Trust is the promise of a Prince …

It’s not because I like you. I just don’t want to see you live a life controlled by others. It’s really not worth living like that

Prince Wang So, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

Title
Moon Lovers:  Scarlet Heart Ryeo  (2016) 
Also known as
Dalui Yeonin – Bobogyungsim Ryeo 
Genre
Fantasy,  Fusion-Sageuk,  Historical,  Romance,   Sageuk,   Tragedy
Written by
Jo Yoon-young
Directed by
Country of Origin
South Korea
Episodes
20 + 2 specials

oh! … background

This kdrama premise is loosely based on a Chinese novel by Tong Hua, called Bu Bu Jing Xin, however, the narrative was written to reflect the Korean Goryeo Dynasty in the reign of King Taejo ( January 31 877 to July 4 943) and characters are based on other historical figures of the time.

King Taejo, also known as Taejo Wang Geon (Wang Kon) was the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty and ruled from 918 to 943. In 918, four illustrious generals met in secret to plot the overthrow of ruler Gung Ye and crown and crown Wang Geon as the new king. Initially, Wang Geon opposed the idea, but, later agreed. Gung Ye was overthrown and killed and Wang Geon was installed as King Taejo. He renamed the kingdom Goryeo and moved the capital to his hometown Gaeyeong.

King Taejo had at least 24 maybe 25 sons that are recorded in historical documentation. Many lived on as kings, crown princes, princes and even one as a great prince.

In short, King Taejo’s greatest achievement was united the Later Three Kingdoms (Goryeo, Silla and Baekje) under one rule in order to strength the kingdoms overall.  He united them by marrying daughters from royal families from those kingdoms.  He was known for having many wives (29 consorts) and even more children (34 kids, 25 of them male), whom he then married off to affluent families of various clans.

oh! … brief

A solar eclipse and a rescue in water cause a 21st-century woman, Go Ha-jin, to fall back in time. She emerges in one of the royal baths in the palace King Taejo during the Goryeo Dynasty in the year 941, in the body of Hae Soo, cousin to the wife of a royal Prince (8th Prince Wang Wook). Because she lives in Prince Wang-Wook’s court, she is exposed to the other royal princes, sons of King Taejo.  Rivalries and political instability are rife in the palace and Hae Soo is unwittingly caught up in it all and the fight for power between the princes.

oh! … talks drama

I’m a long-time fan of historical or period-style dramas, especially those based on actual historical figures or events, whether the narrative is strictly non-fiction or fictional. If the narrative isn’t too outlandish when going the fictional route, I’ll still happily watch. I guess this is mostly due to my fascination with history and thanks to a high school teacher, who inspired in me, a love for history.

My senses are still recovering from the assault of intense emotions I felt watching this production. What an exceptionally first-class kdrama this was! And, as near to perfection as a drama can be!

After watching the entire drama, you’ll appreciate the concept of both destiny and fate, thanks to the skilled writing of Jo Yoon-young, who wrote a precise and detailed script.

Loosely based on the time-travel premise of Tong Hua’s novel Bu Bu Jing Xin, Jo Yoon-young wrote a poignant tale of one woman’s dramatic odyssey into a very dangerous time in Korean history, where the sons of a king are all vying for a position of power. The story is so powerful and tragic, one can imagine that there is an authenticity to everything seen. Of course, that’s not the case, but I tip my hat to Jo Yoon-young for a masterful script.

Whether you believe that the combination of a solar eclipse and a water rescue can fling you back in time or not is completely irrelevant. You need to use a little imagination for the very first episode, but then the story seamlessly falls into place and very quickly you will become enthused with the developing story and characters.

Jo Yoon-young’s antediluvian romance is one with twists and turns and true to love, is filled with joy, sorrow and pain. If you’re looking or hoping for a story that has a happy ending, this is not the one!

The characters developed for this story are perhaps the most credible characters I’ve come across in any kdrama so far and as the story progresses they show their human traits with exquisite conviction. This leads me to believe Jo Yoon-young not only researched thoroughly, but, also had incredible insight when he cultivated each individual role in the overarching narrative. He used historical fact and adapted it to the overall premise to create a compelling, but literally painful story.

As much as I despise kdrama clichés, I understood why Jo Yoon-young used just about every single one in his script.

The spirited heroine, Hae Soo for this drama series is your typical kdrama heroine, she has a secret, or, two, or, three yet is optimistically navigating her way through life facing crippling adversity and pain or shame.

The damaged character is Prince Wang So, who starts off emotionless, arrogant and bitter but warms to Hae Soo who grows on him. He is by far the most appealing of the male leads and this is typical of kdrama. And if there ever was a loveable anti-hero Prince Wang So was written as the best of them.

The calculating mother, in this production, Empress Dowager Yoo who plots and is determined to see her favoured son, Prince Wang Yo in a seat of power to secure safety and security for herself and her extended family. Kdrama typically plays mother figures or older females in bad light – always scheming and plotting or fighting for their sons.

The true hero for this production, in my opinion anyway, was Prince Baek Ah, the typical kdrama hero, attractive, personable, most uncomplicated, deeply loyal to those he treasured Hae Soo and all his brothers, especially Prince Wang So. He also saves the leading lady in this production and tries several times to save the lives of those around him.

The antagonistic woman Princess Hwangbo Yeon-hwa is guilty of creating obstacles for Hae Soo and conspires and plots against Hae Soo, Princes Wang Wook and Wang So. She uses her charm in typical kdrama style to influence the men around her who are weak-willed. She is rigid and abusive, both with her mouth and her actions.

The bad guy in this production was definitively Prince Wang Yo, ambitious, remorseless, violent in mannerism and tone, determined, misogynistic and heavily invested in the political machinations of the palace and so typical for kdrama. But he was also joined by his brother Prince Wang Won who supported his endeavours and conspired against brother after brother.

The spoilt brat, in this case, spoilt brats, were Princess Hwangbo Yeon-hwa who manipulates her biological brother, mother and step-brothers to get her way and is sorely spoilt and tolerated by everyone. But, she was also joined by step-brother Prince Wang Yo who is spoilt by his mother. The two characters were petulant, self-entitled, hostile, jealous and competing for affection in true kdrama style, but, neither comes around to grudgingly accept their position which is not typical of kdrama.

The clowns for this production were two off the top of my head, Prince Wang Eun and Choi Ji-mong. Prince Wang Eun’s innocence and playful antics brought much needed comic relief in kdrama style. Choi Ji-mong was in a place of influence with the king, the crown prince, and the seven princes in general. He used humour to cover his tracks, but, was respected by all, anti-hero, heroine, hero and other protagonists.

The orphan in this piece was Chae-Ryung and it is a frequent cliché used in kdrama to play on the emotions of both the characters in the production, but also, in the audience.

Following the character clichés, there are also setup clichés and in this production this included

The love triangle between Hae Soo and Princes Wang Wook and Wang So was strategic in the ensuing battle for the king’s seat, but typical of kdrama where there is almost always one lover taking back seat to the lead actor or actress. In this case, it played out judiciously.

Extended or prolonged closeups were used extensively throughout the drama by pretty much every single character, main and supporting. Basically, character’s stare at another character, or glare at each other, or yearn for another character, typically accompanied by music and the staring, glaring or yearning for stops when the music clip ends.

A man grabbing a woman’s wrist for any number of reasons is so typical in kdrama it is mostly overused and carry unspoken meaning. Anything from “Don’t go”, “Stop” to “You’re mine” can be easily interpreted in context by the grabbing of a wrist. It’s typically a male grabbing a woman, but it can be a woman grabbing a man too, I guess.

The accidental kiss or almost kiss, you’ll find this here too because it’s so typical of kdrama. But, in Jo Yoon-young’s defence, they’re well played out and not too obnoxiously overdone.

The weather – raining, snow and the wind are all used to heighten attention to an event or create an idea or provoke emotions. Jo Yoon-young used them wisely, especially the sun and rain.

Nursing loved one back to health or tending to them which is so overused and typical of kdrama was effectively manipulated in this production and I anticipated more tender moments than we were given, but Jo Yoon-young created authentic moments filled with emotions and feeling.

The hugging, patting on the back or shoulder, and piggy-backing, all elements we regularly see in kdramas were used here, consistently. One or two felt awkward and like “what the hell? Did he just pat her shoulder sympathetically when he should have wrapped his arms around her and comforted her?”. But, for the most part, they were strategically deployed and conveyed the right sentiment.

Other smaller clichés were also used to depict other sentiments –  excessive drinking to dull the internal pain and frustration, the hidden secrets between characters, the lies told to avoid hurting each other, the sudden disappearances and unexplained abandonment, the kissing scenes with countless angles, the cliffhangers. You name it, this drama contained every single one!

As I have already written, Jo Yoon-young researched and wrote a solid script with attention paid to the smallest details and he developed his characters flawlessly. I cannot complain about the story, the narration, the backstories to each character and of course the characters themselves. It was perfect!

Jo Yoon-young could have strengthened some of his character development by expanding the storyline for both Hae Soo and Prince Wang So, giving them more scenes to expand on their romance. Time constraints may have seen some of these scenes hit the editors floor, but a refined execution of the production could have included more of the budding relationship. I wanted more exhilaration. But overall the script offered the audience plenty of time to understand the depth and breadth of the love between the two, I’m selfish, I was left wanting more because what was shared left a yearning in my soul for more time between these two characters.

As much as I disliked the character of Princess Hwangbo Yeon-Hwa, Jo Yoon-young didn’t need any justification for including her, the outcome of the storyline would have been significantly different in her absence. The same can be said of Park Soon-deok who’s presence and unwavering love for Prince Wang Eun was mesmerising. Or even, the character Prince Woon-hee who’s lovely but angst-filled presence brought joy momentarily to Prince Baek-Ah. These three women were crucial to the storyline and rounded out the lives of the princes, whether for the better or worse.

I liked that Jo Yoon-young didn’t write or place too much emphasis on Hae Soo’s time travelling and subsequent recovery in her new life. I feel if he had written a more detailed recount of her struggles or made this character suffer in her acceptance of her new situation it would have been too melodramatic and excessive. The fact that Hae Soo appears to easily slip into her new life is far more natural for the storyline than perhaps critics give credit.

The character that Jo Yoon-young could have expanded with more detail to give the audience a better understanding of the motivations behind her hatred was Empress Dowager Yoo. I understood that the very sight of Prince Wang So enraged her to the core, more because of her guilt, but also because of her failing as a mother to love and treasure all her children. It was unique to kdrama that Jo Yoon-young wrote a woman with such resolve that she never acknowledged her fault and wasn’t stirred by motherly instinct to love unconditionally. It was an honest reflection of reality – some women shouldn’t have children because they cannot be true mothers. It is easy to raise a child, but harder to mother one. This failing in this character was not brushed aside and remedied with passing time (as we would hope it would) and elevated Prince Wang So’s anguish. As breathtaking as it was heartless and tear-inducing.

One surprise in the script was the accusation, veiled at times but openly confrontational at other times, that all the offences ongoing in the palace could be traced back to Hae Soo. This assumption was thought-provoking. Certainly, the character of Hae Soo effected interesting plot twists and probably encouraged the men who loved her to make decisions that changed their personal history, but that was their decision and flawed thinking. It is sad that neither Prince Wang Wook nor Prince Wang So ever confessed their failings and faults in driving the craziness to the next level.

It was interesting to see the productions blatant Prince Charming (Prince Wang Wook) internalise his love-crazed angst and become this vengeful man who foolishly believed that power would give him freedom and the unique ability to secure love. I believed from the start that his falling for Hae Soo was a coping mechanism to deal with his dissatisfaction with a woman who he loved, but not as a lover, more as a companion or close friend. Hae Soo grabbed his attention and offered an out in an unhappy arranged marriage and to cope with the inevitable death of his wife.

Director Kim Kyu-tae took the sound script and astutely interpreted every detail to draw out the story and the characters with sound directing. The actors performed exceptionally well, all of them, under Kim Kyu-tae’s shrewd direction. And the cameras captured every element of every scene meticulously. This was a drama where there was little to fault, if anything, and an abundance to applaud.

The cinematography was outstanding for this production. Camera angles and lighting produced beauty and catastrophe in equal quantities which heightened emotions felt by the audience.

The use of the changing seasons to show the passage of time was calculated on Kim Kyu-tae’s part. Using the winter season to draw attention to the growing love between Hae Soo and Prince Wang Wook was uncanny – the stillness of winter, the quiet calm, the softness of snow, these very aspects perfectly depicting their love – serene, muted and composed. In contrast using spring and the bright sunlight to draw attention to the new love between Prince Wang So and Hae Soo was beguiling but had a dual effect in intensifying a love that would eventually burn out and burn those involved. Such insight! Kim Kyu-tae’s wisdom and mastery are tenacious.

But his skills didn’t end there, his direction of the wardrobe, hairstyling, and makeup reflected each individual character’s personality and rendered an already exceptionally beautiful cast beyond the reality of this world and into ethereal make believe. And while everything was stunning, I still feel that the quality of the outfits in the wardrobe could have been finer, given the budget this director had to ‘play’ with. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.

The choices for Prince Wang So, the almost entirely black wardrobe heightened his character’s struggle to earn his father’s respect and his mother’s love but perfectly depicted the ‘wolf-dog’ he had been forced to become to merely survive. And the masks were crafted to add allure and intrigue. Nicely done! His makeup, especially the kohl-rimmed eyes emphasised his pain and when his tears welled further stressed the despair and sorrow. It was harrowing to watch and brought me to tears many times.

In contrast, the King Taejo’s sons and other courtiers wore finery and jewellery befitting their stature and the colour was wisely chosen. The playful younger princes wore lighter colours – perhaps to illustrate their innocence? The older princes wore bolder colours, except for Prince Wang Wook whose outfits were muted tones, which perfectly matched his initial portrayal of a prince with little to no interest in the challenges or political machinations ongoing in the court.

The women wore finery and trinkets with flair and poise and were certainly painted as elegant courtiers of stature and eminence. The older women wearing the bolder, darker colours and the younger (Hae Soo and Princess Hwangbo Yeon-hwa) were lighter colours. It was all very pretty and appealing.

In comparison, the wardrobe of the gungnyeo was odd. The strange polka dotted outfits appeared out of place and not something typical of either the era or a court. Court Lady Oh’s attire was more appropriate and if they (director and costume director) were trying to put a distinction between rank or level within the court, they failed. The costumes for the maids looked appropriate, but they completely missed it with the gungnyeo. The eunuch’s attire was more typical. This is not an observation, this is my one if only criticism.

To complete the perfection for this kdrama, the musical score or accompanying soundtrack was and is undeniably magnificent. Featuring well-known artists like Punch, Lee Hi, soprano Im Sunhae, TaeyeonBaek A-yeon, three members of boy group EXOChen, BaekhyunXiumin, rapper Loco, hip-hop group Epik High, ballad trio SG Wannabe among other talented artists.  I have to admit as I’ve been writing I’ve been listening to Im Hunhae’s “Will Be Back” on repeat, but I also love Lee Hi’s “My Love”, but I cannot complain about a single track on the 2 CD soundtrack. I’ve added my Spotify playlist which is almost complete, if not entirely so.

Because of the amazing performances and the superb cast, the following review of various characters may well be the longest part of this review. I just can’t miss one of them that impressed me. Bear with me, it might just entice you to watch this series if you haven’t already. Please make allowances for the odd way I’m going to go about this, it might make sense when you see how it plays out, but it may be confusing to start with.

Character Hae Soo was played by Lee Ji-eun better known by her stage name IU. WOW! I was blown away by Lee Ji-eun’s performance as Hae Soo. Lee Ji-eun perfectly balanced the dual aspects of her character’s personality – a feisty tigress, unafraid by convention and ready to defend herself and those she loves; and the gentler, calmer object of affection to the princes, but romantic love to two. She used every trick of the trade to paint her character’s role in the overarching story – body language, demure looks, detailed facial expressions, wide-open eyes, coy smiles, serious frowns, and energetic displays of anger. I would watch this kdrama again just based on her performance, but there were many stellar performances. I fell in love Hae Soo and wanted a happy ending for her.

Character Choi Ji-mong, advisor and astronomer to King Taejo was played by Kim Sung-kyun. A relative newcomer to the industry Kim Sung-kyun is fast becoming a skilled actor. I thoroughly enjoyed his playful, yet serious interpretation of his character. He painted the friendly confidant to the princes and the sage advisor and astronomer to the King. You could see Kim Sung-kyun enjoyed this role, it was written all over his face. And he delivered a solid performance. He was adept at delivery appropriate emotions and personality in his scenes. And yes, he was also funny! And his jovial smile, just adorable!

Character Chae-Ryung was played by Jin Ki-Joo and while a minor role, Jin Ki-Joo convinced me of her affection for her ‘boss and his wife’ alongside Hae Soo. Painting a simple and easy-go-lucky court servant she smiled mostly and was friendly and cheerful.

Character Madame Hae played by Park Shi-Eun was by far my favourite of the older women characters. Park Shi-Eun gave a strong if short, performance and I was drawn into her character’s anguish at her slow and painful descent into ill health. Park Shi-Eun’s performance will be most memorable for the desperation she displayed in trying to get her husband’s attention turned in the right direction. Her growing frustration was mingled with a deep sadness that Park Shi-Eun emoted precisely and appropriately. I cried in her final moments, in fact, I’ve shed another tear just writing about this.

The character Prince Wang Wook played by Kang Ha-neul was the character I felt deeply sad for, not because of the way the story plays out, but, because he wrote his own fate over and again with each decision he made or was forced to take. Kang Ha-neul had me hooked from the beginning and I fell in love with his depiction and interpretation of his character’s gentle nature. His performance was understated to start but became more forceful as the narrative progressed.  As a man falling in love, Kang Ha-neul convinced me of his character’s gentle, tender, and caring person. It was simultaneously charming and seductive. What woman wouldn’t fall for this character? Later, his more aggressive demeanour was still hidden within Kang Ha-neul’s understated performance, but, there was more determination in his delivery and more angst. What a sad story and to be riddled with so much guilt but driven to near insanity by jealousy and anguish over his earlier decisions. Kang Ha-neul was perfection in this role. He is such a skilled actor and I expect great things from him in the future.

Character Princess Hwangbo Yeon-hwa played by Kang Han-na was Prince Wang Wook’s sister and a manipulative and power-hungry bitch. There’s no other way of putting it. Kang Han-na’s performance was concurrently strong and weak. Of all the characters, I felt her performance was forced and inconsistent. Don’t get me wrong, she was good most of the time, using body language and facial expressions to convey her character’s frustration and anger (perhaps because she was born a princess and had to rely on her male siblings to move her into a position of power?) but I found her performance stiff. If I didn’t understand the kdrama clichés she was taking on, I might have wondered why she performed the way she did. Fortunately, I’ve watched enough kdrama to know and understand her overarching role. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but now that I’ve researched her a little more, I understand she is a newcomer and has yet to grow in her industry. It’s sad that she didn’t pull her weight!

The young princes, Wang Eun and Baek Ah played by Baekhyun and Nam Joo-hyuk were captivating. Baekhyun’s portrayal of a wonderfully playful and charismatic young prince was charming to watch. His character’s cute smiles and boyish charm were delivered honestly and had me smitten. Nam Joo-huyk as Prince Baek Ah was enthralling to watch. Prince Baek Ah came to life under the skilled performance by Nam Joo-huyk who used every ounce of emotion and tone possible to paint a realistic depiction. These two young men, Baekhyun and Nam Joo-hyuk were fast front runners for me, not because of their captivating performances but because their characters’ playfulness is so like that of my own son.

Conniving plotters Prince Wang Yo and Wang Won were played by Hong Jong Hyun and Yoon Sun-woo respectively. Hong Jong Hyun inhabited his character, Prince Wang Yo, with a subtle and nuanced performance. I couldn’t understand why he was so angry and even with his mother’s manipulation, I didn’t know what drove him to become so hateful. Hong Jong Hyun perfectly mimicked a hostile and creepily cabalistic young man with his consistent tone of voice, sarcasm, and deep-seated anger portrayed in ever-watchful observation. His face! I’ve rarely seen so much hatred and enmity just in the face, but his hawkish stomping around just added to the seamless delivery of his character’s evil scheming. It was borderline scary. And he has the support of Yoon Sun-woo’s character. Where Hong Jong Hyun succeeds in a raw performance, Yoon Sun-woo failed. I found this character the most puzzling, why would he back such a sore loser and one who is obviously going to fail? And not once, but twice! Yoon Sun-woo’s performance was weaker than I hoped, but not distracting. His performance was brittle at best and I don’t even want to divulge what I thought of at worst. Distracting? Somewhat. But his role was important, no matter how minor and the director should have paid it more attention.

Crown Prince Wang Moo was played by Kim San-Ho and while this was not my favourite depiction of a Crown Prince, I found Kim San-Ho loveable. Kim San-Ho’s interpretation of the Crown Prince was realistic. Not everybody is born to be a Crown Prince and lead a nation. The delivery of the gentle disposition and nature of this character was faultless. I would have liked to see more expressive delivery, but understated is good, only when an understated performance is not overshadowed by other understated performances.

Character Prince Wang Jung played by Ji Soo was outstanding. I was worried initially as this character seemed to be ‘lost’, not the performance, the storytelling. Ji Soo won my heart with his strong performance and his unflappable delivery of a man, brother, friend and love caught in the middle of so much strife. Stability is the one word I think of when I think of his character’s role in the overarching story. The character is like the roots of a tree. He holds onto the sanity and struggles for a long time between the infighting and not wanting to take sides. But, inevitably he does. Fortunately for Hae Soo, he chooses her side. Ji Soo was undeniably amazing!

Of course, of all the main characters I’ve left the best for last. Prince Wang So and later King Gwangjong was played by the amazing and talented Lee Joon-gi. I’m infatuated with this young man’s acting skills. He is hands-down breathtaking with each performance he brings. I was once again absorbed with his interpretation of Prince Wang So.

Prince Wang So and later King Gwangjong was played by the amazing and talented Lee Joon-gi. I’m infatuated with this young man’s acting skills. He is hands-down breathtaking with each performance he brings. I was once again absorbed with his interpretation of Prince Wang So.

Every aspect of his performance was flawless and he embodied this character as if it has specifically been written just for him. To start, he comes off emotionless but beneath the surface of this impassive façade, lurks a very bitter and damaged man. Lee Joon-gi’s smirks, angry-eyed glares, waspish attitude, haughty walk and creased brow is only heightened and emphasised by the dramatic hair, the stark wardrobe and when you get to see it, the ruinous scar on his face. These factors all combine to paint an honest and frightening man who cares little for anyone or anything, just survival.

As Lee Joon-gi’s character and the story develop, we’re given more insight into his backstory and we’re subjected to the start of the intense emotions that will follow. Lee Joon-gi’s kohl-lined eyes become tear-rimmed and his yearning for love becomes more apparent. He even slips a sly smile or two into his once emotionless face. Lee Joon-gi allows us to witness his character’s vulnerability slowly surfacing like bubbles of air rising to the surface of a shallow pool. Once the impassive façade starts to crumble we get a glimmer of the complexity of this character and the suffering he has faced, alone. Almost sacrificed by his godawful mother (she doesn’t deserve that title) and abandoned by his short-sighted father ( the king who only cares for his crown), Prince Wang So desperately wants love, acceptance and a soft place to fall. And even as he struggles to avoid it, he falls for the only woman who will give him exactly what he wants. But to secure that which his heart, mind, soul and body desire, he must sacrifice much.

Lee Joon-gi’s performance sets the tone and standard by which all the other actors and actresses must step up to and almost every single one of them does. He nailed every single scene he was included in. So masterful is Lee joon-gi, that in one scene he transitions from confusion to mortification, to hurt and finally outrage all in less than a minute. This was as provoking as it was tragic for the audience to witness, but speaks to the mastery of this young man’s talent.

With so much talent and experience to draw from, Lee Joon-gi’s ability to champion raw emotion through subtle, yet perceptive alterations to facial expression, in particular, his eyes, is to be applauded at length. My heart was broken several times watching his intense portrayal of Prince Wang So and later, King Gwangjong. I ugly cried at times, stopped the episode and had a good bawl, then continued knowing full well I’d be stopping again and again. Lee Joon-gi’s painting of his character’s absolute despair, his desperation, his everlasting sadness and his unfaltering need to make Hae Soo ‘his person’ and wife was gut-wrenching, devastatingly beautiful and melancholic.

One aspect I can’t overlook is Lee Joon-gi’s fighting skills. He’s in a handful of scenes with swordplay and the like and he was proficient enough to handle himself, which also speaks to the choreography and the talent of the choreographer (unknown).

In fact, Lee Joon-gi outshines every other performance with Lee Ji-eun’s and Kang Ha-neul coming closest to matching or mirroring his skill. These three were strong together and apart.

If you watch this for no other reason than to fawn over Lee Joon-gi’s performance then you won’t go wrong, but try, if you can, to appreciate all the other skilled actors and actresses that made this a kdrama unlike any other out there that I’ve seen so far.

oh! … sidekicks

As is usual with my review, I like to pay homage to the talented performances by supporting cast members, and I’ve already written so much about the main. Sorry! But here goes anyway …

Vile mother to three princes including Prince Wang So, Empress Dowager, King Taejo’s third queen was played by Park Ji-young. She delivered such an impressive performance that I couldn’t stop myself from hating every breath she took. Park Ji-young breathed hateful life into every fibre of her character’s being. Her face, said it all, she didn’t need to speak a single line, you still would have understood every loathsome stare. The way Park Ji-young snarled her lips and the disdain in her tone of voice was frighteningly realistic. The only affection ever bestowed on anyone is her own spoilt son Prince Wang Yo and the woman who is determined to become queen.

The character Princess, Woo-Hee and last Princess of Later Baekje were played by Seohyun. It was a great performance, especially the actual gisaeng dance. This is where the audience witnessed this character’s hatred for the king.

The character, Park Soon-deok daughter to an esteemed and beloved general and eventual wife of Prince Wang Eun, was played by Z.Hera. I loved the interpretation of this character’s personality and the feisty manner in which she pursues her heart’s only desire – to marry and love the youngest prince. Z.Hera was charming in this role.

Court Lady Oh, abandoned by King Taejo numerous times was played by Woo Hee-jin. Watch her performance to see why I included her here. Woo Hee-jin was notable in this role and her heartbreaking performance towards the end of her life will have you in tears!

And finally, because I am growing tired at 3 am in the morning, General Park Soo-kyung was played by Sung Dong-il. Man! Those teeth! Watch for it! Sung Dong-il’s performance was strong in this minor role. He emotes well and carried himself like the renowned general he was. I wish the character had been further developed, to allow for more opportunity to see Sung Dong-il’s skill in action.

oh! … that’s a wrap

Warning: you will need a lot of Kleenex to cope with this kdrama. So many tears will fall. There is no happy story to be found, and even the tender moments are consistently tinged by the sombre reality of life. Freud with his flawed psychoanalysis would have had his hands filled with the tormented character’s and their complex relationships – Prince Wang Wook, King Taejo, Prince Wang Yo, Empress Dowager Yoo, Hae Soo and of course, Prince Wang So.

The script is agathokakological and cannot escape the fate each character is predestined to fulfil – no matter how hard you struggle or how determined your will becomes, what is destined to happen is going to happen. You might make minor changes here and there that alter the course, but the end goal is predetermined and the journey will still come to the same conclusion. Life-altering moments come by and offer the opportunity to change both fate and destiny, but if you live life selfishly or unforgivingly then you miss the chance to change the evil to good, or the bad to better.

It will not be easy for the South Korean drama industry to top this production. This is as close to perfection as they can get. Jo Yoon-young’s foundation (script) was structured to provide the best framework for Kim Kyu-tae’s directing and comprehensive manual from which the cast members could draw strength and precision for their performances. The words already used to describe this masterpiece seem inadequate and gratuitous and as a writer, I typically don’t struggle to find the words to express my sentiments. Admittedly, I watched this during an emotionally elevated period of time, but I believe when I watch it again, I’ll come to the same conclusion – this kdrama is heartbreakingly exquisite, invoking intense awareness and an elevated consciousness.

While the South Korean drama industry is driven to deliver entertainment, I don’t think they pre-design their productions to foster more than simple pleasure. Would they be surprised to know that someone like me takes away so much more from a piece like this than they plan? My appreciation for South Korean culture and history continues to grow. I find myself becoming more entranced and thirsty for more – more knowledge, more experience, more history, more understanding.

I recommend this kdrama, in fact, I push it to my favourites and if you don’t watch this then you’re just plain silly! I will return to this drama for years to come. It isn’t an easy watch because of the elevated intensity, but as much as I love and have repeatedly watched The Walking Dead, I know I’ll do the same with Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo.

oh! … tidbits

This production has a US$13 million budget but is called a commercial failure having only secured a single-digit audience rating. In addition, it was widely criticised for the script, direction and performances. God knows why, because I will continue to rave and recommend this as a first-class series worthy of watching.

Locations for filming included the palace scenes shot at Baekje Cultural Complex, Gangwon Province, Lake Cheonjuho in Pocheon, the Ondal Tourist Park in DanyangNorth Chungcheong, and the Nampyeong Moon clan residence in Daegu was also used for background and scenery.

I don’t know enough about Korean history to know whether a king could marry a scarred woman or not, but I do understand that people with visible scars were ostracised and treated as outcasts.

I researched a lot to see if I could find information on whether Prince Wang So was indeed facially scarred, but could find no record. Perhaps Jo Yoon-young used this scarring of both the Prince and Hae Soo for some greater purpose than just to prevent a marriage between the two, but I suspect there was some significance that I missed – perhaps culturally significant?

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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