Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (abbreviated as SHR) is a South Korean television series based on the Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin by Tong Hua. It aired from August 29, 2016 to November 1, 2016 on SBS every Monday and Tuesday at 22:00 (KST) for 20 episodes.
This show had so much going for it that it was hard to resist watching it.
Firstly, SHR not only had Kang Haneul in it, but also 7 other princes that included good-lookers such as EXO’s Baekhyun, YG actor Nam Joo Hyuk & of course, the king of period dramas Lee Joon-gi. Lee Ji-eun (better known as IU) was probably the most controversial in the casting, though not so much because of her lack of acting skills, which were well-received in Dream High and Producers, but her Cheshire album controversy (which I won’t elaborate on because it’s too much trouble, but feel free to Google it).
How could a cast like this fail, right?
Secondly, the OST – this deserves its own review post because the OST is so, so good. Besides boasting of usuals such as Davichi and Taeyeon, EXO’s CBX (Chen, Baekhyun, Xiumin), Baek Ah Yeon, Lee Hi, Epik High, AKMU, Punch etc. lent their voices as well. I can’t think of a better combination of voices in one drama (strongest contender most probably W).
Visuals – Good-looking princes aside, it is obvious that the production team paid great attention to making everyone and everything in this drama look really good onscreen. All the scenes between Hae Soo (IU’s character) and the princes look so dreamy that you’d almost be fooled into thinking that you’re watching a romcom. Nonetheless, it is hard to complain about watching dreamy scenes when Wook (portrayed by Kang Haneul) stares into Hae Soo’s eyes, or when he helps her up amidst white snow, and you unknowingly get sucked into the scene.
Humour – Warning though, this doesn’t last long throughout the drama. If you just want to enjoy the hilarious fights and conversations in this drama, you should just give up on the storyline between Hae Soo and Wang So (Lee Joon-gi) and enjoy almost every prince’s one-sided crush on Soo. However, when the humour does occur in SHR, it makes you feel genuinely warm on the inside. Despite general criticism of Baekhyun’s portrayal of Eun as hopelessly childish and unprofessional, I think his character was one of the few things that lit up the overbearing darkness of the show. His childish banter is a breath of fresh air (I chuckle as I write this because Wook described Hae Soo in the exact same manner) in a place that is oppressive.
Plot – Everything about the plot just threw me off. By the end of the drama, I was ready to strangle every single character (who was actually still alive).
To describe SHR simply, this drama was supposed to be about Hae Soo and So. I had no qualms about Hae Soo and Wook being ‘together’ in the first part of the drama (albeit under very undesirable circumstances), but it dragged on and on, and I started wondering when So was going to play any part in being the male lead. Then, in a strange twist of events, the gentle and kind Wook starts cracking under pressure to be king and no longer goes to Hae Soo’s rescue, nor does he bother checking on her anymore. The strangest of the strangest is that it is revealed later that he wants to be king because he feels hopeless about not being able to save Hae Soo when she needed it the most – but the plot also mentioned previously that he made a deal with his sister to become king to protect their family.
You realize how confusing it is, and it gets even weirder when So also wants to become king. Hae Soo says no to Wook becoming king, but supports So wholeheartedly. Even Wook questions Hae Soo about this, and she says it is because “So was honest about his intentions to be king”. I suppose you could argue that Hae Soo had visions/premonitions of So becoming king, therefore she might have thought that it was meant to be, but everything just leaves you scratching your head, and I felt so lost looking at Wook fall to his ruin. I couldn’t tell if he had caused it because he was not truthful about his intentions to be king (and made up a lot of excuses to justify himself), or if he was just genuinely lost in his own world where all he could see was his one happiness, Hae Soo. I’m still left undecided on my opinion of Wook – I suppose Hae Soo was like this as well, as she told him that she no longer could have the same feelings for him any longer.
How did our kind Wook end up as the bad guy??
Acting – IU’s lack of chemistry with her co-stars is painfully obvious, and for some reason there is always a close-up short of her wide-open eyes in every episode. It’s a fixed expression she wears every time something happens, and it gets rather dreary to watch after a while.
or maybe IU just has big eyes
Ending – Open endings are generally bad in my opinion. Bad for the audiences who end up not knowing what they were hoping to see by the end of the show.
Towards the end, the feelings between Hae Soo and So were so strained that it became hard to stomach, especially when you find out that So had no qualms getting the Queen (formerly Princess Yeon Hwa) to bear the Crown Prince for political power, and Hae Soo was left to die with Jung, who loved her but never had the chance to develop anything beyond friendship.
Later, Hae Soo returns to the future after she dies in Goryeo, and gets flashbacks, cries and apologizes to the painting of So standing alone in his palace. Personally, I enjoyed this scene a lot. They were separated while they were together in the same era but joined by heart when they were in separate eras. In the end, So could only see Hae Soo’s urn, while Hae Soo could only see him in a painting.
In summary – not a single character had a happy ending.
This would have been fine on its own. Sure, not every drama must end with a happy resolution for everyone, but there are rumours of a second season after IU posted a photo on Instagram of a cut scene, where someone hands Hae Soo a handkerchief when she is sobbing while looking at the painting of So. It leaves a lot to the imagination, and it’s not exactly a great thing to keep the hopes of fans raised.
Some people have asked me if this is worth watching at all, given that Korean & international fans have such drastically different opinions of it.
If you’re totally okay with watching a show where things just keep falling apart and enjoy watching people suffer in misery, then this is the show for you. If you want to enjoy a cute K-drama storyline, just stop right before the part Hae Soo gets accused of poisoning So, because this is when you feel the heartache for Wook.
If I had to find a phrase to aptly sum up the drama, it would be ‘a series of unfortunate events’. It had everything it needed to become a success, but somehow just flopped.
All in all, only worth watching because of Kang Haneul & Lee Joon-gi, and of course the fantastic OST. Everything else was subpar at best, and you probably have better dramas to watch (Love in the Moonlight, anyone?)