Friday, February 17, 2012

first impression: The Moon That Embraces the Sun (Korean)

What better way to start off a series than with a short legend about the moon and the sun, some assassin killings in the night, a dash of political intrigue, a few significant deaths, a tragic prophecy, and some juicy court conspiracies? It's always a good sign when the first few minutes of a series manages to rein you right in, living up to all the hype that we've been hearing about over the past couple weeks. It's exciting and you get that spine-tingling thirst to keep watching (much like I had had when I was watching Tree With Deep Roots). While it's not the most original of plot devices hovering the first episode, it's really the atmosphere, the actors, the premise, and the tragic romance that's reeling me in (it's all about feel for me, really).

And yes, I know that I'm probably way late in putting out a first impression post for The Moon That Embraces the Sun, but I guess the term to use would be: "Better late than never." Right?

I DO apologize though (and we may skip the next two or three paragraphs if no one cares to hear my excuses and rantings) -- I had been planning on watching The Moon That Embraces the Sun since the very moment I heard about it. I mean, who could forego a series that was slated as a "from the makers of Sungkyunkwan Scandal" type of series? I loved Sungkyunkwan Scandal in all it's insightful, witty, beautiful and idealistic glory (shoddy ending included). And then after boarding the Dream High train and riding it all the way through to the end within two nights, I was hooked on the next Kim Soo Hyun project (because Song Sam Dong rules, doncha know!). Add the ever awesome Jung Il Woo into the mix right after I finished falling in love with him from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.... I'm totally and permanently onboard this one!

And so it was unfortunate that so many factors had made it so hard for me to even start touching this series. And now I regret that I hadn't tried harder. The first English subbed online streaming version didn't even show up until about five to six episodes into the series. By then, I was in the middle of wrapping up thoughts on other series (which doesn't show since I've finished my articles and have yet to "complete" them enough for publishing). On top of that, I had this really overwhelming feeling that settled on my shoulders the moment I thought about watching The Moon That Embraces the Sun after I had already chosen to pick up Wild Romance, Color of Woman and Skip Beat! (none of which I have bothered to touch for a few weeks now).

I was under the impression that if I started watching The Moon That Embraces the Sun, I would have to blog about it (at the very least, a first impression post and some random thoughts as the series progressed). By the time I was resigned to start watching this series, the girls over at Dramabeans as well as all the media about ratings on this series had raved so much about the grandness of it all that I was worried I wouldn't know WHAT to write about it for myself. For me, it was a matter of: What good would I be if others are already putting such great recaps and thoughts on this series out for the public to bask in? Nonetheless, I still wanted to put my own two-cents in anyway and so I conflicted over how I would approach the series as a blogger. (Ultimately, I may end up rounding up the first impression post followed by random discussion articles, much like I had done so for Warrior Baek Dong Soo which was completely finished airing by the time I decided to get back to it.)

And then the following three series decided to start airing, all at the same time: Dream High 2, Shut Up: Flower Boy Band, and Operation Proposal. All three of these, I had been anticipating just as much as The Moon That Embraces the Sun; and while only two of them are really showing good promise to the series' progression and the story line development, I still had my plans to blog about them.

Finally, I told myself, I should just jump into this and not really think about it (it also helps that I've already gotten my first impression posts for the above three series posted). I'm not a professional critic -- I just write about drama series, movies, etc., because I like to write about them. The reason I stopped writing in my anime blog was BECAUSE I overwhelmed myself by trying to get too serious and too "professional" about posting regularly and in specific form. I told myself before that I would NOT do that with this drama zone blog and I intend to stick within my comfort zone.


So what did all of that above really mean?

It meant that I wanted to make sure I had enough filler to meet my "articles should at least be this long" quota. That way, I'm not tempted to reiterated in different ways how much I'm enjoying just the first episode of this series already. Vague phrases such as: "I really love this series!" or "The series is onto a good start." or "I will totally continue to ride this exciting train of mysticism and wittiness!" type of redundancy can tell just about anyone what I'm thinking so far. But that only gives me so many sentences to include in the article and then what good would it be for me to have a blog. Because we ALL know that I'm going to continue watching The Moon That Embraces the Sun, no matter what.

But anyway... enough about me and back to the actual series now, no?

On a side note, the scenes are all really pretty, from the interior scenes of the palace, to the outside references to the moon, etc.... Sungkyunkwan Scandal had the same feel to it as well, sometimes giving even the most hilarious moments a beautiful backdrop.

As an introductory, we start off strong with a nice little court conspiracy. The dowager queen tasks her court lacky, Lord Yoon Dae Hyung to get rid of the other "Sun" who may threaten her emperor son, Seongjo's position as the current (fictional) king of the Joseon era. And so the Prince Uiseong's death is planned along with some framework set to make the death out to be an act of suicide via guilt of treason. Our first encounter with a shaman, Ahri shows us a woman who senses "murder in the air" and rushes off to Uiseong's only to witness his death; escaping her own imminent demise at the hands of assassins, Ahri rushes off and ends up falling off a cliff. We cut to Seongsucheong, the Office of the Shamans wherein the Chief of the Shamans seems to sense something amiss in the air, confirming her discomfit with the absence of Ahri. We learn from a conversation between the dowager queen and Lord Yoon that Ahri may have been in a forbidden romance with Prince Uiseong since she used to be his slave and so decide to throw her into the conspiratorial framing of treason as well. Since the Chief of Shamans (for whatever reason) serves the dowager queen loyally, they task the woman to confirm that Ahri had part in wanting her "lover" to become king and had created talismans for this to occur.

We learn a whole lot of things within these first ten minutes of introductory story building (which is really nice because there would be a lot of questions otherwise). And the best part is that there is no dragging moment and we get through it all rather quickly; it doesn't seem rushed either since we're in the midst of WANTING to move onto the "present-day" story line (even IF the next part involves the kids instead of the anticipated "adults" of the series).

And so what else happens? Ahri escapes the assassins with the help of a noblemwoman, Lady Shin who is pregnant and kind. But it seems that the fate of Lady Shin's unborn child has already been written. Ahri foresees a tragic end to the noblewoman's unborn daughter, but cannot say anything about it. When we get flashes of the future, our suspicions are confirmed: the unborn child will be the future Wol (Han Ga In) who is known as Heo Yeon Woo until she is stricken with tragedy and loses her memory. Her life plays a huge role in the lives of two boys, Crown Prince Lee Hwon and his brother Prince Yang Myung, as the "moon" to both "suns".

With this event set in place, the story line takes off with a strong, solid foundation that I'm sure will continue to satisfy and fascinate (according to reviews and ratings) as the series progresses. While this wasn't exactly the best of the best in crop of pilot episodes, it had its attractiveness, though it feels as if it'll take another episode or two for the rest of the story line's excitement to pick up. Granted, there was enough excitement to kick-off the build-up of our world and our story, it doesn't stray far from standard historical court conspiracies and talk of fate and destiny and the like.

What I like about this first episode are the characters and a slight feeling of the mysticism, set up for all that symbolism of the Moon and the Sun references. Of course, I really DO hope that we don't overplay the Moon/Sun symbolism; because, well, I get it and there's no need to keep hammering in the connection of the Moon's (Wol) fate with the two Suns (Lee Hwon and Yang Myung). Don't get me wrong, the symbolism is excellently set in place, but too much harping about these Moon/Sun connections and it could get to be too annoying.

For the latter half of the first episode, we very quickly meet our three main leads in their "childhood" versions: Kim You Jung as Heo Yeon Woo, Yeo Jin Ku as Lee Hwon, and Lee Min Ho as Yang Myung. The three quickly become stand-out characters (of course with the excellent acting talent behind them, we've never had a doubt). More symbolism comes into play as each of the three have their own thoughts about each other's encounters: 1) Lee Hwon wonders if he'll ever get to meet Yeon Woo again; 2) Yeon Woo, upon learning that the boy she met is the Crown Prince, is relieved she'll never have to meet him again; and 3) Yang Myung watches Yeon Woo from afar, thinking to himself that it's great to be able to meet her again.

So it's another play on a forbidden romance in standard tragic rom-com glory with a couple who are fated to fall in love but cannot be together. All the while, we've got our third and fourth wheels diligently standing off to the side playing their parts. Of course, somehow I feel like Yang Myung's part will be much more significant than the part of the "other girl" who has yet to make her presence in the story line. But then again, what do I know since I've just started watching. I'm just going by simple standard romance tropes to make my predictions.

Other kids are also introduced as well, but not as in depth such as the teenage version of Seol, who is to become Wol (Yeon Woo)'s bodyguard in later story progression; Yeon Woo's brother Yeom, and the last boy to make up the best friend group a boy named Woon.

And already I'm loving the interaction between these kids. If I hadn't been anticipating this series in the beginning, after the appearance of these kids, I would be totally sold on this train. For instance, Yeon Woo starts off quiet and all-noble-like so I didn't have much of an impression of her. But then she starts talking and I'm taken aback at how spunky and brave she is. She's a young girl filled with ideals, wit, logic, and tons of spunk to boot (and she kind of reminds me of a younger version of Kim Yoon Hee, only with less bitterness and pride). Lee Hwon is showing us how quickly he can go from Crown Prince mode, to "just another young boy with his own ideals" mode and I'm sure it will be intriguing to continue following him. As for Yang Myung, he's created very much for the role of the good man -- I'm already feeling kind of heart broken for him because of all the "illigitimacy" issues he's had to go through as well as all the hardships he will be incurring for the sake of his beloved little brother.

The kids are so much fun and so in depth already that I know I'm going to miss them when they're gone. I look forward to seeing the appearance of Kim Soo Hyun and Jung Il Woo, but the "kids" of this series are already laying such a great foundation that it'll be hard to decide what I prefer to be watching more.

Again with the common phrase: "This series is starting off on very solid ground." And I mean it too. And seeing as how people have been raving about the rest of the series, I know I won't be disappointed for its progression at all. Of course, I only hope that I will have more thoughts to come soon (and that I can find a healthy balance between five different drama series and a book I'm trying to finish).

On a side note, there is a fascinating connection between two of our Moon/Sun cast members. My parents had just recently finished watching Giant which featured Yeo Jin Ku and Kim Soo Hyun playing the childhood versions of two of the main male roles, a set of brothers. And so it comes as a surprise to me that these two were actually cast as a set of brothers in one series, but now, in Moon/Sun, Yeo Jin Ku plays the child version of Lee Hwon while Kim Soo Hyun gets to carry on the "adult" version. The age difference is NOT at all that big between both boys, so it's kind of interesting and I wonder what type of basis the production staff used for this casting. I mean, I'm not complaining since both are excellent actors; I'm just wondering how this happened. Yeo Jin Ku, while able to pull off many child versions of main male leads, I would have never placed him as the child version of a character who's "adult" version is played by Kim Soo Hyun, just because neither of them look like they're passed the stage of young adult-hood anyway.

No biggie though; just a connection that I found amusing.

Anyway, I'm now off to finish the rest of what I can for The Moon That Embraces the Sun with high anticipation for its glory.


Props to Ahri (Jang Yeong Nam) who turned in a really creepy awesome performance in her dying  moments during torture.

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