The transition from the children to the adults in The Moon that Embraces the Sun has changed the mood and dynamic of the drama as expected. Not in ways that are good or bad, just that the vibrant colors and sparkling energy has given way to darkened romance and moody melancholy. Everything feels heavier, as it ought to since the cheerful kids have turned into sad adults for the most part aside from Princess Minhwa. Normally child actors are just placeholders for their adult counterparts, holding down the fort until the adults everyone wants to see show up. This might be the first time I’ve been so taken with the children that it’s not that easy to immediately accept the adult actors in the same role.
I think the adults are doing just fine all around, but except for Kim Soo Hyun as Hwon and Nam Bora as Princess Minhwa, I’m still vaguely bothered by this feeling of disconnect between performances that don’t quite jibe for all the other adults. Storywise, the plot appears to be moving at the speed of a freight train, with very little of the typical drawn out reunion scenes and just-missed-each-other moments. I’m just glad that both Yang Myung and Hwon saw Wol and immediately recognized her as a doppleganger for Yeon Woo. Yay for avoiding logic fail! Now bring on more sizzle.
Episode 7 recap:
Nok Young is being sent off somewhere by her three young’uns. She tells them to stop here and go back. Wol (I will henceforth refer to Yeon Woo as Wol since we know that is the name she will be using as an adult for the time being) drops her face cover and asks Nok Young to let them stay and send her off. She resisted the urge to go with Nok Young, so at least give her this. Nok Young places the face cover back over Wol with the reminder to avoid strangers when Nok Young is away. Wol wonders if someone is expected today? Nok Young just repeats the admonition again, telling Wol to avoid any social interactions.
A boat arrives, which happens to be carrying Yang Myung, who wonders why there are so many people onboard today? A man tells Yang Myung that the King is scheduled to pass through this area today. Yang Myung disembarks and passes by Wol, who has her face cover up, so he does not see her. Nok Young and Jang Shil board the boat. Nok Young reminds Seol to take Wol home immediately. As Wol and Seol walk through town to head home, they see a man selling permits for the right to gain a spot to watch the King pass. Wol pouts to Seol, wanting one, but Seol tells her no and drags her away.
The man suddenly informs the masses that the King has arrived at the entrance to the town. Yang Myung goes to grab a permit. We see Hwon’s procession passing through the woods, with Eunuch Hyung Sun and Woon walking besides his royal palanquin. Hwon demands that the curtains be pulled aside, despite Hyung Sun’s worry that it’s too cold, because he wants his people to see his face. He teases that he’s too good looking to be hidden away.
Wol and Seol wait in line to pass through a barricade to walk to the road where the King will pass. The guards refuse to let a simply dressed woman and her son pass, telling her to come back if she’s dressed better. It’s likely the guards are censoring the onlookers at the request of the ministers so the King does not notice how poor his citizens are. They push her down, which makes Wol angry and she confronts the guards for their behavior. She informs them that she is a shaman. When one guard tries to get rough with Wol and taunts Seol, Wol steps up to the guard and tells him why his wife left. She left because he got violent everytime he drank, so she eloped with a younger man. Wol also identifies the guard as being an alcoholic with digestive problems and warns that he has but one year max to live if he doesn’t quit alcohol.
The guard is furious but before he can do anything to her, suddenly there is a commotion caused by Yang Myung to help the girls. The guards run off to grab him and Wol pulls up the barricade to let everyone through. Seol wonders how Wol knew about the guards personal history since Wol doesn’t actually have any spiritual ability. Wol chalks it up to logic and deduction by observing the guard’s behavior and what he said. Seol is suitably impressed.
Suddenly the King’s procession arrives and everyone gets down on their knees and bows low. Wol is bowing low when suddenly she sees a yellow butterfly (just like the one which lured the younger Yeon Woo away where she met Hwon) which causes her to look up. Yang Myung kneels but sneaks a peek at his younger brother Hwon. Wol stands up to look at the butterfly when suddenly her face freezes as she looked upon the visage of Hwon passing right before her.
She starts to unconsciously cry and Seol tries to get her to kneel back down. Yang Myung sees Wol and his eyes widen.
Seol pulls Wol away and they start running, so Hwon does not see her face. He is informed by Hyung Sun that a woman appeared to cause a commotion and then ran away, so the guards are chasing her to make sure she is not a threat to the King. Yang Myung also chases after Wol, who has flashbacks of young Yeon Woo being pulled behind Hwon as they run through the Palace being chased by the royal guards. Seol and Wol manage to find a safe hiding place. Seol starts to berate Wol, who just asks if they ran like this before? She doesn’t know where the memory came from, of being pulled along and chased by someone. Yang Myung finds the wrong woman and looks forlorn, wondering why he is hopeful towards someone who is long dead and buried.
Hwon takes a medicinal bath, attended to by his retainers. He looks unhappy, that his people could not raise their heads to look upon him. Hyung Sun tells him to not worry but just rest his body after the long travels. Hwon asks if Woon wants to get into the bath and soak his tired bones as well? Hyung Wun tells everyone to leave and then chastises the King for saying things that could be misconstrued, especially since his Queen is so far away. Hwon asks if Hyung Sun wants to get in then? Hyung Sun runs off to get more medicine, which leaves Hwon and Woon alone. Hwon is pleased. Hyung Sun worries that his sire has developed a different interest.
Yang Myung arrives to see Hwon, but when Hyung Sun calls out for Hwon, we see the bathing room is empty. Hyung Sun screams to discover the King gone.
Hwon and Woon are walking through town in the guise of rich young men. Hwon looks concerned to see the poor and sick laying around on the streets, making him realize the real condition of his country is different than what he is shown when he goes out on a royal procession. Beggars walk up to Hwon asking for alms. A little girl bumps into Hwon and apologizes profusely. He helps her up and finds out that she is taking care of a sibling, with a dead mother and a father forcefully conscripted to be a government construction. Hwon gives her money and promises to get her father back. Woon and Hwon both notice a spy likely sent by Yoon Dae Hyung following them.
Hwon and Woon break into a run and manage to lose the spy. Hwon is delighted that the spy has nothing to report. Woon tries to convince Hwon to go back now. He agrees, only to be distracted by the weather, that it will soon be a misty rain. Hwon looks up and suddenly sees young Yeon Woo standing to the side, smiling at him. She takes off running, leading Hwon to chase after this spectre.
Nok Young sits with the toaist priest who summoned her. He informs Nok Young that the Heavens will be bringing Hwon and Wol back together, and it is not something they can prevent. Nok Young says Wol has lost her memory, but concedes Wol has not lost her longing. She is worried about creating strife and turmoil, but the priest calls it the price to pay for tampering with fate. Nok Young worries Wol will endure a repeat of the danger and trauma that happened to her.
Wol sits in her room and broods. When Seol tries to talk with her, Wol reveals that she knows who the owner of her memory is. She believes that she now has gained spiritual aura and is a real shaman because she saw a vision. She heads out to walk around. Woon and Hwon are wandering in the darkened forest, lost because of the misty rain. Hwon takes the blame, explaining he saw a vision which led to them getting lost. Suddenly there is a light in the darkness, which Hwon asks if it’s the moon?
Suddenly the misty rain clears and young Yeon Woo stands there holding a lantern. She has been waiting for Hwon, and asks how he is doing? Hwon looks stunned, and when he looks again at the person, it has changed to an adult Wol, who stands there and looks back at Hwon. Wol takes the two men back to her home in the woods. She knows it is the King and his guard, telling Seol that they probably got lost when exploring the town disguised as commoners.
Hwon looks around the sitting area, noting the stacks and stacks of books on the shelf. Wol enters with heated wine and some food for the men to warm up. She apologizes for the hasty preparation and for the table being so small. It was meant for one person. Hwon asks who the table’s original owner was, and who Wol was waiting for in the woods? He asks if Wol has been waiting for someone for a long time? She looks startled, and then explains that she was waiting for her shaman elder who went out.
Hwon confirms that this is a shaman’s abode, but Wol’s interest is not typical for a shaman. She is reading the classics, which has no bearing on her work as a shaman. Where is she planning to use it? Wol smiles, she read because she wanted to learn more about the worldly principles. She is not reading for herself, but to help others. Through the classics, she learned about the joys and sorrows of life, so she cannot stop. Hwon suddenly remembers what young Yeon Woo said to him before, leading him to remind himself that Wol simply talks and looks a lot like Yeon Woo and cannot be the same person since Yeon Woo is dead.
Hwon gulps down a gup of wine and then asks Woon to drink as well. Woon doesn’t drink, so Wol tells Woon not to worry, even though she is a stranger, she has made accommodations for the guests. Hwon pulls Wol over, shocked that she recognized him as the King of this country. Yang Myung lays in bed, wondering if Yeon Woo’s spirit remained because she longed to see the King. Even though she did not come see him, in the next life, she needs to look at him first.
Hwon asks if Wol has met him before? Wol tries to explain that she is a shaman who could not have met the King before. Hwon then demands to know if she really is a shaman? Wol got very sick as a child, and afterwards has lived as a shaman. Of course she is a shaman. Hwon yells, wanting to know how she knew he was the King! Wol explains that she coincidentally saw his face today during the procession. Hwon lets her arm go at this answer. He tells Woon that they ought to go now since the misty rain has stopped.
Hwon steps outside and then talks to Wol through the window. He asks her name, which she cannot give since she does not have one. Her shaman elder did not want her making any social interactions, so she was never given a name. Everyone just calls her agasshi (lady). Hwon notes that their fate is quite short, but he wants to give her the name Wol, as thanks for the warm wine. Wol accepts the name.
Hwon goes back to the royal residence, where Hyung Sun is frantic with worry waiting for his return. Hwon turns and see Yang Myung, the two brothers finally meeting again after all these years. Yang Myung asks if the King is doing well? Hwon asks why Yang Myung is here after all these years, but won’t show his face. Yang Myung raises his head, to which Hwon compliments him as being as handsome as ever. The two brothers smile at each other, as does Woon and Hyung Sun.
Hwon and Yang Myung are dining and drinking, with Hwon inviting Woon to join them but Woon declines. Yang Myung pipes up that Woon won’t drink when he is on duty. Hwon asks if they can make a bet, the person who gets Woon to drink as to make a wish come true. Yang Myung tells Woon to come over and drink, if Yang Myung gets riches from the King, he’ll give half to Woon. Hwon then orders Woon over to drink. Woon takes a drink and Yang Myung laughs, willing to accept whatever Hwon asks him to do.
Hwon pours another cup and asks his brother if Yang Myung still holds that child in his heart? He wants to know. Yang Myung smiles and answers. She is dead, so the more he tries to forget, the more he thinks of her. He has placed the knowledge of that child no longer being on this earth in his heart, that is all. The two brothers drink to that.
Hwon returns to the Palace and holds court, complimenting his ministers for doing well in his absence. But Hwon is being sarcastic, and asks why more taxes are being collected to hurry a construction. A minister says it must be rushed to complete it as a gift for the Queen. The King notes that it is Winter and even fathers and sons are being conscripted to work on this construction. He wants a complete recounting of this construction project before the end of the day, otherwise he will lay down the punishment on his officials.
Yoon Dae Hyung meets with the Head Shaman, who has been the replacement for Jang Nok Young for the past 8 years. She thanks him for his patronage and agrees to do whatever he asks. It appears that Yoon Dae Hyung wants the King to get sick at this time and to stop interfering in running the country.
Hwon sits in his chambers and remembers his meeting with Wol back in the woods. Bo Kyung requests an audience with him. Hwon refuses but Hyung Sun and all his retainers beg him to see her. He allows her inside and they politely greet each other. After the servants leave, Bo Kyung openly asks Hwon to produce a progeny to cement his legacy. Otherwise she has nothing to do, and has no face to see the dowager Queens. Hwon says he now understands how kind and selfless her heart is. He agrees to do as she requests and will arrange it tomorrow. Hwon then leans on his arm and smiles at Bo Kyung, telling her that he hates her fakeness and pretending to be kind.
He tells her to leave now that she has said her prepared speech. Bo Kyung grits her teeth and turns to leave, but she stops and asks how long Hwon will continue like this. The dead is already dead and cannot occupy a position a living person holds. Hwon suddenly clutches his chest in pain and faints. Bo Kyung turns around to see Hwon collapsed on the table. The servants rush inside and the royal doctor is called immediately. We see outside Hwon’s chambers is a shaman seal, where the new Head Shaman likely cursed Hwon to fall ill.
The two dowager Queens discuss what happened to Hwon. Queen Yoon wants to call back Nok Young, the current replacement Head Shaman is not strong enough. There is no shaman more powerful than Nok Young, and Queen Yoon wants her back in the Palace not just to cure Hwon, but to eliminate the current bad marital energy between Hwon and Bo Kyung.
Hwon lays in bed and asks Woon to find “that person”. He cannot seem to let her go from his mind. He needs to see her one more time, to confirm something. Woon asks Hwon to let this temporary fixation go. Hwon knows that Woon likely never met the young Yeon Woo, explaining that Wol looks exactly like Yeon Woo would have looked had she not died. Woon races out of the Palace and arrives at the house in the woods. When he walks inside, it is in disarray having been vacated in what looks like a rush.
Princess Minhwa screams when she looks into a mirror and sees her eyes all swollen. Her servant blames Minhwa for insisting on drinking water every night before bed. Minhwa blames her servant for not stopping her. Minhwa cries that her husband will surely dislike her if he sees her like this. Maybe he’ll even cast her out and she’ll end her life being all alone. She theatrically moans that she won’t even know the joys of holding a child. Her whining was cute as a kid, but it’s so shrill now that she is and ought to act like an adult. Her mother-in-law hears her wailing and comes to check on Minhwa.
Yeom’s mother chides her son for not doing his duty. It must have taken Minhwa a lot of courage to bring up consummating their marriage, and yet Yeom leaves her all alone. Yeom explains that Minhwa is still young, plus it has only been not long after his father’s funeral. His mother reminds Yeom that Minhwa is NOT his sister, but is instead his wife. And someone who their family owes a debt of gratitude towards. Yeom will never forget that and tells his mother not to worry.
Wol asks Nok Young if she can go out to find Seol, who has been missing since the morning. A group of richly dressed men arrive and Nok Young immediately makes Jang Shil take Wol inside. One of the men notices Wol. The three men identify themselves as being sent to bring Nok Young back to the Palace at the request of Queen Yoon. The current Head Shaman has not been able to prevent the King from falling ill. Nok Young claims that she has lost her spiritual powers and is no use anymore. The man who noticed Wol asks if that girl is one of the shamans under Nok Young? She doesn’t answer and asks them to leave.
The three officials worry that Queen Yoon will berate them for failing at their task. The man who noticed Wol says not to worry and calls forth a few of his goons. Wol is looking for Seol but can’t locate her. She tries to tap into her newly acquired spiritual aura to locate Seol but predictably fails miserably since we know she hasn’t got any. She wonders where it went, and what it was that she saw the other day then? She flashes back to Hwon asking her if she saw him before? Wol shakes her head and walks away, only to be stopped by the goons.
A bag is thrown over her and she is forcibly taken to the Palace inside a locked palanquin. Wol bangs against the doors to be let out, which leads her to flashback to Yeon Woo banging against the coffin after she awakens still buried underground. Wol appears to be having a panic attack being in a confined locked space, which also triggers more snippets of her lost memory.
Thoughts of Mine:
I like how the story is developing, with the major characters crossing paths again right off the bat without any dragging on the part of the writer to wring out the tension. I only wish I were still as emotionally invested in this drama with the adults as I was with the kids. I almost have to rebuild my connection with this new cast, which I have faith will happen since I like how the leads are doing and enjoy where the story is going. I do lament finding the plot overly simplistic and a dash Disney-fied sageuk in terms of how cackingly evil the villains are and how unfailingly good the good guys are. It was fine with the kids, but I hope we see much more depth and nuance going forward. Now that all the major characters have dealt with loss, trauma, and heartache before, I’m hoping all the main characters have plenty of fight left in them and will correct all the injustices of the past and present as best they can.
This episode was really so meaty with respect to the myriad things that happened. I’m annoyed at the overuse of fate (yellow butterfly again?) and the spiritual destiny aspect of Hwon and Wol’s intertwined paths, how they keep running into each other. I appreciate hearing the priest tell Nok Young that Heaven is trying to right the wrongs of the past and bring Hwon and Wol back together. In that case, why does Yang Myung also get dragged into it. Poor guy is already nursing a one-sided broken heart, I’m not keen on him discovering adult Wol and going through it all over again. Which of course is exactly what is happening to him. Man does the poor Prince have a truly crappy lot in life. I’m glad I’m totally on the OTP ship in terms of feeling sad for the woobie Hwon suffering the loss of his crown princess, because at least I know the chances are higher he’ll get his happy ending with Yeon Woo/Wol.
While I really liked all the secondary characters in the childhood portions, I’m feeling detached to the adult versions, both in terms of the acting and their situations. Princess Minhwa and Yeom feel like a side course, something to nibble on from time to time, but without any gravitas or palpable angst. Woon might as well be replaced by a statute, and I might even prefer the statute. Seol is not working for me either as the link to Yeon Woo’s past or as her continued source of companionship. Minhwa is so clueless and vapid it frankly annoys me that she hasn’t matured one whit despite the years and seeing how her beloved Yeom’s family has suffered losing Yeon Woo and the aftermath. The only secondary character rocking her role is adult Bo Kyung, perfectly encapsulating her longing for Hwon to accept her but twisted with her own self serving desire to maintain her position. Too bad Kim Min Seo noticeably looks older than Kim Soo Hyun, which takes away a bit of Hwon’s biting tension towards her since I get the feeling that she ought to just spank him for his tart tongue.
Han Ga In is so far so good as Wol, serviceable most of the time, and occasionally hitting a scene just right. Acting-wise, it’s clear she just doesn’t have the oomph that Kim Soo Hyun is capable of, which is clear when they have scenes together. It’s not distracting enough to ruin a moment, but does leave me wistful of what a better actress could have done. What’s good about Han Ga In is that she never overacts, but conversely she tends to be underwhelming most of the time. I’m still not quite feeling Jung Il Woo as Yang Myung. Compared to Lee Min Ho, who managed to seem flippant but always with untold rivers of sadness hidden beneath his twinkling eyes, Jung Il Woo’s Yang Myung comes off as a happy-go-lucky dude who is occasionally sad when he thinks of Yeon Woo. I’m hoping he ups his intensity and nuance soon, because he totally nailed it in Return of Iljimae and 49 Days.
In terms of the love story, I could get why teenage Yang Myung was devastated by Yeon Woo’s death, but it’s hard to understand why he’s still so hung up on her 8 years later. Hwon, conversely, I understand his issues because he’s confronted every day with his loss by seeing smirking fake Bo Kyung and her dad around. Plus he actually had Yeon Woo reciprocate his feelings. I’m looking forward to seeing Wol enter the Palace to be the shaman treating the King’s illness, because this story doesn’t really have any serious political legs to stand on and only comes alive when it focuses on the love story.