Disclaimer: Based on the viewing of various trailers and episodes 1-5. For a detailed explanation of the scenes and plots of each episode, consult Drama Beans; read all posts related to MLSHR here, then come and read up my thoughts. Oh, and spoiler alert.
- Name: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart: Ryeo, Scarlet Heart: Goryeo, Bobogyeongsim ryeo
- Length: 20 episodes
- Language: Korean
- Genre: Historical fantasy, time travel, saguek
- Airing: 1 episode on Monday & Tuesday each
- Based on the original Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin by Tong Hua
The Cast Of Characters:
- Lee Joon Gi (Lee Jun Ki) as 4th Prince Wang So
- Lee Ji Eun (IU) as Ko Ha-jin/ Hae Soo
- Kang Ha Neul as 8th Prince Wang Wook
- Hong Jong-hyun as 3rd Prince Wang Yo
- Baekhyun as 10th Prince Wang Eun
How To Watch:
During a solar eclipse, 21st-century woman Ko Ha-jin (IU) is transported from a near-drowning incident to Korea’s Goryeo dynasty — specifically the princes’ royal bath. She assumes the role of 16-year-old noble lady Hae Soo.
The fourth prince Wang So (Lee Jun Ki) returns from Shinju to the royal palace, where he intends to stay and meets Hae Soo; romance ensues.
It’s been quite a while since the C-drama Scarlet Heart or Bu Bu Jing Xin was released. Scratch that, today literally happens to be the 5th anniversary of Bu Bu Jing Xin (totally planned for and totally not because of procrastination).
To reminisce the days of watching Cecilia Liu (Liu Shishi)’s Ruoxi design teacups and romance princes of Kangxi’s court during the Qing Dynasty, I could not resist but to watch a Korean adaptation of the same original novel
(while in school taking APs and recapping a completely different drama).
Viewing this drama with the attitude of a “hardcore BBJX fan”, however, is just wrong. Aside from the barest bones of the original story, Scarlet Heart and Scarlet Heart: Ryeo might as well be two completely unrelated works.
Here’s what both dramas have in common:
A woman from the 21st century is transported from a near-death accident to the ancient times, where she assumes the role of a noble lady and romances princes, in particular 4th prince and 8th prince — who are in their own battle for the throne.
Literally, that is all. With that in mind, Ruoxi, 四爷, and the like may still time to time pop up throughout this post because we all like comparisons. Just take away that regardless, both dramas have their own merits and, as a BBJX fan, dare I say flaws.
As hinted throughout the various posters, promotions, and whatnot, the main dynamic of the story focuses on the stark contrast between main leads Ko Ha-jin/ Hae Soo and the fourth prince Wang So. Yet as the drama progresses, viewers come to realize that they’re not quite polar opposites, after all.
Initially, Hae Soo doesn’t come off as a likable character — I still remember bitching about her evoking the characteristics of a “damsel in distress”. That is, unlike the strong-willed and intelligent Ruo Xi, who found her ways to quickly adapt to ancient noble life.
But here’s something to consider: it turns out that life for her in the 21st century is pretty sh*tty — though she treats those around her with kindness in hopes of some respect in return, all she gets is the cold shoulder. (Her boyfriend turns out to be cheating on a woman she just helped. She risks losing her home.)
As she drinks her sorrows away and shares a drink with a homeless dude beside her, wondering how she could “sleep for a thousand years”, the dude says that one could die and start over. Oh, I wonder how.
Personally, the time travel itself feels a bit far-fetched — after she saves a (drowning? wearing a life jacket?) boy a solar eclipse just suddenly occurs and she sort of just drowns.
. . . To emerge in the princes’ bathing quarters. That was pretty funny. (Although apparently I’m personally unaffected by shirtless men . . . oops?)
But the time travel method? Yeah, no.
(Okay, it’s more realistic than running after a floating portrait of yourself into the woods #why or suddenly getting sucked into your own bathtub by some mystical force.)
I mean, the boy was wearing a life jacket and was floating perfectly fine and the father was literally in front of her with his hand extended, but no, she drowns. Or does she purposely want to die?
Similarly, when she blunderingly follows Wang So into the forest at night while he’s bloody and carrying a sword. And yeah, I know, she just wanted to return the hairpin — further proof of her unconscious attraction to the prince.
But before I get onto romance, let’s acknowledge the endearing aspects of Hae Soo.
While Hae Soo starts off as helpless — flailing around, taking a long time to fully digest that she’s time travelled into another’s body, locking herself up in her room, crying, and whatnot — it’s a most understandable development.
There’s an interesting segment regarding Hae Soo and her servant/ lady-in-waiting, Chae Ryung. Chae Ryung, in private, asks Hae Soo if she’s faking the whole amnesia thing.
Ultimately, the other Hae Soo — the one that left Hae Soo’s body — is a mystery. Across the episodes, some hints are dropped — the other Hae Soo seems so filial and obedient to her elders and seniors, yet is the kind of person to fake amnesia? Who knows?
But the moment Hae Soo finally comes to her senses, she begins to endear. She insists that she can figure things out on her own and won’t be a burden to those around her — though technically untrue, it’s an admirable mindset.
Hae Soo is also a quite straightforward and direct woman — of course, part of it has to do with her yielding from the 21st century, but even then she’s generally an instinctual person.
When Princess Yeonhwa purposely calls her out, Hae Soo nonchalantly remarks that she can just directly state her dislike. Of course, it gets her called a bitch (the relationship dynamic is a bit similar to that of Ruoxi and Minghui), but to be so bold is what I find to be an admirable trait in female protagonists.
She also has a very clear philosophy — that she (and women in general) is a person, NOT some property and stands up for herself regardless of rank. It’s true that it’s something we hear a lot now, but personally, I’ve never been challenged this right before.
An interesting comparison I found online is that Hae Soo is definitely more of a Qing Chuan from Palace than a Ruoxi from Scarlet Heart. But as the episodes progress, Hae Soo does fit in in her own ways — and endears quite a lot of people.
(Well, of course not without creating a whole lot of ruckus first. Onto that later.)
One of the main changes is Hae Soo’s awkward cluelessness, which creates nice humor within the episodes. Her impression of Goryeo history is mostly cloudy, which actually changes the plot quite a lot — since Ruoxi from Scarlet Heart knew Qing Dynasty history pretty well and that prompted a lot of her decisions.
But I think most of us prefer to see the characters hilariously struggle:
Hae Soo hitting her head and tenth prince Wang Eun may have attracted the attention of even the emperor, but she initially is just an eccentric distraction within the danger of the nobility and the violent fight for the throne.
In stark contrast to the love and support Hae Soo receives in her new life at Goryeo, fourth prince Wang So has always been a lone wolf.
On the outside, he’s feared and perceived by the people as “wolf dog”. After a scarring accident, he’s basically shunned within the royal “family” and sent as a peace offer and hostage to Shinju.
Perhaps it’s fate that the day he returns to the royal palace is literally the day Hae Soo becomes one with 21st century Ko Ha-jin. And what a statement he makes — his killing of the horse — a symbol that he intends to stay — is what jolts me into the dire reality of cruel palace life.
Though he is cruel and kills, Wang So is an impossibly tragic character (think: the same way Xiao Nai is impossibly perfect 😂); he receives no love or even care from his biological “parents” and most siblings — when he does, he’s always a pawn of sorts. When living in Shinju, he was often locked in a room and deprived of basic food and water for days. And as the plot shows, Wang So really just longs for love.
If not for Lee Jun Ki’s stellar acting, I likely would have rolled my eyes at how cliche it would’ve seemed — but the way Lee Jun Ki acts it out makes it seem as if something so horrible could have truly occurred. D:
In reality, he just longs to return to the palace Songhyo — even though the other princes talk behind his back and he receives virtually no love from his “parents”. Even knowing that
his mother this lady was behind what could’ve been his murder, he kills all evidence of such and proudly tells her — his way of proving his love for her. But she is heartless.
Queen Sinmyeongsunseong — or as we all like to say, “Queen Bitchface” — is a fucking asshole. Because Wang So was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he ultimately becomes her flaw in an otherwise “perfect” image — and a source of hatred.
In fact, her doting affection towards the childish and innocent 14th prince nearly bothers me.
This ultimately adds a whole new dimension to the story and overall plot — sure, Nicky Wu’s fourth prince in BBJX might have been feared and had a strife with his mother, who clearly favored 14th prince, but never was he looked down upon and dehumanized.
So Wang So, so deprived of proper love, is so tragic that I’m already wholeheartedly supporting him and Hae Soo’s romance (that doesn’t even exist yet); literally, they have to be together.
One of my favorite scenes is when they first meet:
Already they have an inert chemistry — even if Hae Soo/IU is doing that typical female protagonist wide-eyed stare. Just when you think something idol drama-y will occur, this actually happens:
Which is just so awesome. \^O^/
At first, the two characters come to hate each other: Hae Soo really doesn’t get why he’s so cruel, bitter, and seems to threaten her every time. Though Wang So is quite taken aback by how forthright she is, he is extremely pissed after Hae Soo basically foils his plans in the forest. Especially after he expresses anger and tells her to never appear in front of him again, Hae Soo is quite turned off by Wang So.
But amid the apology demanding and other quarrels they have, Hae Soo is ultimately the one who always bumps into Wang So during his most vulnerable moments — and the one who understands him the most.
The turning point within it all is when Hae Soo sees him, heartbroken, destroying the stone pillars — a symbol of a mother’s love for her child. Instead of judging Wang So for the blood on his hands and face, she calmly asks and expresses that she feels that she can somewhat understand his pain and necessity to kill. After all, she did say that she wants to live.
(Part of it is also character development on Hae Soo’s own part — when she encounters Wang So alone in the royal bath, it’s actually a suicide attempt to return to the 21st century.)
Since then, their disdain towards each other has become cute bickering and a natural camaraderie is evident. Wang So is even cute at times when around her, and Hae Soo is definitely her more natural self.
It even comes to the point where they will even confide in each other — though neither party is really willing to admit that, hehe.
Though he probably isn’t aware, it’s clear that Wang So has developed a certain something for Hae Soo; as he sees that Hae Soo is willing to take responsibility for her own actions — take the beating for Chae Ryung, he instinctively saves her and even calls her “mine”.
Even cuter is when Wang So literally begins quoting Hae Soo — he clearly takes her words to heart, even when he keeps telling her to forget him.
Revealed through the episodes is that Hae Soo and Wang So are actually a lot more alike than what it may seem. Both don’t really give that much heed to the social constructs of nobility, don’t view status as everything, and Wang So understands emojis (Hae Soo).
In general, neither has really come to terms with his/her feelings, but they’re already so, so ship-worthy. ❤
With so much put into supporting the Hae Soo x Wang So ship, how do the other relationships fare?
I don’t quite pair Hae Soo and eighth prince Wang Wook together, but actor Kang Ha Neul and IU do have good chemistry. That being said, while Wang Wook seems to be the “model husband” and a 暖男, he’s actually not quite as perfect as on the surface.
Because of his marriage to Lady Hae, Hae Soo’s cousin, their relationship comes off as a sort of exciting forbidden love. Yet I feel so bad for Lady Hae.
As Wang Wook is one of the first few people she encounters when Hae Soo first arrives in Goryeo, Hae Soo feels a sort of warmth and attraction towards him.
The virtuous Lady Hae, fully knowing of the situation, actually purposely sets them up to come together — and even wants them to be together.
Wang Wook, on his own part, is in love with Hae Soo — he even explicitly expresses such in front of his own wife and writes an obvious love poem for her.
During her interactions with Hae Soo, he purposely pulls her in, manipulating her so that he can physically create a sort of intimacy. Yet he never disregards his princely image or breaks any rules for Hae Soo — even if he apologizes afterward.
(Personally, I prefer Wang So’s innocent and completely natural ways of showing his affection for Hae Soo.)
Hae Soo views Wang Wook in awe as a superior — an infatuation of sorts with the “landlord”. Yet he’s more than just a landlord; Hae Soo, concerned for her sick cousin, feels immense guilt.
One of the main things that turned me off from Wang Wook is when he jealously says to Wang So: “Nothing belongs to you; everything here is mine.”
That line itself is a brief flicker — a reveal that Wang Wook isn’t just a hard-working, studious prince. He, too, is cunning and manipulative — nearly inevitable if one is to vie for the throne.
One has to give lots of credit to Kang Ha Neul — a young actor born in the 90s — for managing to come off as so much older and more mature.
In regards to most of the other princes, Hae Soo mostly acts as an endearing older sister. Tenth prince Wang Eun is basically the epitome of innocence and playfulness — even if he’s awfully one-dimensional.
EXO’s Baekhyun is really good at embodying such, too, but I’m waiting for at least a little character development within the upcoming episodes.
Considering that I actually shipped Ruoxi and 14th prince quite a lot, this time around I actually don’t have many feelings towards the more innocent and pampered 14th prince. (And let’s be real — Lin Gengxin is just more my type. 😂)
So I’m actually glad that Hae Soo is just a loving older sister, hehe.
You can still tell that Wang So is just ever-so-slightly jealous.
There’s also a separate arc between 13th prince and Lady Hae; while Ruoxi and 13th had what I consider one of the best platonic relationships (I did see the drinking scene in this version, too, though~), 13th and Hae Soo don’t start off on the right foot. But who knows?
Finally, there’s royal astronomer Choi Ji-mong — one of the most mysterious characters within the series. Aside from sharing a face that looks exactly like the same homeless man’s, Ji-mong’s words to Hae Soo really hint that he’s well-aware of her situation.
So while it may look like this on the outside:
We’re really hoping that Ji-mong is on Hae Soo and Wang So’s side.
Despite some flaws — such as the weird editing (it does get better by the episode, though~), inconsistent weather, and imperfect acting, Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is actually a really good watch.
It nicely paces lighthearted humor and fluffy idol drama moments with the severity of dangerous palace politics, creating an interesting fusion that’s quite addicting to watch.
And though IU’s acting gets the shorter end of the stick, especially when unfortunately compared to the likes of Lee Jun Ki (a.k.a. why I don’t bitch about all those close-ups, hehe), she actually embodies the role of Hae Soo quite well. Her acting obviously isn’t perfect but is definitely watchable. So to all the criticism?