reside in one body. One presides over birth, another over death, and the last one is in charge of the balance between the two. One deity (guess who) decides to wreak havoc and all hell breaks loose. We see a solemn royal ceremony being held in the dead of night. It is an attempt to bring out Ma-wang (Demon of Death) that has been residing inside the King’s body and supposedly has led the King to unthinkable evil during his reign. The only way to get rid of the demon is to trap it inside the portrait of the King, meticulously prepared by painter Hong Eun-oh.
The ritual is led by Ha Seong-jin, the head Taoist who later we find out to be our main lead’s father. At his side was head shaman, Mi-soo (Chae Gook-hee). She seems to harbor some dissatisfaction regarding who should be leading the sealing ceremony but is forced to comply. Meanwhile, the pregnant wife of painter Hong, while fervently praying for her husband’s safety has given birth to a baby girl, only to have a pack of wolves hounding her down. Fortunately, Samshin (Deity of Birth, played by Moon Sook) made her appearance and saved the baby, and called her Cheon-gi. Over on the other side of the village, another baby was born, the son of Taoist Ha. The boy was named Ha-ram.
Ma-wang is slowly drawn out of the King’s body and Taoist Ha instructs everyone to lower their gaze. It seems the Demon’s power is in his many red eyes. They continue with the ceremony, and with the help of Samshin, the demon is finally sealed. But being the devil he is, Ma-wang manages to land a few curses before he is trapped. The nation will be plagued with famine and drought, Taoist Ha’s child will “endlessly wander in darkness” and Painter Hong’s daughter will never be able to paint. And so little Cheon-gi lost her eyesight that night.
After the ceremony ends, Taoist Ha and his followers are attacked under the order of the former King. Heh? It is clear betrayal, and he is chased to the edge of a cliff before he jumped to his apparent death.
Nine years later
True enough, the curse has plagued the nation and the kingdom is desperate. Now a royal shaman, Mi-soo is on a quest to track down a boy who has the energy of a water deity. He turns out to be none other than Ha-ram (child actor Choi Seung-hoon). Oh, so Taoist Ha is still alive, now living in seclusion with his family. Despite his best effort though, Ha-ram is to be taken to the palace for the dragon rainmaking ritual under the King’s order.
Their first meeting
On their way to the palace, they come across a distraught-looking Painter Hong, although he can barely paint anything now. Hong Cheon-gi (child actor Lee Nam-gyeong) is at her father’s side, a beautiful young girl, who had to put up with the tease and torment of other village kids. Taoist Ha recognizes him though, and they are delighted to see each other again. They let the two kids wander by themselves while they discuss the event of that fateful night.
Cheon-gi wants to visit the Baekyu Painters Society, and Ha-ram decides to tag along. Even though she can not see, it is clear that Cheon-gi has a deep love for drawings and paintings. She teaches Ha-ram how to listen and see the world through sounds. They continue to bicker while spending time together, later going to a peach orchard to steal some peaches when they got hungry. Along the way, they met Samshin, though of course, they had no idea. She gifts Ha-ram with a butterfly-shaped pendant, which disappears as it becomes embedded behind his neck instead.
During the court meeting, the King and his ministers are against the idea of a human sacrifice for the dragon rainmaking ritual and order for one without. However, shaman Mi-soo seems dead set on it. She believes it is the only way to lift the Demon’s curse and make rainfall again. This woman sure is something else.
As Ha-ram and Cheon-gi enjoy their day together, with peaches eaten and handkerchief exchanged, they made promises to see each other again after the ritual. Under the starry night sky, amidst the fallen petals, Cheon-gi plants a kiss on Ha-ram’s cheek and he blushed. Cute cute.
The dragon rainmaking ritual is now heavy underway, and the King greets Ha-ram to thank him for his participation. Outside, the Crown prince Lee Gang meets his two brothers, Lee Hoo and Lee Yool. Hoo seems upset that he is not in line for the throne, but there is literally nothing he can do about it.
In an effort to cheer his brother up, Yool brings him to the pavilion where the previous King’s portraits are kept. Uh-oh boys, bad idea. Ma-wang’s voice keeps echoing and is heard by Hoo. He walks almost in a trance, to the sealed portrait and removes all sorts of protection that has been put in place.
Rainmaking ritual starts, all interposed with the two princes making a royally big mistake at the pavilion. Sure enough, Ma-wang is released when Hoo burns the portrait. He tries to enter Hoo’s body but somehow failed, probably due to do talisman he has been wearing. Ma-wang changes target and aims for the lake where the ritual is happening. He finds Ha-ram right at the center. He enters him just as a bolt of huge lightning knocks both Ha-ram and Cheon-gi, who was walking on a bridge at the time, down. The sky starts raining.
Twist of fate
As the children slowly drown, Samshin comes to visit them both. She traps Ma-wang inside Ha-ram’s body using the butterfly seal and takes away his power i.e. his eyesight, and gives it to Cheon-gi. They both escape death and are lifted out of the lake, but everything is different now. As we hear Ha-ram’s wail at his lost sight, we see Cheon-gi’s smile at finally being able to see for the first time.
A solid start for Lovers of the Red Sky! It is definitely an eventful episode, there are so many things going on here. First of all, let’s talk about the casts.
We have yet to see their adult counterparts but the child actors did such an amazing job here. Young Ha-ram and Young Cheon-gi are cute. Their interactions felt natural and adorable, and we can see how their characters are shaping up to be. Ha-ram is a gentle boy, smart and honest. Despite being blind, Cheon-gi is far from being timid nor is she ignorant. Even the younger version of the princes did splendidly. Immediately I can tell that the second prince Hoo is going to be trouble, and prince Yool is going to end with heartbreak. But we will save that angst for later.
As with all other first episodes, Lovers of the Red Sky focuses on building its world and slowly introducing its characters. I feel the exposition through story-telling style at the beginning is an excellent choice. It makes us viewers feel like we are in for a great journey ahead. Upfront we were shown scenes of the sealing ceremony, which honestly was pretty epic. Talk about a strong first service. The dialogues and cinematography are on point.
I want to give a special mention to Taoist Ha (played by Han Sang-jin). I think he did a great job setting the tone and carrying the first episode, being the charismatic figure that survived the fateful night and the protective father of young Ha-ram.
Our Deity of Birth, Samshin is always around with her own ways of protecting the two children. We get the feeling that it is always a give and take with these deities. The “we give you life but take your sight, we give you sight but later you will suffer again” kinda vibe. I guess such is life and fate intertwined, and anyways it makes for one hell of a heartrending story, so I’m all in.
The graphics though, really deserve a big round of applause. Honestly, so far in drama-land, I have to say that our visual effects are just so-so at best. It’s nothing impressive, sometimes can even be jarring. Of course, my comparison standard may be a bit skewed (I’m thinking Marvel-level CGIs in my brain), but the point is, it has never been our forte. But here in Lovers of the Red Sky, it is AMAZING. The supernatural elements were portrayed seamlessly and it felt high quality. It was delightful to watch and I am impressed.
Episode 1 ends beautifully with the voice of Baek-hyun singing its first OST, “Is it me?“. A fitting OST indeed (Baek-hyun nailing it as always) as we can anticipate the build-up for Ha-ram’s and Cheon-gi’s romantic narrative when they meet again as adults in the next episode. I simply can’t wait!
I have done it! One of my long-standing dreams was to do a recap/review for the dramas that I’ve watched (of course, I’m heavily inspired by Dramabeans. Please check out their site if you haven’t, it’s a gem). I want to document down my thoughts and feelings, the joys and disappointments from watching them, and DISCUSS. I know for a fact, my intense love for the K-dramas is shared by many, and somewhere out there, at least one other person is just as excited as I am to be talking about it. I’m glad to choose Lovers of the Red Sky as my first drama. Let us hope and pray this drama continues to impress till the end. Please, drama lord!