I had just finished a historical drama so I thought about waiting a while before starting this one but I’m so glad I didn’t. I was actually surprised at how quickly I buzzed through the episodes, eager to find out what was going to happen next. Each episode of Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo begins with the words, “This drama has taken a creative license to history.” Knowing absolutely nothing about Korean history, I decided to put the drama on pause and go online to see what I could find out about King Gwangjong, the guy mentioned in the show. There’s not much written about the man but the drama did keep in line with some of what I read.
Broken-hearted Go Ha-Jin is trying to deal with the fact that she has been betrayed by her boyfriend and best friend who have been having a relationship behind her back. While she is crying she hears a young child fall into a lake. Being the “Good Samaritan” she is, Ha-Jin jumps in and manages to push the child into a boat but just as she’s about to get in herself, there is a solar eclipse and she seems to be pulled under the water by some invisible force. When she finally comes up out of the water she is “not in Kansas anymore.” Where is she?… Who is she?… Ha-Jin finds herself back in the Goryeo Dynasty, around the year 940 AD, and people are calling her Hae Soo. Of course she is stunned but realizes she better go along with being this Hae So woman so people don’t think she’s crazy. While adjusting to her new life, Ha-Jin/Hae Soo becomes entangled with the royal family, making friends with the younger Princes and falling in love with the soft-spoken 8th Prince, Wook. When something happens that makes Ha-Jin remember the 4th Prince is known throughout history as King Gwangjong, the man who slaughtered all his brothers to obtain the throne, she decides she’d better keep a safe distance between her and the hostel Prince.
Wang So, the 4th prince, was scarred physically and emotionally as a young child. His own mother accidentally sliced his face when she went crazy over the King marrying another woman and, if that wasn’t bad enough, he was given away to a woman whose son had died. He is a quiet, aloof man who is skilled in martial arts and swordsmanship. He wears a mask to hide his facial scaring and is known as the “wolf dog”. Although he seems ruthless and full of hate, So longs to be loved and accepted by his biological family.
Upon finding herself in ancient Korea, Ha-Jin is intelligent enough to realize she needs to go along with being Hae Soo if she wants to survive. Luckily, this Hae Soo woman is a cousin to the kind woman who is married to the 8th Prince so Ha-Jin is well taken care of and loved. She quickly learns how to fit in and is able to use the knowledge she has (as Ha-Jin) to help her in this new world/time she finds herself a part of. Ha-Jin calls on her expertise from working for a cosmetics company to help her make soaps and ultimately use make-up to help the 4th Prince remove his mask.
Wang Wook is probably the most complicated character in the show. Is he the type of man who wants to wield power or does he just want to be free to love Hae Soo? Is he gentle and kind or is he the real one who is wearing a mask? Is the throne his ultimate goal or do the people he love come first?
There are many other characters that add color and substance to the story…
The 3rd Prince, Wang Yo, has been brainwashed by his power-hungry mother to focus solely on becoming King. Treason is no problem if it gets him what he desires.
Wang Won, the 9th Prince, doesn’t seem to be after the throne for himself but he has no trouble helping whichever brother is trying to be the one to sit there.
Known by his nickname Baek-Ah, the 13th Prince, is an artist/musician who doesn’t care about having power.
The 10th Prince, Wang Eun, isn’t interested in sitting on the throne either. His one desire is for Hae Soo to become his wife.
Wang Jung, the 14th Prince, is a master at martial arts and eventually becomes one of the King’s top Generals.
Yeon Hwa, the King’s daughter, is an evil, horrid woman who wants to be queen and will say and do anything to see that dream become reality.
While still in high school, Lee Joon-Gi saw a performance of Hamlet and decided he wanted to be an actor. He moved to Seoul and worked several part-time jobs before being accepted to Seoul Institute of the Arts. In 2001 he debuted as a model, beginning what has turned out to be a very successful entertainment career. He has played the main character in several historical shows but the only other thing I’ve seen him in is the fantasy vampire drama The Scholar Who Walks the Night.
Lee Ji-Eun, known to the world as IU, began her entertainment career as a solo singer at the age of 15. Her song Good Day holds the record (along with Psy’s Gangnam Style) for spending the most number of weeks in the number one spot on Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart. She started her acting career in the teen Kdrama Dream High and has since been in two movies and six other dramas, including playing the second female lead in Producer.
This drama had me bouncing back and forth, trying to decide who I thought Hae Soo would end up with. I’d watch an episode and think, “I hope she and GUY A end up together.” Then the next episode would have me thinking, “Ohhhh, she needs to be with GUY B.” And then I’d jump back to GUY A for a while before changing my mind once again and hoping for GUY B to be with her. Well, there’s no way in a million years I could have predicted the writer’s conclusion. It was perfect, but totally beyond my imagination. Three cheers for a wonderful ending!
I actually cried at one point in this show. My heart hurt for some decent people who sacrificed everything they held dear just to try and be the most powerful person in the kingdom. It’s so sad that brother would turn against brother and son would turn against father just for the opportunity to sit on the throne. In the blink of an eye someone you loved and trusted could become your enemy because power made people feel like a god. This drama depicts those scenarios very well.
There are a handful of sword fighting and martial arts scenes that I thought were choreographed and executed extremely well, adding excitement and an element of danger to the storyline.
Although I thought this drama was excellent, it wasn’t without mistakes. In one scene Hae Soo is in the middle of town and goes running after someone. In a matter of mere seconds it shows her in the middle of the woods which didn’t make sense. There’s no way she could leave a whole town full of people and be standing in a lone forest in just a few yards. There’s also some weather trouble – snow one minute and flowers the next day. It just lost its continuity a couple times. Those were the only big mistakes I caught, though, and that’s not bad at all, especially for a show of such grandeur.
The soundtrack’s not bad. Raper Loco and singer Punch team up to perform Say Yes which placed number 15 on the charts. Taeyeon, from Girls’ Generation, sings a beautiful ballad entitled All With You, which, by the way, was the song that was playing at the part of the drama where my eyes began to get misty. And talented Jung Seung-Hwan croons a love song called Wind.
The scenery is utterly breathtaking, a magnificent display of Korea’s vast landscapes – a lush forest, a rocky ocean beach, rugged high cliffs, flowery meadows, a sparkling lake… It’s all gorgeous. And the ancient buildings are fantastic, inside and out! The show is a visual feast, the prettiest drama I’ve ever seen. Yep, I’d say it’s even slightly prettier than Summer Scent.
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo is a spectacular, dramatic production unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The 20 episode drama took a little over a half year to make and had a budget of 13 million dollars! Although it was not received well in its home country, with the ratings only reaching 8.63% at its highest, it has been a huge hit in other parts of Asia and America. I definitely give it two thumbs up – way, way up!
Lots of stars (actors)
Different filming angles
A drama of epic proportions
A couple editing/directing mistakes