Review: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (달의 연인-보보경심 려)

Synopsis:
Go Ha Jin is transported back in time to the Goreyeo era during a solar eclipse. There she forms bonds with the princes but soon gets embroiled in the violence and politics of the fight for the throne.

Review:

Where do I start…If you’ve read my first impressions post on Scarlet Heart Ryeo here then you’d probably think that this is an extension of the previous post. You’re not wrong but after 19 other episodes, my feelings for this show has drastically changed since then. The fact that I’ve actually seen the original and loved it, makes it all the more worse (and torturous) as I dragged myself through this mess.

  1. Disjointed plot

The plot was…a mess. A complete mess of sad weepy moments one moment and then fluffy romance the next. I could barely follow the plot, not that the plot was complicated or anything. But everything felt as if it was roughly cut together and heavily sprinkled with some dramatic politics and romantic fluff here and there to distract the viewers from the horrible mess it really is.

It didn’t help that character relationships were developed OFFSCREEN and what you see is the end result of their “bonding”. Examples include the supposed bromance between Hae Soo and Baek-A (13th prince), Hae Soo’s sudden BFF with Woo Hee and of course, the relationship decline of Wang Yo (3rd prince) and all the other princes (except 9th prince, Wang Won). If you’re telling me just showing a snippety flashback of Hae Soo and Baek-A drinking together (which is OBVIOUSLY squeezed in for the sake of the source material) is going to convince me of their “bromance”, please don’t.

And there were so many times I had a hard time catching up with the tone. One moment you have someone dying and the next it’s a romantic scene between one of the couples. I’m like…what is happening? Omg…For example in one of the scenes, we see that Woo Hee witnessed an entire Baekje family being slaughtered and displayed on the streets. Then suddenly we see her kissing Baek-A as if nothing ever happened. Wts? You serious?

So many incidents felt as if they were squeezed in just so they could cater to BBJX fans, but failed badly. Like the bromance between 13th prince and Hae Soo. Omg. A friendship that celebrates forward-thinking and an open mind is reduced to a small flashback of two people drinking together.

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2. Bad Characterisation

Wang So

I have a love/hate relationship for Wang So. It didn’t help that he was badly written (they all were actually) and that he was introduced as your typical violent, moody lone wolf male lead with a tragic past. From the horse he slain upon first entering the palace to pushing Hae Soo off the horse the first time they met to his incredibly abrupt shift from nice guy to ruthless emperor. I really liked the Wang So in between though, all thanks to Lee Joon Gi’s amazing performance (and no thanks to IU). One of his best moments was laughing along with his brothers in the background. My heart just went out to him. And his persistence in chasing after the people he love, including King Taejo his father, Queen Yoo his mother and Hae Soo. The scene when Hae Soo said she was afraid of him and rejected him when he tried to kiss her…you could see the pain in his eyes. That probably started my dislike for Hae Soo. Like you don’t just abandon someone after you’ve shown so much kindness and promised to be their friend. Especially with someone like Wang So who’s been rejected by everyone. I can feel his desperation to keep her with him which is why I like him so much.

But that all went back down in the last few episodes. I was unconvinced by his abrupt change to becoming a ruthless emperor. Sure he was introduced as a violent character who slew his horse (just so there’s blood splattering on his face) but he turned into a sweet angel who smiled with teeth when Hae Soo entered his life. Heck, he couldn’t even bear to kill Wang Yo when Yo had obviously committed treason. But once he ascended the throne, bang he turns into this evil, violent shithead once again. As if all character development from the previous episodes was nothing more than to get Hae Soo to fall for him.

And and and, did he seriously thought Hae Soo could be queen? LIKE SERIOUSLY? LOL which part of her is even queen material? Omg. Hae Soo is even more of a joke. So she refused to back down from the marriage with Wang So, but turns out she hasn’t considered the fact that marrying him meant she would become queen. Nope. I’m not sure what she thought. LOL. It’s things like these that makes me question her intelligence.

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Hae Soo’s expression like 80% of the time

Hae Soo

Like Wang So, I actually liked her. But those feelings eventually became annoyance and finally indifference. I couldn’t care less about her. I mean what did she even do, really. Other than introducing BB cream to Wang So so he could hide his scar without a mask. Throughout the drama, we see her either staring dumbfounded at someone, praying to a pile of rocks or do some disgustingly cutesy thing that makes Wang So smile and my hair stand. She’s like this leaf that is floating along the plot, adding nothing to the story except angst and romance to liven it up. Oh and also she spoiled the ending by telling Wang Wook to be careful of So. I’m too sure how that affected Wook and his subsequent actions since I was too busy actually trying to follow the plot. But according to Yeon Hwa it made him jealous and so he decided to go for the throne. Hmm…

I didn’t get what’s so charming about her either. At least with Ruo Xi, typical mary sue as she is, she did quite a lot of things and contributed some modern concepts that shifted the plot. In terms of performance, IU is like the korean version of Liu Shi Shi but the difference is that Ruo Xi is a much better written character than Hae Soo.

Her romance with Wang So wasn’t very believable either. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of chemistry, or the bad acting, or both. Initially it was it good and even cute but it just went down after that. By the last few episodes I was totally indifferent to them. In fact I found myself rooting for Yeon Hwa instead. I think the fact that I was already indifferent to Hae Soo as a character, made it worse lol. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always liked IU since Bel Ami. In fact one of the biggest draws for me to this show was actually IU herself. But unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed.

Wang Wook

One of the better characters but still, it was hard trying to understand what his goals were. Sure he wanted to become king but he stayed with Wang Yo and allowed Yo to become king. Was he just waiting for an opportunity? So when Wang So became king, he tried to fight for the throne but that whole scheme was cut embarrassingly short with Yeon Hwa’s betrayal. I was pretty disappointed in his last moments. For someone so meticulous and smart, he should’ve been given a more elaborate scheme that failed dramatically and beautifully. Instead everything was cut short with a dead eagle. Meh.

Wang Won x Chae Ryung

Wth is with this pairing. They ruined the original pairing between Yin Tang (9th prince) and Yu Tan. Yin Tang, though he was mean-spirited was genuinely in love with Yu Tan and killed himself in prison when he read her letter. While Yu Tan sacrificed herself and was sentenced to boiling in a cauldron. The timing, and the way it was done was just so tragic and so sad that what they did in Ryeo is merely a very light shadow of that. Wang Won is a snake through and through and even when he read the letter from Chae Ryung, I couldn’t feel the same affection and sorrow coming from him=.= And I didn’t get why he was left untouched for so long while Wang So targeted everyone else, including Jung and Wook. And unlike Yin Tang who killed himself, Wang Won was eventually sentenced to death but it just seemed abrupt and makes no sense when Wang So left him alone for so long.

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Did cancer exist then?

3. Closeups

Did the director have a fetish with closeups or something? Relying on closeups to create a genuine connection with the character is just lazy. And ridiculous. And it’s not just a normal closeup but EXTREME closeups. If you don’t know, there’re two kinds of closeup shots. Normal closeups are wider and show the entire head up to the base of the neck. Extreme closeups go right into the face, cutting off even the chin and top of the head. If used wisely, creates an incredible impact but if used ALL THE TIME and in inappropriate moments, is just suffocating and too close for comfort. I could even see the pores on some of the actors’ face which is so not need. Not to mention using extreme closeup shots with IU’s signature O.O face, wayyyyyy too much.

Politics? 

The series’ poor attempts at politics is just laughable lol. I’m no expert in politics, much less court politics but as an avid watcher and fan of court dramas such as BBJX, Legend of Zhen Huan and Nirvana In Fire, I am appalled at the way they handled it here. The political tension is basically non-existent. The king didn’t seem very grand or all-powerful as he should be and schemes were…meh. One of the most laughable moments was the king’s decision to marry Hae Soo, without knowing Hae Soo was the girl he is to marry. No like really. He didn’t even know it was Hae Soo whom he had CHOSEN to marry until the last minute. And he didn’t even want to marry her but decided not to cancel the wedding, not because a royal decree is not to be withdrawn once announced, but because it was too TROUBLESOME. LOLOL. Then Hae Soo cuts herself in order to escape the marriage which the king himself is unable to get out of because politics. And the king laughs while commending Hae Soo for being courageous. Ha.ha.ha. The entire arc is practically a joke.

But despite all that, there’re still some good elements that are worth mentioning. Namely Wang Yo, Wang Wook, Yeon Hwa and Court Lady Oh. In fact I think the cast and performance (except IU) was one of the series greatest, if not only, asset. 

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*melts* 

Wang Yo

Despite his haughty and mean-spirited character, I really like him. At first I didn’t really know why (I thought it might be cuz he’s cute) but I realise that it was also because of his consistency. (And his smirk omg *melts*) In the midst of disjointed plots and characters with abrupt developments, consistency is something I have come to appreciate and love. Hong Jong Hyun was so good as the evil and scheming Wang Yo. I love it whenever he does that evil smirk. And throughout the series, his character was consistently evil and reasonably so. The scene when Queen Yo kept pushing him to abdicate the throne to Wang Jung, was so heartbreaking. The look on his face as he realises that all this time, his mother was only using them as pawns to obtaining power. The moment when he understood all of Wang Yo’s loneliness and pain. Wow.

Wang Wook

I thought Kang Ha-neul pretty much nailed it as Wang Wook, both the virtuous Wang Wook and the evil one. Though the evil Wang Wook wasn’t as well done as the virtuous one but still good. He’s able to convey that level of intensity, be it anger or love with just his facial expression. And I really liked his OTP with Hae Soo, which is a surprise since I really didn’t like Yin Si, not even as a character. Wook’s motivations were pretty strong too, though not very well shown, and I’m left feeling so sad for him. I’m just glad he managed to survive and even has a daughter (but with who?) unlike Yin Si.

Yeon Hwa

She is actually my favourite character throughout the series. Not just for her consistency, but also because she’s the exact opposite of Hae Soo. Independent, goal-oriented and ambitious. Not that I dislike Hae Soo for not being all those things, just that Yeon Hwa makes for a much much more interesting character than Hae Soo. Whenever Hae Soo and her O.O comes on screen I feel my brain slowly going into sleep mode. Only to come back when Yeon Hwa comes on. By the end, I just found myself abandoning Hae Soo altogether and just rooting for Yeon Hwa. Heck, I’ve always been rooting for Yeon Hwa, ever since that first scene when Wang So has just entered the palace and Yeon Hwa talked to him. I like how they made her feelings for him sincere, despite her craze for power. Who would’ve thought that Wang So would become the next king at that time? I like how rather than selling herself off to the Crown Prince or Wang Yo in order to become queen, she chose to push her brother instead and wanted to share the kingdom with him.

Though in the end she did sort of sell herself to Wang So (who didn’t even want her), it’s to the guy she loves. At the same time, sacrificing any hopes of love. I feel so heartbroken whenever she tries to get affection from Wang So and he just callously rejects her. It’s not very obvious if she’s doing it purely for a heir or to hide her own feelings, but I feel like it might be a mix of both. But even an interesting character like her is butchered with her decision to abandon her family for the throne. It sort of makes sense but it’s unconvincing since she genuinely cares for her family, especially her brother and to abandon them to die, isn’t it a bit too much?

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that anguish 😥 

Court Lady Oh

I was abit confused about her status and relation to the king which the series fails to make clear (till like halfway through the arc). I had thought she was a concubine and wondered why she was dressed so plain and why she’s always doing all the work. Then I realise that she’s not a concubine but merely a Court Lady who can never get married but maintains an affair with the emperor. I see. Still, she’s one of the better characters with a very strong performance. Though her death didn’t affect me in any way but it was sad to see her die. I was more annoyed with Hae Soo actually, at how stupidly ignorant she is when she refused to leave the palace with Court Lady Oh. If it were Ruo Xi, she would’ve snapped up the chance and flee as far as possible. And also how they kept showing Hae Soo injured, and sleeping (prettily) in her dungeon while the guys gaze upon her with eyes full of pain. Omg kill me please.

Overall Moon Lovers: Scartlet Heart Ryeo had so much potential to be something good while differentiating itself from the original Bu Bu Jing Xin. The whole motif of the moon and stars gives the series a mystical effect that the original source lacks and so did the idea of fate and destiny, if done well. The tragedy however, is not in the death of Hae Soo and eternal separation of the two lovers (which I couldn’t care less about) but in the wasted potential that gave in to contrived fanservice, messy plot, bad writing and all that cringe-worthy stuff about the stars and fate.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (달의 연인-보보경심 려)

  1. “The tragedy, however, is not in the death of Hae Soo and eternal separation of the two lovers (which I couldn’t care less about) but in the wasted potential that gave in to contrived fanservice, messy plot, bad writing and all that cringe-worthy stuff about the stars and fate.”
    ^ AMEN to this.

    1. I feel . . . nothing towards Baek Ah, but how they downplayed Ruo Xi and 13th’s friendship was severely disappointing. 😦
    2. Any reasonable person would wonder how it would even be possible to ruin Yutan and Yintang’s tragic love story. Turns out, it actually is very possible. WTF. (Won can cry all he wants, and I don’t care at all.)
    3. I can’t say I’m not happy to not have to re-live literally throwing up at Yutan steaming to death.
    4. Never would I ever imagine saying this, but: watching So as the king, I actually really missed Yinzhen as Emperor Yongzheng, along with all his horrifying cruelty.
    5. I liked romantic Wook better than Ruo Xi’s romance with Yinsi, but Yinsi definitely redeemed himself in the latter episodes, especially with his confession. Meanwhile, how they dealt with Wook’s confession was frankly (at least unpredictably) forced and unnatural, and was what made me completely lose all respect for Yeonhwa.
    6. Obviously, the politics were laughable, but I think it was alright that the kings weren’t all-powerful. Unlike the great Qing Empire, Goryeo was a much more turbulent time in history, and it wasn’t until Gwangjong’s reign that power became centralized at the royal family rather than the noble clans (clearly the show did a (NOT) GREAT job portraying that). I think the closest equivalent would be China’s equally turbulent Northern and Southern Dynasties, so in theory, the politics should have played out more like in Nirvana in Fire or the C-novel I’m currently reading, “The Concubine’s Daughter is Poisonous” (The Princess Weiyoung — I don’t recommend the drama, though). Of course, comparing Nirvana in Fire and SHR is just mean and unnecessary. But I think it’s still important to note that Goryeo’s power plays are completely different from that of in the Qing Dynasty.
    7. But seriously, did So really think that Soo would make a viable queen? LOLOLOL

    Like

    1. 1. Yeah I know! I really liked Baek-Ah but more because of his personality (and he’s pretty!) but I couldn’t care less about his romance with Woo Hee. I actually preferred him with Wook’s wife (cant remember her name).
      2. HAHAH yes! Omg…did they forgot about Won or something and just slot that scene in as a last minute attempt to stay faithful to the original? lol if Won had a better character development that scene MIGHT have been sad.
      3. I thought Chae Ryung getting beaten to death was really scary but I was okay with Yutan getting steamed. I think it’s just me LOL
      4. Yes omg…So didn’t feel like an all-powerful king that Wook was trying to convince us lol and his cruelty was so abrupt and just fell flat unlike Yinzhen who’s character was slowly built up and you can totally understand his reasons for being cruel (I would do the same thing if i had to go through the shit he did lolol)
      5. Yupp I thought it was just me but it’s nice to know someone didn’t like Yinsi as much lol I blame it on Kevin Cheng’s performance. Wook’s confession felt like an attempt to drive So crazy lololol but I don’t dislike it since by that time it was one of the few things that actually interest me
      6. Oh…I see. I was always confused about whether the drama was just being lazy or being accurate to history since I know nothing about Korea’s history. But okay thanks for letting me know! I might watch Princess Weiyoung though I know the book is A LOT darker and more interesting. Just cuz’ i havent seen anyone totally trashed the drama yet hahahhaha
      7. Yes I know. Which only shows how So is unfit to be king since the only thing on his mind is Hae Soo and nothing else. Yeonhwa definitely deserves the position though she’s scheming and evil (but I love her anyway hahaahahah)

      Like

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