Royal Secret Agent review: An emotional ending to light-hearted series

Bryan Tan
·3-min read
Sung Yi Gyeom (Kim Myungsoo) and Park Chunsam (Lee Yi Kyung) share an emotional moment as master and servant in Royal Secret Agent.
Sung Yi Gyeom (Kim Myungsoo) and Park Chunsam (Lee Yi Kyung) share an emotional moment as master and servant in Royal Secret Agent.

This review, which contains spoilers, covers Royal Secret Agent, which is currently available on iQiyi.

Royal Secret Agent ended its run to its best ratings of 10.4% and 14%. The series has been an easy watch so far, without any major plotline upheavals or dramatic twists that would have left viewers open-mouthed and gaping for more, which is not always a bad thing.

Kim Myungsoo as royal agent Sung Yi Gyeom was the biggest draw of the show, with his flawless features and chiselled body revealed after many years in the making. He is also no stranger to period dramas, having starred in Emperor: Owner of the Mask in 2018, and is familiar with the archaic speech common to such dramas.

Also, his cross-dressing fan service did entice fans to watch the series, even though I felt he could have milked it a bit more. Going undercover as a secret agent could have been a great opportunity for director Kim Jung Min to raise the ratings by employing more laughs and dramatic reveals through disguise.

Yet, it was ultimately Lee Yi Kyung who stole the limelight as Myungsoo’s sassy slave. It would have been unheard of to have a slave retort sarcastically to his master, or refuse a direct order. It was Yi Kyung’s sardonic humour and comical antics that made the series a pleasure to watch, depicting the recalcitrant slave reluctantly playing along to his master’s tune.

The villains were unfortunately very one-dimensional and showed very little character development (and also remorse for their deeds). Usually, there is a major overarching villain in the form of either the Chief State Councillor who relishes in his power and status or the cruel empress dowager who schemes to install the next king.

All of the villains fell from grace rather easily and without much resistance. Period dramas are usually marked by how glaring a villain’s eyes are, usually even until they are forced to their knees to drink poison. Royal Secret Agent engendered rather plain and unmemorable archetypes which were all corrupted and not much different from each other, nor having varied motives other than embezzling money to earn a promotion.

But the series did well for not mining overused tropes and over-dramatising the effects of the bureaucratic court protocols, which such dramas tend to do. Tears were also brought to my eyes when at the end, the long suffering Park Chun Sam (Lee Yi Kyung) is freed from his bondage to a master who has matured beyond belief throughout the series.

It is an absolute rarity, almost unheard of, that a servant is released by his master during the Joseon period. Such servants, or slaves if you will, usually serve beholden to their masters till death, or until they have scrounged up enough money (which usually takes a lifetime) to buy their freedom.

If you are looking for a good light-hearted laugh and an easy to watch series, then do watch Royal Secret Agent. But if you are a die-hard sageuk fan, fond of the bureaucratic Joseon dynasty and the intricate politicking and scheming of the royals and the aristocracy, perhaps it is best to look elsewhere.

Read all our reviews for Royal Secret Agent here.

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