Drama

Comparing Secret Royal Inspector with Secret Royal Inspector & Joy

This article contains spoilers for the first few episodes of both shows.

Secret Royal Inspectors are not a concept unfamiliar to historical K-Dramas. An undercover position during the Joseon Dynasty, these inspectors can often be found as side characters or brief mentions in many shows. However, 2021 offered not one, but two shows dedicated entirely to Secret Royal Inspectors: Secret Royal Inspector which aired from December 21, 2020 to February 9, 2021, and Secret Royal Inspector & Joy which aired from November 8, 2021 to December 28, 2021. 

With similar titles, basic premises, and revolving around the same concept, it’s natural to wonder about what these shows may have in common, and what they may not. With both the year and Secret Royal Inspector & Joy coming to an end, now is the perfect time to take a look back on these two shows and what they have to offer.

This article has some spoilers for the first few episodes of both shows (like character motivations, or some plot events), but it is meant to be one you can read without watching both shows. It will not talk about endings, or plot twists/events that occur later in the shows!

Just a couple quick notes before I get into the main content of this article:

  1.  This is not meant to say that one show is better than the other, or to imply that one show copied the other, it is simply a comparison of the two. 
  2. When I abbreviate the shows, Secret Royal Inspector will be referred to as “SRI” while Secret Royal Inspector & Joy will be referred to as “RIJ” for the sake of clarity.
  3.  When it comes to the tables, SRI will be color-coded light purple, while RIJ will be light blue.
  4.  Although I watched SRI when it aired, in order to make the best comparison, I rewatched the entirety of SRI right before watching all of RIJ and took notes on both.

Plot

Secret Royal Inspector

SRI follows Sung Yi Gyum, a government official who becomes a Secret Royal Inspector after being caught gambling. He is joined by Hong Da In, a female police officer, and Park Chun Sam, his servant. Together, the three of them set out to combat the corrupt happenings in the country.
This show consists of different journeys or mini-arcs, wherein the trio faces multiple villains in multiple locations, not just one. These mini-arcs coincide with an overarching mystery regarding the death of a Prince 10 years prior.
Sung Yi Gyum also faces his own issues, as the Assembly officials want to end the position of Secret Royal Inspector. He is constantly watched by others, and there are many who seek to undermine or completely ruin him.

Genre-wise, SRI is categorized as:

  • Historical, Mystery, Comedy, Romance
RIJ follows titular characters Ra Yi Eon and Kim Jo Yi. Ra Yi Eon is a government official who is forced into the position of Secret Royal Inspector following his name being drawn. On a mission to survey his given province, he comes across Kim Jo Yi, a commoner who seeks to be divorced from her husband.
Together, the two of them, alongside their friends, are soon thrust into a fight against the corrupt officials of the country. Tied in with this is the mysterious death of the Crown Prince, a man who was a brother figure to Yi Eon. This is the primary arc of the show and encapsulates the whole of it. The villains remain the same throughout, connecting all of Yi Eon’s adventures.
Genre-wise, RIJ is categorized as:
  • Historical, Mystery, Comedy, Romance

Secret Royal Inspector & Joy

Notable Similarities:

  • The shows both fall under the same genres.
  • Both are kick-started by the death of the previous Secret Royal Inspector.
  • The shows both contain an overarching plot relating to the questionable death of a prince.
Notable Differences:
  • SRI contains several mini-arcs of Yi Gyum’s different journeys as the Secret Royal Inspector. RIJ is more of one long arc.
  • SRI focuses more heavily on the role of the Secret Royal Inspector, especially the undercover aspect.
  • RIJ leans more into the romance genre than SRI.
  • SRI is centered around its three main characters, RIJ has more of an ensemble of characters that all play important parts.

Characters

Male Lead

SRI – Sung Yi Gyum
 (Played by Kim Myung Soo)

Sung Yi Gyum starts out the drama as an Assistant Advisor of the Office of Special Advisors. He received this position following placing first in the state exam, but he is unmotivated and spends his days gambling. It is implied that he became ‘lazy’ after the disappearance of his lover, along with his half-brother.

Following being caught gambling, Sung Yi Gyum becomes a Secret Royal Inspector. This is a position he quickly embraces, immediately using the position to fight corruption and speak up for the commoners.

Yi Gyum is prideful, and morally just. He cannot stand to see high-ranking officials abuse their power, and dreams of a world where all are equal.

RIJ – Ra Yi Eon
(Played by Ok Taec Yeon)

Ra Yi Eon is a government worker in the Office of Special Advisors. He obtained this position after placing first in the state exam, with the intention of taking the job to be closer to the Crown Prince and avoiding marriage. However, following the Crown Prince’s death, Ra Yi Eon has become unambitious, and neglects his duties. 

He is selected to become a Secret Royal Inspector in a draw of all officials. He is hesitant and wants to use the position as an opportunity to travel for food, nothing more. 

Yi Eon is intelligent and a brilliant chef. He is driven by the death of the Crown Prince, but his lifelong dream is to open a dumpling shop. 

Notable Similarities:

  • Both work in the Office of Special Advisors following placing first in the state exam.
  • Both are initially shown to be neglectful and uncaring of their positions.
  • Both have become unmotivated following an occurrence in their past.

Notable Differences:

  • Yi Gyum is motivated more by a general disdain for corruption. Although Yi Eon is also disillusioned with the country, he is driven more by a need for the justice of his friend.
  • Yi Gyum is quicker to embrace his position as a Secret Royal Inspector.
  • Yi Eon has the character quirk of being an excellent chef.

Female Lead

SRI – Hong Da In
(Played by Kwon Na Ra)

Introduced to the audience as a courtesan, Hong Da In is actually a female investigator who answers to the Chief Royal Secretary. While Da In and Yi Gyum meet prior to teaming up, she joins his entourage under orders by the Chief Royal Secretary. 

Originally from a noble family, Da In wishes to right the wrongs of her parents’ deaths. This is her primary motivation, and the driving reason behind her helping Yi Gyum.

Da In is strong-willed and witty, and has no qualms in speaking her mind or speaking up against those in power.

RIJ – Kim Jo Yi
(Played by Kim Hye Yoon)
Kim Jo Yi is a commoner who wishes to be divorced from her husband in order to be free of both him and his overbearing mother. She teams up with Yi Eon after he grants her divorce and the two cross paths again.
Jo Yi is strong-willed and cheerful. From seeking a divorce to altering her skirt into pants, Jo Yi constantly challenges the gender norms and speaks up against the expectations placed on women.
An excellent seamstress, her dream is to be free of marriage and live in Hanyang selling her skills.
Notable Similarities:

  • Both are unconventional women for their time, and rebel against the expectations place upon them.
  • Despite their standings in life, both are not afraid to speak up for what they believe in.

Notable Differences:

  • Da In is a noble, Jo Yi is a commoner.
  • Jo Yi is far more outspoken on the treatment of women in the country.
  • Da In has more of a personal tie/reason to helping the Male Lead.
  • Jo Yi joins the Secret Royal Inspector out of free will, while Da In is initially assigned to the job.

The Crew

SRI – Park Chun Sam
(Played by Lee Yi Kyung)

Chun Sam is Yi Gyum’s only servant, being the only one who looks after the house and other affairs. Yi Gyum and Chun Sam treat each other more like friends instead of master and servant, and Chun Sam accompanies Yi Gyum on his journeys.

Serving as a comedic character, Chun Sam is talkative, humorous, and a tad bit cowardly. His greatest wish is to be more than a servant. He, too, cannot stand injustice and helps whenever he can. 

He is SRI’s secondary male lead.

RIJ – Yook Chil and Goo Pal
(Played by Min Jin Woong and Park Kang Sub)

Yook Chil and Goo Pal are Yi Eon’s servants. They help him stay on top of things (like being on time to work) and encourage him in his cooking pursuits. Although servants, Yi Eon and the two treat each other more like friends, and the duo often ignores, misbehaves, or makes fun of Yi Eon.

Humorous and hardworking, the two have a close bond with each other and with Yi Eon. They accompany him on his journey, albeit slightly unwilling.

Bi Ryung (left) and Ra Kwang Soon (right)

RIJ – Bi Ryung and Ra Kwang Soon
(Played by Chae Won Bin and Lee Sang Hee)

Bi Ryung is a shaman and a former bandit, while Kwang Soon is a responsible woman who has a big heart. The two knew each other prior to knowing the Jo Yi and the others, but they click very easily with Jo Yi, and the three soon become inseparable friends.

They both have their own reasons for joining the crew, and also help along the way. Although quite different in personality from Yook Chil and Goo Pal, it can be said that these two are their counterparts.

Notable Similarities:

  • SRI and RIJ both have servant characters to the Male Lead.
  • Both servant characters are humorous and treat the Male Lead more like a friend than their master.

Notable Differences:

  • Park Chun Sam is the second male lead of SRI, meaning he has more of a prominent role than the four from RIJ.
  • Park Chun Sam has more defined goals, and a clearer sense of justice.
  • RIJ has the addition of friends for the female lead, while SRI has none.

The Villain(s)

SRI – Kim Byung Geun
(Played by Son Byung Ho)

The Chief State Councilor, Kim Byung Geun is a scheming man, especially when it comes to manipulating the royal court. 

Although his motivations are initially unclear, it is obvious that he has a problem with Secret Royal Inspectors, as he constantly tries to do away with the position. He is prone to slandering Yi Gyum, but it seems like there is something deeper and more sinister to him. 

He is a primary antagonist in the show.

RIJ – Park Tae Seo
(Played by Lee Jae Kyoon)

While there are several series long villains, Park Tae Seo is perhaps the most prominent of them, particularly at the beginning of the show. 

Tae Seo is the illegitimate child of Park Seung, and constantly lives in the shadow of his legitimate half-brother. He is a vicious man who holds a lofty goal of killing the King and ruling Joseon. 

Yet it is clear he is also emotionally wounded, and constantly seeks his father’s approval, even if it means enduring neglect and abuse. In this way, although he is a villain in RIJ, he is also a fairly sympathetic character. 

RIJ – Park Do Soo
(Played by Choi Tae Hwan)
The legitimate son of Park Seung, Park Do Soo, is even more vicious than his half-brother. He is spoiled rotten, and much like his father, seems to possess no morals at all.
He is also an eerily cheerful man, and always seems to be smiling despite his actions or the situation he’s in. Do Soo does not view or treat Tae Seo like his brother.
RIJ – Park Seung
(Played by Jeong Bo Seok)

Father to both Park Tae Seo and Park Do Soo, Park Seung holds the position of Chief State Councilor. He is an unkind man, and has no qualms in killing, lying, and manipulating to get his way.

He adores his son Do Soo, all the while abhorring his son Tae Seo. From the start of the show, it is clear he is the ‘Big Bad’ of the series.

Notable Similarities:

  • Both shows have the Chief State Councilor as the central villain.
  • Both shows have father-son(s) duos that try to thwart the main characters.

Notable Differences:

  • SRI has more individual villains that come and go, depending on the mission Yi Gyum is on.
  • RIJ has more consistent villains that persist throughout the entire show.
  • SRI’s villains are all corrupt, unsympathetic, and similar.
  • RIJ has a wide cast of villains, both in personality and actions.

Final Notes

These two shows definitely start out from a very similar place: the previous Secret Royal Inspector is killed, and the Male Lead is forced into the position one way or another, when he would much rather spend his days neglecting his duties in the Office of Special Advisors. Joined by a talkative servant (or two), and a strong-minded Female Lead, the Male Lead sets out to combat corruption in the country.

Yet from this point, passed the first two episodes or so, the shows quickly diverge into different paths. Secret Royal Inspector focuses far more on the ‘Secret Royal Inspector’ aspect. The core trio goes on several missions/mini-arcs, all complete with their own villains and characters. While there are some recurring characters and overarching plots/villains, the show can easily be broken into different parts.

Royal Inspector & Joy on the other hand focuses less on the job of Secret Royal Inspector, leaning more into the historical, and romance genres. It has one fluid arc, and boasts a large cast, most of which are constant throughout the entire show. Unlike SRI which revolves around a main trio, RIJ has many important characters, both protagonist and antagonist alike.

As such, although the shows certainly have similarities, they also have a lot of differences to make up for it. It was enough that, personally, watching the shows back-to-back did not feel monotonous or boring. If you’ve watched one of them but not the other, rest assured that you won’t be experiencing the same show twice. If you’ve watched both shows, do you agree? Was there one you preferred over the other? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

If you like the investigative genre and want to see corrupt figures get what they deserve, or are more curious about Secret Royal Inspectors, Secret Royal Inspector is the show for you. But if you’re looking for a quirky historical romance show with an ensemble style cast, Secret Royal Inspector & Joy is the show for you.


Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images present in this article. All images belong to their original owners, and have been sourced through Google.

Edited by: Tine (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)
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