First Impressions: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo (Ep. 1-3)

Sunday, September 04, 2016

After an insane number of posters, teasers and whatnot, the highly-anticipated Bu Bu Jing Xin remake Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo finally premiered on August 29th. As SBS decided to air three episodes on the first week, it seems like an appropriate time to weigh in with my thoughts and impressions on the drama. 

As I have previously already said, my knowledge about the original Chinese series is insufficient for making comparisons, but I'm actually glad about it since I can rather judge the remake for what it is and not for what it isn't.  

Moon Lovers starts out right off the bat with our poor and wronged modern-day heroine Go Ha Jin (IU) somehow being transported into the body of her Goryeo lookalike Hae Soo. Despite being confused and lost, Ha Jin quickly adopts Hae Soo's identity and lets others believe she's suffering from a memory loss so as to not get herself into trouble. It doesn't take long for Ha Jin, now Hae Soo, to get involved with all the young and pretty princes, although her most relevant interactions are with the dreamy and kind Wang Wook, the adorable doofus Wang Eun and, of course, the frightening emo-warrior Wang So, whom we come to know as the hero.

My first concern here already is the way the story is set up. Although I appreciate the story taking off immediately with very little time spent in the modern-day on tedious introductions and explanations, I feel there's not enough background on Ha Jin and her life before she becomes Hae Soo. 

For me to feel fully invested in her journey, I need to have a better understanding from where we started. Aside from small moments where she misses her mom, Ha Jin is strangely okay with being stuck in the past. While I can understand Ha Jin's reasoning that she can have a brand new start to her life in the past, since her present-day life was filled with constant hardships, her ability to adjust so quickly is hard to buy. After all, she did have a family  back home (or mom, at the very least) and I can't imagine anyone being so accepting over leaving their loved ones behind. Even if your life in the modern-day sucked otherwise, there are still things you would miss, from the smallest everyday luxuries to things you can't imagine living without, not even counting the people that were part of your life. 

Admittedly, the lack of modern day scenes is not a huge issue for me because Goryeo setting is obviously more interesting, but there is a certain disconnect with Ha Jin/Hae Soo's character that could have been improved had I seen her struggling with her new life more. 

To IU's credit, though, she does play the character with such an endearing charm that I still want to root for her. Although her wide-eyed reactions can get a bit repetitive, I can't exactly blame her for them when the scene requires her to act surprised or frightened, which is quite often. 

Still, I find the general criticism on her acting unwarranted, especially coming from K-netizens who have been hating on her ever since the unfortunate incident involving a photo with Super Junior's Eunhyuk. Seriously, let's move on from that already. Besides I've liked IU's previous performances rather well, so I don't think she was badly casted for the role, rather it's the character that needs more work.

When it comes to the princes, I find only a few of them intriguing and a lot of them forgettable. With only three episodes aired, we understandably have insight into So and Wook's characters the most, while the rest of them have gotten rather limited amount of scenes, perhaps with the exception of Yo and Eun, who respectively get to fill their quota of mandatory evil scheming and comic relief moments. I'm not sure whether I can expect more screentime for the rest of the princes, but there's definitely a lot more character development required before I feel the need to remember their names.

With a name that's easy to remember, our hero So (Lee Jun Ki) starts out slightly comically. He's the classic tragic hero with complicated family relations and a bad temper. While I dig Lee Jun Ki's look for this drama (the mane, the mask, the all-black clothing), paired with his angsty, misunderstood nature, it does make him look like he's about to slam a door to his mother's face screaming "I hate you!" and go cry into a pillow. I exaggerate, but the first episode did make his introduction unintentionally funny. 

The following episodes 2 and 3, however, delved more into his personality and gave a better sense of the loneliness, rejection and anger he's dealing with. No doubt, So has had a difficult upbringing with a mother who could care less about him and a father, the king, who doesn't even say thanks for saving his life. Add one evil brother, bunch of younger, careless ones and one unfortunate face scar and you get the idea why So goes around hating everyone and everything. 

In fact, in some scenes you genuinely feel sympathy for him, like that moment where he's hiding his scar from Hae Soo, looking so incredibly sad and insecure, or the moment where he saves the crown prince and the king from death, but doesn't even get a measly "thanks, dude" in return. 

In those scenes, Lee Jun Ki's acting really got me and I started to feel for the character, even though he's got a lot to prove before becoming romantic lead material. At this point, So is still a bit too cruel and scary for me to feel comfortable with him romancing Hae Soo, but I'm sure I'll get there once the show opens his character up a bit further and shows he's capable of redemption. I mean, he's gotta make up for the poor horse's death.

Meanwhile, Wook (Kang Ha Neul) is flirting Hae Soo up like he's the damn lead and being rather successful at it. Though, honestly, Wook is so swoony that he'd be capable of seducing his own brothers if he put his mind to it (wait, that's gross). Unfortunately, aside from wanting to stare at Kang Ha Neul's beautiful face all day, Wook is not that intriguing. In fact, if I start thinking about it, I'm not sure I feel comfortable with him falling in love with Hae Soo while being married. I know I'm supposed to adjust my modern standards for this to work, but I can't help but feel bad for his wife who seems like such a nice lady.

What I do like about Wook is that he's the only one out of the other princes who isn't unfair towards So and shares his suspicions about the evil brother Yu. If we didn't have the dreaded love triangle between brothers, I'd see this as a start of wonderful bromance, but I'm not sure if I can count on it when Wook and So are going to rival for Hae Soo's heart. I just hope that their romantic rivarly won't affect the mutual trust they seem to have for one another when it comes to serious matters. I feel So could use at least one person who doesn't shun him and actually wants to include him, so I'm holding out hope for Wook and So to somehow maintain a common understanding, even when they're cockblocking each other.

As said, the other princes haven't impressed me much so far, but I do enjoy Hong Jong Hyun's portrayal of the evil prince Yu. He has definitely improved his acting and the menacing demeanor fits him quite nicely. Much less talented actor is EXO's Baekhyun, who can be rather cringeworthy at times, but I actually don't mind him as the dim-witted Eun. The adorable idiot simply makes me laugh. 

In terms of visuals, Moon Lovers does look quite lovely. To me. Although I've also heard criticism about editing and specific camera shots being overused. Truthfully, yes, the super close close-ups of the people's every facial pore is already overdone at this point, but I'm also kinda getting used to it. I'm more bothered by the subdued colors than anything else, though if the editing is as flawed as other viewers claim it to be, then it might eventually get to me as well. So far, I've been more focused on the story, rather than the technical, but I'll start paying attention to the cinematography more as the initial excitement wears off.

Overall, I actually quite like Moon Lovers. Having never seen Bu Bu Jing Xin, I have much less expectations for the series than the fans of the original might have. I also find it more interesting to watch when I don't know what's going to happen in the coming episodes. The drama isn't extraordinary, but the issues I've noticed so far are not deal-breaker level. As long as I find the main couple worth sticking around for and the characters' story arcs intriguing enough, I'm willing to stay along for the ride, and so far I do. 

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