Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Directed By Kim Kyu-tae
When the trailer for this South Korean drama first came out, I was excited due to two reasons. The first reason is that I’m a Lee Joon-gi fan and have been since I first saw him in the Japanese-South Korean film, Virgin Snow. His noteworthy roles are in historical period dramas which include works like Arang and the Magistrate and Iijimae. The second reason is that the trailer implies a great romantic tragedy. By now, you should know that I am a big romanticist.
During a solar eclipse, a 21st-century woman, Go Ha-jin (Lee Ji-eun) is transported back to the Goryeo Dynasty. She becomes Hae-Soo and befriends the royal princes of the Wang family. She soon falls in love with Wang So, the 4th prince of the Wang family, who is known as the lone wolf and wears a mask to hide a hideous scar. Hae-Soo/Go Ha-jin gets entangled in the political affairs of the Wang family as the princes are fighting to become Emperor.
In my opinion, I consider Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo to truly highlight Lee Ji-eun’s acting abilities. From what I’ve seen, Lee Ji-eun mostly starred in light-hearted comedies and teen dramas, but this drama was a great challenge for her as her character, Hae-Soo showed a range of emotions due to suffering so much mental and emotional pain caused by the Wang family. For instance, Hae-Soo had to withstand the ridicule of the sophisticated high-class society and the jealousy of servants where they viewed her as a toy that the royal princes are fond with. Hae-Soo had to gain a sense of self while at the royal palace; thus, she became an excellent herbalist.
I’m a bias watcher and I consider Lee Joon-gi as one of the greatest action stars in Korean dramas. Some people may argue otherwise, but I do feel that he is constantly being underrated for his acting capabilities. There are some amazing stunts in this series that he and his fellow actors did. Also, the character, Wang So, has this mesmerizing, flirtatious playfulness that he shows to Hae-soo. At first, Wang So was scary and cold-hearted when he first meets Hae-soo and also when he comes back to live in the royal household. We soon learn that he was misunderstood and all that he ever wanted was his mother’s love and his family’s acknowledgment that he is part of the bloodline. Yet, when he begins to open up to Hae-soo we see that he is such a gentleman and kind soul to her that it melts people’s hearts like mine.
Scarlet Heart Ryeo has a political plot. We see distrust and manipulation between the brothers as they desire to become the Emperor. There’s blood and corruption in this family that a happy ending isn’t possible nor is it in store for readers. In fact, the ending is quite disappointing depending on how you see it. In the end, Wang So becomes king at the price of losing his true love, Hae-soo. Yet, this ending isn’t a surprised because Hae-soo’s true self, Go Ha-jin, doesn’t belong in that world. I was a bit sad that they weren’t able to be together, but I also understood why the writers wrote the ending the way they did. This ending demonstrates that “true love” doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Sometimes, a love that is ending makes the relationship real and tangible and that’s enough for someone—a person shouldn’t expect more than what’s already given. Maybe I’m just a sad person or read so many sad love stories, but I do find this ending and perspective of love, beautiful.
Although Scarlet Heart Ryeo was not a commercial success in South Korea, it was internationally popular. I think that it should be on every person’s must-watch Asian drama list.