This movie was popping up on my Netflix suggestion list for a while so I decided to give it a try. I honestly wasn't expecting much since I was used to Song Hyae-Kyo and her okay acting skills in cutesy Korean dramas. Her demure and poised, yet headstrong character of Lady Jin-Yi reminded me of Chia Chi (played by Tang Wei) in Lust, Caution (2007). Both characters use their bodily and feminine charm to lure men and advance personal and political agendas. I don't think Song Hyae-Kyo captured her character's emotional depth as well as Tang wei did in Lust, Caution especially during the bedding scenes. This is maybe, in part, due to the fact that the love scenes in Lust, Caution were far more explicit and Tang Wei simply had more screen time to express Chia Chi's twisted love and emotional turmoil. In fact, Hwang Jin Yi wasn't as explicit or racy as other Korean romantic historical films like Untold Scandal (2003) A Frozen Flower (2008), and The Servant (2010). For once, the film didn't exploit a famous Korean actress and her 'peep show', so to speak.
The love story actually weighs down the film. The plot is most interesting when Nom-yi, Jin-yi's lover, actually leaves and Lady Jin-yi successfully starts a new life as Myung-wol, a commoner. She is a true heroine who uses her looks, wits, and charm to establish her place in a merciless society. Then, Nom-yi comes back and his attempt to become a Robin Hood-esque hero only leads to a tragedy. In the end, Jin-yi is a fallen heroine, simply a romantic who spiritually reunites with her lover.
Despite the frustrating love plot and cheesy lines regarding 'rebirth' that makes one cringe, the movie overall was beautifully done. I especially recommend it to those who wish to understand the dynamics of the Confucian class system in the Joseon dynasty.