08 April 2021

K Drama Review: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016) 4.3 || 4

We've been avoiding period dramas. We felt like we might not really like them. But there's always a first time for everything. And if it involves IU, then you can definitely count Oppa in. So here's a review of our very first period drama. And now that we've overcome this fear, I believe we'd be more willing to watch similar shows this time. 


Moon Lovers tells the story of Go Ha Jin (IU) who suddenly travels back in time to the year 941 during the Goryeo Dynasty as Hae Soo. This happens after she falls off to a body of water to save a drowning child. Hae Soo finds herself among princes (sons of the founding father/reigning emperor). She grows close to most of the princes and even falls in love with some of them. The show takes us through how Hae Soo gets sucked into the complicated life of the royal family and her struggle to break free from it. 

I won't be talking about everything and everyone because there were just too many characters. I'll just focus on those that made an impact on me and those that didn't really work for me.

IU/Lee Ji Eun as Ha Jin/Hae Soo

This is our fifth IU drama after watching her in My Mister, The Producers, Dream High, and Hotel del Luna. And after seeing her in all these dramas, IU does not really need to prove anything, acting-wise. We already know that she can do anything really well. And this show was no different. 

IU once again showcased her wide range in this drama - she was effective as a cute and funny but equally brave and feisty girl. I loved how she managed to have deep and personal relationships with most of the princes even if there were a lot of them. She was like a glue that kept them together at the start.  I loved their happy times. And how they all tried to protect her when the emperor wanted to marry her. Unfortunately, she also ended up like a hurricane that brought them apart. And despite their pronouncements that she was like a sister to them, their fear of antagonizing the emperor prevailed so they didn't really do much for her when she needed them the most. 

My most favorite drama scene for IU in this show was when her boss, Lady Oh (Woo Hee Jin), offered to die in Hae Soo's place. I felt Hae Soo's pain, guilt, anger, and helplessness. I loved Hae Soo's relationship with Lady Oh - how they were alike and they were like mother and daughter to each other. When the emperor agreed to have Lady Oh, the greatest love of his life, killed, I just knew this show was going to have a very weird sense of justice. 

Although Hae Soo had her happy moments, she actually lived a very sad life. She endured a lot only to end up with nothing. She swallowed her pride by allowing the love of her life, Wang So/King Gwangjong (Lee Joon Gi who had a cameo in She Was Pretty), marry someone else (Kang Ha Na, as Princess Yeon Hwa, who is on Oppa's list and whom we saw in Record of Youth and Start-Up and who gave another splendid performance here as a villain). Yet, Hae Soo still had to give up/lose Wang So. It was a very, very tragic ending for her to die without Gwangjong even reading her letters. 

So, yes, this was another wonderful performance from IU. But what set Hae Soo apart from her other roles was that IU's skin seemed to be really bright and glowing here. I just loved looking at her flawless face everytime it was flashed on screen. 

Oppa loves IU so much that he's leveling up - he now wants to watch a 50-episode IU drama. Let's see if his love for IU would triumph over his short attention span. :D

Lee Joon Gi as Prince Wang So/King Gwangjong

This is my first Lee Joon Gi drama and I loved what I saw. I think he has what it takes to be on my Oppa List. :D I liked how he portrayed the character of a tough guy who was actually yearning for love and affirmation deep inside. He handled both really well. 

Ever since he appeared on screen, I already knew that Wang So's love for Hae Soo would be the bolder and more passionate one. I loved the way he looked at her with a romantic mix of passion and gentleness. 

I loved Wang So's moments with Hae Soo. My favorite would have to be when he used his cape to shield her from the rain when she was pleading for Lady Oh's life. Or how he looked for Hae Soo after he returned from his mission and he wanted to marry her regardless of her status and even if it meant losing his chance to be emperor. 

But since this is a drama, every good thing must come to an end. Although he initially seemed like someone who would be unaffected by power, he proved no different from the others too. I wouldn't call it being intoxicated by power. More like, he was a victim of circumstances and most of the time, he just couldn't do anything about it. It was always a battle between his own happiness and the greater good. 

Although having said that, I still disagree with some of the stuff Gwangjong did. He exhibited his abusive/manipulative tendencies when he kissed Hae Soo by force in one of the earlier episodes. Hae Soo was obviously scared yet he still did it. 

And I didn't like how he was turning into a vengeful king. Yes, he probably wanted to protect Hae Soo that's why he had Chae Ryung (Jin Ki Joo) killed for spying on her. But Chae Ryung was obviously a victim herself who was used by the princes. Why punish the small fish and leave the big ones unpunished? There was definitely nothing just about that.  

I also disagreed with how he punished his blood brother, Jung (Ji Soo, part of my Oppa List and whom I saw on Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Angry Mom) with exile all because he wanted to have their mom (Park Ji Young as Queen Yoo) to himself. I get it that his wounds were probably too deep and irreparable. But could he not maturely recognize that Jung was separate from their mom? That Jung obviously did not agree with their mother's evil plans? 

And what made me totally give up on Gwangjong was how he gave up on Hae Soo only because he resented that she wanted to marry his other brother Uk (Kang Ha Neul) in the past. Operative word there is past. Uk probably had Hae Soo's heart before but was it not clear now that Hae Soo only had eyes for him? If Hae Soo blindly proclaiming him as successor of the dead emperor Wang Yo (Hong Jong Hyun) was not proof enough of her love and sincerity, then I don't know what other evidence he's looking for. But in the end, it was all good for me because that paved the way for Hae Soo to finally break free from the shackles of the palace. 

I guess Gwangjong's life was proof that it's truly lonely at the top. He sacrificed so much for the greater good. 

Even if I'm quite torn about whether I liked Gwangjong/Wang So or not, I'm quite sure that I loved Lee Joon Gi.

Kang Ha Neul as Prince Uk

In the beginning, I was sure that Uk loved Hae Soo. Yes, he seemed boring but I felt that he's one of those guys who can give you a steady and reassuring kind of love. For someone who did not really love his wife, Madam Hae (Park Si Eun), I admired how he remained loyal to her until the end. 

Kang Ha Neul is another great actor in this show. I loved how expressive his eyes are - when they were full of affection for Hae Soo, guilt and regret for Madam Hae, and dead when he turned evil in the end. My most favorite Kang Ha Neul moment would be his breakdown scene when his wife died. 

Uk lost me the moment he chose his family and his ambition over what was right. He abandoned Hae Soo when she needed him the most after she was accused of poisoning the crown prince (Kim San Ho as Wang Moo). And how effortless it was for him to switch between telling Hae Soo that he missed her everyday and looking down on her as a maid when he speaks with other people. Uk was a classic case of a guy who is all bark but no bite. He had nothing but empty, confusing, and meaningless promises. He is a good reminder that actions always speak louder than words. Indecisive cowards like him do not deserve love as sincere and genuine as Hae Soo's. 

Uk's character was also proof that smart people are always the most dangerous ones. Among the princes (with the exception probably of Yo who had his brothers killed), he was probably the most sinful for manipulating everyone. He got lost in his own ambitions. And while he did try to atone for it by helping Hae Soo leave the palace when he told Gwangjong about their former promise to marry each other, I felt that he did a lot of damage that were irreparable at that point. And that move was actually too risky for me. What if Gwangjong decided to kill Hae Soo because of that? But then again, if Hae Soo could forgive him, I guess I should be able to do it too. 

Nam Joo Hyuk as Prince Baeka 

Among the princes, Baeka (Nam Joo Hyuk of Start-up) was probably my most favorite. He's also probably my next most favorite character after Hae Soo. I loved how he was always the voice of reason for his brothers. He was very just, kind, fair, and level-headed. That's why I felt so terrible for him for all the misfortunes he had to experience. 

Being the nicest, he should have had the happiest life among the princes. Unfortunately, he was the one who had to lose two of the greatest loves of his life. First, he lost Lady Hae to Uk. Then, he lost the very pretty Woo Hee (Girls' Generation's Seohyun who had cameos in The Producers and Warm and Cozy). 

Baeka's love for Woo Hee was immense. He risked his life when he realized that she was about to kill his father. He wanted to save both his father and the woman he loved who would surely get into trouble if she killed the emperor. Never mind if he almost got killed in the process too. That was very bold of him. He had the balls to protect the woman he loved, something Uk failed to do. 

However, I was not really convinced about Woo Hee's sincerity. She was spying on Baeka, So, and Hae Soo too. if her extra curricular activities were discovered sooner, I'm quite certain she would have suffered the fate of Chae Ryung too. 

I admit that I didn't really focus on Nam Joo Hyuk in Start-up because I was too busy with Kim Seon Ho. But I suspect that he did a good job because I don't recall being displeased with him there. I'm just glad that I finally had the chance to see his worth in this drama. Nam Joo Hyuk is a good actor. I loved his drinking sessions with Hae Soo after Lady Hae died. And his breakdown scene after Woo Hee committed suicide. And he looks very pretty and feminine with his long hair. Nam Joo Hyuk definitely got me here and I promise to pay more attention to him in the future. :)

Ji Soo as Prince Jung

I've always had a soft spot for Ji Soo. He always gives justice to whatever role he plays. And watching him here was a bittersweet moment for me. It was quite difficult to fully appreciate him here knowing his bullying and harassment scandals. Yes, he did a great job here again - those tender moments with Hae Soo, his bravado despite being the youngest, his dramatic moments when his mom and Hae Soo died, etc. But that probably made things even more painful for his victims. I just wish there's a way for him to truly repent and be punished for his victims to get the justice they deserve. But afterwards, I hope that Ji Soo will be forgiven and given a second chance. He is such a talented actor and it makes me sad knowing that he might be gone for good. 

And scandals aside, I loved how Jung was the only one who was really always there for Hae Soo. He was the first one to join her under the rain as she pled for Lady Oh's life. And in the end, he was the only one who had the balls to fight for her, who never abandoned her, and who risked everything to get her out of the palace. Oppa was complaining about how this angle was not properly built up. I disagree. I felt like it was built up enough, without making things too obvious. And the fact that he just did without saying so many things just proved that he was a greater man than any of his older brothers. 

Baekhyun as Prince Wang Eun

We don't really follow K pop so we were not aware that Exo-K's Baekhyun was actually popular. Despite not knowing him, I grew fond of the cute and adorable Prince Eun. I loved how childish and playful he was. I initially thought he was the youngest. I wanted to hug him after Hae Soo rejected him because he looked so sad with those pouty lips. 

And because Eun was such a cheerful character, it was so heartbreaking to watch him have a tragic end. He totally did not deserve that, especially when he was just starting to have a real loving relationship with his wife, Park Soon Duk (Z.Hera of Love Alarm and Something in the Rain). Although they suffered a tragic fate, I guess everything's good as Soon Duk's dad, General Park Soo Kyung (Sung Dong Il of Reply 1988, Reply 1994, Reply 1997, Prison Playbook, Hospital Playlist, and Ms. Hammurabi), said. What mattered was that they loved each other and they continued to be together even in the after life. 

Things That Were Okay

I admit that the show did not really capture my attention right away. Oppa said that he thought I was going to like it because it had a lot of topless good looking guys during the pilot episode. But it didn't. I was actually quite bored with how things started. But I guess things were bound to become more interesting. And now, I would have to admit that those good looking guys helped haha. The 20 episodes just flew by so fast.

And for something that I'm not accustomed to watching (period drama) and didn't really interest me at first, I found it engaging and compelling later on. I just realized how tough it must have been to live in the olden days. 

And I'm now more open to watching period dramas. I find that it's an interesting way to learn about Korean history. 

Things That Didn't Really Work

Although I found the show compelling and entertaining, I also found that more things about it didn't really work for me. 

It was just unrealistic for me that the royals (the princes in particular) didn't seem to do anything else aside from lounging around. They'd have a few lessons. They'd fight a bit. But most of them didn't really do any kind of serious work. These were full-grown men with some of them married with kids but they had a lot of time to hang around with each other and Hae Soo. Didn't they have responsibilities? And I totally didn't like how immature they all seemed to be - allowing their emotions to get in the way of reasonable, just, and logical decision making. Or is that really how men are? :D

I also found the non-verbal dialogues quite odd. Were they actually doing some sort of mental telepathy? It felt even more weird when the other person would have thoughts that were directly replying to the other's mental speech. 

And that attempted poisoning of the crown prince. Yes, there might have been a slim chance that Wang So was really trained to be resistant to poison. But how could all of them be fooled by Yeon Hwa? Did they really not notice that she spilled the tea on her clothes instead of drinking it? Was her dress water resistant??

I also didn't like how Queen Yoo got away with a lot of things - killing Lady Oh's baby, attempting to kill the crown prince during the ritual and by poisoning, etc. Oppa thinks it might be because she's from a powerful family who could rebel if something bad happens to her. But could they not have at least contained her so she could not do any more harm? 

Some storylines also had the tendency to jump that you need to read between the lines or assume things. And some just didn't seem logical. Like how no one noticed that the crown prince's condition was worsening. Couldn't the royal doctor, Hae Soo, So, or even Ji Mong the astrologer (Kim Sung Kyun of the Reply series and Hospital Playlist) have noticed that? Or why when Yo was advancing with a battalion of soldiers, the guards at the palace's gate didn't call for back up right away?

Most of the time, I also felt that the characters' motivations were not clear or at least clearly established. I get it that they were all probably driven by their desire to be emperor but I still have faith in humanity - I think we all need deeper reasons to turn completely evil the way Uk's character turned out to be. 

I also didn't like how Woo Hee committed suicide. Yes, she was torn between saving her people and Baeka. But what assurance did she get that her people would be safe and that Baeka won't get hurt if she did that? Would it not have been better if she talked to her people? I'm pretty sure they'd listen to her seeing how they all broke down when she died. 

And while I appreciated that the show didn't force Wang So to be in the present time with Ha Jin, I felt that the finale was like a mad dash to inject historical stuff into the story. A lot of things were happening at the same time - Gwangjong emancipating slaves, instituting civil service exams, killing the 9th prince (Yoon Sun Woo of Hot Stove League) which felt more like an afterthought because so much has happened in between, and killing his nephews. Could they not have spread out these things through numerous episodes so that it won't look like it was hastily done towards the end?

Over all, the show served its purpose of being entertaining although it could have done much better. 

The songs were nice and my favorite would have to be Say Yes by Loco, Punch. While it felt weird to hear rap in a historical drama, the song has a nice vibe to it. :)

Oppa says...4.3.

Noona says...it's a 4.