‘The Red Sleeve’: A Tension Driven Historical Romance Between a Prince and a Court Lady

Historical Korean dramas often entail a high society male lead who falls in love with a lower-class woman. The Red Sleeve had captured audiences’ attention for its tantalizing, steamy, and complex romance between a prince and his court-lady, based on real-life history.

While the K-drama uses commonly used tropes, it takes romance back to simpler times with fans on the edge of their seats, hoping the characters give in to love amid turmoil in the palace.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains mild spoilers for The Red Sleeve.]

Characters Yi San and Deok-im from 'The Red Sleeve' wearing traditional Korean clothing.
Characters Yi San and Deok-im from ‘The Red Sleeve’ | via MBC

‘The Red Sleeve’ builds the main characters relationship since childhood

The K-drama begins with Yi San (Lee Junho) and Seong Deok-im (Lee Se-young) as children. It is an often-used storyline element to create the “destined fate” relationship between the two characters. Deok-im is a young court lady in training tasked with paying her respects to the late royal concubine. On the way, she gets lost and meets a young boy.

He helps her find her way into the palace, developing a friendship. Afterward, the young boy is actually the prince and is in possession of a forbidden book. Someone informs the King to dethrone the prince. Deok-im decides to steal the book, rip out the forbidden text to save him.

The Red Sleeve uses the trope to its advantage. It helps develop a pre-determined bond between the two that will set the story for the K-drama. Fans anxiously wait for the moment Deok-im, and Yi San recognize each other as adults, and their fate. Their love story is already fated.

Deok-im and Yi San build a tension-filled love story and inseparable bond

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Fans have loved the drama and tension between Yi San and Deok-im. They originally meet under the pretense of a lie. Deok-im is under the impression he is the prince’s highly-talked-about eunuch. She confides in him and treats him like any other, completely unaware he is the prince. Yi San starts to fall for her despite disregarding his royal status.

As The Red Sleeve progresses, their story becomes more complicated. It is clear that Yi San has feelings for her and is not afraid to make them clear. But for Deok-im, it isn’t easy. She promised herself to never become a royal concubine. Regardless, she becomes his closest ally and friend.

With each episode, their emotions for each other become more palpable. Fans will feel the heat rise when Deok-im accidentally falls into Yi San’s bath after being shocked by his impressive physique. But a misunderstanding between the two leads Yi San to become jealous as he misinterprets Deok-im’s relationship with another man.

‘The Red Sleeve’ interweaves palace turmoil in Deok-im and Yi San’s romance

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No historical K-drama romance is complete without some turmoil. The Red Sleeve uses palace politics to infiltrate Deok-im and Yi San’s relationship and class disparity. While Yi San cares for Deok-im, he promises never to love for the sake of his future throne. At the same time, the head court lady manipulates the palace in her favor and wants Deok-im to become the prince’s concubine to obtain control.

More characters play a role in their complex story as members of the royal family will do whatever it takes to destroy the prince. Fans of The Red Sleeve also comment on the drama’s usage of power between a royal prince and his lower-class court lady.

“The power disparity between San and Deok-im has always been an elephant in the room which needs to be properly addressed in order for us to root for a real romance between them. I’m looking forward to the ensuing angst and San learning the painful lesson that, no matter who you are, you can’t force someone else to love you,” said one fan on Reddit.

The Red Sleeve is available to stream on Viki.