THE SHORT VERDICT:
Moon/Sun is basically a romance dressed as a simplified saguek with supernatural elements, so it’s fairly light on the political intrigue.
Kim Soo Hyun is absolutely fantastic in this, and everyone else is pretty excellent too, except for Han Ga In, who seems miscast. Kim Soo Hyun more than makes up for it, though.
Cliffhangers are mostly of the romantic kind instead of the political kind, and there’s some pretty strong sexual tension that goes on for a good stretch of the drama. I lapped up back-to-back episodes of this. Even my mother zoomed her way through the first 8 episodes in just 2 days
The ending could have been handled better, but overall, I really enjoyed this one :)
The Moon that Embraces the Sun OST - 애지애가(愛之哀歌)
THE LONG VERDICT:
The cinematography is very pretty in Moon/Sun, and everything looks fabulous right off the bat. The colors are beautiful and intense, and makes everything look just that little bit more amazing.
The child actors take us from episode 1 through 6, and they are So. Good.
I was blown away by their delivery, which is so convincing and so mature. These young ones are going to be brilliant adult actors in time to come. Wow.
They really set the stage – and the bar, really – for the adult cast, and I wondered if the transition would be convincing.
I had no doubt that Kim Soo Hyun would be as intense and nuanced as Yeo Jin Gu, but I wondered if Han Ga In would be able to match Kim Yoo Jung’s layered and completely convincing delivery.
Most people seem to agree that the writing was better in the childhood portion of the drama. It was after the transition to the adult actors that many people started to feel the drag story-wise.
Many people said that it was laughable how simplified the story became, with basically one main romantic plotline: will he or won’t he sleep with his wife?
Let me just say that I can see where they’re coming from, but I managed to enjoy the story for the most part, even after the adult actors showed up.
I don’t need a whole lot of intricacy in the story if there is a main romance plotline that interests me. Especially if the actors involved are very good.
And they were. Except for Han Ga In.
Let me say right away, that I am a big Jung Il Woo fan. Big.
I loved him in The Return of Iljimae and also in 49 Days, where his amazingly nuanced deliveries shot him way up my mental Brilliant K-Actor List.
I went into Moon/Sun expecting to enjoy Jung Il Woo much more than Kim Soo Hyun.
I’d enjoyed Kim Soo Hyun a lot in Dream High, but I hadn’t seen him in anything else. I thought he was very good, but my loyalties were with Jung Il Woo.
Imagine my surprise when I came away completely mesmerized by Kim Soo Hyun instead.
I think it’s partly to do with the writing. Jung Il Woo was rather wasted in this show, I felt.
Yes, he did show flashes of brilliance as Prince Yang Myung, but it was Kim Soo Hyun who had all the opportunities to really blow it out of the water.
Kim Soo Hyun is seriously magnetic as the young, bitter, heartbroken king striving to rule on his own terms in the midst of political scheming on all sides.
His ability to deliver with nuance is displayed early on, even before the serious crying scenes surface. He delivers surface pleasant with bitter edge and undercurrent really well.
He also looks mighty fine in his kingly robes, and I especially dig him in his royal military uniform. He simply looks dashing.
Very nice indeed :)
It’s actually really refreshing to see him be dashing and sharp-witted and in a position of power, after seeing him as Song Sam Dong in Dream High.
In Dream High, he was the underdog who spoke with a country accent. And because it was a high school drama, he played a teenager.
In Moon/Sun, though, he’s all grown up and mature, and so cool.
He comes across as nuanced, natural, layered, regal, charismatic.. and sexy. A lot sexier than I thought I’d find him, since he was last Song Sam Dong to me in Dream High, and Sam Dong is cute, not so much sexy.
But just look at him here, shrewdly teasing his queen:
And then wooing his first love / true queen here:
I was mesmerized. Who knew that Kim Soo Hyun had it in him to be so badass sexy?
Of course, he delivered equally magnificently in the heartrending scenes as well. In fact, he was all-around fantastic in every scene.
Kim Soo Hyun really did an amazing, amazing job.
It’s even more amazing when I consider the fact that this is actually his first adult role. He delivered so effortlessly that it didn’t occur to me till halfway through that he’d never had the chance to play an adult before. Prior to this he’d always played teenagers.
And in his very first adult role, he takes on such a complex, demanding lead character who’s royalty, no less, and delivered so well, sageuk-speak included, and he even won the Baeksang. Wow. Kudos. What a feat.
He is one talented young man, definitely an actor to keep on my radar. I am a full-on fan.
If only his Wol / Yeon Woo had been better cast.
Han Ga In is serviceable at best, in this role.
She’s seriously disadvantaged in Moon/Sun, in my opinion.
First of all, Kim Yoo Jung was simply stellar as the young Yeon Woo, and set a really high bar for Han Ga In to match. Han Ga In is an ok actress, but this kind of heavy lifting is not her forte. And it shows.
Her delivery is mostly quite flat, and she spends most of the time opening her already big eyes really wide. Regardless of whether she is scared, angry or happy. That got old really fast.
Now, what makes this even worse, is that she’s playing opposite two seriously amazing actors. Kim Soo Hyun and Jung Il Woo act circles around her, all the time.
And to really drive in the nail on this coffin, she looks way older than both of them. And she IS quite a bit older than both actors. Han Ga In is 30 while Kim Soo Hyun is 24 and Jung Il Woo is 25.
I don’t fault her for being older, but the casting folks should really have taken this into consideration. No matter how fresh-faced she is for her age, she simply does not look like a 21-year-old, which is the age of her character.
Add all of these things together, and Han Ga In was fighting a losing battle from the get-go.
Still. Kim Soo Hyun sells his role and sells the romance so well that I was happy to suspend disbelief for what I tend to think is poor casting, just so that I could enjoy his fabulous king.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [DEFINITELY VERY SPOILERY]:
Lots of viewers were unhappy with the ending. And yes, I did find the ending somewhat lacking as well.
I guess the disappointment for me, is how Jung Il Woo’s character died. I mean, having his character die per se is fine. But the way he died just didn’t make sense.
I can buy his reasoning, but it was such a long drawn-out moment that surely somebody could have saved him from his suicidal decision?
The rebel who killed him took a long time to aim his spear, and there was a whole line of people armed with bows and arrows within range, including the king. And the king could see what was going through his brother’s mind in terms of his intention to let himself be killed. Surely he could have at least tried to stop it from happening.
Even if he couldn’t make it in time, surely he could have at least reached for an arrow, instead of just standing there??
That’s where it didn’t work for me. If they could have staged this more tightly, and made this moment more believable, I could have accepted Yang Myung’s decision, though I do think letting him live would have worked fine too.
Other than that, I can pretty much accept what the drama served up for the finale, in terms of how they killed off characters. While some netizens contend that it was all too convenient, I can still buy it, coz of this drama’s spiritual emphasis, ie, the heavens decree that everything will be put back in its place etc.
That makes it plausible in terms of people conveniently getting out of the way, eg, the queen who hanged herself, making it easy for our OTP to get married, and for a new queen to take her place.
What I did like (sort of), is that the drama gave us an epilogue that delivered a lingering view into the happy-ever-after of the OTP, and resolved Yeom’s relationship with his wife.
The cute moments were suitably cute, and Kim Soo Hyun was really adorable. I appreciated the cute moments purely for the fact that they showcased Kim Soo Hyun being adorable.
The wedding night scene where Kim Soo Hyun pulled his new queen towards him, sliding her across the floor, was hot, but much too fleeting.
The earlier portion of the drama, where the sexual undercurrent ran strong and outweighed the cute, was the perfect balance point, in my opinion. I would have liked more of the sexual tension in the epilogue, and would have happily sacrificed some of the cute if I had to.
I know that sageuks don’t usually do that, unless it’s the overtly sexy kind of sageuk. But this drama did tilt the balance that way in the first half, while still mixing in the cute, and that worked really well.
Ah well. At least I get that for a good chunk of the drama, instead of not at all.
All in all, I enjoyed this drama, though I was somewhat less engaged towards the very end.
Kim Soo Hyun was my favorite part of this drama, and I’d watch this again just to see him be king.
He was a faceted king with nuances and layers and was by turn frustrated, angry, bitter, heartbroken, vain, controlled, yearning, playful, cute, conflicted, hopeful, loving & sensuous.
I loved Kim Soo Hyun being so regal. It becomes him :)
MY THOUGHTS ON THE BAEKSANG DEBATE:
There was a lot of unrest in the drama-verse when Kim Soo Hyun won the Baeksang for his role in Moon/Sun.
Basically, people were unhappy that he won when the other contenders were his more experienced and respected sunbaes in the industry.
I don’t know if he did better than all the other contenders, since I didn’t watch some of the dramas in question, like Brain, but I would say that he did outperform Park Shi Hoo (The Princess’ Man).
Now, let me say upfront that I am a Park Shi Hoo fan. I fell hard for him in Family Honor, and proceeded to lap up everything else that he ever acted in, and I would watch each show more than once. And I loved The Princess’ Man, which I think is an awesome drama.
I also thought Park Shi Hoo did excellently in TPM, and made huge strides in his acting. But his delivery, while showing great improvement, is still not layered. And Kim Soo Hyun is layering, delivering a nuanced king even in the small moments, while making it all look effortless. Now that’s impressive.
Also, objectively speaking, I feel that Kim Soo Hyun was more natural than Park Shi Hoo. He delivered more layers and more nuance, and I would agree that he was overall a more deserving choice for the Baeksang than Park Shi Hoo.
As for Han Suk Kyu, another contender who was the king from Deep Rooted Tree, I think the competition is close between them. Still, I think Kim Soo Hyun’s role allowed him to shine within a wider range of emotion.
In Moon/Sun, Kim Soo Hyun’s king has a whole romantic plot-line, on top of the plot-line of what kind of Joseon he wanted to make. In Tree, Han Suk Kyu’s king mainly operated within the plot-line of the kind of Joseon he wanted to make, but didn’t have a solid romantic plot-line. I think perhaps that is why Kim Soo Hyun won instead of Han Suk Kyu.
It’s not necessarily the case that he’s a better actor than Han Suk Kyu, which is what had quite a few netizens up in arms as well. It was the role that allowed him to show more range, and he rose to the occasion. Perhaps if his seniors had had roles that allowed them to showcase similar range, the Baeksang may have gone to someone else.
In my opinion, though, if a role doesn’t give you the space to showcase your range, then that range, even if it’s there, is simply dormant for that role. You can’t rate someone on something that doesn’t get showcased.
As far as I can tell, having watched most of the dramas nominated with the exception of Brain, Kim Soo Hyun deserved his Baeksang.
A TANGENT ON MOON/SUN VS. THE PRINCESS’ MAN:
On another note, it’s true that TPM is a better show overall, with tighter writing, better music and more intricate plotlines. And I seriously loved TPM.
But Moon/Sun was somehow addictive where TPM was not as addictive. I found myself reaching for another episode, and then another with Moon/Sun, but with TPM, I sometimes had to rest during an episode coz it was that intense.
Perhaps there’s something to be said about a relatively light story: you don’t have to rest after an episode. That, coupled with some good cliffhangers, and I was reaching for another episode in spite of having other dramas half-watched on my plate.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Definitely worth checking out. If you dial down your expectations for an intricate plot, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy Moon/Sun.
It’s got pretty cinematography, and of course, it’s got a regal Kim Soo Hyun, who is just riveting to watch.
The OST is excellent, and this is one of my favorite tracks. The video quality isn’t as sharp as I would like, but this video’s got some nice footage from the show, of both the child actors and the adult actors playing our OTP :)