Just for a bit of nostalgia, here is a summary of the sageuk drama Dae Jang Geum (A.K.A Jewel in the Palace MBC 2004) starring Lee Young Ae as Jang Geum and Ji Jin Hee as royal official Min Jung Ho. For more information on the making the drama see my notes from the director, Lee Byung Hoon’s book here.
The drama is set in the palace during the reign of King Jungjong (r.1506-1544) a serious king who tried in vain to set the court straight after he comes to the throne in a coup to depose his cruel, tyrant half-brother Yeonsangun. (r.1494-1506. But King Jungjong is fighting a losing battle against the corrupt and powerful hungu officials helped by the powerful Choi family. The women of the family have held the highest court lady positions for 5 generations and will do anything to keep it that way including poisoning the food of anyone they need to get rid of in the royal family! Merchant Choi provides the money they need for bribes etc with this monopoly on trade to the palace.
But fighting the baddies is Jang Geum, a woman who became an orphan at a young age but rises to become the first and only female doctor to a king in Joseon history. She does this through hard work and honesty always refusing to use her skills to cause harm to anyone – even her enemies. A main theme of the story is to never use food or medicine as a weapon…
EPISODE 1 THE KING’S ORDER
The story begins in 1482, the 13th year of King Seongjong’s reign (r.1469-1494), when he orders the deposed Queen Yun (Yeonsangun’s mother) to drink poison. One of the officials sent to carry out the task will become Jang Geum’s father. Before she drinks the poison she prays that her son the crown prince will punish all those involved when he becomes King!
Back at court we see the young crown prince innocently playing hide and seek with the court ladies. (perhaps this is a reference to his infamous ‘love’ of women later!!) There is still no sign of the cruel and violent king he becomes.
Deposed Queen Yun drinks poison while Jang Geum’s future father looks on …
2nd year of Yeonsangun 1496 …
14 years later and Jang Geum’s dad is 40 years old and still not married after a fortune teller’s words frightened him off women! Yeonsangun is on the throne and known to be cruel. There are rumours that he killed his teacher and killed his own father’s beloved deer. Afraid for his safety having taken part in the death of Yeonsangun’s mother, Jang Geum’s dad decides to quit his job and leave the palace.
Over in the palace kitchens the food is being prepared for the king and his family. But court lady Park watches another cook (Lady Choi) putting wolfsbane in the queen mother’s dish, an ingredient which is bad for her. Fearing for the queen mother’s health, Lady Park reports this to her superiors. Next thing we know Lady Park (Jang Geum’s future mum) is framed by Lady Choi and poisoned for ‘fraternising with male officials’. But she is saved by her friend, Lady Han, who slips her an antidote.
Jang Geum’s future father finds Lady Park nearly dead but takes her to a temple where she is saved. They end up becoming a couple and have a daughter, Jang Geum.
Lady Park watches Lady Choi putting wolfsbane in the queen mother’s food. Lady Park is forced to drink poison, but is saved by an ex-royal guard. They have a daughter, Jang Geum.
EPISODE 2 LITERATI PURGE 1504
Jang Geum’s parents are now low class baekjong (백정 白丁 literal meaning – butcher) and they make a living making and selling knives. They live in fear of being caught by palace guards and have heard how terrible the king is. Jang Geum’s mum is strict and punishes her for playing with yangban kids. But Jang Geum is smart and wants to study with them but she is not allowed because her family is low class.
Yeonsangun meets his grandmother – mother of Queen Yun – and she gives him the blood-stained cloth from his mother. Angrily the king begins his revenge and punishes all those who took part in the death of his mother. Wanted posters are put up and ministers tortured and put to death by drinking poison. In the countryside Jang Geum’s father takes her to a local festival but there they get into a fight with the locals and Jang Geum reveals the secret she was not supposed to tell – that her father is NOT low class but was a royal guard. Her father is arrested but Jang Geum and her mother escape.
Literati Purge of 1504: Yeonsangun sees his mother’s blood-soaked cloth and begins his revenge.
Searching for her husband, Jang Geum’s mum takes Jang Geum to the capital and manages to meet with Lady Han who is now a high kitchen lady. But when Lady Choi (and family) realises that Lady Park is STILL ALIVE she’s shocked and worried and has her killed: shot with an arrow.
Lady Park is badly injured but on her deathbed hiding in a cave she manages to write two letters to her daughter but tells her not to open them until she has reached various positions in the palace. She also tells her to become the Highest Kitchen Lady in the palace, find her mother’s recipe book which is hidden there, and reveal the truth about what happened to her mother in the Highest Kitchen Lady’s diary.
After her mother dies, Jang Geum buries her and starts her new journey alone but determined to enter the palace.
Lady Choi is shocked that Lady Park is still alive and is determined to get rid of her again
EPISODE 3 중종반정의 주체세력 Jungjong banjong
Two years later 1506 12th year of Yeonsangun’s reign. A coup is planned by the hungu faction to depose Yeonsangun and bring Prince Jinsung 진성대군 to the throne. The merchant Choi Pan-Sul (Lady Choi’s brother) is providing the hungu faction with funds in return for favours. And the female members of the Choi family in the kitchens will do whatever it takes to help too.
Jang Geum now lives with Duk Gu and his stingy wife who provide alcohol to the palace. Because she is an innocent child, Jang Geum is chosen by the hungu officials to deliver a coded message to the prince when she delivers the regular supply of alcohol. The message reveals the plans for the coup to the prince. The prince is in a catch 22 situation – he doesn’t want to become king if they succeed with the coup and he doesn’t want to be killed if they fail! Next thing we know it’s the enthronement of King Jungjong. But he looks solemn.
Jang Geum is accepted as a court lady! (She told the prince this was her dream when she met him so he helped her!) Palace life is strict and hierarchical. The girls must join the palace as virgins as they belong to the king. Jang Geum is bullied when the others hear she is a peasant as they themselves have been picked from middle and upper class families.
But Jang Geum wants to go to the main kitchen to find the book her mother left. She sneaks in with her friend but they are breaking the rules and get caught.
hungu officials plan a coup to depose Yeonsangun. The coronation of King Jungjong.
EPISODE 4 A BOWL OF WATER
Jang Geum is punished for disobedience and has to clean instead of study. But she still manages to pass the test that allows her to stay in the palace. She tells her mentor Lady Han that she wants to become the Head Kitchen Lady so Lady Han begins her training with a simple request – bring her a basin of water. But Lady Han is never happy with the water Jang Geum brings her and she has to perform the task over and over again. Finally Jang Geum realises that she has to bring appropriate water for Lady Han’s health which means asking questions first. Lady Han has a sore throat so Jang Geum brings her slightly salted warm water and passes her test!
Sandstorms are blowing. The food has gone bad in the king’s mother’s kitchen and the prince’s kitchen. But the food is ok at the main kitchen thanks to Jang Geum who, left to wash all the dishes by herself, is busy boiling water because her mum told her to do this in sandstorms.
The girls get ready for a cooking competition. Jang Geum practises putting pine nuts onto pine needles late into the night. Another girl shows her how to thread the pine nut on the end without looking. (This is Choi Geum Young who will become her enemy)
Jang Geum is punished for disobedience but studies well with her mentor Lady Han
Choi Geum-Young always wins all the cooking competitions (her powerful family have been training her already for the head court lady position). Jang Geum comes second.
The Head kitchen Lady is sick but doesn’t want to be forced to retire before Lady Choi is old enough to take over. She gets caught illegally smuggling in a male doctor so she could be in big trouble. But the hungu official Lord Oh helps sort out the problem and Choi Pan Sul (Lady Choi’s brother) rewards him well.
The Choi family want to keep a member of their family at the top but as Lady Choi is too young to take over they decide to put a puppet leader their until Lady Choi is old enough. They choose Lady Jung who is now in charge of sauces and pickles. Lady Han is suspicious of their choice and tries to persuade Lady Jung not to take the job.
Lady Jung turns out to be a better head than expected. She questions why Geum Young is getting special treatment. Lady Choi tries to explain it’s because she has a perfect palate but when Lady Jung tests her about the food they are eating she gets the answer wrong and Jang Geum gets it right. The rivalry begins …
The Head Court Lady smuggles in a doctor, Merchant Choi ‘thanks’ Lord Oh for ‘dealing with the problem’.
EPISODE 6 THE GOLDEN PHEASANT
Geum Young continues to get special treatment helping Lady Choi make special food for Princess Hyo-hye 효혜공주 because she hasn’t eaten in days. Meanwhile Jang Geum has been demoted to dish washing but she is also experimenting with food prep. She tells Geum Young she has discovered that charcoal takes away the bad smell from soy sauce. Geum Young has an idea and makes rice soup for the princess. The princess finally eats because the rice ‘doesn’t smell’. Geum Young admits that she put charcoal in the rice when cooking and got the idea from Jang Geum.
Envoys from Ming bring a gold pheasant from the Imperial Palace as a symbol of good luck for the king’s birthday gift. But the king is worried that the envoy has come for more silver as Ming helped overthrow Yeonsangun. The king wants the whole stay to go with no problems…BUT…
Geum Young is in charge of looking after the pheasant and it escapes from the coup! Jang Geum wants to help Geum Young so they both secretly leave the palace to get another pheasant. They separate but on the way back to the palace Jang Geum sees a man (Sir Min) get attacked with a dart and stops to save him. She’s late getting back to the palace and gets caught. Everyone in the kitchen is punished and Jang Geum is to be whipped and thrown out of court!
The golden pheasant escapes, Jang Geum and Geum Young leave the palace to get another one but Jang Geum stops to help an injured yangban (Sir Min)
EPISODE 7 THE HERB GARDEN
Jang Geum is saved by Lady Jung and not thrown out of court after all. Instead she is sent to the herb garden where nobody does any work and they are led by a doctor with a drinking problem! They are supposed to be trying to grow herbs from Ming to use for medicine but the herbs won’t grow in Joseon. So the workers have given up.
But Jang Geum won’t give up and finally succeeds in growing the herbs. But someone is trying to stop her and in the night the shoots are destroyed. Jang Geum and Dr. Jung catch the criminal but superiors tell Dr. Jung to forget about it!
Lord Oh doesn’t want the herb garden to succeed because he is financially supported by the merchant Choi Pan Sul who has a monopoly on selling imported herbs from Ming which are very expensive. If they can grow the herbs he will lose out. But Dr Jung finds a way to let officials hear what has really been going on! Jang Geum is sent back to the kitchen as a reward for successfully growing the herbs.
Meanwhile we see Sir Min again with his arm in a sling. He is training the royal guards and trying to catch spies in his free time! He is also looking for the lady who helped him and left her knife behind.
Jang Geum is sent to the herb garden as a punishment. Lord Oh wants to stop them growing the herbs successfully.
EPISODE 8 MANDU
On her way back to the palace Jang Geum is told by Dr Jung to stop off at the library to deliver a letter requesting she be allowed to borrow books as she is so smart. (court ladies aren’t actually allowed in there though!) Sir Min is there but she doesn’t recognise him as the man she saved. He is a Lt. general in the royal guards (내금위) and seems impressed with her and tells her to come and see him in his department to borrow books.
Back at the kitchen it’s business as usual as the girls have to get ready for the cooking competition. Anyone who fails the test will have to leave the palace. But in the night Jang Geum realises that her flour has been stolen. Other ingredients have disappeared too. Her roommate stole her flour to make mandu for her mother, an old court lady who is soon to leave the palace. (She is not really her mother. Her mother was raped by a Ming envoy but the court ladies managed to keep the baby a secret and made the mother commit suicide because of the shame!)
Jang Geum has no flour for the competition so she uses cabbage from the herb garden instead of the precious flour. The food tastes good but the ladies want her expelled for not following the rules. Geum Young comes first as always. Jang Geum FAILS…
The young kitchen ladies get ready to cook mandu for the test
EPISODE 9 COLD NOODLES
It looks like Jang Geum is OUT of the palace but then the queen mother arrives at the end of the competition and tastes the food. She likes Jang Geum’s food and saves her from being fired. Geum Young looks jealous though …
The king decides to go hunting and the ladies have to cook a banquet. But at the last minutes he decides that he wants to have nengmyeon (cold noodle soup) instead. But Lady Han and other ladies have got sick from food poisoning. So Jang Geum and Geum Young have to make the noodles themselves. Sir Min looks on as they serve the king. Geum Young notices Sir Min looking at Jang Geum. But Geum Young has had a crush on him since she was very young …
Jang Geum and Geum Young nervously make noodles for the king. Sir MIn looks on.
EPISODE 10 BAD LUCK CHARM
Luckily the king enjoys the noodles. Jang Geum gets moved up to the main middle kitchen where her mother’s book is hidden. Sir Min gives her a book to read but Geum Young sees them together and is jealous.
Lady Choi makes Geum Young hide a bad luck charm in the middle kitchen that will hopefully make the queen give birth to a girl because they don’t want her to have a prince. Geum Young doesn’t want to do it but Lady Choi explains that this is their family’s fate – they can never be yangban but they can make more money than yangban by doing their dirty work. And they have to support Lord Oh and the hungu faction.
Meanwhile Jang Geum is doing extra night shifts in the kitchen so that she can search for her mother’s book. She bumps into Geum Young who has come to hide the bad luck charm! But they are both caught and the bad luck charm is discovered. Jang Geum finds her mother’s book too but hides it. Neither girl will admit to anything.
Jang Geum finds her mother’s recipe book. Duk Gu and his wife discover the meaning of the bad luck charm.
EPISODE 11 POISONOUS DUCKS?
Lady Jung has now been head of the kitchen for 10 years when another crisis arises: the prince has been poisoned. It’s an unknown poison that even a silver spoon can’t detect.
Duk Gu (Jang Geum’s adoptive father and cook) is arrested for poisoning the prince with his duck soup so Jang Geum is determined to find the real reason for the prince’s sickness. She discovers that the prince couldn’t sleep so was taking nutmeg (from Ming) which if given in large amounts can stiffen the body. The Joseon doctors don’t know much about this spice. She asks Sir Min for a medical book and ends up trying the concoction of nutmeg and ginseng herself to see what happens. She gets paralysed much to her joy!
Duk Gu is arrested for poisoning the crown prince who has become paralysed
EPISODE 12 TASTE PALATE
The prince gets better but the king is frustrated that the doctors know so little about products from Ming. Is everything from Ming good? He asks. He rewards Jang Geum with beef. And Duk Gu is released from prison.
Lady Jung is not well and so gets Jang Geum to help her prepare a meal for the head court lady’s birthday. But the head is offended when she tastes the food – it tastes bad because Jang Geum hasn’t realised she has lost her sense of taste -the after effects of taking ginseng and nutmeg together!
Lady Jung is getting old and weak and wants to step down as head kitchen lady and suggests to the king that Lady Han and Lady Choi compete for the top position! Lady Choi thought the job was automatically hers! But the king likes Lady Jung and agrees to a competition. So they have to find a cure for Jang Geum’s numb tongue ASAP!
The king is frustrated that the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with the crown prince. Jang Geum and Lady Han go in search of a cure for her ‘numb tongue’
EPISODE 13 UNLUCKY BEAN PASTE
Nobody knows that Jang Geum has lost her sense of taste – it’s bad news for a cook and she could get fired! Lady Han makes Jang Geum practise cooking with instinct rather than tasting the food.
Suddenly the palace bean paste is tasting strange. There is uproar in court as people see this as a sign of bad luck for the country. Lady Han and Lady Choi have to find the problem. Lady Choi is worried there may be a problem with the salt her brother sells to the palace. And she’s right – to give Lord Oh money he mixed poorer quality salt in with the good stuff. They quickly cover up the problem so when Lady Han and Jang Geum check the salt everything is fine. But there is also no problem with the soy beans or the ceramic pots.
Finally Jang Geum realises the taste of the soy bean paste has changed because the trees surrounding the pots have been cut down so there is less pollen in the air which affects the taste as the pots can breathe…
Jang Geum and Lady Han go in search of the cause of the bad tasting soy bean paste
EPISOE 14 COOKING WHALE MEAT
Jang Geum makes new soy bean paste and the king is pleased that the taste has returned to normal. But Lady Choi realises that Jang Geum has lost her sense of taste and sees an opportunity to get rid of her: she suggests Jang Geum should only be allowed to remain a cook if she can make a tasty dish with an ingredient she has never tasted before …
Desperately, Jang Geum goes back to the herb garden and begs Dr Jung to give her a bee sting – an experimental process – to cure her numbness. He agrees but after the treatment she breaks out in itches and it doesn’t seem to have worked. She asks Duk Gu what whale meat tastes like and he says ‘beef’.
So now they have to cook whale for the king. But no one has every tasted it before as it is so rare. Of course Lady Choi gets secret whale recipes from her brother. But out of the four dishes Jang Geum’s dish is chosen as the best! Jang Geum then tastes her own dish and realises her sense of taste is back.
Jang Geum gets a bee sting acupuncture treatment to cure her numbness
EPISODE 15 COMPETITION FOR THE HEAD KITCHEN LADY
Jang Geum makes a food gift for Sir Min as a thank you for lending her books etc. He looks pleased. Then Geum Young turns up to with an ink well he wanted. But he is not so pleased to see her although she is clearly still infatuated with him …
The queen mother is put in charge of the cooking competition and the king’s concern for his people is reflected in the first task: as there have been floods and famine he wants a frugal meal – rice, soup, and a side dish. The dishes must be made with foods that are thrown away but can be eaten such as fish heads and windfall fruit.
Jang Geum is very confident they Team Han can win and she stays out late getting special meat from the butchers. But Lady Han seems displeased. For the competition Lady Han cooks plums and Lady Choi uses fish gills for the side dish. The queen mother chooses Lady Choi’s dish. Jang Geum is shocked but Lady Han says she knows the reason why they lost …
The queen mother is the judge of the cooking competition to decide the next head kitchen lady
EPISODE 16 EXILED TO THE TEMPLE
Lady Han is annoyed with Jang Geum’s arrogance and scolds her because she didn’t think about WHO they were cooking for – ordinary people with little money. How could they use good meat from the butcher? Jang Geum is upset as she just wanted to win. But Lady Han is furious and as a punishment sends her away to a temple to help an old court lady who is dying. Once Jang Geum leaves the palace other kitchen girls quickly want to take her place as Lady Han’s assistant. But none of them pass Lady Han’s water test!
At the temple Jang Geum still hasn’t learnt her lesson. She is rushing around trying to find cooking short cuts. The dying court lady wants to taste a specific rice before she dies. Jang Geum realises that she wants to eat ol-gae – late harvested rice. She sees the temple cook drying the rice but he tells her it’s not ready to use yet. She ignores him saying she has a ‘special technique’ to speed up the drying process. But still the old lady is not happy with her rice. Days later the temple cook brings a bowl of rice and finally the old lady is satisfied and can die in peace. Jang Geum realises she was wrong to try to hurry.
There is time for romance too – at the sea she bumps into Sir Min and they frolic in the water and get to know each other better. Later she tells him what she has learnt about cooking at the temple. But in the background a jealous Geum Young has arrived and glares at her…
Jang Geum gets to know Sir Min better at the temple but Geum Young becomes more jealous
EPISODE 17 COMPETITION PART 2: RAW FISH
Geum Young’s jealousy grows when she sees Sir Min buying a small writing brush for Jang Geum. Sir Min and Jang Geum have been getting to know each other at the temple it seems! But then the old court lady dies holding rice in her hand, so they can go back to the palace. But Jang Geum receives a cold reception from Lady Han!
Meanwhile another task has been assigned by the queen mother for the head kitchen lady test: prepare fish so that it can be served fresh (not pickled) all year round. Lady Han works on a raw skate dish. Lady Choi is still thinking what to do. But then Lady Jung discovers that Lady Choi has been keeping the Head Kitchen Lady Diary (the one that should be passed down from head to head and the one Jang Geum’s mother wants her to write in). Lady Jung realises that clearly the Choi family think this is THEIR book!
Suddenly an epidemic breaks out in the palace and anyone with cold symptoms must leave the palace. The Choi family sees an opportunity to get rid of Lady Jung who is already weak. They pretend she also has flu symptoms and have her removed from the palace. The competition is postponed.
Jang Geum receives a cold reception from Lady Han. Lady Jung is removed from court with ‘flu symptoms’
EPISODE 18 THE DIABETIC ENVOY
The queen mother agrees to let Lady Choi be in charge until Lady Jung gets back. Due to the epidemic they are short staffed and Chinese envoys are arriving for the investiture of the crown prince. With Lady Choi in charge, Lady Han and Jang Geum are sent to the guest house to cook for the envoys – a notoriously difficult job. The king is stressed because the envoys always find fault. And even though this is his only legitimate heir to the throne he is concerned that they may not accept him.
When Lady Han hears that the envoy has diabetes she makes him simple food with veggies but the envoy is furious at the frugal food. Lady Han is dragged away by guards but Jang Geum begs him to eat the healthy food. She is put in charge of cooking for him but if he doesn’t feel better after 5 days there’s going to be trouble! Lady Choi is happy that the envoy is upset and arrives ready to take over and save the day. But Jang Geum insists on cooking for the 5 days. Lady Choi is only to pleased to sit back and watch her fail as the envoy doesn’t seem to enjoy her food …
Lady Han and Jang Geum are put in charge of cooking for the envoy from Ming.
CHAPTER 19 THE SECOND TEST
After the five days of eating healthy food, the envoy allows Lady Choi to take over and she makes a huge banquet looking very pleased with herself! The envoy enjoys the food BUT wants to go back to the simple menu as he is feeling better. In fact the envoy is feeling SO good that he agrees with all the business about the crown prince and the king is pleased.
Lady Choi is disappointed but still accepts all the praise from the queen mother as she was in charge of the kitchens after all! But later the queen mother hears what really happened with the envoy and announces that this event will be considered as the second part of the competition and so Lady Han is the winner! It’s 1-1.
Outside the palace Lady Jung is still quarantined (although she has kidney problems not flu!) and realises that Lady Choi has knowingly been sending her medicine to make her kidney problem worse not better! So she threatens to reveal this fact if she is not allowed back to the palace asap!
The final stage of the test is announced: cook a simple dishes (there is a famine after all) for the king and queen mother on her birthday. Lady Han gets the persimmon vinegar she buried in the palace grounds with her friend Lady Park years ago …
Lady Jung returns to the palace
EPISODE 20 THE KIDNAP
Kitchen cook Young Ro is working for the Choi family and sabotages Lady Han’s preparation so she has to go out all night looking for new ingredients. But while she’s out she gets kidnapped.
Back at the palace Lady Han is missing so Jang Geum has to stand in for her until she gets back ( although Team Choi know she is NOT coming back!)
The first dish is served. The queen mother and the king both prefer Lady Choi’s dish – five seed rice porridge. She wins the next course too. But for the third dish Jang Geum uses her mother’s persimmon vinegar which her mother told her was buried in the palace grounds. The royals are impressed by the flavour and even more impressed when they hear about the devotion it took preparing the vinegar and keeping it buried in the earth for years. Jang Geum wins!
Young Ro sabotages Lady Han and Jang Geum’s preparations for the competition
EPISODE 21 WILD BERRIES
Round 4 of the cooking competition. It’s now 3 -1 to Lady Choi and she wins the next course too with her ‘drunken prawns’.
The next dish – baby boar that melts in the mouth – is her best dish so she’s confident! Jang Geum has made a rather humble baked chicken with spices, but to everyone’s surprise she wins due to the tangy unusual flavour. Lady Choi is speechless. 😉 Jang Geum wins the next round too for innovation – rice cooked in a stone pot specially for winter. By now Lady Han has been saved by Sir Min from the kidnappers and returned to the palace but she wants Jang Geum to finish the competition by herself. It’s 3-3.
Finally for dessert Jang Geum presents her best dish: wild berries. She tells the king she fed her mother berries on her deathbed and prepared the dish for the king as though she were making it for her mother. The king is moved and quick to choose her as the winner!
Sir Min is moved by Jang Geum’s words too. He has caught the kidnappers but later hears that they were released as they were ‘just merchants and it was all a big misunderstanding’. He realises there is something fishy going on between Choi Pan Sul and Lord Oh.
Lady Han is announced the winner of the cooking competition and new Head Kitchen Lady. But Lady Choi is not having this and stages a strike against the competition decision since Lady Han didn’t actually compete herself. She bullies and bribes other court ladies until all refuse to accept Lady Han because she is ‘of low birth’. (her mother worked in a gisaeng house and was raped by a yangban) Lady Jung collapses from stress.
Lady Choi can’t accept that she has lost the cooking competition
EPISODE 22 THE STRIKE
Lady Jung is ill and weak and leaves the palace again. But the court is in chaos as the kitchen ladies go on strike and it’s kimchi making season. Jang Geum finds a few girls to help her make all the kimchi. But the ladies continue to strike before a party for the king’s concubine too.
Lady Han is ready to resign as people are starting to complain about the state of the kitchen staff! But Jang Geum refuses to let her resign. In the end Lady Han asks the queen mother for a REMATCH. But if she wins, she wants to have FULL authority! (that means Head Court Lady won’t be able to interfere in the kitchens!)
Lady Jung dies.
The kitchen is in a mess as Lady Choi has staged a strike. Lady Jung dies.
EPISODE 23 THE COURT LADY ACCOUNTANT
The queen is put in charge of the rematch for Head Kitchen Lady. The task: cook rice! And the court ladies will judge which rice is best. Lady Han knows how all the ladies like their rice cooked and she manages to cook the rice in different ways in one pot! So Lady Han wins and is given the head kitchen position and Lady Choi has to go to the sauces department. Ouch! 😉
Jang Geum wants to meet her mother’s friend who made the persimmon vinegar with her so she hides a letter for her with the buried vinegar! (She doesn’t realise that Lady Han is her mother’s friend!)
Sir Min has moved to Internal Affairs and is investigating Choi Pan Sul’s monopoly on sales to the palace. To help him Jang Geum is given the job of accountant and must write down everything that comes into the kitchens. It becomes clear that there are dodgy things going on in the kitchen accounts because although King Jungjong is frugal compared to Yeonsangun who had feasts every day, the accounts don’t reflect this.
Lady Choi realises something must be done otherwise many of the court ladies (especially she herself) could be in trouble. She instructs Young Ro to steal the account books from Jang Geum’s room.
Lady Han wins the cooking competition fair and square this time. Jang Geum becomes court accountant and discovers fishy things going on in the palace accountants …
EPISODE 24 TRUE IDENTITIES ARE REVEALED
Jang Geum is desperate to get her mother’s recipe book back after she discovers everything has been stolen from her room. Lady Choi discovers the book hidden in with the account books. And she works out that Jang Geum must be Lady Park’s daughter. :0 To make matters worse Young Ro then finds the unopened letter from Jang Geum’s mother hidden in the palace grounds which reveals everything that happened to her at the palace. Lady Choi wants to destroy the letter.
Jang Geum is causing stress with her accounts around the palace and everyone is being more careful with their budgets. This is affecting Choi Pan Sul and of course Lord Oh who is financially supported by him. Lord Oh wants to get rid of whoever is investigating them.
Geum Young tries to warn Sir Min about this and begs him to back off from the investigation. He tells her he is disappointed that she is no different from the rest of her family and he’s adamant that he can’t stop. But then she threatens to reveal his illegal ‘relationship’ with Jang Geum if he doesn’t back down – he would be sacked and Jang Geum would be killed. Later she hears that he has taken another job. But it’s bitter sweet as she knows he did it to save Jang Geum.
Lady Han finds the letter from Jang Geum with the buried vinegar and realises who she is.
Team Choi realise who Jang Geum really is. The king looks over the palace accounts.
EPISODE 25 MORE POISONOUS DUCKS
Jang Geum and Lady Han hug each other catch up on the past. Lady Han hears how her old friend died with the arrow and is sure the Choi family did this. Jang Geum wants to show her the letter from her mother when she goes to find it, it’s GONE. They realise the evidence must be written in the letter and the Choi family could be very dangerous now.
Geum Young gets a mystery package from her uncle. They are obviously going to do something dodgy to the food again but before she can do anything she gets sent out of the kitchens to the guest house by Lady Han where she believes they can do less damage but Lady Choi is in tears!
Sir Min is working as a secret agent now in the capital. Jang Geum asks him to help her find justice for her mother and find out what happened to her father but surprisingly there is no info about him in the official records.
The king takes a party to the hot spring for his health. Choi Pan Sul sees an opportunity to get rid of Jang Geum and Lady Han while they are out of the palace and sends his assassin to follow them. Luckily Sir Min also sends bodyguards after them and the royal guards protect Jang Geum and Lady Han. Lady Han makes the king a duck soup. But after he eats it he collapses!
Jang Geum realises her mother’s friend is actually Lady Han. The king collapses after eating Lady Han’s duck soup.
EPISODE 26 THE INTERROGATION
The court is in panic now that the king is sick. The doctors are worried that it’s their fault and have misdiagnosed him. Merchant Pan Sul suggests they blame the FOOD instead of the DOCTORS. So they set Lady Han up by finding someone who is willing to say that they sold her poisonous mushrooms. Lady Choi gets ready to take over the kitchen.
But they don’t need the mushrooms as an investigation reveals that the ducks used in the soup drink the hot spring water which has sulphur – a poison. Lady Han is arrested. But no one else is getting sick so it seems the ducks can filter out the poison. But still the duck seller and Jang Geum are also arrested and interrogated for treason.
But eventually it is revealed that the ducks are harmless and as always Sir Min helps to get them released. Sir Min is becoming a pain to the Choi family though and they want to get rid of him. But Geum Young refuses to let them touch him and admits that she loves him!
Lady Han and Jang Geum are arrested for treason
EPISODE 27 THIRD LITERATI PURGE OF 1519
Jang Geum and Lady Han have to remake the duck dish to prove that it’s NOT poisonous. A kitchen girl is chosen ‘randomly’ to taste the soup. But this is a set up by the Choi family too as the maid was given dodgy abalone on purpose by Young Ro BEFOREHAND. So after eating the soup she gets a fever just like the king did – only due to the abalone.
Lady Han and Jang Geum are tortured until they ‘confess’. Sir Min is also locked up for aiding and abetting Jang Geum and the other ‘traitors’. Lord Oh wants them to admit they committed the crime because they support the ‘traitor’ Jo Gwang-jo, (a member of the sarim faction who made political reforms and tried to get rid of corruption in the government. He was framed by the hungu faction officials and exiled and then forced to drink poison by the king’s command. This part of the story is based on the Third Literati Purge of 1519.)
Evidence presented at the last minute by Sir Min helps Jang Geum and Lady Han escape the death penalty but they are demoted to servants and will move to Jeju. On the way to Jeju Lady Han dies.
Jang Geum and Lady Han are demoted but on the way to Jeju Lady Han dies.
EPISODE 28 JEJUDO
The soldiers bury Lady Han on the side of the road. Jang Geum becomes a slave in Jeju but she’s always trying to escape. She wants to get back to the palace and clear Lady Han’s name. Sir Min turns up and persuades her to stay – for now. He left his post in the capital to be with her but has now been given an official position in Jeju!
Lady Choi finally becomes head of the kitchen and promises to put everything back to how it was before including getting rid of the accountant lady position!
Jang Geum and Sir Min are reunited in Jeju where Jang Geum works for a female doctor.
EPISODE 29 JEJUDO WATER
In Jejudo Jang Geum is working for a lady doctor called Jang Dok. At first Jang Geum just wants to leave Jeju but then she realises that the lady doctor is a famous doctor being head hunted by the palace. She is building a well for rain water as there is not enough clean water on the island so the poor people suffer. (the water is too salty). Jang Geum realises that if she retrains as a doctor she can get back to the palace.
Sir Min spends lots of time with her and encourages her to study and get back to the palace and take revenge! He is in charge of dealing with the invasions from foreign pirates.
Sir Min follows Jang Geum to Jejudo. Jang Geum begins to study to be a doctor.
EPISODE 30 A NEW MENTOR
As part of her medical training Jang Geum has to study face colours to diagnose health. She tells Sir Min that his face is ‘red’ meaning he has a fever. He takes her hands agreeing that he does have a FEVER! Jang Geum runs away embarrassed! 😉
Dr Jung from the herb garden turns up. He has a tumour and has discovered new ways to use ginseng to treat himself. Jang Geum tells him that she wants to go back to the palace as a doctor and get her revenge. He is angry to hear this and doesn’t think she is fit to be a doctor.
Back at the palace Jang Geum’s friend Yeon Saeng cries because she misses her. One evening the king passes by and notices her. Next thing we know she’s become a special court lady – not a concubine yet though. Lady Choi is now in charge but to her annoyance Geum Young still follows Lady Han’s teaching methods and believes they are the real losers as they didn’t win the competition fairly.
Jang Geum’s friend Yeun Saeng becomes a special court lady. Dr Jung turns up in Jeju.
EPISODE 31 JAPANESE INVASION
Two years later Jang Geum is struggling and punishing herself for making a mistake doing acupuncture that could have killed the patient.
Her adoptive father Duk Gu arrives suffering from severe seasickness. Too scared to to do acupuncture she does a moxa treatment on him instead. His health improves and Jang Geum hears that when Lady Choi became the head court lady, he lost his job at the palace and times are hard for others related to Lady Han too.
The Japanese invade. Jang Geum is forced to perform acupuncture on the sick Japanese leader as the invaders threaten Duk Gu’s life if she doesn’t help them. But she is secretly in contact with Sir Min and she leads the invaders straight to the Joseon soldiers. Sir Min goes to Hanyang to report the attack. The good news is Jang Geum has got over her fear of acupuncture! The bad news is she is arrested for saving the leader of the enemy!
Jang Geum gives Duk Gu a moxa treatment. The Japanese invade and Jang Geum saves the leader’s life.
EPISODE 32 BACK IN HANYANG
Lord Oh wants Jang Geum punished for helping the enemy but Sir Min proves that she is not a traitor as she wrote him a letter during the invasion helping him. The king insists she be rewarded. They want Sir Min back at the palace too. But he’s not happy about that – he’s enjoying his innocent romance with Jang Geum in Jeju.
Jang Geum persuades Sir Min to stay in Hanyang. But on her way back to Jeju she stops off at the grave of Lady Han and wants to make a proper mound for the grave. There she meets a young sick yangban boy. She recognises his symptoms and cures him even though no other doctor has been able to. To thank her he promises to bury Lady Han’s body in a decent place.
The yangban family are surprised she isn’t taking the lady physicians test tomorrow. She didn’t know about the test! Jang Geum rushes back to the capital. She passes the test although Dr Jung who is now working at the palace is worried that she should not be a doctor when she has revenge in her heart. So now Sir Min and Jang Geum are back in Hanyang together.
Jang Geum cures a yangban boy and then learns about the palace test for physician ladies
EPISODE 33 ARROGANT JANG GEUM
The new recruits meet the head trainer who is very strict. But the Confucian classics teacher likes smart Jang Geum because he can leave her to teach the class by herself. He clearly doesn’t see the point of a teaching a bunch of girls! Later he wants to send the lady doctors to act as hostesses/prostitutes to entertain the minister of finance! The king has tried to ban this habit continued from Yeonsangun’s time.
Only two students Shin Bi and Jang Geum refuse to entertain the ministers and turn up for practical study with Dr Shin. They have to diagnose patients – Again Jang Geum is too hasty and makes the wrong diagnosis. Dr Shin is worried that she is too arrogant to be a doctor.
The new lady doctors begin study with strict Dr Shin
EPISODE 34 ROYAL LADY PHYSICIANS
The training period is over and the results of the exams are announced. The Confucian classics teacher tries to fail Jang Geum and Shin Bi for refusing to be prostitutes! The king is furious as he tried to ban this habit that started during Yeonsangun’s time. But Lord Oh defends the decision saying not letting the female doctors be prostitutes is bad for morale! 😕
Jang Geum will now work in the Royal hospital and receives an ID pass to get into the palace. Lady Doctor Jang Duk is also joining the hospital again but warns Jang Geum that a lady physician is not the same level as a male doctor. But Jang Geum is happy to fulfil her wish and get back in the palace. But the hierarchy within the lady doctors is just as bad if not worse than at the kitchens. And the court ladies look down on female doctors.
Suddenly there’s a crisis – the queen is sick. A meeting is held with the head eunuch and heads of department. Geum Young is now Head Kitchen Lady and is shocked to see Jang Geum!
Jang Geum finally gets back into the palace as a doctor this time
EPISODE 35 DUCK SOUP AGAIN!
In the queen’s quarters a bamboo curtain is put up so that Dr Jung can stand behind it and give advice to the lady doctors treating the queen. But she has a miscarriage. Lady Choi is now Head Court Lady after ousting the other head. She is still up to her old tricks as the miscarriage is declared ‘good news’!
Jang Geum’s old friends from the kitchen have been demoted to (복이궁녀) – maids in charge of the king’s baths and toilet routine. Not a pleasant task! Although Yeun Saeng is a special court lady (승은상궁) the king never sees her so the court ladies don’t respect her. All she does is pray everyday for Jang Geum’s safe return.
The king is still trying to balance power in the government but the hungu faction want to keep their hold on power. Sir Min is still trying to investigate Choi Pan Sul. With his boss they serve the same duck soup that Lady Han made to Lord Oh and Pan Sul pointing out they know that it was they who set Lady Han and sarim official Jo up all those years ago.
Geum Young tries to humiliate Jang Geum by making her massage her feet. But Jang Geum merely massages and points out all the illnesses that Geum Young has – stomach and spleen. Her life choices have taken a toll on her health. Jang Geum is already making enemies in the hospital as she disagrees with the head lady physician about the queen’s diagnosis.
Yeun Saeng prays for Jang Geum’s safe return. Sir Min informs Lord Oh that they know what he’s up to.
EPISODE 36 PREGNANCY PULSE
At the medical meeting Jang Geum admits that she felt a different pulse to the head lady doctor. She thinks the queen still has another baby inside her – from the miscarriage. At first the others don’t believe her. But she’s right. Later the queen recovers and hears that it was the new assistant Jang Geum who helped her.
Sir Min is working on improving security in the country but they need money and don’t want to burden the people with any more tax. They suggest to the king to decrease the land for one out of 10 officials. Lord Oh is AGAINST this! But they need to improve the weapons as other countries Japan etc have developed but theirs have stagnated since Sejong. Lady Choi says she will stop the land reforms going ahead. Next thing we know the queen mother is on strike refusing health treatment!
Department heads meet to decide what to do about the sick queen. Jang Geum and Sir Min are together again at the palace.
EPISODE 37 THE RIDDLE
The queen mother is refusing to take her medicine saying the king has allowed a dodgy doctor (on the side of the sarim officials?) who caused the death of her relative to look after her. Maybe he’s trying to kill her too?!
But it’s all just a ploy to get the king to stop the land bill going ahead. The plan works. When his mother continues to refuse treatment and her health gets worse, the king takes back his words, fires Dr Shin and is prepared to stop the land being returned too – all for filial piety!
But Jang Geum begs the queen mother not to gamble with her life with the king! In the end the queen mother agrees to gamble with her instead. Jang Geum gives her a riddle to solve. If the queen mother can answer the riddle Jang Geum will pay with her life, if she can’t, the queen mother will take the medicine. But the answer to the riddle is ‘mother’ so the queen mother realises she should help her son no matter what. So she has to take the medicine! But then she vomits! She’s getting worse.
Jang Geum steps in when the queen mother continues to refuse medical treatment
EPISODE 38 BERIBERI
The queen mother has beriberi. The Choi family have always had the support of the queen mother but now they are not bothered if she dies as long as it will reflect badly on the opposition! Very cold and heartless.
Jang Geum realises that the foods that are good for curing beriberi are the same foods the queen mother doesn’t like. So she makes a tasty garlic snack. The queen mother likes the snacks and can eat them. Her health improves and the head eunuch announces Team Jang Geum will be rewarded with a feast from the king. The queen recognises Jang Geum from the kitchen and admits the whole duck business was dodgy and Lady Han shouldn’t have been punished.
The head lady physician is jealous of Jang Geum and approaches Team Choi. She bows to Geum Young and offers her Jang Geum in return for wealth.
Finally the king comes to see his special court lady Yeun Seung.
The queen mother’s health improves with Jang Geum’s snacks. Yeun saeng gets a visit from the king.
EPISODE 39 THE PLAGUE
The queen asks Jang Geum to make her an evening snack. But that’s Geum Young’s job so we have an awkward moment as the queen tells Geum Young that she wants to eat Jang Geum’s snack instead! The queen also wants Jang Geum as her personal doctor.
An epidemic is spreading in the country and they have to contain it. Jang Geum has to go to the plague zone but gets set up by the head lady physician and gets trapped in the quarantine area. Sir Min realises she’s missing and goes to look for her. When he finds her she is upset having realised that she was abandoned by the others at the pharmacy …
Sir Min goes back into the quarantine area to look for Jang Geum
EPISODE 40 FOOD POISONING
Sir Min and Jang Geum get surrounded by disgruntled peasants with weapons who are angry that they have been abandoned in the village even though they are not sick. Jang Geum persuades them to let Sir Min get medicine from another village. But then she gets sick and the peasants lock her in a barn for quarantine when a fire starts.
There is nothing in the neighbouring village and Sir Min realises that Jang Geum knew this and was trying to save him from being killed by the peasants. He hurries back and saves her from the barn. They hug – FINALLY! They realise that the sickness is not contagious but food poisoning – after the floods, starving people have been eating vegetables that have gone bad.
At the palace Sir Min and Jang Geum’s disappearance is noticed and people think they ran away from fear of the plague. The head lady doctor orchestrated the whole thing and wants the Choi family’s herb garden as a reward for getting rid of Jang Geum. But she is just about to get the contract for the herb trade when Jang Geum and Sir Min return.
Lady Choi refuses to believe that veggies can cause food poisoning and tries to suggest there’s funny business going on between Sir Min and Jang Geum. She agrees to eat the diseased veggies! She gets sick and Jang Geum turns up with medicine!
Sir Min rescues Jang Geum from the burning barn in the quarantine zone.
EPISODE 41 SUK WON CONCUBINE
At first Lady Choi is afraid to get treated by Jang Geum. But then she says she has nothing to be ashamed of! (REALLY?! :0 )
Even though Sir Min helped find out the cause of the sickness Lord Oh manages to get him fired for disobeying orders. But when the king hears what he did he has him promoted to second highest pharmacy official. But gossip starts about his relationship with Jang Geum.
Yeon Saeng is pregnant. The court ladies who treated her badly are worried now and come to beg for her forgiveness. She is promoted to forth class 8th in rank – Suk Won. Geum Young has to bring her food but Suk Won pretends to feel sick every time she sees the food.
Jang Geum is now in charge of the queen’s health and the head lady physician is put in charge of Suk Won. Lady Choi asks her how she is going to make her have a miscarriage. Jang Geum soon realises something is wrong: the lady doctor is treating Suk Won for anaemia when she has high blood pressure knowing this will kill the baby.
Yeon saeng becomes pregnant and promoted to a Suk Won concubine
EPISODE 42 THE KING’S MEDICAL RECORDS
Jang Geum tells Dr Shin about Suk Won’s symptoms. They realise she has high blood pressure and the head lady physician is in trouble! It’s catch 22 for her – if she admits she knew she is in big trouble, if she says she didn’t know she looks ignorant. So she says she didn’t know. Dr Shin wants her removed from the palace to the welfare clinic but the head doctor lets her stay with a demotion. Jang Geum tells her she won’t forgive her again if she uses food or meds as a weapon again.
Jang Geum wants to find out what really caused the king to be sick after he ate Lady Han’s duck soup. But she can’t check him herself because only male doctors can treat the king. So she pretends she needs to see the queen’s medical records and smuggles the king’s medical records out instead!
Geum Young has finally decided to let Sir Min go. She cooks him a meal and then tells Lady Choi to do whatever she wants with him – they plan to get rid of him for good!
The king is showing flu symptoms again. The head physician notices that a book is missing from the library and then the eunuchs arrest Jang Geum.
Geum Young finally lets go of Sir Min leaving him in danger from her family. Jang Geum and Jang Dok copy the king’s medical records.
EPISODE 43 THE KING’S FLU
Jang Geum is in big trouble for stealing the king’s medical records. She is taken out of the palace by eunuchs with what looks like a bottle of poison. The Choi family congratulate themselves on getting rid of her!
But then the king collapses after eating Geum Young’s food and she is taken away by the eunuchs to be investigated. Lady Choi and the head doctor get into an argument about whose fault this is! The kitchen serves food from Ming (not Joseon) so that could be the problem, or did the Dr misdiagnose the king’s illness?
Jang Geum is not poisoned to death after all – she finds herself in front of the queen who wants to know why she took the king’s medical records and if she really can cure him …
Jang Geum is arrested by the eunuchs and interrogated
EPISODE 44 POISONOUS MUSHROOMS
Everyone is told that Jang Geum has been sent back to Jeju but really she is in hiding trying to find a cure for the king.
Dodgy poisonous mushrooms are found in Geum Young’s special sauce. Jang Geum realises this is not the cause of the king’s illness and is a set-up. We discover the head lady doctor has been pretending to side with the Choi family but is really working for the ousted head of court ladies, Lady Park, who wants revenge and her job back. So she planted the poisonous mushrooms.
The Chois are tortured about the food they’ve been serving. Jang Geum visits them in prison and tells them to apologise to Lady Han for what they did but they refuse. Even so Jang Geum and Sir Min step in and stop the torture to say that the king’s health is not related to the food – it is a misdiagnosis. She doesn’t want them to suffer for this as they are innocent. She wants them punished for their crime against Lady Han.
Lady Choi gets a taste of her own medicine as she is set up for trying to poison the king
EPISODE 45 THE KING GOES BLIND
The Chois realise that their lives are in Jang Geum’s hands and that she is still alive by order of the queen. The head physician scrambles to find the real cause of the king’s sickness as he has just been covering up his ignorance so far. With limited knowledge he still disagrees with Jang Geum about what they should do.
Lord Oh is appalled that they are listening to a FEMALE doctor and the queen is forced to go with the head doctor’s prescription. But Jang Geum’s predictions come true and the king’s health gets worse. Jang Geum takes over.
The King gets better and the Chois are released from prison but then Jang Geum and Sir Min are arrested because the king has gone blind. But Jang Geum predicted that the king would go blind and says it’s just temporary. She is finally allowed to check the king’s pulse and realises there is something wrong. She inspects the king’s water well and bathing pool and finally the cows saved for the king’s food. She gets arrested when there is no improvement. The Chois are in the next cell but Jang Geum says the only thing she is afraid of is dying without clearing Lady Han’s name.
Just as Jang Geum and Sir Min are about to get tortured the queen announces that the king is getting better. Jang Geum performs acupuncture on him. His skin is better but he is still blind. She performs a back passage on him for a LONG time until he can see again!
Sir Min is arrested until Jang Geum finds a cure for the king.
EPISODE 46 THE SUICIDE
Jang Geum explains the king had Behcet’s disease just as the head doctor said. But it was caused by liver problems. And he also had arsenic poisoning from drinking milk from cows that drank from the hot spring with small traces of arsenic. Sir Min is released from prison and Jang Geum hugs him IN A PUBLIC PLACE!
Sir Min realises Lord Oh is involved with illegal silver mining. He catches his men trading with the Japanese which is also illegal.
Suk Won serves the king Lady Han’s sulphur duck dish with no problem. Then she begs him to clear Lady Han’s name. But he doesn’t want to open old wounds as he knows that bringing this up again will cause more bloodshed.
The head doctor is humiliated as he misdiagnosed the king. A masked assassin from Choi Pan Sul comes to kill him as Sir Min is investigating the duck soup incident and the doctor knows too much. But the head doctor has already committed suicide.
Jang Geum tells the Chois that the doctor left her a letter of confession so she wants them to give themselves up and ask for forgiveness before she takes it to the queen. They don’t believe there is a letter but Lady Choi bribes Young Ro to leave town for a while – she is the only one who knows everything – but Lord Oh’s men bribe her to go to the police and tell them what she knows. Young Ro doesn’t know what to do.
Jang Geum is pleased that Sir MIn is released from prison. Investigations continue about the past and an assassin comes to kill the head doctor.
EPISODE 47 THE GHOST
Young Ro doesn’t want to go into hiding but she doesn’t trust Lord Oh either so she offers to side with Jang Geum IF she helps her become head court lady. Jang Geum refuses to play these games and tells YR to go and tell the police what she knows.
Finally Lady Choi asks Jang Geum to take her to Lady Han’s grave where she kneels and asks for forgiveness. She thinks this apology is enough but Jang Geum still insists she go to the police and confess and be punished!
Young Ro decides to go to the police but is intercepted by the Chois who force her to report Lord Oh’s wrong doings to the police instead! Then they send her out of the palace promising to bring her back when things calm down. But later she is found murdered.
Internal Affairs are presented with the head doctor’s (forged) will (from Lady Choi). The king discharges Lord Oh for the minor offences that Young Ro revealed. Trying to save himself he announces what he knows what Lady Choi did to Jang Geum’s mum and Lady Han. Lady Choi claims she is innocent and everything is written in the ‘will’. Then all are shocked when Dr Jung the head doc walks in – he didn’t commit suicide after all.
Young Ro is in danger as the Choi family are being investigated and she needs to decide whose side she’s really on. Lady Choi visits Lady Park’s grave to ‘apologise’
EPISODE 48 THE CLIFF, REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS
The investigation reveals Lady Choi’s guilt. Lady Choi is put under eunuch guard and Lord Oh house arrest. Tied up ready for torture Lord Oh still claims he’s innocent until Sir Min points out that he has traded with the enemy and given Choi Pan Sul a monopoly on trade with the palace and received land illegally! Lord Oh is silenced!
But Lady Choi escapes and is still determined to get back into power! She visits Lady Park’s grave again still claiming she had no choice. Then she plans to hand herself in to try to save Geum Young. But on the way back to the palace she sees a red hair ribbon. It reminds her of her childhood, but she slips and falls trying to reach it and falls off the cliff!
Lord Oh is exiled to Huksan Island. Choi Pan Sul gets 20 floggings and becomes a nobi labourer in a mine in Hamkyung but he collapses and dies on the way there. Geum Young is fired but before she leaves she gives Jang Geum the letter from her mother. She couldn’t burn it although Lady Choi told her to. The head doctor is discharged and forbidden to work as a doctor again.
Jang Geum is rewarded by the king with 77 bushels of rice, 77 bushels of beans and 3 pounds of ginseng. She has three wishes from the king – restore Lady Han’s name, restore her mother’s name, and let her become the highest kitchen lady for a few days (so she can write her mum’s story in the head kitchen lady’s diary.)
Team Choi receive their punishments. Lady Choi falls off a cliff …
EPISODE 49 THE CROWN PRINCE
Jang Geum asks the king to be sent to the public health centre because she wants to help the people and improve her skills. The king admits if she had been born a male she would be his personal physician now. Other doctors are promoted. She deals with lots of patients including sucking the pus out of boils with her mouth!!!! Sir Min comes to visit her often.
But then the queen (Queen Mungjeong) is upset and worried having found a bad luck charm aimed at her son the prince. She asks Jang Geum to come back and cure her ‘ill heart’. The queen is speaking in code. She wants Jang Geum to kill the crown prince (son of the late Queen Jang-kyung).
Jang Geum knows she can’t do what the queen asks. So she gives Sir Min her father’s precious knife before telling the queen that she can’t use medicine as a weapon so the queen must take her life. But the king overhears part of the conversation and guesses the rest. He decides he can trust Jang Geum and wants to make her his personal physician. But Jang Geum doesn’t know this and prepares to run away with Sir Min.
Queen Munjeong orders Jang Geum to kill the crown prince. Jang Geum wants to run away with Sir Min.
EPISODE 50 RUNNING AWAY
Everyone at court agrees that the king can’t possibly have a woman doctor! Sir Min gives up his yangban status, resigns and leaves with Jang Geum. But just as they are about to get on a boat, guards arrive. His boss demands they both return to the palace and that Jang Geum refuse the job (although she didn’t even know she’d been offered it!)
Jang Geum overhears the minister telling Sir Min about the problems that will arise if he leaves. She feels guilty and refuses to leave with him. But she ACCEPTS the job with Sir Min’s encouragement. Soon scholars gather outside the palace to beg the king to change his mind. Doctors in the pharmacy including the women are writing letters of resignation in protest!
Suk Won is dragged into the situation too and the stress brings on premature labour. She has a difficult birth and nearly dies. This makes Jang Geum rethink. She wants to decline the king’s offer now since it’s killing people! But now there’s another crisis – Queen Munjeong’s son is sick.
Sir Min and Jang Geum run away but are forced to return to the palace
EPISODE 51 SMALL POX
Queen Munjeong’s son is sick with fever (he becomes King Myeongjong later but died young without an heir and his mother ruled while he was too young). The queen is frantic with worry, but when the king suggests Jang Geum take a look at the prince, the queen is upset and insulted (since Jang Geum is ONLY a woman). She feels the king does not have the same feelings for her son as he does for the crown prince.
Jang Geum turns down the job and things get back to normal but Sir Min is disappointed. But he is in trouble for supporting her and the officials want to impeach him and have him exiled for leading the king astray.
There is an outbreak of smallpox and the prince has smallpox too. But there is no cure. But Jang Geum finds a cure. The king rewards her with rice and cloth and makes her a level 9 official and his personal doctor. The officials complain but the doctors agree to accept her. The king moves Jang Geum up to a level 7 official. The officials complain again so in frustration the king moves her up to a level 6 and Sir Min is told to deliver the message.
Jang Geum finds the cure to small pox and is rewarded for saving the prince’s life
EPISODE 52 THE KING BACKS DOWN AGAIN
The opposing political sides join together (for once) to go against the king’s command. They tell Sir Min not to execute the order and remind him that the job of the officials is to correct the king when he strays from the right path. They think the king is going against the gyeongguk daejeon (constitution). The queen mother sits on a cushion outside the king’s quarters in protest too and the king backs down.
The king starts to spend time with Jang Geum. He apologises to her for being weak and reveals that he didn’t want to be king and wasn’t prepared to be king and became a puppet of the officials who put him on the throne. But Jang Geum encourages him to talk about the things he has achieved: he revised the national geographical book, rebuilt the astronomical observation device which people use to plant their crops, and built thunder canons to drive out the Japanese. He also restored the palace from its weakened state caused by Yeonsangun. Sir Min watches them jealously.
The queen mother has heard the rumours about the king spending time with Jang Geum and suggests he make her a concubine. That will mean she can’t practise medicine so the officials think this is a great idea. They also still want to exile Sir Min.
Suk Won goes to beg the king not to make Jang Geum a concubine because she is in love with Sir Min! The king looks shocked. But still the queen gets ready to announce that Jang Geum will become a concubine. The king asks her if she really is in love with Sir Min and she says yes!
The king backs down after all the complaints against making Jang Geum his doctor. But he grows fond of her as they spend time together.
EPISODE 53 THE KING’S PHYSICIAN
Jang Geum is worried what will happen to Sir Min now that she admitted she loves him to the king. But he is overjoyed that she admitted her feelings to the king. The king hears this and makes them both meet him the next morning for an archery contest! The king wants a wager and bets his good bow for Jang Geum’s father’s knife! We were told earlier how Yeonsangun put an arrow in a eunuch when he was displeased so the atmosphere is tense.
The competition is a draw as they both shoot bulls-eyes until the last arrow. The king misses but just as Sir Min is about to shoot, the king says he is in love with Jang Geum too! The king aims his bow and arrow at Sir Min’s face but Sir Min just closes his eyes ready for the hit. The king throws down the bow and marches off. (He’s not like his half-brother Yeonsangun!)
Later Sir Min begs the king to allow Jang Geum to follow her true path: she should become the king’s doctor and it is his job as a scholar to put her there. He also asks to be put to death as he can not come between the ruler and a woman. The king stops the concubine order at the last minute.
The king reaches a compromise. Jang Geum is promoted to level 3 in the government and is to be called Dae Jang Geum. But her position is not hereditary and she will not be in charge of the royal pharmacy. She is promoted but the officials still keep pushing for Sir Min to be exiled for causing problems for the nobility. The king agrees.
Dae Jang Geum starts to look after the king and continues to improve her skills. But the king has weak bowels which are getting worse as he gets older. His bowels are blocked – and he’s getting old. There is no way to help the king now but Dae Jang Geum wants to cut out part of his blocked intestine. The king is horrified!
Jang Geum has to say a tearful goodbye to the exiled Sir Min. The king is on his deathbed.
EPISODE 54 CLEARING NAMES
The king needs an operation to survive but Dae Jang Geum will never be allowed to operate on the king as surgery is still in its experimental stages! The king knows she is in danger because he is dying. He tells her he could bear all the fear and loneliness as king because of her and then he sends her away secretly via the eunuchs to Sir Min.
Several years later Jang Geum is just like her mother and Sir Min is just like her father. They have a daughter who is clever but they are always on the run.
Jang Geum and Sir Min finally return to the palace and their titles are restored. There’s no problem for them to return now as Queen Munjeong is Regent (while her son is too young to rule) as the previous King Injong died early.
But they decide to leave the palace anyway. Jang Geum wants to continue being a doctor for the ordinary people. Sir Min begs her not to try any dodgy operations as this is taboo in Joseon. She agrees but on the way they find a pregnant woman in labour needing a caesarean section. Jang Geum has no choice – she has to do the operation. the operation is successful and Sir Min proudly admits she is ahead of her time.
For more info on the making of Dae Jang Geum see here. I also have some notes from Director Lee Byung Hoon on the making of Heojun and how he changed sageuk in Korea, and the director’s approach and views on making sageuk.