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Series Review: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (SBS)

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I said last week I’d write about this drama, so here we go. Back when it finished (November of last year) my friend N and I were barely halfway through, if that. We knew a few spoilers, but not a lot and the only thing I remember is that people were kind of pissed about the ending and, in general, didn’t really enjoy the drama. Now that we’ve completed it, I totally disagree with their assessment. Not that they’re wrong, but I actually found little to complain about.

For reference: IU is a singer, Jisoo and Nam Joohyuk are two popular up and coming actors, Baekhyun is a member of the kpop group EXO, Seohyun is a member of SNSD/Girls Generation, and Lee Junki is a actor/singer who I love. There are others, but those are the more famous ones I might mention.

Spoilers ahead!

The premise of Moon Lovers is that IU’s character, Go Ha Jin, travels back in time to Goryeo era of Korea’s history. She falls into the body of a young woman (Hae Soo) and basically becomes her. The fate of the real Hae Soo is most likely death, though this is not really explained, but instead inferred.

Hae Soo is the cousin of the wife of one of the kingdom’s many princes (sons of the current king) and goes from being in her 20s to being 16. The beginning of the drama is made of a Hae Soo trying to figure out her new body and life in Goryeo. Everything, from court behavior to the writing is complete foreign to her. The one thing she remembers from her history text is that the person who takes over from the current king will kill all of his brothers. This knowledge and the fact that she’s not supposed to meddle in affairs of state, are the two things guiding her throughout the whole drama.

Of course, as you can expect, Hae Soo fails at meddling. It’s not as though she sets out to mess things up, but that’s how it happens. You see, Hae Soo inadvertently befriends most of the princes and several of them fall in love with her. This is one of the ways her presence disrupts history, but both N and I decided that it didn’t actually matter what she did, things were always going to turn into the bloodbath at the end of the drama.

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The Princes and Hae Soo
(L-R) Won, Eun (seated), Jung, Wook, Hae Soo, So (seated), Baekah, and Yo.

Hae Soo has several love interests throughout the drama: including Baekhyun’s prince (the youngest) Eun, Kang Hanuel’s princes, Wook, Junki’s So, and, the always adorable Jisoo’s Jung. Eun does find love, toward the end of the drama (and his character’s life). He is a cute character, often providing comedy, but toward the end Baekhyun’s acting comes through and you do care about Eun and his wife, Soonduk (she is amazing and kick ass and played by singer Z.Hera).

The main people, aside from the characters above, of importance to Hae Soo are the Crown Prince, Moo, and two of the brothers, Yo and Uk/Baekah (the latter played by Nam Joohyuk). It’s a lot of characters to keep track of — and that doesn’t even include Baekah’s love interest (played by Seohyun), the two queens, Wook’s (late) wife, and his sister. But that’s more detail that is needed in this review. Instead, if you do want to know, watch the drama.

Hae Soo is favored by the Crown Prince, who becomes king when his father dies. She discovers, by accident when he’s still the Crown Prince, that he has a medical condition. Under the training of Court Lady Oh, Hae Soo begins to work in the palace. This happens because she’d been living with Wook and his wife, who dies and though Wook and Hae Soo are in love, things don’t work out and she can’t stay with him so she moves to the court.

Much of the drama focuses on Hae Soo and her interactions with the princes and the people who surround them. As time passes Hae Soo changes from her 21st century self into a proper Goryeo court lady. Both N and I began to question whether she would go back to her former life at the end of the drama. As Hae Soo became more a Goryeo woman, her love changed, too. Wook’s sister didn’t like Hae Soo and along with two of the brothers Yo and Won, caused her lots of problems. When Wook should’ve stood up for Hae Soo, his sister threatened him and forced his hand, showing us his true feels.

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Lee Junki as Prince Wang So

It was Junki’s prince, So, who ended up standing up for her and, eventually, falling in love with her. Prince So was feared, both because he’s a ruthless killer and because he always wears a mask due to the scar on his face. His mother loathed him and she tried to kill him, failed, and left his face scarred. So, on the other hand, both loves his mother, even while he hates her and it’s not until he meets Hae Soo that he begins to understand friendship and love.

Of course, all of the romances in this drama are doomed. The king who becomes Gwangjong kills all of his brothers in order to attain the thrown and this is what Hae Soo fears. As the drama passes, she begins to think that So is going to be the next king and that he will kill his brothers. She tries, at different times, to prevent this from happening, but history as a way of working itself out and no matter how she tries, it fails.

But outside of the court intrigue and Goryeo politics is a love story. Where Hae Soo loved Wook, when he turned away from her, she too turned away from him. It was So who ended up putting the pieces of her heart together and this is the romance that spans the rest of the drama. Much of the criticism of this drama involved Junki and IU’s acting, but I found it to be very, very good. Their romance as believable, well-acted, and often quite emotional. Both N and I did a lot of crying as we proceeded through the episodes.

In the end, So does become king and most of his brothers die — though not complete by his hand. There’s much in this drama that I’m leaving out, but I do want to talk about the ending. Hae Soo learns she cannot marry the King (So) and he won’t let her leave the palace, even though she’s dying. The body she’s in has a weak heart and it’s slowly killing her. Eventually Jisoo’s prince, (and my favorite), Jung, comes to the rescue. He had always been in love with Hae Soo and had convinced his own brother (Yo) who was briefly king, to proclaim that he could marry Hae Soo. He presented this information to the So who, with a tenuous grasp on actually being King, had to enforce it. This, it turns out, was the only way Hae Soo could leave the palace.

Spoilers — seriously more spoilers.

Jung and Hae Soo leave and he cares for her as she struggles with child. It is, of course, the King’s daughter and Hae Soo does not live long after her child’s brith. But as she’s dying, she sends letter after letter to the King, who doesn’t open them as Jung had put them in envelopes and the King had dismissed them. When he does open them, it’s too late and Hae Soo has died. Everyone is miserable and we cried along with Jung and the King. Then, of course, we skip forward to the present day where Hae Soo, back in her body and known as Ha Jin, is living her life as normal. We learn that she’s been in a coma for a year and she doesn’t remember what happened to her.

She does remember, it’s so sad and heartbreaking and then the drama ends. There is no extra episode, no epilogue and we don’t know if they (So and Ha Jin) find their way to each other. That being said, the ending fit perfectly. Life is open ended, we don’t ever know what happens or what’s going to happen.

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Hae Soo and Wang So

I really liked this drama. IU’s acting was very good and her chemistry with all of the princes was incredible. There were some bad points and plot holes, but what drama doesn’t have them? Since this is a fantasy-historical fusion drama, it might not be for everyone. But definitely give it a try if it sounds interesting. Spoilers don’t really take away much from the drama, mostly because it is 20 episodes and there’s so much more that happened.

You can watch it on Dramafever.

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