I’ve marathoned two dramas on my “post-op, can’t do anything useful” bed: Queen In-hyun’s Man (still desperately waiting for subs to episode 14!) and The Moon That Embraces the Sun. I mulled over whether or not I should attempt a series review because honestly, it was an entertaining marathon, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have much to say.
Then I realized, this is me we’re talking about. I always have something to say. And I have a lot to say. So here I go.
Lee Hwon, the crown prince, and Heo Yeon-woo, the daughter of the chief scholar, meet by chance in the palace and fall into puppy love. It’s nice because they have the physical attraction but also respect the other’s intelligence.
There is also Hwon’s most awesome Eunuch, Hyung-soo, who stays by his side his whole life providing support and comic relief.
Lee Hwon has a half-brother by another mother, Yang-myung, who was exiled from the palace. He, too, is in love with Yeon-woo. Yang-myung is also best friends with Heo Yeom, Yeon-woo’s brilliant older brother, and Woon, a genius in the physical arts. Yang-myung is a free spirit who offers to take Yeon-woo away from her potential assignation as the king’s concubine but she loves Hwon and refuses.
Yoon Dae-hyung, his daughter, Yoon Bo-kyung, and the Queen Dowager want Bo-kyung as queen to keep the power with the king’s maternal family. When Yeon-woo gets selected as the queen-to-be (despite the fact that Bo-kyung was supposed to be chosen) the young couple is ecstatic, but the baddies decide to take her out. The Queen Dowager has the head shaman place a curse on Yeon-woo, which will eventually kill her.
This shaman, Jang Nok-young, promised her friend to protect Yeon-woo, so instead of letting Yeon-woo die of illness, she gives Yeon-woo’s father a medicine to make Yeon-woo appear dead. Her family gets denounced, receving the blame for allowing an ill girl to be betrothed to his crown princiness. WHATEVER.
The prince is heartbroken when Yeon-woo “dies” and has to marry Bo-kyung. Nok-young digs up Yeon-woo from her grave and raises her to be a shaman. Her faithful slave, Seol, goes with.
Eight years later, Lee Hwon is king and neither he nor Yang-myung have forgotten their love for Yeon-woo. Woon is the king’s trusty right hand man, hurting his bestie Yang-myung. The baddies, led by Yoon Dae-hyung, plot ways to control Hwon, who has turned out headstrong and utterly against all of the baddies mechanizations. Paramount in the baddies plan is getting Hwon to consummate his marriage with Bo-kyung and make a royal heir, but he won’t touch her, always claiming illness. This is a major conflict between him and the baddies. If he has an heir, then Hwon can be killed and the heir groomed to their ends.
As for Yeon-woo, she wakes up from her curse with no memory of her past and grows up as a shaman. In a twist of fate, she meets Hwon, who feels that she is familiar, but she doesn’t recognize him. He gives her a name, Wol, since she has none.
A while later, she gets kidnapped in order to draw Jang Nok-young back to the palace. She gets used as a bad-luck absorbing charm for the king, which basically means she sits by his bed all night and helps him sleep. Of course, this works. Eventually she gets caught and a lot of the plot is of Hwon and Yang-myung trying to figure out where they know her from and why she reminds them of Yeon-woo. She fights her memories and the baddies use Hwon’s strange attachment to her to manipulate him.
There’s a lot of her being a noble idiot and heaping loads of blame on herself. There’s a lot of him telling her she’s a no one because she’s a shaman only to make himself feel better that he likes a mere shaman. A lot of jealousy on Bo-kyung and Yang-myung’s parts.
Min-hwa, Lee Hwon’s sister, had been obsessed with Yeon-woo’s brother Yeom and because the family was denounced, she marries Yeom and restores their status. Turns out, she had a key part in the curse that “killed” Yeon-woo. Her extreme desire for Yeom made her the perfect human effigy to fuel the curse. So basically, she “killed” his sister in order to have him. Yeom finds out and she gets sentenced to slavery. Their baby stays with Yeom.
Some more baddies attacking Hwon through Yeon-woo and Hwon defending his status, Yeon-woo and his country. Yeon-woo as Wol has a lot of stuff happen to her and Yang-myung continues to be there for her as does her servant Seol.
Eventually, they come up with a grand ol’ plan, Yang-myung pretends to betray Hwon, gets the baddies on his side and then good guys win in the end. Bo-kyung hangs herself. Yang-myung sacrifices himself so he won’t hurt his brother anymore, baddies die, Hwon marries Yeon-woo, they have a kid who becomes friends with Yeom’s kid. Yeom gets back with the princess and everyone lives happily ever after.
As you can see, it’s all about the love story. Every character was geared towards the love story and that weakened the plot incredibly. I would’ve loved to see Hwon working as a king to truly problem solve against corruption. I would’ve loved to see Yang-myung covet the throne for some reason other than Yeon-woo – perhaps because of a different vision of where Joseon should be headed. I would’ve loved to see the friendship between Yeom, Yang-myung and Woon played out to it’s fullest. I would’ve loved to see Hwon grow up under the trials and tribulations of being king instead of pitching fits. Or maybe Yang-myung move by his side and guide him and not be in love with Yeon-woo. It’s such a tired plot device to have brothers in love with the same woman. I would’ve loved to see people band together to fight corruption.
Despite all this, I really enjoyed marathoning it. Like a lot. I can’t believe I have so many negative things to say about it because I enjoyed it so much. There were cute things like Lee Hwon always teasing Hyung-soo with Hwon’s “supposed homosexuality” because of his inability to consummate his marriage with Bo-kyung. Or Hyung-soo’s role in wooing Yeon-woo whether it be flinging flower petals off a roof or romancing them with tunes from a gayageum.
It’s a fluff drama, which is great as a viewer. But when you’re writing a review, you want more to go on.
This was a very prettily shot sageuk. I haven’t seen too many others in the genre, so I don’t have much basis for comparison, but I really would’ve appreciate more wide shots and landscapes. They used the same shots over and over to introduce palace scenes or scenes at certain homes. I understand there’s only so much you can do with a live shoot, but The Princess’ Man had some WICKED nature and village shots that really ushered in the right mood for the following scenes.
In terms of camera story-telling, it did a nice job. Not too much flip-flopping back and forth between faces. That usually makes me nauseous and is confusing. There were good moments like revealing Hyung-sun’s behind-the-scenes antics or Woon’s ghost-like ability to spy on anyone at anytime.
I would’ve appreciated more of those revelations in terms of character development. For example, Woon was a woefully underdeveloped character. Had PDnim Kim Do-hoon used the camera a bit more skillfully where Woon was a bystander in a scene, we would empathize with him more in the scenes were he was in the forefront. If we’d been able to observe, even for a few seconds, Woon’s reactions to certain events and revelations, we’d feel closer to him and understand him better.
Another way to say it is that the camera needed to make better use of silence. Use those dialogue pauses or moments when certain characters aren’t speaking to reveal everything going on in the scene, not just Kim Soo-hyun’s AMAZING crying. Best use of camerawork in this aspect was White Christmas. Amazing camera work. Phew.
Characters and Actors
Before we get into this, I must say that the child cast was fabulous. I’d read about it, but it was so amazing to see. Especially Yeo Jin-goo as the young king. And the focus of this review will be the characters. The show was all about their development (or lack thereof). If the development had been more in depth, the plot would’ve been better.
I really went to town on the main characters. I couldn’t cover everything I wanted because this would’ve turned into a novel.
Lee Hwon (Kim Soo-hyun/Yeo Jin-goo)
I’m going to get this out of the way now: Kim Soo-hyun killed this role good and dead. A-frickin’-mazing. Even when there wasn’t much to work with, he worked it and brought out some pretty heavy reactions. I already mentioned Jin-goo. I’m keeping my eye on him.
Now for Lee Hwon. He is petulant, arrogant, intelligent, passionate, ambitious and woefully young, even as the king. It is this aspect of the character that was seriously neglected. There was a lot of focus on his tendency to be a reactive, puppet-king, but what constantly ran through my brain is: he is SO young. He is 23 and has only been ruling for three years when we first meet him as a king in episode 6. There is a lot of growing up to do at 23 both in maturity and experience. This young king was pitted againt aged and tried ministers who definitely knew how to set him in his place. Hwon’s dreams and aspirations from his youth became lost in his desire to stay on top of the game that the ministers had long ago mastered.
This is a major issue. His faults lay, of course, with his personality and decisions, but also with lack of experience and the fact that the people who are supposed to be advising him are playing the power game. I seriously wished they’d played with this more or at least made it a point to highlight his youth.
At one point later in the drama, an image Hwon’s younger self scolds his kingly self for losing sight of his dreams. Basically, stop playing the ministers game and go after the hopes you have for Joseon. If you play their game, you’re always going to be one step behind. Make your own playing field.
In any case, all the tantrums thrown and cyclical thinking done revolves around a heavy responsibility given at a young age. Compound this with arrogance and a firecracker temper and you get Hwon going in circles for nearly 20 episodes. This is kinda annoying, but at the same time, pretty realistic. He’s STUCK in politics and he’s overwhelmed. Everyone is fighting him and he can’t seem to break the cycle. Once he has a kick in the pants to help him out of the cycle, he really gets going. In terms of the plot, it would’ve been nice to give him this sooner.
And then we have the actors. WOW. What a pairing. They look alike, they embody emotions similarly and they both ARE their characters. Are they seriously reading off a script? I can’t tell. Luckily for Yeo Jin-goo, Hwon was still a most awesome character in his youth so Jin-goo had a LOT to play with as an actor. He really gave the role depth and I found myself wishing that older Hwon’s writing matched it so that poor Kim Soo-hyun would’ve had more to work with. A lesser actor would’ve made Hwon unbearable but Soo-hyun brought life so a pretty stagnant character. He made us feel for Hwon as he became stuck in a rut and pitched his fits. The crying that moved me so much when his was Song Sam-dong Dream High did the same thing here. DAYUM does Soo-hyun know how to cry. And give adorably cheeky grins; and be annoyingly arrogant; and embody longing, confusion, love, agony and everything else that Hwon felt.
Bad writernim for giving him less material to work with than he deserves!
That, and he didn’t really have chemistry with Han Ga-in. Boo. Who doesn’t have chemistry with amazingly hot Kim Soo-hyun?
Heo Yeon-woo/Wol (Han Ga-in/Kim Yoo-jung)
I really liked Heo Yeon-woo in the beginning. She was simple, calming, wise, kind and had a LOT of verve despite her serene exterior. She was more of a foil for the more outgoing male leads and I kind of liked her that way. I’d hoped that later on, as Wol, she would’ve used her sharp wit to pull some major badass moves.
Buuuuuuut she didn’t. Not for a very, very long time. Instead, she became an apologetic, self-deprecating, weak heroine that really drove me bonkers because:
- I can’t stand that kind of weakness in women.
- Complete lack of consistency between Yeon-woo and Wol.
I understand that she was beaten down by life and by everything that happened to her, but to heap the blame for everything in the world onto herself was a bit too much. That’s not the kindness she displayed as a child: that’s utter weakness. She let’s herself get locked in what is basically a closet when she gets back with her king and says she’s cool with that? Are you serious? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Even he doubts you. It’s okay to say it sucks but you’re willing to bear it for the sake of your loved one.
And she accepts whatever the baddies do to her without a fight. What happened to the little girl who spoke about changing the nation? She became worse than Lee Hwon as an adult. He got bogged down in his politics but still tried. She became a door mat. What is up with 2012 dramas and door mats? Rather than coming off as a terribly nice person, she just came off as a total pushover. Hwon liked her because she had gumption.
Han Ga-in. She has a really soothing voice that matched her child counterpart, Kim Yoo-jung, quite well. But unlike Yoo-jung, Ga-in seemed to have no nuance in facial expression. We knew when she was really happy, really sad and crying, but the in-between stuff confused me.
Ga-in also had little chemistry with Kim Soo-hyun, which was quite sad. I believed that he was in love, but she looked like she was playing around. The child actors had the most adorable puppy love going on, I was really disappointed that the adult love wasn’t as strong. For a driving plot force, it needed to be better portrayed and showed off. Kim Soo-hyun hit it right on the nose. Han Ga-in needed to figure out how her rather quiet character would show it. Use your eyes better woman!
Bravo Yoo-jung because you were the heart of Yeon-woo for me and that’s what I carried with me through the show.
Prince Yang Myung (Jung Il-woo/Lee Min-ho)
Grr. This character. Let me just get this off my chest. I get how Lee Hwon could’ve held a torch for eight years. His love was reciprocated, then his woman taken from him and died. Then he proceeded to run a country. The woman by his side, Bo-kyung, was disgusting in his eyes: a deceitful ladder climber. He had a taste of something better and held onto it. Not that he couldn’t have let her go, but that’s the story.
But Yang-myung. You were a free spirit for EIGHT YEARS. You met people all over the place. You had a chance to free yourself and instead you obsessed. When someone doesn’t like you back, holding a torch for them is idiotic on your part. His love for her was beautiful as puppy love, but just plain ol’ stupid when he was older. He was wiser in the ways of the world.
You can’t choose who you love, but you CAN choose when to withdraw. He should’ve withdrawn. Then he can come to terms with his love and move on. He’ll always love her, but if he moves on, he can make a smidgeon of room for a woman who loves him back.
His character was so wasted. All he did was covet his brother’s stuff despite the profound love he had for his dongsaeng. In the end he came to terms with it, but then…sacrificed himself?
I get he wanted to protect his brother so that people wouldn’t use him as a political pawn against Hwon, but there are other ways to do so. I get that he wouldn’t want to be by Hwon’s side as he frolicked happily in marriage with Heo Yeon-woo, but he could’ve gone far away as an envoy if he wanted to help, or looked to start a family. Honestly, shit happens and people get over it. I feel like killing him off was just the writer’s way of getting him out of the way and trying to pull a few heartstrings.
Now for Jung Il-woo. I didn’t get it. He looked oh-so-wonderful, as always, and he did all the right things, but I was always underwhelmed. Or maybe it’s because he had Kim Soo-hyun opposite him. Or maybe it’s ’cause Jung Il-woo is a natural comedian. I’m not saying he did a bad job. There were some pretty amazing moments. But overall I felt like he didn’t connect with his character. Maybe he was as confused by the character’s obsession as I was.
I’m watching Return of Iljimae, and Il-woo KILLS. But Iljimae is a meaty role. Yang-myung is utter fluff compared to it. I blame the role. Jung Il-woo has chops and I’m pissed he didn’t get to use them.
Now uri Lee Min-ho. The only other thing I’d seen him in was Rooftop Prince and I adored him. He was absolutely charming and heart wrenching as the young, ostracized prince and I wish that earnestness had stayed. But when you pine for that long, the earnestness turns into desperation.
Yoon Bo-kyung (Kim Min-seo/Kim So-hyun)
Blah. I was so underwhelmed by this character. Yes, she had a bad daddy and was excessively greedy. Yes, guilt plagued her and made her all crazy. But seriously, all of her mechanizations were stupid and she spent half the time crying and flipping out.
I wanted her to be someone I loathed, but respected. Instead, I felt like flicking her away like a booger. Go. Away.
But this fault was in the writing and not due to the actresses who really did a good job with the role. Kim So-hyun had surprising depth as the young Bo-kyung and had every conflicted emotion on her face. I love seeing young actors with such control. It’s awesome. Kim Min-seo mirrored her well and expanded upon it. Too bad the character drove me batty.
AND, I thought she had more chemistry with Kim Soo-hyun than Han Ga-in had…their scenes were electric with all the negative emotions flying around on screen.
Kim Chae-woon/Woon (Song Jae-rim/Lee Won-gun)
Woooooooooon! How I mourn your underuse! Apparently, he was Yang-myung’s bestest buddy EVAR, but I felt like he was more like a shadow. Like I mentioned up in cinematography, even just showing his reactions to the goings-on around him would’ve beefed up the character. He seemed like the glue that held the friends together and the writing and directing made him pretty ineffective glue. Basically we got: he rocks the sword and he’s a stickler for duty. I wanted more and you didn’t even need to add a scene for that.
Some of this is on Song Jae-rim and Lee Won-gun. I know he’s a stern character, but a few little minute facial movements would’ve really helped to tell Woon’s tale.
And I have to say this: WHAT THE HELL WAS WITH HIS HAIR?! It looked like a woman’s coif. I’m jus’ sayin’.
Princess Min-hwa (Nam Bo-ra/Jin Ji-hee)
One of the best matched child/adult actress pairs in the whole thing. Both Nam Bo-ra and Jin Ji-hee matched each other’s exuberance and lust of life (and Yeom). They gave the character the charisma that gave each scene a breath of fresh air, even when Min-hwa was in tears.
I really loved the earnestness of the character and she was super cool until she says she’s not sorry for her hand in Yeon-woo’s “death”. What? Guh. That was just another way for the writer to knock Hwon down. He didn’t need no more knocks. Knock off the makjang please.
I do think that making this character a tragic, purposeful casualty of the power wars was a very wise writing decision. Well, the idea was. It was underwhelmingly used.
AND the chemistry between her and Song Jae-hee was ZERO. Wow, it was just so underwhelming. I felt like he saw her as a kid sister the entire time.
Hyung-sun (Jung Eun-pyo)
Omigosh, love this guy. The best used character throughout the series. Comic relief, poignant moments of utter love and support of Hwon and Jung Eun-pyo is a master of comedic timing.
This man is the quiet strength behind Lee Hwon. There is undying support, love, humor and wisdom behind this man and I wish all the characters had the consistency he had. Even the comic relief moments were sometimes intermingled with political undertones, or social commentary. He was a most clever side character and I wish this effort was spent on the main characters…
Jang Nok-young (Jun Mi-sun)
A purely plot moving character until the end. I seriously felt no connection with her whatesover. Then at the end the writer gave her depth; basically, when she was atoning for her sins. I wish I saw more conflict and a greater strained bond with Wol throughout.
Jun Mi-sun knows how to use her eyes though. Wow. When she moved me, she really punched me in the gut.
Heo Yeom (Song Jae-hee/Siwan)
What happened to his character’s connection with Woon and Prince Yang-myung? They’re all supposed to be BFF and they didn’t even write a letter? WTF? He was another casualty of political warfare used to make Lee Hwon and Heo Yeon-woo feel guilty. Grr, guilt. Such an easy way to create angst. This show was fraught with guilt. Yeom heaped guilt and blame upon himself, just like Yeon-woo did. So annoying. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and be proactive, dude.
And another thing, if he’s so darn clever and he knew that Yeon-woo could be used as a pawn of political games, why didn’t he suspect that her sudden illness was suspicious? Guh, more inconsistencies.
Song Jae-hee was utterly charming. Beautiful moments with his mother. Little chemistry with Min-hwa, but still charming.
Seol (Yoon Seung-ah/Seo Ji-hee)
Unlike, Hyung-soo, she was so sadly underused. I feel like that’s a running theme here. Underuse of characters. It’s not like they need more scenes; it’s that they need more powerful moments on screen when they do appear. And her death was stupid. I mean, it wasn’t stupid in the way that I wasn’t moved, but it was unnecessary.
I really loved both actresses and they milked the character for what it was worth, especially Yoon Seung-ah. I felt the love she had for her masters.
Yoon Dae-hyung (Kim Eung-soo)
Great actor. Annoying baddie. He was too clever without enough faults. I’m thinking King Sejo in The Princess’ Man. THAT was a great baddie. Ambitious but with a heart at the core. He fought his every decision, had a passionate love for his child and gave up everything for his ambitions.
Yoon Dae-hyung stuck to one tune: I want power. I will do anything for it.
It was what we always have. I would’ve loved some depth.
Entertaining as hell. Pretty. Easy watch. But not much substance. Pretty standard plot devices and character development (or lack thereof). Would I watch it again? No. Would I recommend it? If you are recovering from an illness and need an easy watch.
(Ratings are the Dramabeans way: how much I enjoyed it/objective determination of quality)
Broadcast network: MBC
Broadcast Period: 1.4.12 to 3.15.12
Director: Kim Do-hoon
Screenwriter: Jin Soo-wan