First Impressons: The “Two Moons”

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
I’m biased, there’s no going around it. I watched Bu Bu Jing Xin, the Chinese version while it aired and loved it. BBJX is not without it’s flaws but on the whole it’s a pretty solid Chinese historical with predominantly great cast and a story that somehow managed to make palace politics interesting. I did hope that the Korean version would have it’s own flavour while at the same time keeping the parts that made BBJX so engeaging. Alas, that was not to be. I agree with just about all of the criticism Moon Lovers has been garnering around the internets.

I could live with the questionable BGM choices and extreme closeups so loved by the PD but I couldn’t get past how they dumbed down so many of the characters. Ruo Xi was smart and knowledgeable about the history of the period so she was able to navigete the tretcherous and often deadly waters of the palace life. Hae Soo just comes off as a silly airhead. I didn’t find her antics engeaging nor funny. Same goes with the younger princes. Why do they act like silly (modern) teenagers? Yes, they are in their teens but in those days you pretty much became an adult once you hit a certain age and was expected to act accordingly. These boys are way past that age. One could argue that at this point Goryeo is a newly established kindom, so the court etiquette wasn’t as rigorously followed as later on, but I don’t think that floats. Goryeo was a direct decendant of the earlier three kingdoms and should have inherited many of the customs of it’s predecessors. I don’t think juvenile behaviour was part of that package.

I also found the lack of proper ‘sageuk speak’ a serious misstep. I don’t expect a totally faithfull recreation of past in historicals, but I do want to see at least some of the more common characteristics one expects to find in a historical drama. Like proper conduct and speech patterns that reflect the era. Fantasy historicals are an exception as those can have all sorts of non authentic bits inserted as a rule.

As far as acting goes, only LJK and KHN get a pass, the rest are mostly cringe worthy or just plain bland. Baek Hyun and Ji Soo especially stick out like a sore thumb, both are pretty awful in the roles. Appart from Lin Geng Xin (the 14th), the princes in BBJX were depicted by mostly mature and established actors, who are no strangers to historicals. This gave the characters quite a bit of the gravitas needed. All the princes had their own, distinct characteristics, which made them feel like real people. The way they interacted with each other, the subtle undercurrents in the relationships and all the different ‘factions’ were quite fascinating. I also had no problem in keeping them appart despite of the hairdo that made everyone look very similar. I was all new to Chinese dramas at that point so I didn’t know any of the actors either.

Both the story and the characters of Moon Lovers left me totally cold, I’ve no interest in finding out ‘what comes next’.

Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
Cute, fluffy and fun with some darker undertones. A very easy watch that resembles SKKS quite a bit in tone and execution. Great cast who fit the parts effortlessly. Some may find Moonlight juvenile, others youthfull. I guess it depends on your preferences.

The story seems to be quite simple with nothing really new to offer but the main characters are so engeaging that you don’t mind the seeming thinness of the plot. Well, I don’t mind. As long as they keep it fun and breezy with as little manufactured angst and boring palace politics as possible. Which probably is too much to ask for, ha. I’d really love to have even one kdrama on my roster that is not weighted down with overly heavy themes. What’s wrong with just having some fun?

Life is really busy these days so Moonlight will have to wait until it’s done and I’ll hopefully have more time to tackle it.

13 thoughts on “First Impressons: The “Two Moons”

  1. Hello! Am abit late to the discussion. Personally, Moonlight is abit too fluffy and light for me, and I’m not watching it, but I like Kim Yoo Jung and from the few scenes I’ve seen of her and Park Bo Gum, they have amazing chemistry.

    As for scarlet heart – are you still watching it btw? – I’m still following it very closely, but I can’t help feeling disappointed with a couple of aspects of the show.

    1. The editing, BGM and close-ups. I know close-ups is this particular director’s signature move or whatever, but i find that it cuts out alot of the characters’ interactions as a result. Little things like someone moving in closer to talk etc; things like that may seem insignificant but i feel that when it’s not there, the big picture is missing. BGM is freaking jarring. They need to get rid of that song with the raps as well as that silly “baby boy love is true..!!!!” song that comes on whenever it’s Wook staring at Su or sth. It makes zero sense and alot of the time the music just doesn’t help with whatever the scene is trying to convey. Editing – gosh. I kinda thought it was choppy initially, but wasn’t so bothered by it until I watched Ep 6. God that was awful. I couldn’t engage with any of the characters or the plot in that episode and alot of new relationships/characters are introduced very suddenly which doesn’t make things flow well. And just doesn’t make sense.

    2. The lack of sageuk speech. As well as the sort of dignified air you get from people in those times. It’s missing from a few of the characters. A number of the princes as well as Hae Su herself. She’s already spent months in the palace and an earlier scene showed her practicing her sageuk speech so why hasn’t she used it? She’s still talking in a modern Korean way and I find it very odd.

    3. The over-emphasis of Wook’s romance with Su. Wook is one little shady prince. I’ve no idea what redeeming qualities he has except for the fact that he is played by Kang Ha Neul. He’s passive, full of hot air and has no personality. Also, one minute he is into Su, then he misses and says he loves Lady Hae, then he says he wants to show Su the affection he never showed his wife. Dude, just stop it, and disappear off my screen. I don’t know why the production is dragging on his romance with Hae Su and choosing to develop that over her friendship with Wang So – which is so much more impt imo. I’m also getting really disgusted by Su returning his affection that I fast-forward all of their scenes now. I don’t care how much chemistry the actors have I just want their characters’ relationship to end now.

    4. The dumbing down of Hae-su’s and other princes personalities. First off, Hae Su. She’s just a typical K-drama candy dressed up in Goryeo clothes. Spunky? Cheerful? Impulsive? Childish? Acts before she thinks? Hardworking? Overly optimistic? Check them all. Do k-dramas dislike women with brains or what? Literally all their female leads follow this formula. If Hae-Su had more wit, was more mature/thoughtful/observant/smart; it’d make for a seriously interesting watch – cause you are then able to see her navigating the treacherous palace waters and avoiding/allying with certain people and her thought process behind all that. But we have none of that with Hae-Su and for all her “I want to survive” speeches, she does alot of stupid things. Which is why I really am not feeling it when she says I want to live etc and that she needs to depend on herself. Yeah right.

    Like you, I’ve no idea why so many of the princes are dumbed down. I particularly dislike Wang Eun (and Baekhyun), but he’s featured SO MUCH, literally more than LJK. At least use that time to develop the relationships between So/Su and the minor princes like 13th and 14th. Both the latter have more pivotal relationships with our leading man and lady than the 10th but that is rarely touched on. I like IU and watch alot of her dramas and I think her acting is fine – but not so in this one. I feel she doesn’t really hold her own well especially in scenes with LJK. Same goes for Ji Soo, they dumbed down his personality so much here and make him look like an idiot. It makes LJK’s acting stand out so much more (and make it seem like he’s overacting) cause it seems like he’s taking everything too seriously what with all the silly people around him. His, Kang Hanna’s and the senior royals are the only ones whose acting/characters I’m truly enjoying and am sticking around for.

    • Did you try Moonligh out? Or just decided based on what you read about it? I’m not generally big on fluff myself but I really liked what I’d seen so far. I’m a fiew epis behind atm, so let’s see how I feel once I’m all caught up.

      Oh, I dropped Scarlet Heart after the initial episodes. Just not worth it as I couldn’t help but to compare everything unfavourably to BBJX. Plus all the other things that irked me.

      I concur with just about everything you wrote. Though I do have to point out that the lack of Wang So harks back to the original novel. The 4th prince doesn’t play a very big part in the beginning but he gets more prominent as the time passes. It probably just feels that Wook takes up too much space as the Korean version is shorter and there is less time to set things up. I’ve checked back on the recaps from time to time and nothing makes me think I should have kept on watching.

  2. I’m LOVING Moonlight Drawn By Clouds…soooo cute and makes me swoon again and again.
    Just started Scarlet Heart…haven’t seen the original version, so i guess I will not find it as bad.. 🙂

    • Moonlight may be a bit too fluffy for me in the long run but the first fiew eps were pleasant enough. I hope it stays fun without going all ansty and craycray at some point.

      Well, it’s not only that it doesn’t compare favourably against the Chinese version, it’s just not very good on the whole, imho.

  3. I just read recaps of this week’s episodes. It seems there is some improvement… well, I suppose that’s relative, but maybe the show’s finding its footing? Will you continue watching?

    • Yeah, I’ve read there has been some improvement but they already lost me with the inital episodes. I’m not going to continue with it. There are enough dramas that suit me better to waste time on one that’ll more than likely just make me grumpy.

  4. I ran far far away after an ep of Ryeo. It came across to my eyes as half-assed cheaply done fugly everything. Id rather have a copycat of Sword and Petals’ Gogoryeo. Nth too fancy(nor extremely accurate I could imagine) but apropos.

    I am in the camp of having seen some natural acting potential in IU in the crap that was Bel Ami but as u said saguek is a much more demanding beast.

    LJK almost always got discarded in to OTT hammy pile by me and here he could very well have studied too much Lego Movie’s Batman (darkness~, no mommy~) just not funny at all. And more disjunct coz almost all the other idolboys r taking this acting job as some dressed up frat party. For sth set in Goryeo, isn’t archaic speech of some kind even more essential?! I am also not floored w Nicky in the original, but at least he was decent, w fine chem w his drama/RL OTP, doesn’t stick out much as the entire gang of princes r capable enough actors of similar skill lvls. I actually expected way more of KHN, KevinC was pitch perfect imo coloring the original novel character w even more greyish calculated nuances… solely missing in this 8 too caught up being the formulaic guy2. I also just realized KHN is generally regarded as some most beautiful heartthrob.

    • Oh, “Blade & Petal” Goreyo would have been several levels better. I’m pretty sure times were way more grittier than ML wants us to believe. I somehow don’t think the real princes were lolling about at home, ‘playing dress-up’, like you said. Weren’t even most of the nobility still military men at that point?

      Acting skills aside, I think the BBJX actors were well cast, they fit the parts. It might not actually be KHN’s fault you find him lacking, I think he does what the script and PD say. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. 🙂 He’s not my kind of pretty though.

      • I think KHN holds his own decently here but far fr impressively godly as the praises fr dramabuddies I can’t escape reading lol. it has never crossed my mind his face is of the calibre blinding all the flaws in vicinity. It is a solidly gd face and he has solid chops, is all.

        I shrug at all the tiresome angsting up of So which encourages LJK to be the OTT caricature just to amp up dramatics, covering up the otherwise lacking in some steady storytelling here. Why cant 4 just stay not that warm and easygoing a sterner stoic person… and each Prince believable being first instead of as varied as Johnnyboys figurines in a matchy boyrem. I also don’t think it is particularly IU’s fault deserving all the senseless critiques… it is the writing basing it on solely if some shallow watching of the cdrama (i find novel’s RX scarily pragmatic/shrewd) and w LSS just alright in earlier cutesy lighter arc they somehow reinterpret HS as some airhead cliché marysue. but flack for wearing too much makeup…here?! WangYo alone w one of his guyliner is too much 4 my sensibilities.

        Exactly, original has heart noticeable in casting each befitting role. KevinC is otherwise a v limited actor I am allergic to other than some rare anomaly…which mostly fits his persona upholding quite a dandy gentleman facade in how he talks to press/carries himself always but is withdrawn and blocking off a comfy private distance 4 himself. Perfect 4 the manipulative poker face 8. KHN ‘s 8 is too easy to read through. It should always be the white elephant in rm off bat and not a scene wo the looming tension these r some ambitious men vying for the throne all means necessary… not an overload of milky flesh puberty torsos. I could only preemptively lol when ask to believe this effete bunch will later shed blood 4 the throne, well with copious amt of tears crybabying.

        I just started Moon Drawn By Clouds. Eyes of beholders aside, the aesthetics, camera work coloring all the superficials… hard to not nod they r all genuinely pleasing to look at. OTP r compatible, esp tonally as actors.

  5. Moon Lovers seems, for now, to be some cutesy version of the C-drama, although Ruoxi in the initial episodes was also a hyper nutjob not unlike Hae Soo. As for the history bit, I think while most people would have a general idea of what went down in the Qing Dynasty since it’s fairly recent, Goryeo is so far back that one would be hard pressed to know who’s who. Lee Jun-ki is overdoing things and his performance is tonally jarring, though I expect things will be smoother once the story turns serious (assuming it does). It’s unfortunate that they had all this time to film and fine-tune, and the end product is less than satisfying.

    I can’t take Nicky Wu seriously as Yinzhen and he doesn’t have the gravitas to carry off the character. Kevin Cheng can’t act. Also, the key princes in BBJX were in their late 20s, early 30s when they stared plotting for the throne, so you would need older actors (Yinzhen ascended the throne at 44 and I have major, major beef with how BBJX portrayed this). Wang So became king when he was 24, so this is a youthful version of the power struggle.

    • To me it felt like TPTB couldn’t decide whether they wanted the drama to be a lighter, cutsey version or a more serious one, so the whole thing was all over the place. Sometimes it was even unintentionally hilarious. Oh, I know the princes in Moon Lovers are supposed to be young but I still don’t think acting juvenile and cutsey cuts it. Even though we can’t say much about the customs way back when in Goryeo times, I’m pretty sure the way the princes are depiced in ML is not it.

      As a character Wang Soo is ridiculously emo, I’d say LJK’s acting reflects that and his typical tendecy to overact just makes it more noticeable.

      I still don’t know much about Chinese history and didn’t know any of the actors then, so I had no beef with how the characters were portrayed. None of them was so horrible that it clearly stood out, unlike in ML. I might feel differently today, who knows.

      • I do agree about the juvenile bit, and I’m not sure if it was intentional or just a sad reflection of the inability of these people to act – or maybe they’re uncomfortable in sageuk, which would not be uncommon. I read a comment somewhere that the production is geared more towards China – since it was sold there for big bucks – rather than Korean sensibilities, which is unfortunate since it now seems to be a mish-mash of things and is neither here nor there.

        Also, Lee Jun-ki looks terrible in that get-up and with that mop on his head. The amount of close-ups in the drama is silly and does nothing to help things along.

        • I’m a-thinking it’s all of the above, sad as it is. Sageuks also make it very easy to see how inadequate some actors’/actresses’ skills are and it’s more than obvious here.

          Unfortunately the extreme close-ups are sort of a signature of this director so they are here to stay.

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