Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Moon That Embraces The Sun Review (2012)

Drama Rating: ***
Personal Rating: Enjoyable

Lee Hwon, son of the King of Choseon and next in line to the throne, falls in love with Yeon Woo, daughter of an important court official. Fueled by jealousy and greed for power, the devious court minister Yun crafts a plot with the Queen Dowager to rid himself of his main adversaries, including Yeon Woo's father, and ends up taking the post of Prime Minister. As a result of his plans, Yeon Woo is sacrificed. Will Lee Hwon and Yeon Woo's love survive the treacherous waters of palace intrigues and power struggles?

*Spoiler warning*

This was not the best nor the worst as far as historical palace dramas go. Palace intrigues and royal struggles have long been produced in Asia and they all tend to follow similar scripts with devious high officials plotting for power. This aspect was handled in a pretty standard fashion although it did highlight an aspect worth discussing. Superstition is an element which is fairly tricky to use due to its imprecise nature. In Queen Seon Deok, this was nicely handled as Lady Mishil and Princess Deokman both understood science and used that to 'create' and spread superstitions. However, the basis of shamanism was not well defined in this series with murky boundaries, thus leading to issues of inconsistency throughout the series and also raising a number of questions as to why the story took the path it did. Given their supposed powers, there are a number of paths the story could have taken which would have seemed more likely and realistic than the one taken, especially when the screenwriters could pretty much make up whatever powers they wanted.

For me, a story needs to be convincing and believable for me to enjoy, so if there were alternative ways to develop the story that made more sense, then the drama failed to convince me. Sadly, this was one of those cases and to add insult to injury, the ending was done rather badly wrecking whatever credence and goodwill the drama had built up throughout the development.

One of the most amusing things that struck me in the opening episode were Yeo Jin Goo and Kim Yoo Jung playing Lee Hwon and Yeon Woo/Wol. The scene when they first appeared together took me back to their younger days in Iljimae, so it almost felt as though they were reprising their former roles. I was extremely glad they were given a lot more screen time this time around as their acting was excellent, better even than most older actors/actresses. In particular, Kim Yoo Jung was probably the most outstanding and promising young actress I've seen to date and my definite favorite.

As for the older cast, Kim Soo Hyun was a decent King Lee Hwon, facing off against a tough Prime Minister Yun Dae Hyung played by the experienced Kim Eung Soo. Selecting Witch Yoo Hee's Han Ka In to play Yeon Woo/Wol was a little peculiar as her often wide-eyed looks and tempered demeanor don't exactly exude the warmth and charm of the younger Kim Yoo Jung. As a result, there wasn't much chemistry to fuel a supposed romance between the King and Wol. On the other hand, casting Jung Eun Pyo as the eunuch Hyeong Seon was brilliant move as some of his scenes in the drama were probably among the most fun and memorable. Kim Young Ae as the Great Queen Dowager and Jun Mi Sun as the Head Shaman were both unremarkable, not really impressing me with their performances.

The music generally well supplements drama, particularly at touching moments when you hear the yearning of the violin, or at sad, gripping moments when chorale-like vocals take over. There were a few moments when the music overpowers the events taking place with music that is a bit too active, giving it an overbearing feel, but fortunately this occurs infrequently. The use of traditional instruments also lent an air of authenticity and realism to the drama.

The general concept for this drama was not too bad but it definitely required some finesse to ensure the drama made sense. The delicate balance of ensuring the the concept of shamanism and black magic maintained credibility was probably the most difficult aspect and in this, I would say the effects were mixed. As these ideas were crucial to the main story, the writers did not convince me and left me rather skeptical of whether things should/would have happened the way they did. Acting-wise, the cast was pretty solid although I would definitely favor the younger cast as I think they far outperformed their elders. As to the plot itself, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. Not a bad drama overall but it certainly could have been much, much better.

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