Review – The Moon Embracing the Sun
LAWD! Save us all from historical dramas! Why are they always so good?
I’ve heard about The Moon Embracing the Sun for many years but for some reason never watched it. Scratch that – I did try, originally, but got bored around the third episode and turned it off (a mistake I almost made again the second round). This time I firmly planted myself in front of the show and stuck with it – until the young cast went through their youthful turmoil and misfortunes and reached adulthood… only to be met with more turmoil and misfortunes. In between all this they also found moments of happiness and true love. It was wonderful. I mean, it wasn’t The Princess’ Man, but it was still worth watching.
Plot in a nutshell – two young royals fall in love with the same young lady, but she only likes one of them, the one destined for the throne. A series of unfortunate events occur and the young woman is presumed dead, the young royals both left heartbroken. Young lady grows up with total memory loss, raised as a shaman. Young royals grow up as well. They all meet again. The young lady doesn’t recognize her male admirers, but they are drawn to her like bears to honey. The entire process of their youth repeats – with both men falling in love with her again… who will she fall in love with round two? Will she remember her past? What happened to her all those years ago? Mystery and intrigue and romance abound in this historical drama.
Overall Rating – 8/10. An Satisfying Appetizer to Prepare You For Better Historical Drama Meals.
Discussion and spoilers follow…
So… I liked both of the young royals better than the older royals – as far as actors go. This is just my personal opinion, but the young men they hired to play the young princes were outstanding. Yeo Jin-Goo (as the future king) and Lee Min-Ho (as the future outcast) has so much personality and pluck. I loved them!
Just the opposite is true for the leading female… the young version played by the very pretty but very boring Kim You-Jung. Our second lead female, however, was an excellent little actress, Kim So-Hyun. And double snaps the very young little princess… how adorable was that little tyrant? Jin Ji-Hee was a royal terror!
I have never been a big fan of Kim Soo Hyun (the grown king), though he was more enjoyable in this drama than he has been in others. We actually got to see him fully smile – which is when he looks best. And be playful, which suits him better than somber. His character was quite interesting – a young king who had somehow managed to gain decent control over his court (which is pretty rare in historical dramas), relative control over his relatives (even rarer), and seemed to be pretty secure in his position. Sure, there were a few hornets in the house, but he was intelligent, plucky and had a strong support group. After watching Empress Ki, it was a night and day situation…
He had amazing chemistry with the lead actress, though, which made any criticisms I may have of his acting prowess pointless. If I’m going to watch horrible things happen to people for hours upon hours, I need to see light behind the eyes of our lovers to cheer me up. And he had it. He was smitten – and obsessed. For a man with such soft features, I was surprised how good he was at barking orders and being demanding. That boy could dominate his subjects when need be. Overall, he was awesome as the King and I admit my opinion of him as changed for the better.
The romance itself was solid. I like a little bit more “tortured souls” to my lovers torn apart by misfortune fighting to reunite… but this was more of a middle ground romance. They were believably in love, but there wasn’t enough tension for my taste. I like my strings pulled tight. Instead it was very sweet and clean and organized feeling. Even with some jail time and torture and exile to the sick village… it just seemed undramatic. If I were the writer, I would have had her heart be more torn between the two men, like Woon’s was. The tension would have been palpable if she’d actually crushed on the outcast royal as well as the king. Can you imagine? Hearts are like that, too… complicated. Oh well, I digress.
Jung Il-Woo was well cast as the outcast prince, our tragic figure doomed time and time again to always fall short. He was an interesting character. His story was interesting… the broken heart hidden behind the permanent smile. He literally had nothing to do – and was forbidden from doing much of importance. Yet he was wealthy and taken care. So he lived an idle life of luxury, free of real consequence or hardship. He was bored to death and spent his time playing in an effort to entertain himself.
His genuine love of his family and friends was evident from the beginning. As was his desire to do good in the world and his frustration with not being able to do more. Of course, he could have done a lot of things… but this didn’t seem to occur to him. Which I suppose is realistic of wealth. You start thinking about all the big things you can do you forget all the small things you can be doing now. He got see that a little bit when he started helping out at the sick village with his lady love. It’s no surprise those were the happiest days of his life. His time actually mattered, what he was doing actually made a difference in someone’s life, and his skills were finally put to use. It’s the key to happiness, after all. Too bad he couldn’t seem to understand he could have kept that, even without his one-sided pseudo girlfriend around. Poor doomed bastard.
Ah, Han Ga-In and her huge eyes. I love this actress. Sadly, her character was kind of boring in this book. She was a nerd… which should have made her interesting. But instead it just made her seem benevolent. Ugh. Benevolent is not fun. Is it just impossible to write an interesting historical female character?
She just seemed aimless. I’m a shaman… I’ll just sit here and do my duty like a blank slate. They could have given her a little more personality. A little bit of independence or spunk or radical free thought. A hobby? A quirk? A funny little thing she does that makes her unique? Maybe she likes apples? Maybe she studies insects? Anything. Anything at all. For a well read woman, she was soooo boring! Even the shallow princess was studying books to find better ways to please her man and manage pregnancies. But not our cutie shaman. Nope. She just went along with the flow, never questioning anything, just floating about day to day like a butterfly… allowing her life to have about as much meaning. Geesh… not much of interest going on behind her big pretty eyes looking adoringly at her beloved.
Kim Min-Seo as the virgin Queen was a sadly undeveloped character in my opinion. That was a missed opportunity. They should have given her more to do. Or more of a plotline to work within. As it was… she was just sad and pathetic. As a child, she was far more interesting. But as the queen, it was impossible to view her as villainous. Sure, she was a bitchy gal who’d been handed the throne by her scheming relatives… but damn. Her story is sadder than the outcast prince! At least he got to run around outside the castle and have friends and live a life. She was stuck in a few rooms, always watched, never loved, lonely bored and lacking. I cried when she hung herself. I cried almost every time she pleaded with her husband to just look at her with kindness.
The grown Princess and the shaman’s brother turned out to be one of the surprise stories in the show that really nailed it. Song Jae-Hee played the grown up nerd, married now to his devoted, horny princess, played by Nam Bo-Ra. He, the intelligent scholar, warily accepting of his own good looks and their effect on the female species. She, the shallow but genuinely devoted wife, whose sole purpose was creating a happy home for her new family. They were so cute together! And their surprisingly complicated story line of love, forgiveness and redemption was amazing.
I’m deeply annoyed the writers didn’t give us even one kiss between this sweet couple. What was that all about? But whatever… they did give us my favorite scene in the entire show… when the princess is imagining having a conversation with her husband… asking him why he pays more attention to books than to her… wishing she was a book… asking if he’d pay attention to her if she wrote all over her body… oh my my my, the naughty thing! The whole thing turned out to be fantasy sequence, but it was still so cute.
Song Jae-Rim played Woon, but all-but-silent body guard to the King with the crazy cheek bones. Hats off to the writers for their silent development of this character through his interactions between the two royal brothers.
His genuine friendship with them both felt very accurate of an introverted, observing type. The sympathy he had for both, the desire to please both knowing it couldn’t be done… such hard choices. I was totally hoping he’d hook up with the tomboy Seol the entire time, but nope… all they got was a little swordplay. Still, for someone with barely four lines of dialogue in the entire show, Woon really stood out. I think we can all relate to being the friend caught in the middle when your other two friends are fighting.
The shamans were a central part of this story but I swear, I found them to be utterly lacking. What the hell did they do, anyway? I got the feeling the writers didn’t know either. I found the entire thing disappointingly unsupernatural for something supposedly supernatural. Only at the very end, with the grown Jan-Sil (the formerly fake blind fortune teller) did we get some genuinely interesting mysticism. This was a major flaw, if you ask me. Especially considering a huge element of the plot was the female character playing a shaman! Yes, uhm, just be a human amulet and uhm, sit beside him at night. Convenient. Geesh.
Overall, I enjoyed this drama. There were still some draggy moments. And I still got bored with the beginning of it. I couldn’t stop myself from critiquing it as I was watching it – which is always a sure sign that I’m not fully invested in the drama. If it’s really good, my brain isn’t registering it as a fiction – those people are REAL and must be observed with 100 percent of my attention. Moon Embracing the Sun did not embrace my attention. It gave me a side hug. Affectionate but still careful not to cross into intimacy.
I would highly recommend watching The Princess’ Man before I would recommend this drama. It’s better, in my opinion. Queen Seon Duk, of course, though less romantic.