Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Moon Embracing the Sun (live action TV series), via Netflix

The Moon Embracing the Sun is a Korean historical-ish (meaning that it has period costumes, but no actual historical events are depicted) romance series with fantasy elements. It's 20 episodes long.


Here's Netflix's description for the show: “Years after she's assumed dead by the palace, a young noblewoman, now trained as a shaman, returns to court to reclaim her rightful position as queen.” This is not quite accurate. It makes it sound as Yeon Woo returns with the intention of regaining her rightful position. In reality, Yeon Woo does little except exist and be virtuous and good – it's only through the actions of others that she even remembers what her rightful place is, and then regains it.

Let's back up for a moment. Here's my description of the show: Yeon Woo, the 13-year-old daughter of a government official, inadvertently catches the eye of both the Crown Prince (15) and his illegitimate brother, Yang Myung (17). I'm not sure if she ever realized that Yang Myung loved her, but the one she fell in love with was the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince's grandmother plotted Yeon Woo's death and arranged for Bo Kyung, the daughter of one of her supporters, to become queen instead. Yeon Woo was saved by the trickery of Nok Young, a shaman, but lost her memory.

Eight years later, Yeon Woo and the Crown Prince, now the King, meet once more. The King is confused and upset because this girl who calls herself Weol looks so much like his dead first love, and yet she doesn't seem to know him. He works to uncover the truth about Yeon Woo's death, even as various government officials conspire against him.

I liked this show, but Yeon Woo wasn't so much a person as she was an idealized girl/young woman. At the age of 13, she was wise, learned, and dignified. At both 13 and 21, her entire being was focused on supporting her parents and the king. When she was ill, she drank what she thought was poison because she believed her death would make things easier for her parents. When she finally remembered her true identity and learned who had played a part in her “death,” she was given the choice of either making the truth known to all (which would have resulted in both her brother and several of the King's relatives being punished, possibly executed) or continuing to live as a shamed shaman, she nobly chose the latter so that the King would not have to be sad. It was incredibly frustrating. I have never wanted so badly for a character to, just once, do or say something selfish.

This show is really more about the Crown Prince/King. Will he be reunited with his beloved? Will he manage to outsmart those conspiring against him, even though he has so few people he can trust? Will his beloved brother commit treason and try to steal both his throne and the woman he loves?

I enjoyed seeing all of it play out. Although I wish Yeon Woo had been as amazing as Netflix's description led me to think she would be, the King, at least, didn't disappoint me at all. He was wonderfully clever, while at the same time weak in enough areas that I couldn't be sure he'd survive to the end. I worried that his love for his brother would be his downfall – it was unclear, right up to the very last episode, whether Yang Myung would betray him in a desperate effort to get Yeon Woo back. Yang Myung's belief, throughout much of the series, that Yeon Woo would have fallen in love with him if it hadn't been for his brother bugged me. I wanted to shout at him, “I know it hurts, but, dude, you are not guaranteed her love!”

There is so much crying in this series – because people died, or found out they'd been betrayed or lied to by a loved one, or because the universe just tried to crush them under its heel. The last episode was brutal towards many of the characters. Several decent people died, and everyone who did something bad (even if they weren't aware of it at the time) had to pay. There was so much of this that it stopped having an impact on me after a while, although I can at least say that the series tied up all loose ends and ended on a happy note.

Even though this wasn't quite the series I was hoping or expecting to watch, it was still good. I just wish the last episode had been a little kinder to a few of the characters.

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