Love. LOVE. I love it, I love it, I love it! Episode 1 of The Moon that Embraces the Sun was everything I wanted, and then some. Heavy political intrigue, gut-wrenching betrayals and sacrifices, the headiness of young love, this drama might just have it all. It’s beautifully filmed, gorgeously scored, and wonderfully acted. It just hit the trifecta of win as far as I’m concerned. I totally love the child actors, who are knocking it out of the park so hard the balls might be in Neptune by now. I thought I’d be totally behind the characters of Hwon and Yeon Woo, but who knew that second male lead Yang Myung would already be equal in importance to me and making me fervently pray that the ending isn’t a rocks fall down one but one where at least one of the two guys ends up with the girl.
At this point I don’t care which one, just that I need these people to beat the odds and find happiness so badly I’m twitching when I think about their tangled fates to come. I don’t know how I’m going to survive the next 10 weeks of live-watching this baby and not lose my sanity from the desperate need for more week-to-week. For now, I’m in blissful drama Heaven, with MoonSun worthy of being the first sageuk I recap. Episode 1 launched with AGB 18% in ratings, TNS 15% in ratings, which indicates this drama likely won’t be a cult hit like Sungkyunkwan Scandal and instead a bona fide popular drama domestically.
Episode 1 recap:
Day turns into night. Voiceover: in the past, there were two suns and two moons. It was burning hot during the day, and freezing at night. The world was in chaos. At that time, a hero emerged and shot down one sun and one moon, restoring order and peace to the world. Queen Yoon has tea with her nephew Yoon Dae Hyung, discussing how they are in need of a hero. She wants him to perform a great task to destroy a someone who poses a threat to the King’s throne. Prince Uisung is that extra sun who must be eliminated.
Armed and concealed intruders run through the dark of the night and sneak into a grand estate. They place seals on the walls and bury a book in the ground. One intruder enters a room but finds it empty. He is confronted by Prince Uisung, the younger brother of the current King. During the tussle the Prince is shot with an arrow.
Suddenly a woman wakes up gasping in the middle of the night. It is Ari, a shaman. She knows Prince Uisung is in danger and insists on running to his estate in the middle of the night. Her fellow shaman Jang Nok Young runs after Ari to stop her, but appears to be halted by an invisible sensation of dread. She looks up as the moon is concealed by the clouds before parting once again.
Prince Uisung is battling multiple intruders in his estate, fighting valiantly despite being injured. He is no match for multiple assasins and is about to be cut down when someone calls a halt. It is Yoon Dae Hyung, who was once aligned with Prince Uisung, but informs the Prince that he has found a better backer. He intends to support the King henceforth. Prince Uisung derides him as being a dog and a pig who covets power, and threatens to tell the King the truth about Dae Hyung’s misdeeds.
Too bad Dae Hyung doesn’t intend to allow Prince Uisung to live long enough to see the King again. Dae Hyung is about to cut down Prince Uisung, but stops to tell him that the Prince’s right hand man had already been dispatched and is waiting in the afterlife to keep the Prince company. We see that official being strung up and hung. Prince Uising tries to fight but has his throat slit. We see Ari watching this scene from over the walls of the estate. Dae Hyung notices her in the reflection of his bloody sword and sends his assasins after her.
Ari flees from the assasins until she reaches the edge of a precipice. She stops but her footing slips and she falls down into the ravine. The assasins run down to look for her but find nothing except for her hair band. They recognize the hair band as belonging to a member of the royal astrology office. Head assasin orders the person found and killed.
At the royal astrology office, the head shaman does a count of all her ladies but finds Ari missing. She stares at Nok Young demanding to know where Ari went? Queen Yoon and Dae Hyung discuss what to do with Ari, who unfortunately saw what happened tonight. Even though it will be a waste to eliminate Ari, who has been deemed the most talented of the young shamans and the annointed successor to succeed the position of head shaman. they must get rid of her. Queen Yoon realizes that Ari used to work for Prince Uisung and clearly had a thing going on with him. They decide to use this to their advantage. They shall claim that Ari used a curse to make her beloved Prince Uising into the King. Since the head shaman belongs to Queen Yoon, they can easily set up Ari to take the fall.
Court officials storm into the estate of Prince Uisung and his loyal official to find them both dead. The King is handed a suicide note where they took the blame for planning an insurrection. The head shaman arrives to meet the King, who hands her a curse that was found on the estate of Prince Uising. Head shaman explains the curse as taking away the vitality of the sun (the King), and belongs to one of her ladies Ari. The King orders Ari found immediately.
A rich lady is being carried in her paladin through the forest when an injured Ari runs out and collapses right before her. The lady, who is heavily pregnant, gets out to assist the injured Ari, who can only call out for her master. The lady tells her guards to put Ari in her paladin and carries her back to her estate. As they are entering Hanyang, the guard wants to check the paladin since they are looking for Ari. He opens the window to find the very pregnant lady inside and apologizes for disturbing her. Ari is hiding inside under the lady’s skirts.
Suddenly the guard sees blood on the ground and on the sides of the paladin. He orders it to halt again and opens the door to find the lady with blood on her skirts and in severe distress. The lady servant makes it seem like the lady is about the give birth so the guard lets them go. Once they are safely inside, Ari thanks the lady for saving her worthless life. She tells the lady that her daughter will be as beautiful as the moon.
The lady is pleased since she always wanted a girl. Ari says the girl will have a high born destiny, which is when Ari sees into the future, where Yeon Woo meets the Crown Prince, falls in love, is made the future Crown Princess, and then appears to get sick and dies. Ari gasps but does not tell the lady what she has seen. She thanks the lady once again, she will be forever grateful.
As the lady is leaving, Ari calls her back. She tells the lady that even if Ari were to die, she would protect the lady’s daughter forever. Ari stumbles back home but is found by the assasins. She is dragged back to court where she is tortured to make her confess to placing a curse on the King. All the fellow shamans watch in distress. Dae Hyung oversees the torture and tries to get Ari to confess who ordered her to place the curse. Ari says she’s never seen the curse.
Dae Hyung calls Ari a traitor, so Ari gets up all her courage to call Dae Hyung the traitor for manufacturing evidence and planting it. She is not the only person who witnessed Dae Hyung’s crime. The moon saw his misdeeds that night, and one day the moon will punish him. Dae Hyung is visibly distressed by Ari’s prophecy and orders the guards to resume their torture.
Later that night, Nok Young sneaks into a cell to visit Ari, who is close to death. Ari cries that she never wanted Prince Uisung to be King, and neither did he. Nok Young feels helpless that she could not save them. Ari chalks this up to god’s will. Ari clasps Nok Young’s hand and asks her to please protect a child for her. It’s a child that will be destroyed by the sun if she gets too close. Nok Young asks who the child she must protect is, but all Ari can say is that her life is almost at an end. Nok Young is dragged out.
The next day, Ari is brought outside for her execution. She lays on the ground as her arms and legs are tied to four separate cows as she is about to be slowly teared limb-to-limb. She looks up in the sky at the sun, and suddenly the sun splits into two. Ari sees into the future, two teenage boys practicing their swords. It is Crown Prince Hwon and Prince Yang Myung. Yeon Woo is also there. Ari sees two suns and one moon. The three of them, they must stay safe. The execution starts and Ari is pulled upwards and suddenly the scene fades to white and we hear a newborn cry out.
Yeon Woo is born and her mother and older brother coo over how pretty she is, just like the moon. Nok Young buries Ari in a grave out in the countryside and remembers Ari’s final request for Nok Young to protect a child for her.
Time passes and we see an courtyard being prepared for a ceremony. An official checking on the preparations notices that a red umbrella and some fruit are missing. Eunuch Hyung Sun arrives to bring the Crown Prince out only to find the room empty. Crown Prince Hwon is hiding in a storage room donning his civilian disguise. He takes out a map and plots where he intends to go.
Yeon Woo and her mother arrive at the royal academy. Mom asks Yeon Woo to put down her book and hurry or else they will miss watching her brother. The young scholars are gathered in the courtyard as the ceremony commences. Yeon Woo and her mother hurry inside and smile to see Yeon Woo’s brother Heo Yeom sitting there.
Heo Yeom turms and bows to another scholar sitting across the way, it is Woon. Mom explains that Woon, Heo Yeom, and Prince Yang Myung all study under her husband, the head scholar of the royal academy.
Eunuch Hyung Sun calls the guards to hurry up and find the Crown Prince before the King finds out he’s missing. The King arrives at the examination hall and everyone prostrates themselves as he’s carried inside and walks up to the dais. A butterfly suddenly comes down from the sky and floats next to Heon Woo, and then back up towards the sun. Hwon walks out and notices the bright sunlight. He reminds himself not to get burned so he takes out a red umbrella to shade himself.
The ceremony begins, which is to annoint the top entrants who passed the civil and the martial exams. Woon is the top warrior while Heo Yeom is the top civil scholar. Yeon Woo’s mother is watching the ceremony happily until she turns and realizes that Yeon Woo has disappeared. Yeon Woo is following the butterfly through the palace, walking right towards the same wall that Hwon is currently trying to scale on a ladder. Hwon turns and sees Yeon Woo following the butterfly and he is totally smitten with her. Yeon Woo notices Hwon on top of the ladder staring at her, and she stares right back.
Hwon loses his footing on the ladder and falls down right on top of Yeon Woo. His red umbrella floats on top of them before flying away. Hwon has Yeon Woo lightly cradled in his arms. When they open their eyes, they quickly get off each other. Hwon clears this throat and wonders how she came to be here since she’s clearly not from the palace. Yeon Woo asks back why he was trying to scale the wall? Hwon arrogantly states that only he’s allowed to ask questions, which annoys Yeon Woo and she turns to stare at him. Finally she answers, explaining that she came to see her civil servant brother.
He doesn’t believe her, but she’s ready to call the guards and turn Hwon in as a thief. Hwon realizes it doesn’t look good for him, what with him carrying a pack and trying to climb a wall to escape. He lies that he came here to watch the ceremony as well. When Hwon reaches down to grab his pack, the goods tumble out, which leads to Yeon Woo calling out for the guards.
Hwon silences her and pulls her behind him as he runs for it. Hwon takes Yeon Woo to a small pavilion by the lake and chastises her for being the reason he needed to run. Yeon Woo wonders why he’s so disrespectful to her. Hwon points out that he’s two years older than her, and when Yeon Woo confirms that she’s just 13 years old, Hwon says he’s 15 already.
When Yeon Woo turns to leave, he stops her and tries to explain that he was here to see the top martial arts scholar. Yeon Woo points out his lies, since the top martial arts scholar is Woon, her brother’s good friend, and Woon doesn’t have a younger brother. Hwon looks all shifty and confirms that Woon doesn’t have a younger brother. He confesses everything to Yeon Woo, telling her that he’s escaping to look for his older brother, and that person is not Woon. Hwon sadly explains that his older brother, even though they don’t share the same mother, treats him so well. We see Hwon and Yang Myung practicing swords together. He’s sad that his brother has no chance for a future and does not have their father’s love. It is because of him that his brother suffers his fate in life. His brother hasn’t come to visit him in quite some time, so he wants to go visit him.
Yeon Woo thinks Hwon need not blame himself. Their fates are decided already and they should not blame what they cannot change. If Hwon loves his older brother so, then his older brother surely will not blame Hwon for his own lot in life. Heon Woo starts a tirade about the strictures of Joseon rules, such a brothers being raised apart, woman not being allowed an education, none of that is fair. Hwon stares at her until Yeon Woo realizes that she was just criticizing the King. Hwon teases Yeon Woo that he’ll report her. He agrees to not report her if she stops calling him a thief. All the things in that bag belong to him. Yeon Woo wonders how he can afford all those luxury items. Hwon gets annoyed and is about to announce loudly that he is Joseon’s………guard of the interior.
Yeon Woo’s mom cries as she asks a guard to help her find her daughter. She suddenly sees Yeon Woo walking with the Crown Prince and runs down to make sure she’s fine. Hwon forces the guard to stay mute and play along. Hwon tells Yeon Woo that he’s already apologized to the head guard for stealing the goods and then he rushes off with the guard. When Yeon Woo is leaving the palace, a maid drops off a packet for her, which contains a note from Hwon. The maid passes word to Yeon Woo that Hwon told her to be careful of the night roads in the future (which means not to mess with him again if they run into each other).
Hwon has changed back to his princely robes and is getting a lecture from the King, who demands to know why Hwon is already trying to sneak out. Hwon misses his brother Yang Myung and wants to study with him. Studying with only his teachers, no one will debate him, so how can he ever learn about the world outside. The King chastises all the officials for leading the Crown Prince astray and fires all of them. From now on, Hwon is forbidden from leaving the palace and new scholars will be hired to teach Hwon.
Queen Yoon meets with Yoon Dae Hyung while she is tending to her potted plant. She points out that growing a potted plant is harder to raise than it appears. She confirms that the King has dismissed all the scholars who are teaching the Crown Prince and will soon be appointing new ones. Queen Yoon reminds Dae Hyung how important it is for that position to be filled properly, since that person will be educating the next King of Joseon.
Queen Han, Hwon’s mother, pleads with the King to allow Prince Yang Myung to enter the palace at will and spend time with Hwon. By forbidding Hwon to see Yang Myung, it’s only going to make him miss his brother more. The King is unwavering, as this is how the Kings have always maintained their hold on the throne. He dismisses the Queen.
As Queen Han walks back to her chambers, she passes Royal Consort Park in the courtyard. The two are very polite and caring towards each other, with Consort Park apologizing for her Yang Myung being the source of trouble, while the Queen says it’s not her fault. The Queen asks that Yang Myung, who is out traveling, come visit her when he is allowed back in the palace.
Prince Yang Kyung is dressed like a hunter and sells two wild chickens to a merchant for some money. Yang Myung sees people lined up and wonders what everyone is waiting to see. He’s told an eight year old blind shaman with powers to see the future and cure sickness is seeing people. Shaman lady Nok Young arrives at the same place, having been told that people are using a little child to commit fraud. Nok Young walks up to the front of the line to see the child but she is stopped by Prince Yang Myung, who tells her to wait her turn. Nok Young sees Prince Yang Myung and thinks to herself that he is Joseon’s other sun.
Yang Myung pretends that he’s injured his leg while hunting and walks up to the child shaman. The child says that she can see Yang Myung’s light, which is a dark golden color. Suddenly Yang Myung gets up and looks over the little shaman girl, who he sees is injured and abused by the men using her. He tells her to open her eyes and gives her a cookie. The little girl gobbles down the cookie and the people start to riot when they realize this was just a sham. Yang Myung takes the little girl away while the people scramble for their money back. Yang Myung runs through the village to quickly get the girl to a doctor.
Soon he’s surrounded by the hooligans who take the little girl back. Thankfully Nok Young arrives with guards and saves the little girl. Yang Myung is getting beat up by the hooligans and trying to talk his way out of it. He tells them that his sword master was just crowned the martial arts scholar of this examination period. The thugs laugh at him, saying that if his teacher is the head martial arts scholar, then his dad must be the King.
The guy throws a punch and Yang Myung ends up flat on his back. Yang Myung sighs and gets up. He informs the thugs that he knows the King, and the King does not have any such thug for a son. Yang Myung suddenly gets serious and proceeds to singlehandedly kick everyone’s ass. Later that night, Yang Myung stands outside the palace and says goodnight to his father the King, having returned from his trip. He’s sorry he cannot pay his respects in person.
Hwon is standing inside the palace and looking up at the sky. Every move he makes, his servants and maids parrot. He tells them not to worry, he is not planning on running away. Hwon suddenly sees cherry blossoms falling from the sky and he’s reminded of Yeon Woo. He wonders if she will be even more angry at him when she learns that he’s the Crown Prince. He thinks back that he likely won’t see her again. When Hwon looks up again, he suddenly sees the red umbrella floating on top of a tree.
Yeon Woo sits in her room and reads Hwon’s note. It reads “the painting is round while the book is square, the rabbit will live while the chicken will die.” Yeon Woo ponders what the note means. Yang Myung is walking in the dark and decides to hop on the wall of Yeon Woo’s family estate. He sees Yeon Woo walks outside. She takes out her note and holds it up to read it from all directions, thinking to herself there might have been secret letters on the note but she doesn’t see any.
She suddenly realizes that the note is a code for the word “sun”. She falls over in shock to discover that Hwon is the sun (the Crown Prince) of Joseon. Hwon wonders if seeing the red umbrella is a sign that he will see her again. Yeon Woo thinks to herself that it would be best not to see the Crown Prince again. Yang Myung smiles as he addresses Yeon Woo in his mind “it’s good to see you again, Heo Yeon Woo.”
Thoughts of Mine:
Oh holy mother of the drama gods, was that a fan-freakingtastic episode 1 or what? This drama came along at just the right time because I’m totally in the mood for a saguek. MoonSun strikes a balance between the politics and the supernatural elements, while keeping the focus on the human emotions of all the characters. Right away we are thrown into yet another political contention for the throne, but this time its purely a fabrication on the part of the Queen Mom to eliminate any threat to her son’s rule as the King. Queen Yoon totally has the crazy eyes, and it’s clear she’s the one pulling all the strings in court. Too bad her machinations have turned her son, King Sungjo, into a hard-hearted sovereign who does not hesitate to throw one son away for the sake of another son. It’s clear that the turmoil of the older generation will spill over into what is developing between Crown Prince Hwon, Prince Yang Myung, and Yeon Woo. The only question is how this generation will deal with the similar issues.
Many of the sageuk regulars show up in MoonSun, with Ahn Nae Sang again turning in a performance as a Joseon King (after he blew me away as the King in Conspiracy in the Court). I find the story so compelling and fascinating even in this children’s portion that I have no urge for the adults to show up. Especially since they will surely be all dour and mopey right off the bat. For now, the three teenage leads are fabulous and their characters vividly presented almost immediately. Yeo Jin Goo might not have much shelf life left playing child counterparts in dramas, because he’s close to full grown in height and his voice is this deep timbre that makes me think Kim Yoo Jung‘s Yeon Woo might be too young paired with him. But then he smiles and that kid’s crinkle is in his eyes, and his acting effectively shows us that Hwon is just a kid forced to confront adult issues much too early in his life. He’s lonely and constrained by political machinations he cares less about. I see him as a kid who just wants his older brother back, and feeling helpless that he can’t even make such a simple thing happen.
Yeon Woo is currently not very three dimensional, with her entrance in episode 1 really to set her up as the lead but not much to recommend her other than she is clearly very very beautiful. I like how we see her calm fearlessness, the way she talks back to Hwon and then argues for cultural and political change with him. She’s obviously very bright and loves to learn, and I’m looking forward to really fleshing out her character. I’d hate for her to become this paragon of perfection that both Hwon and Yang Myung fall for. I want to see why the two men grow to love her, and what she means to them.
The biggest surprise for me so far has to be the character of second lead Prince Yang Myung. I figured he’d be interesting enough, I didn’t realize he’d be totally up my alley. This seemingly cheerful guy who is hiding away all his pain and sorrow, being thrown away by his father and forced from his mother. Having a loving younger brother he can’t even spend time with. Being a prince but having no future except as a potential destroyer everyone is guarding against. He really might be better off living the life of a hunter in the forest. Plus Lee Min Ho‘s performance as Yang Myung is giving me young Jae Hee vibes, which is always a good thing.
I thought Hwon would meet Yeon Woo first, yet to my thrilling excitement, turns out Yang Myung met her already and is looking forward to seeing her again. Oooooh, he appears to totally adore her already, and I love how this Prince who has nothing might find something worth fighting for in Yeon Woo. Similarly, the Prince who has everything, Hwon, might one day throw everything away for the same girl. The drama keeps mentioning the two suns dilemma and how Joseon cannot have two suns co-existing side-by-side. The two suns and one moon is about as poetic a love triangle analogy as you can get. I started my K-drama watching through sageuks, and it’s a genre that is near and dear to my heart because the pathos can be so heartrending while the romance simmers every so poignantly. MoonSun hits every one of my requirements right off the bat as a fusion sageuk, blending riveting storytelling with plenty of substance and heart. This isn’t a sageuk like The Duo, aiming for historical realism and the commoner class. It’s akin to a fairytale with some overarching fantasy elements.
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