[DRAMA REVIEW] Scarlet Heart: Ryeo

Disclaimer: Brace yourself for a long, convoluted rant that goes off one too many tangents (what less to expect . . .?). But I dare say this review displays more coherence than the drama itself. #noshade

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. (Duh.)

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The Basics:

  • 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:

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The Plot:

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.


In A Nutshell

Scarlet Heart: Ryeo was, well, ridiculously addicting until uneven acting, patchy writing, directing and execution started spiraling out of control. For a drama that displayed so much potential, the latter episodes were . . . a mess. (But then I think about it, and . . . it was doomed from the start, wasn’t it?)

As a hardcore BBJX fan, I tried avoiding comparing the source and the adaptation for the longest time. Once comparisons were inevitable, I felt truly angered at how they dealt with butchered the source material.

Yet the fact remains that I somehow watched all 20 episodes, albeit with a bitter aftertaste that I have yet to wash away. Indeed, there were silver linings and, okay, Lee Jun Ki.

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The Longer Rant

Ultimately, MLSHR was the very first Korean drama that I’ve ever watched (shocking, I know), so I came in with basically zero knowledge of any of the actors, Goryeo history, and common K-drama tropes. It’s definitely a very different experience from your regular period C-drama, yet watch out as I weirdly reference C-dramas anyway.

If you’ve read my earlier recaps, you might have noticed that there was a time when I enjoyed the show and actually believed in the OTP SoSoo. Long gone are those days; instead, this post is my method of venting out my perpetual frustrations.

My thoughts about this drama are likely more scattered than the script itself, so bear with me here.

To fans of MLSHR: I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. 😦

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1. Lee Jun Ki. Lee Jun Ki. Lee Jun Ki.

This isn’t the first time an actor became my sole reason to complete a crap drama, but Lee Jun Ki is special in that Wang So was decidedly rather badly developed, so props to him for rising above this entire mess.

Wang So — nevermind the latter episodes — allowed Lee Jun Ki to truly shine and bask in all dramatic glory. Given the circumstances of his character — angsty, tortured, tragic, compassionate, or simply just “larger than life” — he was simply able to show so much range in his performance. Lee Jun Ki’s nuanced portrayal of the tragically mistreated underdog — his hurt at his asshole parents, his shock and wonder at Hae Soo’s innocence and acceptance, even his adorably dorky side — allowed most audiences to accept his often crude methods, including slaughtering an entire temple of monks.

He did have his more restrained, subtle moments, but it seems that Lee Jun Ki is simply suited for the extra dramatic, larger than life character. (I can just imagine him typecast as the epic wuxia protagonist.)

In contrast, I simply can’t associate Lee Jun Ki with, as Ruo Xi so cheekily called Fourth Prince, “Ice Block Face”. Unfortunately, So’s character automatically invalidated Yinzhen, and to make that work, the narrative simply had to proceed in a completely different direction.

That being said, at times Lee Jun Ki felt too “try-hard” or OTT for my tastes. I could tell that he was putting a lot of effort into his acting, but it sometimes jolted me out of the drama. I think it’s because I’m simply accustomed to watching much more restrained acting?

The most jarring example would be his honestly over-dramatic crying over Hae Soo’s death — I think Lee Jun Ki tried too hard to make the scene epic, which was why it fell flat for me. (But mostly also because I was literally hanging onto the drama to see Lee Jun Ki cry, and ended up ridiculously disappointed.)

Once Wang So warmed up to me as a character, Lee Jun Ki definitely came in on his own, and much more naturally at that. So if anything, the takeaway of Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is Lee Jun Ki.

2. Wang So both redeemed and destroyed the drama. 

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The moment Wang So rode into Songak and brutally slaughtered his horse, the entire premise of the drama completely shifted. While more Lee Jun Ki is (very understandably) what viewers want, the story shifted to become about Wang So the anti-hero and his journey to fulfill his destiny and prove his valor. It was quite nearly Wang So against the world, and almost deemed the time-travelling aspect of Hae Soo . . . moot? But I have an entire rant on the narrative for a later time.

My feelings towards Fourth Prince Wang So are nearly bipolar: I was ridiculously attached to him, yet felt like angrily smacking him upside the head. Sometimes he was the best thing about MLSHR, while at other times So was the worst.

As the old Chinese saying goes, “A smile can cover a hundred flaws”, and those words never rang truer than with Lee Jun Ki as Wang So. I know this sounds strange, but at times I was literally inclined to forgive Wang So because he was so pretty, especially in that gorgeous ponytail.

It honestly amazes me, though, how a character can go from “brooding and violent” to “Gu Man male lead material” (yes, actually: good-looking + wolfish + intense + domineering + somewhat problematic) to “literal WTF-ery” in the span of mere episodes. But despite Lee Jun Ki, I honestly found myself missing Yinzhen.

3. Wang So’s hair. 

I will confess that my initial reaction to Wang So was to think of Kylin Zhang’s ridiculous fringe (and I swear not because I think of Yang Yang too much):

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But while Kylin’s fringe actually moved as he broodingly slayed zombies, Wang So’s fringe . . . didn’t. A note to all producers out there: when you manage to cast someone as ethereally gorgeous as Yang Yang or Lee Jun Ki, you do not cover his face in a god-awful fringe.

While Kylin’s fringe more or less stayed, So’s fringe did at least experience quite the revolution. Sometimes he even got bits of brown weaved in it? WTF.

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But Wang So’s ponytail look is literally the prettiest I’ve seen in all historical dramas — it even surpassed Daniel Chan’s Yuwen Yong from Prince of Lan Ling. Let’s be real — Lee Jun Ki was pretty much the Daniel Chan to Scarlet Heart: Ryeo. Oh, if I had known.

4. Forget BBJX; Scarlet Heart: Ryeo might as well be an extra angsty remake of Prince of Lan Ling. Well, at least until So ascended the throne. 

And Prince of Lan Ling is called Prince of Lan Ling for a reason. Considering that Hae Soo was not the best-written character, I had little qualms about the shift in the narrative to the OTP . . . until they tried to shoe-horn the original ending, at least.

Paranoid kings and nude fanservice bathing scene of episode 1 aside, the drama ultimately became about Prince So, and Hae Soo’s purpose of time traveling was quite literally to guide Prince So in the correct direction? Which she failed at? If so, why her? Why not any other person? Methinks Yang Xue Wu, for all her stupidity, would’ve done the better job. (Or maybe not?)

Soo and Xue Wu are quite similar — the ridiculously naive, sheltered, clueless prophet (considering that all Soo has is her visions) whose Mary Sue tendencies and stupidity ruin shape Fourth Prince’s life. There’s actually a very touching twist to the end of Prince of Lan Ling, but that’s beside the point — Soo/Xue Wu chooses Fourth Prince, and Fourth Prince receives her blessing. But Xue Wu at least trusted and deeply loved Fourth Prince, who actually didn’t descend into “literal WTF-ery”. Although sometimes I do wonder if she would’ve chosen Yuwen Yong if he, instead of Gao Chang Gong, was prophesized to be the hero. (Always choose Yuwen Yong!)

Choi Ji-mong is basically Xue Wu’s grandma — there to spout BS about “fate” and to separate the OTP. (At least there was no deus ex machina in SHR, which is always an improvement.)

Prince of Lan Ling was also shoddily executed (after 20 or so episodes I pretty FF-ed everything else and exclusively watched for Daniel Chan), but at least it unabashedly admitted that it was brainless fluff, included plenty of cute OTP moments, didn’t try to make this huge deal out of court politics, and gave satisfying fanservice. Unfortunately, less can be said about this show.

Here’s the problem: considering how So’s character and morality were basically butchered beyond no return, that they poorly integrated So’s influence as Gwangjong, and that they tried to poorly shoe-horn a similar ending as BBJX (which was never about shaping Yinzhen as a king), Show was predestined to be severely problematic.

5. IU as Hae Soo. I really liked IU’s EP CHAT-SHIRE (not a good reason to watch a drama), which was why I was willing to give her a chance as Hae Soo? I’m still a fan of IU(‘s music), and still have faith in her acting, although O_O needs to go away.

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Aside from her ability to write hangul, concoct BB cream, and create face masks from scratch, Hae Soo’s modern identity seems irrelevant. Sure, she was very brash, instinctive, and different from all the ancient girls, but that really has nothing to do with being from the 21st century — there are plenty of straightforward and instinctual ancient female leads in the drama-verse. Her very cloudy impression of history doesn’t help and the show does not clearly and consistently show Soo tackling situations with a “modern” approach.

Hae Soo was actually quite endearing in the earlier episodes, even if she was not at all like a woman in her 20s. But Hae Soo’s character invalidated the purpose of BBJX. The entire point of BBJX was not at all “fate” or “romance” (LongShi was A+ though), but literally a 21st-century girl’s experience and reactions to the patriarchal society of the Qing Dynasty (or, in this case, Goryeo). And for that, we needed an introspective female lead who deeply thought about the events and people around her, instead of someone who took things at face value and recklessly plunged herself into various predicaments. Most importantly, we needed a realistically self-centered main character who valued her own survival.

After escaping marrying the king, Soo doesn’t reflect upon the role of women, marriage, or anything. In contrast, Ruo Xi was the “21st-century lens” as she saw and reacted to her close friends getting married off, or even tried to control her own marital life.

On one hand, in no universe would Ruo Xi ever fall in love with Wang So, and vice versa. And I know that MLSHR isn’t BBJX. But even as a standalone drama, I don’t even know what to want from MLSHR, or, at one point, what to want for or from Hae Soo.

Up until Ep 13, Hae Soo’s motivations — including when she left Eun in the dark and her noble idiocy — were at least understandable. After the two-year time skip, during which Soo became sanggong, the script lost her character. She became cold, aloof, and bored, ruthless in like 2 scenes, swoony in love in like 1 episode, and suddenly ridiculously stupid, naive, and sheltered. Like, really.

6. Scarlet Heart: Ryeo doesn’t even make for a satisfying epic love story. 

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Unlike the original, the promos and initial set-up screamed “THIS IS AN EPIC LOVE STORY” and the OTP was clear as day. (BBJX was NOT the epic love story of Ruo Xi and Yinzhen. It would have worked, but it really wasn’t the point.)

It was quite literally set up as an eclipse — the motif of the drama — male lead Fourth Prince Wang So (Lee Jun Ki/Lee Joon Gi) the sun (Ex. 昭) and time-travelling protagonist Hae Soo/ Go Ha-jin (IU/Lee Ji Eun) the moon.

Initially, our Fourth Prince was dark, brooding, isolated, and tortured, while Soo was cheerful, outgoing, compassionate, and pure. Despite their differences, the two would befriend, support, endure, and ultimately come to deeply and wholly love each other as literal soul mates in a slow-burn ship. But things didn’t turn out that way, nor did they unfold in a satisfying manner.

In a strange twist of fate, my faith in for SoSoo faded around Ep 14, which was literally when they became official. While they were bickering frenemies or even when So pursued and waited for Soo, I was eagerly shipping them together. Yet the OTP felt weirdly half-baked and underdeveloped . . . but NOT because there wasn’t enough time.

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I simply wasn’t convinced that Hae Soo was ever truly in love with Wang So. There were brief snippets — the prison scene, telling So about Wook and Yo’s planned coup, and episode 16 — so it felt like she often wavered. Weirdly, at other times, I felt that she kind of liked having So around but just didn’t particularly love him.

Considering that this was supposed to be an “epic love story” (I think?), her relationship with So felt weak and half-hearted. The badly placed time skip, combined with the fact that WookSoo kept dragging until Wook became especially evil (lol), simply didn’t work, and more cute fluffy moments wouldn’t have helped that much. In the garbled mess of the last few episodes, when their love was put to the litmus test . . . it just failed. (The kisses were nice, though. At least IU knew how to receive.)

Don’t get me wrong — Ruo Xi and Yinzhen’s relationship was rather . . . fucked up, to say the least. But it was beautifully fucked up (LongShi was A+), Yinzhen was fascinating and, as he fell in love with Ruo Xi, ridiculously swoony, and every step in Ruo Xi’s feelings towards Yinzhen was accounted for.

Chemistry-wise IU and LJG were quite cute together and given a more functional script, it would’ve worked. Visually they definitely looked amazing together, and if I only watched Ep 16 I could believe in SoSoo. That being said, I actually felt some very electrifying chemistry between Lee Joon Gi and Kang Ha Na (Yeonhwa) when she tended to his wounds in an earlier episode. (If Yeonhwa wasn’t such a bitchy character I actually might’ve shipped her with So.)

7. In hindsight, I wish I had appreciated WookSoo more because it was a large portion of the drama and IU and Kang Ha Neul had great chemistry.

(Or maybe it was because Wook kept leading Soo in circles while she stared at him, wide-eyed and dumbfounded.)

But I simply couldn’t — especially after his first wife Lady Hae/ Myung Hee‘s death, when Wook basically said he would show Soo affection to somehow “repay” Myung Hee and covered Soo’s scarred wrist with the bracelet because it would make him feel bad, I was already irked, nevermind his later descent into darkness.

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Still, Wook had his moments — his warm first impression, as he extended his hand to her, helping Soo with her writing homework, and the one thing I fangirled over, the adorable flip book Wook drew for Soo. It’s always a plus that Kang Ha Neul doesn’t feel like IU’s uncle.

Yet time and time again, MLSHR kept insisting that So was the better lead — and at the time it was so easy — too easy, really — to agree, despite IU’s better chemistry with Kang Ha Neul, simply because of how the characters were written (plus Lee Jun Ki).

8. Kang Ha Neul as Wang Wook. Wook and Yinsi don’t deserve to be compared.

Kang Ha Neul seems to be appealing in a subtle way (like Hu Ge, nevermind his earliest wuxia dramas) and operates better with more restrained, subtle characters, which was partly why warm, gentlemanly Eighth Prince was rather attractive in the earlier episodes.

Meanwhile, given dramatically evil characters, he basically transforms into a dead zombie, much like Feng Shao Feng’s dead-eye impression of Gao Chang Gong (at least his angry bitch face is . . . funnier?).

Even though MLSHR mostly played to Lee Jun Ki’s strengths, and I preferred Lee Jun Ki’s performance here, I think Kang Ha Neul would be a better choice for Mei Chang Su than Lee Jun Ki. Just a thought.

9. So’s character development, if this can be called character development. 

a) Love? Even though So was definitely consistently committed to pursuing Hae Soo, I’m still not quite sold that he “fell in love” with Soo. He was lonely and longed for some sort of compassion, so when Hae Soo came along and was the first to treat him as human he sort of just . . . clung onto her? How So opened up, especially in regards to Soo, was natural enough at least.

When she became fearful of him, he desperately held onto and forced himself onto Hae Soo (for understandable reasons), affirming that Hae Soo was literally his lifeline to humanity or something.

In a sense, So’s love towards Hae Soo is similar to Hua Qian Gu’s love towards Bai Zi Hua in Journey of Flower — we get that they were both lonely and isolated and I guess “fell in love” with the first person (or immortal) to treat him or her as human (for like a few episodes, at least). And their “love” or “attachment” was definitely strong enough to withstand constant rejection and quite nearly disrupt the balance of the universe. He was good to Hae Soo and sacrificed for her, yet I could never totally buy either So or Qian Gu’s feelings as love as opposed to an obsession of sorts.

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b) The literal foil to Wook

Obvious symbolism aside, the writers basically wanted to show us that:

  • Wook was calculative, cunning, and bid his time, while So acted on impulse and swooped in to accomplish things. (Don’t you kind of need the former if you want the throne?)
  • Wook was (inconsistently) a coward (so like Qi Yu from Imperial Doctress OMG), while So bravely stepped up and sacrificed for Hae Soo
  • Wook was often burdened by family and responsibility, while So was free to cling onto Hae Soo
  • Wook was a snake, while So was a compassionate cinnamon roll (until he ascended the throne)
  • For various reasons, So was simply able to treat Soo more as an equal partner

But the writers went overboard in repeatedly ramming in that So was “better” (like no), leaving his actual character underdeveloped.

c) A victim of neglect and abuse

Basically, the show threw a bunch of angsty, sympathy-evoking narrative right at the get go, allowing us to understand So’s violent nature. This sort of violence could have easily justified Gwangjong the bloody monarch, but it quite nearly disappeared. At one point I could’ve sworn he was selfless like BBJX’s Fourteenth Prince and was such a compassionate cinnamon roll that he was so guilty when he thought he killed Yo.

If the show wants to insist that So is a justified hero, along with his “star”, then we will be pissed when they pull the rug out from under our feet and say “oops, he was actually this violent monster all along”. I’m seriously offended that MLSHR’s Gwangjong can even be considered an imitation of Yinzhen.

Thinking about Gwangjong just makes me ephemerally pissed. Yongzheng’s cruelty, though overboard and horrifying, was absolutely fascinating — it was truly how an overly neglected and disciplined boy, hidden through Yinzhen’s veneer of restraint and indifference, was literally unmasked (snorts) in the face of hot-headed revenge. There were quite a few scenes where Yongzheng was basically a little boy screaming “YES I JUST WANT TO BULLY YOU BECAUSE I CAN”, but it was a realistic representation of a victim of neglect and a man who lacked parental love. (But even without stressing Yinzhen’s historically accurate mommy issues, his motivations were clear-cut, consistent, and believable.)

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Considering that So’s mommy issues were so much more front and center (Consort De and Queen Yoo are the same), we should have been able to understand. I think that was sort of the point of So crying over Queen Yoo’s death, and I can understand why he exiled Jung, but MLSHR did not properly associate his past abuse and neglect with his questionable actions as the king. (Suddenly ordering the death of Yo’s past servants felt . . . random, and Hae Soo wasn’t even affected?)

But mostly, if Show wants to insist that So was a victim of abuse, Show needs to consistently establish that So is still the same person, just in love. It almost felt like So changed for Soo to (unconvincingly) fall in love with him because like Soo simply won’t fall in love with a man of violence.

d) Rational, but irrational? 

In hindsight, I think the writers tried to take certain characteristics of Yinzhen and apply them to So but simply failed to understand Yinzhen as a character. Yinzhen is an extremely complex, multifaceted, and fascinating man, which So could have been, and there are so many reasons to both love and hate him.

Yinzhen was largely a man of restraint who never betrayed his true feelings; cold, “ice block face” on the outside and passionate on the inside. Like So, he is crude and extreme; things are either “all or nothing”. But the most striking aspect was his insistence of approaching situations rationally — to not let emotion overcloud his judgment.

Of course, Yinzhen ultimately did let emotion, hotheaded revenge, and mommy issues get in the way — part of the tragedy of BBJX is how Fourth Prince, the kind but restrained man of rationality, organically transformed into a cruel and ruthless emperor. (I absolutely loved how the romance, politics, and court intrigue occurred organically in conjunction instead of as separate entities.) In a way, his love for Ruo Xi and 13th Prince, combined with his overflowing ambition and blinded revenge, consumed his outer veneer of rationality.

So, on the other hand, was never restrained — every emotion was clearly expressed on his face. But then Show tries to insist that So was actually a rational thinker and wouldn’t succumb to power and let emotion and paranoia overcloud his judgment, and then show exactly that. Not properly showing how or why So became greedy for power (which could have happened so long ago) — fuck the whole “stopping the bloodshed” excuse — leaves us mostly confused, and creates a Wang So so utterly unlike Wang So.

10. As a lover, Soo is basically your thickheaded wuxia master. Except, she can’t even wield a sword properly.

Soo definitely reminded me of Linghu Chong (Swordsman) and Bai Zi Hua. They, at least, have Wallace Huo’s gorgeous face and nuanced acting. Oh, and decent kung fu.

But seriously, though — Linghu Chong, Bai Zi Hua, and Hae Soo, all in the name of “good” and righteousness, simply refuse to give their lovers the benefit of the doubt. Everyone else they will try to relate to and all, but Dongfang Bubai? Hua Qian Gu? Wang So? Nope, all destined to be evil and wreak havoc, so if they do a single questionable thing let them take all the blame. Like SMH. (Bai Zi Hua is somewhat legitimately justified, though, making Linghu Chong and Soo decidedly worse.)

In the typical xianxia trajectory, Soo’s kind of “love”, which constantly hurts Wang So, would be the root cause of him going berserk as Gwangjong. That actually would have made so much more sense and would be decently tragic.

Admittedly, a dramatic roasting from So would have been slightly overkill (but literally would be better than whatever shit the finale tried to be), but in the words of Hua Qian Gu:

[Hae Soo] never believed in [So]; [she] only ever believed [her] own eyes. 

(I don’t know what’s worse — assassinating the character’s development in MLSHR, or literally assassinating the character in Swordsman.)

Granted, So ended up breaking a lot of his earlier promises, so he deserved it . . .? (Then I see a Sad! Regret! Lee Jun Ki and my heart breaks.)

11. Judging from her actions in the final episodes, it almost felt like Soo expected her relationship with So to be fluffy unicorns and rainbows (so, like Wook?). She insists that they went through a lot to get together (it didn’t feel like that?) and I appreciate her for 1) not leading So on and 2) not giving up so easily, but considering that she left so quickly, her love felt wishy-washy.

Later Show pulls the rug out from under our feet — she was actually pregnant and wanted to protect her child — but it literally felt like an afterthought. Soo was basically a bored zombie as Gwangjong’s lover. If the pregnancy really was the root cause of her leaving, why was there no turmoil when she told him that she hated him? No instinctual reaction when Gwangjong mentioned having children? Not even wanting to tell him?

Of course, given that Gwangjong pretty much broke her trust (did Soo know about that, though?), I understood that Soo needed to leave.

12.  Considering Gwangjong’s stupidity, I can literally imagine the real Gwangjong rolling in his grave. But luckily he was portrayed as ridiculously good-looking? The fact that Lee Jun Ki managed to make this mess of a character relatable and likable is truly a testament to his incredible skill.

The fact that So didn’t have ambition for the throne honestly throws me off — I thought he low-key did and was very excited to see the culminating events after his literal unmasking and the amazing rain ritual, which further unveiled his ambition — his inner Gwangjong. (Waving that olive branch around was quite hilarious, but it was easily one of my favorite parts of the show.)

But, also — so what if he wanted the throne? So what if the only difference between him and 8th was that female lead happened to love him more? Considering his tragic past, Show could have easily gone the “low-key actually Dongfang Bubai” route  — trying to fill in his empty holes of neglect and abuse with power — to justify his greed for the throne.

(Am I saying that Yu Zheng literally did a better job developing his characters? Say it ain’t so!)

I get that neither So nor Soo have seen Liu Shi Shi’s dramas, but I figured he broke up with Hae Soo so he wouldn’t hurt and trap her once he became king. In the years of his separation, wouldn’t So garner the support of the powerful clans? Find a politically powerful queen? Did he just sit around, moping about Soo? Did he seriously think that Soo would be a viable queen?

I’m not sure how it played out in actual history, but Yeonhwa is the best candidate for queen NOT because she has the backing of a bunch of clans (she only has the Hwangbo clan, or else she’s been a horrible hypocrite throughout the entire drama) but because she has royal blood! Through bargaining with Yeonhwa to cut off ties with her own clan, Gwangjong could consolidate power and ensure that no clan (except the Wangs) held too much power over the throne.

I think something about useless kings (*coughs* Taejo) just pisses me off, so the fact that he almost had to retaliate and was “forced” to be cruel felt . . . stupid.

13. Court Lady OhI cried twice during MLSHR, and both times were for Lady Oh.

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I thoroughly enjoyed her close relationship with Hae Soo — the way she was initially extra harsh towards her, how Hae Soo cared for her, and especially when she offered to take Hae Soo away. One of my favorite scenes would be when Hae Soo confronts and asks Lady Oh why — something about her reply that Soo reminded her so much of herself just made me so sad, and I actually cried.

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Normally, whenever a character is all “we should leave the palace”, I roll my eyes because I know it won’t happen. This time I was literally screaming “Yes! Screw everyone!”

But I think the entire point of the drama is literally “We all should’ve listened to Lady Oh.”

(I was still so, so pissed at her story arc with King Taejo though. Taejo is literally the worst.)

14. Taejo is literally the worst. There were so many “evil” characters in MLSHR, but I found them rather mellow, dull, or honestly not that bad. Weirdly — and somehow I’ve never seen anyone else share my same opinion — Taejo managed to piss me off the most, which is at least a viable reaction.

He claims that men have to throw things away for the throne. But the fact that he called Lady Oh out for throwing him away (please) or even ended up executing his own lover bothers me on so many different levels. Therefore he literally has no right to even think about Lady Oh, or say her name before he dies. Just . . . burn in hell for eternity.

I also hate that he sends Hae Soo to laundry literally because she’ll distract So or some shit. Only to bring her back and tell her that he’s always seen her as a daughter and to follow her own heart, as if he totally was okay with that before. Wise ruler? I have no idea. But he is a terrible dad, so the fact that So weirdly learned to appreciate his horrific parenting skills only pissed me further.

Like, honestly, if I was in Soo’s place, I would climb up to the palace’s rooftop and scream on top of my lungs, “THE KING IS DEAD!” Because Taejo frankly sucked.

Among the many reasons that the ending sucked, the fact that they referenced Taejo’s “wise words” reminded me of how much I hated his character. Am I a weird potato? Absolutely.

15. The gorgeous outdoor sceneries and cinematography. Trumps CG lily pads any time.

The lighting and styling were, as opposed to BBJX, very polished. I’m not saying one style is better than the other, but it was very pretty to see onscreen.

16. Good CGI. 

17. Soon Deuk. I absolutely loved how she was both tomboyish and feminine at the same time. And winning those wrestlers? You go, girl!

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To be honest, her entire arc/ marital problems with Eun was still sort of a waste of time — the entire pacing of the drama was just . . . no. Her relationship with Eun was essentially a very childish “second graders trading lunchboxes and squealing about cooties” sort of ordeal. I was mostly bothered when they went hunting for birds — did Eun really expect to eat the bird without killing it? Did he want to eat the bird alive? Eesh.

Admittedly, I was still saddened when they were wrongfully killed. The general lesson? Clean up after you play! OMG.

18. Lady Hae. I’m both intrigued and disappointed at how they dealt with her character.

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An interesting I noted was how her marriage with Wook was essentially a role reversal from Ruo Xi’s sister Ruo Lan’s marriage to Eighth Prince Yinsi.

In BBJX, Yinsi saw Ruo Lan horseback riding and took her as his second wife. As he was a royal prince, the Ma’ertai clan was more than happy to oblige, even though Ruo Lan was already in love with someone else. Through this, we were able to understand and share in Ruo Xi’s realization and reaction to the sheer power of the imperial family.

In MLSHR, Lady Hae’s ties to the powerful Hae clan (which suddenly lost power at some point?) allowed her to marry Wook against his will. The Hae clan was apparently powerful enough to allow the exiled Hwangbos back into the capital, revealing the role of clans and their exerted power in Goryeo. Well, sort of. (If there was anything, it was all thrown away in the latter half.) I thought it was rather interesting, considering how Lady Hae was portrayed as very saintly in her short arc.

Her death does push the plot forward, but I felt like it was done out of convenience — like, basically Hae Soo, Wook, and Wook are single now.

19. Weirdly, the women had a tendency to force princes into marriagesInteresting, at least?

It was quite nearly the opposite of in BBJX — the only female character who we see struggle with the concept of marriage is Yeonhwa, who was actually decently interesting until she married So. (Was I secretly hoping Gwangjong + Daemok would be somewhat like Minghui/8th, only to be disappointed? Yes. Yes, I was.)

And yet our 21-century girl Hae Soo never actually seemed to be in conflict, and never even gave a proper reaction to So’s marriage to his niece.

20. Earlier inclusions and deviations from the source material. It was definitely fun and interesting (in the earlier days) to see this K-drama approach to BBJX (especially So and Soo’s first meeting, OMG).

21. Fourteenth Prince JungInitially, I was not particularly impressed with Jung — he weirdly felt like Ye Zhu Xin’s Tenth Prince (in BBJX) in that sort of cringy, dim-witted way. (He wasn’t that toddler-like, but it was not fun to watch.) Compare to how I swooned over Lin Gengxin’s commanding 14th Prince, I was indeed disappointed. But I liked that his arc stayed similar to the original, and he definitely redeemed himself in the last few episodes as So’s character was butchered. If I cared for Hae Soo more I would ship her with 14th — just like in BBJX.

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The finale was a mess, but it was very heart-warming to see his cute moments with Soo; the actor was very good at angsting her death; I absolutely loved the scene where Baek Ah comforted Jung after So left. There was barely any 13th & 14th bromance (which would’ve been amazing in this show), but it still felt so real and organic.

22. For me, the narrative was alright up until Ep 13. Anything up until Ep 13 I will accept as canon; in fact, I might as well pretend the series ended as Soo comforted So as he cried over Yo, and write fanfic for everything else.

23. I officially prefer Yongzheng’s mustache to Gwangjong’s eyeliner. Which is really saying a lot.

24. Thirteenth Prince Baek Ah. He was rather boring, but in general was a pleasant character to see on screen. But the writers even managed to ruin his character.

I honestly don’t care if he marries his niece (Wook’s daughter) or not, and they really didn’t need that scene, but the fact that she’s somehow Woo Hee’s reincarnation, and that he would be loving and obsessing over her as she grew up, frankly creeps me out. It honestly makes him a sexual predator, almost? Like WTH. (Am I overreacting? Gosh dang it.)

I’m not even new to princes marrying their own nieces (*coughs* Schemes of A Beauty), but what the hell.

25. Honestly, considering all the Wang princes, Goryeo is frankly screwed. I think Wook makes the best ruler because he actually was able to garner the support of the clans. I think a more logically satisfying ending would be that Later Jin conquers Goryeo. The End.

26. That the writers think Yeonhwa is somehow a viable Minghui just offends meOn one hand, I knew it! I totally called it!

But considering that they went nowhere with that, Yeonhwa blaming Hae Soo for causing Wook’s evilness was basically pointless. Comparing Minghui’s powerful dialogue to Yeonhwa’s blaming is just . . . arghhh. The latter episodes pretty much screamed that the producers simply failed to understand their source material.

I will give the show credit for surprising me, at least? Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the writers ruining Eighth Prince’s confession through Yeonhwa telling him to do it.

27. Hae Soo’s letter(s). Honestly, immediately tearing up after 2 seconds and crying under Hae Soo’s patronizing voice-over was never going to work.

The greatest offense was that they actually took out the part where Fourth Prince had Ruo Xi’s heart when he calmly told her he wanted the throne. To me, that is literally the most memorable and important part of the entire letter, so the fact that they took it out further revealed that they simply didn’t even get the OTP’s relationship.

In Show’s defense, Wang So told Hae Soo this at literally the worst time possible.  I get that he’s a hungry wolf with a horrible faculty of self-control, but he kisses and consummates with Soo first, and then tells her about his ambition for the throne? Really? Which automatically makes him so much worse and twisted than Yinzhen.

28. I don’t even want to know how So would react if he had found out about Hae Soo screaming in fear to Wook about So/Gwangjong. Which was only what Yinzhen was actually hurt about.

29. They literally managed to ruin museum scene. 

I’m glad that So’s reincarnation didn’t appear because Hae Soo frankly doesn’t deserve Wang So, poor So’s reincarnation deserves better than Soo, while Wang So only deserves therapy. Ignoring all those WTF stalker paintings, that Hae Soo was worried about how Gwangjong went down in history pisses me off. The museum scene, first and foremost, affirms that she actually existed in ancient history. That the entire experience accounted for something. (But wait — it didn’t.) It’s supposed to be about her — screw Gwangjong.

(What the hell are those stalker paintings?)

30. My reaction to MLSHR in emojis would be: 

Ep 1-8: \^O^/

Ep 9-16: O_O

Ep 17-20: Literally nothing. My brain cells are gone.

31. Reading over my post, everything seems weirdly civil, really. It was all so much snarkier in my head.

32. If there were any good feelings towards MLSHR, all of it was washed away in the shitty second half. 

33. I can literally imagine the director conspiring with Yumama in their evil plan to create high-budget crappy remakes. 

34. Watching this show, I went from intrigued to wondering if Yumama perhaps possessed the director’s soul to frankly wishing that Yumama actually possessed the director’s soul, because that literally would have been better. Jade Palace Lock Heart was actually . . . daebak. (FengMi was so adorable!)

If Yu Zheng actually did try to helm this, SoSoo probably would’ve been way too easy, and in effect a bit boring, too? But if they could somehow recreate the genius political maneuvers of Schemes of A Beauty and like stage a legitimate coup from So, it would be worth it?

35. Words cannot describe how offended I was by the ending. It was . . . the worst.

36. For me, the amount of hurt, anger, and offense I took to this was directly proportional to how much I loved BBJX

Is it possible to enjoy both BBJX and MLSHR? Absolutely. But a variety of factors — personal taste, background, etc. — makes each viewer’s experience different. There simply is a reason why period C-dramas resonate more to me.

And that is why discussing and recapping dramas are fun. In fact, I envy those who can somehow find peace and solace in the ending. (Not me, LOL. I think I hated it at least as much as ockoala.)


 OVERALL RATING: 3/10 

(Yes, that’s right — I’m a vindictive bitch. Deal with it.)

Recommended? Run as far away as you can, and never look back. Oh, Lee Jun Ki.

Watch Bu Bu Jing Xin, though. It is honestly just so much better. If anything, I’m glad this reminded me of how amazing BBJX was. (If it makes you feel better, you can brand me as an extra biased BBJX fangirl — I’d be pretty happy to be viewed in that light.)

(I know there were people who actually really enjoyed this show AND BBJX. In hindsight, considering how much I loved BBJX, MLSHR simply never stood a chance, with or without Lee Jun Ki.)

— moon148

P.S. Obviously Scarlet Heart: Ryeo was not the best introduction to K-dramas for me. Solely because people are comparing The Princess Weiyoung to MLSHR, I’m avoiding that, too. (I saw the trailer and I’m . . . not interested? I like Tiffany Tang, but not enough to watch an entire drama for? *waves at Rachel Mao*)

I think ever since The Legend of Zhen Huan and Nirvana in Fire (and BBJX, of course)other historical dramas tend to fall flat. There are so many upcoming 2017 releases, though. For now, let me continue to wallow in frustration.

P.P.S. Lee Jun Ki has managed to attract my attention. I did some research and plan to watch Arang and the Magistrate. (But when?)

 

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Love your review on SHR lol. I especially loved the intricacies of BBJX’s politics and the slow build-up of YongZheng’s character development, which was severely lacking in SHR. And having seen LZH and NIF, it’s just worse since that’s how high my expectations for period dramas are lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moon148 says:

      Yes! This! I was honestly so confused when everyone seemed to prefer So to Yinzhen (because Lee Jun Ki is . . . prettier?), while I thought I was the only one who felt disappointed at his character. But since So did sort of feel like a Gu Man male lead, I do understand the appeal.
      I was honestly facepalming at SHR’s politics. In general, the entire thing, except maybe Court Lady Oh, felt like a very disappointing and weak shadow of BBJX. Especially since I’m rewatching BBJX right now, I find myself increasingly frustrated at how SHR failed to capture it all: how poorly they adapted Minghui, Luwu, Yutan, even 9th Prince, how they would make characters super evil until right before they died. Just . . . argh!
      But forget about SHR — period dramas in general do indeed fall flat in comparison to NiF and LZH. But sequels/spin-offs are coming out for both (*squeals*), and The Advisors Alliance looks very impressive, too.

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      1. The SHR ver of 9th prince is supposed to be Prince Yo right? I kind of got confused there lol. But I quite like Prince Yo though, and of course Prince So. But yes Yinzhen had so much more depth and development. I’m only halfway through the drama but I’m abit wavering whether or not I like Prince So. Hmmmm and judging from your review I probably won’t like how he’s developed. But yes seeing SHR just makes me appreciate BBJX all the more and see it’s true brilliance LOL. I’m holding back my excitement for Legend of Ruyi since being a sequel doesnt make it good. And they’re promoting it as a romance rather than a political drama so *fingers crossed* Ohhh I’ll go check out Advisors Alliance!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. moon148 says:

        SHR’s 9th is actually Prince Won, who will have a (poorly executed…pun intended) stint with the K-version of Yutan (also poorly executed LOL)
        I actually quite liked Prince Yo, too. He’s actually a new character with no direct counterpart, I think? He’s actually IMO probably one of the best developed characters of SHR.
        I did like Prince So for a while, too, but found myself missing Yinzhen nonetheless.
        Did you see the trailer for Advisors Alliance? It looks so epic!
        Since I’m a Wallace Huo fangirl (and a fan of Zhou Xun) I can’t say no haha. According to online reviews Ruyi will actually have “21st century ideals”, which just screams deja vu. But yeah, it’s about how Qianlong and Ruyi’s loving relationship gets torn apart by the nature of the palace, although much more slowly/gradually, so kind of sort of like BBJX (!). Did you see Red Sorghum? I would definitely recommend that (produced by the same people behind LZH and starring Zhou Xun) though it doesn’t take place in a palace.

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      3. Ohoh yeah i just realised. I sort of know whats going to happen now hahaa Prince Won is actually really irritating and I havent reached the part when he’s more involved yet lol.
        I hope they still retain the political intensity of LZH since it IS the sequel. But yeah it definitely has the BBJX vibes, especially with the”21st century ideals”. Is Red Sorghum directed by Zhang Yimou? I know I’ve heard of it. And Advisors Alliance looks interesting! Even the posters have the NIF vibe.

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      4. moon148 says:

        I’m not going to spoil SHR further for you, but I think the best parts of the show are where there are no direct counterparts to BBJX (minus to lame politics, of course)?
        Ruyi will definitely have ample amounts of inner palace concubine cat-fighting heh. I actually thought Zhen Huan and Yongzheng made a great team (ex. actually preferring their earlier relationship to hers with Prince Guo/17th), though, and Qianlong IS working to politically make Ruyi his empress (which actually happens) so *fingers crossed*.
        Red Sorghum the 1987 movie is directed by Zhang Yimou; the drama, directed by LZH director Zheng Xiaolong, is rather different, but also pretty good (I haven’t seen the movie). Both are adapted from the original novel by Mo Yan.

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      5. ohhhh like Yo hahaha I just get the feeling they’re trying too hard to cater to BBJX fans cuz alot of the elements reminiscent of BBJX seem very out of place.
        I’m hoping Ruyi gets subbed though wanted to watch Miyue but my mandarin is not strong enough for me to watch without subs lol.
        Yeah Prince Guo is just LZH’s version of fanservice HAHA but they had pretty good chemistry. I wished Zhen Huan had teamed up with the Empress though. They would’ve been unbeatable hahahaha. I see I don’t really know much about Qianlong but I’ll definitely go search it up, probably after watching Ruyi.

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      6. moon148 says:

        Well, as a BBJX fan, I don’t feel catered to? Sometimes I do wonder if I would have enjoyed SHR more had I not seen and fallen in love with BBJX first (like with Yu Zheng’s cute but ridiculously cheesy Jade Palace Lock Heart, which I watched before BBJX), but I think it’s counter-intuitive, because I think my knowledge of BBJX actually helped me understand some of the plot points of SHR, as I could anticipate where the plot was going (which is just beyond ridiculous). They honestly did a really, well, weird combination of old and new elements — it got to the point where I was disappointed to not see 4th teach horseback riding and Soo angrily chucking snowballs at 4th XD. Stuff like the rain scene was fine, but in the latter part of the show, I think your words ring particularly true, and is mostly why SHR essentially went haywire, I think? (ex. Making So have the “star of a king” and like actually fated to be king completely invalidated what Yinzhen becoming emperor was about). But despite my warnings, I’m very curious to see how you’ll react to the ending — I’d love to discuss with you 😛
        I just watch everything (in Mandarin) raw lol
        IKR I actually really wanted Zhen Huan & Empress to team up for like at least one scheme haha
        Prince Guo I was okay with outside the palace, but once Zhen Huan returned and he kept approaching her I started finding him rather irritating?

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      7. ohh i guess Ryeo had the whole moon, sun and stars thing to differentiate itself from BBJX and honestly, its a good idea. If done well lol. When you mention that So was “fated” to become king, it actually sounds like a cool idea but of course, if done well. HAHAHA. Hmm i feel like I can predict how it will end thanks to BBJX but yes I’ll try to finish it and maybe I’ll do a blog post on my thoughts while trying to tone down my inner bitch cuz i get very critical about shows I dont like HAHAH
        Omg LZH in mandarin?!! I can watch The Lost Years (TW movie starring Joseph Chang) in raw but definitely not LZH. I felt so sad for Prince Guo lol and for Zhen Huan of course so when he died I feel the pain

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      8. moon148 says:

        For me, it was established very early on (like Ep 1) that SHR was going to/supposed to be completely different from BBJX because if I wanted another BBJX I definitely would’ve jumped ship a long time ago. Ryeo definitely had so many chances/reasons to actually be a good show, or at least should have been better than Gong. The whole eclipses and stars actually would’ve been amazing – it could have explored intriguing concepts such as fatalism vs. free will (through effectively showing how it is So comes to power and/or what role Soo plays, but unfortunately the writers clearly suck at politics and power plays). Of course, given new elements they need to actually follow through and NOT pull a Yu Zheng’s Swordsman at the end (I dropped that drama after they implemented lots of changes only to stick back to their source smh, though I have a sinking feeling SHR probably did it worse?)
        I feel more vitriol and a lot more critical/bitchy towards SHR because 1) I loved the source too much? and 2) it just felt like between all the messes this show actually held great potential that felt all wasted? I just think SHR had many reasons to be at least good and wasted all of those reasons . . . sighs
        LZH I watched with my parents, and even then I didn’t get 100% heh. But even so its brilliance shone through, because LZH is definitely one of the most high quality shows I’ve ever seen. I felt bad for Prince Guo too, but felt that him approaching Zhen Huan like almost right in front of Yongzheng made them especially suspicious/vulnerable. He’s definitely not suited for life in the palace. Poor Prince Guo 😦

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      9. Yes its so sad Ryeo definitely had so much potential and they started off great (at least in the first ep) I thought it would actually be the drama that pulls me back to Kdrama but nooo it just serves to prove my strong dislike towards them lol. Oh well I’ll try to finish it soon and get it out of the way HAHA yeah it’s obvious the writers had no idea how to write power plays so many facepalm moments omg
        Oh yeah i sort of remember now. Prince Guo was kind of annoying in that he was being too idealistic while Zhen Huan was the one who was actually being practical

        Like

      10. moon148 says:

        In my case SHR is the first (and only) Kdrama I’ve ever seen and it’s definitely not prompting me to watch other kdramas lol
        (But Lee Jun Ki is quite attractive and Arang and the Magistrate has good reviews?)
        Although SHR apparently was a domestic failure in ratings so maybe the Koreans actually do have decent taste

        Like

      11. HAHAHA ive only ever seen modern kdramas and well…i never finished any of them. Except Secret Garden and Mischievous Kiss. I recommend Secret Garden, its good both for its comedy and its FEELS lolol

        Like

      12. moon148 says:

        Ooh just saw something else that looks interesting: Nothing Gold Can Stay, starring Sun Li and Chen Xiao!
        http://www.avirtualvoyage.net/2016/12/nothing-gold-can-stay-drops-first-stills-with-chen-xiao-sun-li.html#more-21476

        Like

      13. Anything with Sun Li is interesting HAHAH

        Like

  2. I’m trying to catch up on the series and I’m now actually on the 9th episode…..then I see your review. LOL! I mean, I haven’t watched the original novel/drama where this series is based from but you convinced me to give it a go.

    As to Scarlet Heart, I really liked it….so far ( 9th episode), and despite the LOTS of bad reviews I’m hearing for the last parts of the series, I’m still planning to watch it because…well, Lee Jong Ki. I might end up getting disappointed, hurt, angry, pissed, so I’m bracing myself!

    I enjoyed your review and learned few things about the original version! I’ll definitely make my own reaction post once I finished watching it. Thanks~!

    Like

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