My first reaction to the drama teasers was “What’s with the mask?” and just like that, I was drawn to watch this historical K-Drama with an unusual title – Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. One of 2016’s most anticipated shows, Scarlet Heart Ryeo was in the news mostly because of its star cast that boasted of popular K-Pop idols and acclaimed actors. I am new to K-dramas so I wasn’t fully aware of the popularity of each actor. For me, the storyline and the fact that so many good-looking men were in one single drama was enough to pique my interest.
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Scarlet Heart Ryeo is a 20 episode long Korean drama set in the Goryeo dynasty tracing the life of the then royal family. The drama starts with a girl named Go Ha Jin (IU) who travels back in time following an accident and finds herself in the royal household of Goryeo. In Goryeo, she is known by the name Hae Soo and is related to one of the daughter-in-laws of King Taejo. The royal family has several young princes each unique in persona and nature. After some initial struggle, Hae Soo finally finds a footing in the strange new surrounding and becomes a close pal of most of the princes of the royal family. She later falls in love with her brother-in-law and King Taejo’s 8th son prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha Neul) who also shares the same feeling for her. However, she unwittingly earns the love and attention of the dreaded 4th prince Wang So (Lee Jun Gi) who is known as the ‘wolf dog’ for his ruthlessness. Wang So has been living out of Goryeo for several years and has returned only to gain acceptance in his own family. However, not everyone in his family is happy to have him back and this irks him the most. Hae Soo, unaware of his past, is nice to him and helps him thus earning his affection. Since Hae Soo has travelled back in time she tries to recollect what went down in history and remembers that Wang So is destined to become the merciless King of Goryeo by shedding blood of his own brothers. Torn between the two princes, Wang Wook and Wang So she tries her best to change history and ensure that Wang So is remembered as a good king and not a murderer.
Let’s weigh this interesting historical drama on our show beam balance and see if the show is worth watching or not.
Lee Jun Gi (Prince Wang So): First let’s talk about the character Wang So. Wang So is the bad boy who generates fear in the minds of not only his enemies and but also his friends. He punishes all those who harm his loved ones but sadly ends up earning their fear. He isn’t a jerk. He is not mean. He is just a little misunderstood. Wang So is the quintessential good guy who hides under the garb of an evil, ruthless man only to protect himself and his people. He is aggressive and ferocious yet kind and loving. A dominating character like this required an ace actor to pull it off convincingly and Lee Jun Gi’s portrayal of 4th prince Wang So was simply flawless. The drama has several popular faces but lead actor Lee Jun Gi just stole the show not just because of his character but also because of his strong screen presence and fine performance. This may be because he is a much-experienced actor compared to the rest of the cast and Jun Gi can be credited for having kept the audiences engaged for 20 episodes.
Even with half of his face hidden behind a mask, he manages to convey So’s feelings so effectively that I fell in love with both the character and the actor. The mask suited him so much that I liked him more with it than without it. Had it not been for Jun Gi I don’t think the drama would have been as interesting as I found it to be especially when we had a pale and expressionless face for a lead actress.
Direction: As you start watching the drama you will notice that every second shot is a close-up shot of the actors. The director seems obsessed with close-ups. Initially, I found these close-up shots annoying but then the same thing starting appealing to me. I especially appreciated these close-up when the scene had the stoic Wang Wook in it. Now, 8th prince Wang Wook is a shy, reticent prince who does not speak a lot. Actor Kang Ha Neul’s close-up showing his subtle expressions worked extremely well for the story. Similarly, Jun Gi as prince Wang So is often scowling or grimacing and the close-up shots effectively captured his not-so-subtle expressions. The only nightmare was lead actress IU, who plays Hae Soo. She is pretty but her face shows no variation in expression. Tears would trickle down her eyes and you still won’t be convinced that she is actually crying. You see, she was that bad. Other than that I think the direction was quite good.
OST: ‘Can You Hear My Heart’ by Epik High and Lee Hi is my favourite of all the songs used on the show. The music is stirring and emotional and suited Wang So the best. Then we have the mournful ‘Wind’ by Jung Seung Hwan and ‘My Love’ by Lee Hi. So melodious these songs are that you will love it even if you don’t understand Korean. That’s the power of Korean soundtracks.
Lee Ji Eun (Hae Soo): Have a look below at the male cast on the show.
After seeing this who wouldn’t feel envious of IU (Ji Eun)? When you have bagged a role to die for don’t you think people will have high expectations from you? Scarlet Heart Ryeo revolved mostly around Hae Soo’s character but sadly actress IU was the weakest link of the show. Hae Soo is a complicated character as she goes through a lot of emotions in the story and at times it is difficult to understand her choices and actions. For such a character, it was very important that the actor portrayed emotions that would convey her inner feelings with only her face. Sadly, IU just remained a white face with big black eyes.
What’s worse is that she had most of her scenes with actors Lee Jun Gi and Kang Ha Neul who are masters at facial expressions. IU often fell flat before such skilled actors further highlighting her lack of acting skills. I not only hated Hae Soo the character for being so fickle minded, but I also disliked IU for almost ruining the show for me.
Ending: This always happens to me. The dramas I love watching end in the most disappointing way. Previously it happened with Healer and now this drama. This show was so cool throughout but its climax was so bad I almost cried. Happy or sad ending didn’t matter I was just looking for a conclusion that made sense and did justice to the story. But all I got was a drab finale episode.
Aww and Wow Moments
Episode 5: There is this one scene where Hae Soo and 8th prince Wang Wook are walking in the snow. He walks a few steps ahead of her and she follows him. As he turns to check on her he sees that she is walking in his footsteps so he starts taking wider steps for fun and she continues stepping on his footprints. She stumbles on one step and he holds her. This romantic moment without any dialogue evoked far more emotions than those with spoken words.
Episode 8: OMO!!! 4th prince Wang So’s (Lee Jun Gi) walk! What a phenomenal scene! That confidence, that grin, the background score, everything about the scene was mesmerising. It was a total WOOOOOOW scene. I had goosebumps watching Jun Gi walk the way he did.
Episode 11: This whole episode was WOW! WOW!! WOW!!! Court Lady Oh Soo Yeon (Woo Hee Jin) stole the show with her stoic performance. It was the first time I almost cried watching a K-drama. This episode had some superbly executed scenes and fantabulous performance by actress Woo Hee Jin and for once IU. [[Spoiler Alert]] Of all the phenomenal scenes in the show, the best scene is when Wook figuratively and literally turns his back on Hae Soo. A flicker of hope ensued by shock and final disappointment was beautifully conveyed by actress IU. I loved how the whole scene was directed. Wang Wook musters some courage to come see Hae Soo but backs out at the last moment. As he is leaving, Wang So walks up to Hae Soo and holds his cloak over her head shielding her from the rain. It depicts the change in her life and that now she no longer is Wook’s person but rather So’s person who went that extra mile to see her safe. So’s presence breathes new life in her and she straightens up following his arrival. Another example of how scenes without dialogues can be highly moving and impactful. [[Spoiler Alert]]
Episode 12: Prince Wang Eun and his wife Park Soon Deok as a couple are so lovable and cute! In a palace full of selfish and conniving people, these two are the only ones who keep their innocence intact. The scene where Eun’s wife tests him to check if he has read the book she gave him is loaded with cuteness.
Episode 13: 4th prince Wang So and 8th prince Wang Wook locking horns in a sword fight is just phenomenal. It was such a treat to watch two extremely handsome men try to slay each other.
Episode 14: Prince Wang So is dreaded by everyone even his own family members. But when it comes to the girl he loves he becomes an adorable teenage boy. Wang So looks so kweeeet trying to steal a kiss from Hae Soo.
The show beam balance is heavy with good weights and I must add here that the drama isn’t perfect script wise but highly remarkable performance wise.I enjoyed every episode and loved every character on the show. Hae Soo did test my patience but I will let that slip as Wang Wook and Wang So managed to rule my heart through the weeks the drama aired.
I give the show 4 out of 5 rating. Moonlovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo is a captivating show with some amazing performances and soundtrack. If you want to see love, hatred, betrayal, politics, ambition, greed, and innocence all in one drama then go for this one.