*spoiler warning, contains ending of Lee Junho and Lee Se Young’s “The Red Sleeve”*
Lee Junho and Lee Se Young portrayed Crown Prince Yi San (turned King Jeongjo) and Sung Deok Im (turned Royal Noble Consort Ui) in the historical Korean series “The Red Sleeve.” In the drama, it can be unclear whether the two had a happy ending or not.
In the last episode, Sung Deok Im died at a young age. The next scenes followed the life of Yi San after Deok Im’s passing, until his own passing years after. However, the final scene may seem to show that it was all Yi San’s dream. He woke up in a past memory, and thought: “If this is a past memory, it’s fine. If this is a dream, it’s fine. It does not matter if I’m dead. I will always choose this moment with you, and hope this moment to not change.”
So, did Sung Deok Im and Yi San die? Or was it all a dream?
This can be interpreted in various ways. One is how their love story ended in actual history. Sung Deok Im, who was then already Royal Noble Consort Ui, passed away in 1786 with her unborn child. This was the year her child, Crown Prince Munhyo, died. In the series, before the dream sequence, Deok Im also passed away the year her child did. Yi San, who was then King Jeongjo, then passed away in the year 1800 at the age of 47. In the series, Yi San was also almost turning 50 years old when he died in his sleep.
Hence, this could have been the original ending of the drama. However, as the drama gained hype, high ratings, and love from lots of viewers, they could have added the dream sequence to somewhat create a “happy ending”. By adding a plot twist, where everything resets to a time when they were both happy. As Yi San said, it could have been a flashback, a dream, or he could have already really died and is just seeing a memory of them together before crossing over to after life. Still, it could also be that—although history won’t change—what’s supposed to happen has not yet happened, and the two still have time to fully show their feelings for each other. If not that, if the dream sequence was part of the original plan, then they probably just added a few more scenes and flashbacks to complete a full episode.
Either way, the added episode gave the series a happy yet bittersweet ending. It basically says that it’s not end; they either still have time left or just show that their memories together felt like an eternity for Yi San. Though it seems more like a gift to viewers who loved the drama but are not prepared for another historical drama heartbreak.
What do you think of the ending? What are your interpretations?