Souls recognize each other by the way they feel, not the way they look!

I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it

Carolyn MacCullough, Once A Witch

Title
Mirror of the Witch  (2016)
Also known as
Secret Healer 
Genre
Fantasy,  Fusion-Sageuk,  Historical,  Romance,   Sageuk,   Tragedy
Written by
Yang Hyuk-moon
Directed by
Jo Hyun-tak
Country of Origin
South Korea
Episodes
20  

oh! … background

This kdrama is based on the lives of historical figures of the Joseon Dynasty. Royal physician Heo Jun (1539 – 1615) is one of them and one of his writings first published in 1613 during the Joseon Dynasty inspired this production.

The book, Dongui Bogam, is regarded important in traditional Korean medicine and one of the classics of Oriental medicine today. The literal translation of “Dongui Bogam” is “a priceless book about medicines of an Eastern Country”. As of July 2009, it is on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme.

Known as one of the classics in the history of Eastern medicine, it was published and used in many countries including China and Japan and remains a key reference work for the study of Eastern medicine. The original edition of Dongui Bogam is currently preserved by the Korean National Library.

Heo Jun led the project but work was interrupted due to the second Japanese invasion of Korea in 1597. Heo Jun completed the work in 1610, the 2nd year of King Gwanghaegun’s reign.

Heo Jun was a court physician of the Yangcheon Heo clan during the reign of King Seonjo of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. He was appointed as a court physician at the age of 29. He wrote a number of medical texts, but his most significant achievement by far is Dongui Bogam Although Heo Jun worked extensively with the royal family, he put a great emphasis on making treatment methods accessible and comprehensible to common people. He found natural herb remedies that were easily found and available to commoners.  Heo Jun’s name and accomplishments are widely recognised by Koreans even today.

 oh! … brief

Unable to conceive, Queen Shim, resorts to using the black magic skills of shaman Hong-joo to produce an heir. The two deceive a young shaman, Hae-ran, to carry out their evil scheme. However, Hae-ran spoils their plans and the ensuing troubles in the kingdom can be traced back to the Queen’s fateful decision and the subsequent curse Hae-ran renders before her untimely death.

oh! … talks drama

This fusion-sageuk styled kdrama delivers a fantastical story of political intrigue and the machinations of three desperate women – a queen, a dowager queen, and a vengeful shaman.

Having written that I’m no fan of fantasy, I’m watching a lot of the fantastical choices on my lists quickly. This kdrama is one that is good and I may have to revisit my opinion on fantasy as a genre. When it’s mixed with historical or sageuk-styled series or film it is more appealing than as a stand-alone genre. So, it’s no surprise that I was quickly hooked by the story for this production.

Yang Hyuk-moon wrote a solid script for this series, inspired by the medical compilation of symptoms, remedies, and illnesses of various human organs listed in Heo Jun’s “Dong Bogam”. How exactly the inspiration came I don’t know, but, the story he wrote is creative and strong.

However he was inspired, Yang Hyuk-moon wrote a uniquely dark, tragic and heartbreaking tale. The tale lends itself well to the film noir genre and I would have enjoyed seeing it more along those lines. That’s not to say the production wasn’t great, I just think given the sombre and deep angst it could have taken those elements a step further. But then again, film noir appeals to me on a level most kdrama watchers wouldn’t understand.

Yang Hyuk-moon includes many twists and turns to his scenarios. The effect for the audience builds the intrigue and appeal and each episode brings a new anticipation for the direction the story. I played a game of prediction with each new twist or turn and was second-guessing new developments for each character. It was stimulating.

The skilled writing behind each character and their development throughout had me attached to a few early on. My initial reactions stayed steadfast to the end.

With shamanism, witchcraft and black magic as the backbone to the developing story, characters face the consequences of the use of black magic to achieve the impossible. But the black magic doesn’t end with the main characters, Yang Hyuk-moon spreads is throughout the entire kingdom, which was obviously the scheming plan of Hong Joo and the overarching premise is to end the reign of black magic entirely. This was plausible and I think Yang Hyuk-moon succeeds in the overall delivery of his well-researched story. The storyline is mind-bending, not because of the story in unbelievable, but because a man wrote this script with such precision and did such a great job! And, the logical approach from start to end is not only creative but easy to follow. You won’t get lost in this story if you watch it with little expectation and just take each episode at face value and not over analyse.

I don’t want to share too much of the story, I’m not into divulging spoilers if it can be helped. The focus of the story is the tragic circumstance that Yeon-Hee finds herself in. Ignorant to her status and the history of her life, about halfway through, her life in all its horror, is revealed and she is left reeling from the decisions of three vile women and not surprisingly the effects of black magic.

The cinematography for a kdrama was exceptionally beautiful. Each scene was well choreographed (and I don’t mean specific to the wirework) and filmed in exacting detail. The outdoor scenes were filmed in aesthetic locations which boasted natural beauty and allowed for some exquisite scenic shots. The indoor scenes were tight, detailed and mostly edited well. The camerawork was accomplished using multiple techniques which made watching easy on the eyes, as much as the cast and costumes did too.

With anything fantastical, either light or dark in nature and tone, the special effects are as important to the overall narrative as the plot twists, turns and the performance delivery. Mirror of the Witch will satisfy special effect fans. In fact, in some scenes, the acting plays second fiddle to some of the magic of the special effects. The CGI was fitting given the budget and need.

I would have liked to see more development around the dark wispy ‘souls’ – surely souls are as unique as the humans they reside in, so it was a little strange that the various souls didn’t take on different shapes and colours. Much like individual auras are unique to each person, I would have liked to see this displayed better.

Okay, I am headed off on a tangent here, but bear with me. Just because black magic is being used, doesn’t mean that the souls are black, and the director and special effects artists were dealing with innocent victims, so the rendition of the souls (in my opinion) shouldn’t have been dark. I understand, for the story which is dark and focused on black magic that black was the go-to colour to use, but dark shades of green, blue, maybe even red when Hong-joo is extracting the souls of her victims. Also, evil souls differentiate in their debasement – bad, very bad, insane, murderous, nefarious – you get my drift, right?

Given the nature of the story, the special effects, and the CGI, the production lends itself well to fetching wardrobe options and makeup. Light versus dark colours and wispy versus heavy brocade textures being used. The costume selection was another winning element. The makeup had as much attention as the other elements. Heavy, dark and detailed versus the natural look. I like when a director pays attention to these critical elements, Jo Hyun-tak paid attention to everything – cinematography, set design, props, costumes, makeup, special effects, CGI and the accompanying music.

Speaking of music, the soundtrack that accompanied the kdrama was far more uplifting than I expected. Or at least the tracks I found for my Spotify playlist don’t accurately reflect the darker nature and tone of the production. I must admit I didn’t pay as much attention to the music as I typically do when I was watching the production.

A large cast was chosen for this production, with many skilled actors and actresses, including one of my favourites, Kim Young-ae who sadly passed this year. The main cast was played by Yoon Shi-yoon (Heo Jun), Kim Sae-ron (Yeon-hee/ Princess Seo-ri), Lee Sung-jae (Choi Huyn-seo), Yum Jung-ah (Shaman Hong-joo) and Kwak Si-yang (Poong-yeo). These five brought each of their individual characters to life with deep and in some cases moving performances. The story lent itself to very intense emotions and the skilled cast all acted authentically which allowed the audience to become part of the story.

Kim Sae-ron’s interpretation of Yeon-hee’s innocence was realistic and surprising given her age, but not so when you factor in her experience. She’s been acting since she was nine and has won many awards, including one for this role.  Her flawless performance was magnified by Yoon Shi-yoon’s portrayal of faithful and caring Heo Jun. The two shared an amazing chaste chemistry – it’s too bad that we didn’t get a chance to see more of their happier moments. I would have liked to see them happy more of the time, but it didn’t fit with the story. When Yeon-hee becomes angry, it is Kim Sae-ron’s anger we see and it will make your toes curl, she has a complete face change, gone is the innocence and it’s replaced with a steely-eyed alchemist whose strength exceeds her tiny stature. Yoon Shi-yoon is adorable though with this quirky innocence about him, physically and spiritually. His expressive eyes and the aura of his personality made watching Hae Jun diverting.

Kwak Si-Yang’s performance as dual personality Poong-yeo was mirrored by Lee Sung-jae’s performance as dual personality Choi Huyn-seo. Makes sense, the two perform as father and son and both have misguided feelings for a woman. Kwak Si-Yang, as Poong-yeo was notable. While he limited his expression, when he did express his emotions, it was heightened by the contrast of his deadpan features. I liked the internalisation of the emotions that Kwak Si-young interpreted his character to have.  Lee Sung-jae’s performance was not as powerful as Kwak Si-young’s, he took a more muted approach and emoted less and was far more deadpan.

Perhaps the two most expressive performances come from Yum Jung-ah and Jang Hee-jin. Yum Jung-ah’s depiction of Shaman Hong-joo was magnificent. She embodied every fibre and aspect of her character. Her arresting display of vengeance and deep-seated hatred was as cold as her character’s heart. Jang Her-Jin’s performance as Queen Shim was strong. She expressed the right emotions from start to finish, her facial expressions and tone of voice perfectly mimicked her angst.

oh! … sidekicks

A special mention of Lee Yi-kyung must be shared. He played a supporting role which was central to the story and he was fantastic as Yo-Gwang. I really enjoyed watching him perform in this role, he was great at emoting, a strong supporting actor and was always running around. It was cute!

Mun Ka-young also deserves mention for her strong performance as Sol-Gae (Red Gentleman’s Robe). Her performance was understated but crucial to the overall story.

There were so many other actors and actresses that delivered great performances in their supporting roles. The cast was exceptionally talented.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I really enjoyed this kdrama. The story, while fantastical, was superbly written and developed and while there may be small flaws, I was very impressed. Combined with a solid story, the cinematography, CGI, music and performances made this an especially good fantasy to watch.

I highly recommend anyone, who like me, is hesitant to give fantastical kdrama’s a watch, to take the time to see this one. I’ll be watching this again it’s that good. Of course, anyone interested in fusion sageuk, fantastical storylines based on historical figures, or just a fantasy genre fan will enjoy this production.

oh! … tidbits

An actor, Choi Sung-Won was cast to play the supporting character of Dong-Rae but was forced to drop out when he was diagnosed with leukaemia on May 4, 2016. His leukaemia was caught in the early stages and was treated. He returned to acting in 2016/ 2017.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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