There surely were a lot of high quality historical Korean dramas in 2012, like Faith and Queen In Hyun's Man, that were excellent, but the cinematography, sets, and costumes on The Moon That Embraces The Sun (2012) leaves the other historical dramas that year in the dust. Truly stunning camerawork in every scene, a visual masterpiece and feast for the eyes. MBC must have hired the best cameramen in Korea to make this drama. I did a lot of "oohs and ahhhs" while watching it. Then having such a splendid cast working against those gorgeous backdrops, sets, and views of nature, wearing those lustrous costumes, was the icing on the cake.
Although this was a fictional and fantasy story taking place in the Joseon dynasty, based on a novel by authoress Jung Eun-gwol, about a legitimately born Prince who becomes a King, and his half-brother who was the neglected son of a concubine, who both fall in love with the same girl who becomes a shaman, it seemed like the events that were chronicled could have actually happened. I've seen many similar political, fighting, torture, and romance scenarios and scenes in other historical dramas, so the production and writing team weren't just pulling rabbits out of hats in creating this sumptuous romantic story.
Although I decided to watch this drama because of one actor - Kim Soo Hyun (My Love From Another Star) - it also delighted me that it starred another one of my top favorites Jung Il Woo (49 Days). I'd watch "The Scheduler" in anything. Two! Two! Two mints in One! The actress who played the girl they both love, later a shaman, was the lovely Ga In Han (Bad Guy). At first blush it might seem that Ga In would be too old for Soo Hyun (he was 24 when he made this and she was a married 30!), but their scenes together proved otherwise. When he would grab her close the sensuality between them was really powerful yet tender and sweet at the same time. (Besides, Kim Soo Hyun has bedroom eyes, he makes any woman look good!). In the last few years of K-dramas scriptwriters have been writing a lot of "noona" romances (younger man, older woman) and are exceptionally good at it.
Left to Right: Kim Soo Hyun as Lee Hwon, Ga In Han as Yeon Woo (aka Wol), and Jung Il Woo as Yang-myung
This was the first drama where Kim Soo Hyun played an adult man; before, like in Dream High, Father's House, and Will It Snow For Christmas?, he played teenagers. What a pleasant experience to see him play a mature King with a good head on his shoulders and the ability to love and stay true to one woman, the girl of his youth.Then, to top that off, in the children's portion of the drama (episodes one through six) the cast featured two lovely young actresses I am very fond of, Yoo Jung Kim (Tamra, the Island) and Kim So Hyun (The Suspicious Housekeeper), who play rivals for the Crown Prince and later King Lee Hwon's love, and a wonderful, mature for his age teenage actor who played Kim Soo Hyun's character of the Crown Prince when young, named Yeo Jin Go. I was mightily impressed by this young boy's performance and my, does he have a deep and beautiful voice. A future King's voice, to be sure!
Other assorted children played their roles well, the other Lee Min Ho (Rooftop Prince) as the younger Yang-myung, Ji Hee Jin as Min Hwa, and Si Wan Im as Heo Yeom. I also absolutely got a kick out of the actor who played Kim Soo Hyun's Eunuch, Hyung Sun (Jung Eun-pyo). He totally cracked me up and brought much needed levity to a very suspenseful drama with lots of sadness. The same with actress Seung Ah Yoon who played the servant girl Seol. I had really enjoyed her acting in I Need Romance 3 and Playful Kiss. Even with her hair tied back and covered I recognized her immediately. The girl is presently 30 years old but looks 20!
Yoo Jung Kim and Kim So Hyun really did look like delicate flowers in this drama - although one had prickly thorns!
The story begins in a mystical and violent way: a visionary shaman named Ari (Young-nam Jang) witnesses a murder of a nobleman she secretly loves and becomes the target of Royal assassins. She is ordered tortured and executed in an attempt to shut her up, but not before she had stumbled on a pregnant noblewoman named Madame Heo (Mi-kyung Yang) who had shielded her for a short time, whose soon to be born daughter, she claims, will need to be protected from a tragedy sometime in her future life. Madame Heo promises to do her best to prevent any future tragedies for her child.
Thirteen years later, that baby, Yeon-woo Heo (exquisitely pretty Yoo Jung Kim), the daughter of the high-ranking tax official Young-jae Heo (Sunwoo Jae-duk) and Madame Heo, accompanies her mother to the royal palace to attend her brother Yeom Heo's (Yim Si-wan) civil service exam award ceremony. By chance, while wandering away after a yellow butterfly, she comes across Crown Prince Lee Hwon (Jin Goo Hyo) in the midst of his escape attempt to see his older half brother, Prince Yang-myung (the other Lee Min Ho), receive his award. They (literally) fall into each others arms and a lifelong attraction begins between them, resulting in a deep and abiding love that not even "death" can destroy. However, when Yeon-woo is chosen as the future Crown Princess of Joseon it upsets Prince Yang-myung, who has also come to love Yeon-woo deeply. "You have so much," he cries out to his brother, "couldn't you let me have just this one thing, my love for this girl?"
Before they can marry, however, the evil Dowager Queen Jung-hui, played by Young-ae Kim (who had been behind shaman Ari's execution at the beginning of the story) secretly orders lovely Yeon-woo's death as she prepares to marry the Crown Prince, in order to install her favorite Bo-gyeong Yoon (Kim So Hyun), the daughter of a family clan, as Crown Princess instead, thereby securing more power for herself. She orders head shaman Nok-yeong Jang (Jeon Mi-seon) of Royal Star Mansion (Royal Astrology House) to cast a spell on Yeon-woo to stricken her with a mystery sickness. The girl's skin turns grey and she is in terrible pain.
However, before shaman Ari had died she had also asked shaman Nok-young to fulfill the promise to protect Madame Heo's daughter Yeon-woo. Nok-young secretly visits Yeon-woo's father and gives him a special potion for his daughter, which she tells him will allow Yeon-woo to die in peace instead of agony. It's unclear whether Yeon-woo understands what this "medicine" is but she drinks it and appears to take on the look of a dead person. She is buried to much grief for both the Crown Prince and his half-brother, as well as her family, but shaman Nok-young comes back later and has the grave dug up - Yeon-woo is still alive and she wakes up inside her coffin and starts to scream! The trauma is buried in her subconscious and Nok-young takes her to a safe haven where she can start a new life as a shaman .... with no name to identify her but "Miss".She no longer has memories of her former life.
Seeing each other for the first time in years - will they recognize each other, when he thinks she's dead?
Eight years later Crown Prince Lee Hwon (Kim Soo Hyun), who refuses to love another even when strongly urged to do so by others for the sake of bearing an heir with his neglected wife Bo-kyung (Kim Min-seo), tries to be a sage King for his people but sometimes his longing to be free of palace responsibilities gets the best of him and he takes off with his bodyguard to check the welfare of the kingdom out for himself. On one of these trips it starts to rain and the two men take shelter in a shaman's little house in the woods, and of course the shaman is none other than Yeon-woo --- who doesn't remember she is Yeon-woo, although she does know who the King is from seeing him in a procession.
When the King feels she seems a lot like his lost love Yeon-woo he becomes interested in learning more about her; also his half-brother still dreams of her even though he thinks she is dead; "I am getting older, but she remains 13 years old in my memory," he says forlornly. The King gives this new shaman a special name, Wol (meaning moon). Her fate is still intertwined with King Lee Hwon. Whenever he meets Wol he keeps asking her questions about her family background, but her own memories remain unclear. Sometimes bits and pieces return but she can't put the puzzle together.
The buried alive scene made me claustrophic, can't even imagine what the actress went through!
Will Wol ever get her memories back, or be able to make sense of them when and if she does? The King and Wol start to fall in love all over again, partly against their will, but "Wol" must contend with the jealousies of the current Queen of Joseon, the Queen's Father, and the evil Queen Dowager if and when she is ever to reclaim her rightful place as the Queen of Joseon.
Meanwhile the King begins to investigate the death of his love after seeing the grown up Wol and becoming more and more convinced she is Yeon-woo. However, he is fighting against time, because the Queen's powerful political clan wants him removed from power. What will happen when the King's enemies target Wol as well? Could there be any safe haven with the King's half-brother Prince Yang-myung, who has never gotten over her either? Or will he give up his love for the King? When his enemies attack him will anyone come to the defense of King Lee Hwon? And what terrible price will that person pay?
The Moon That Embraces The Sun is sometimes quite violent, haunting, and boasts a very mystical story that a lot of people love. Personally I was a bit uncomfortable with the shamanism in the script but that's just me; It's always been a very popular drama, especially for Kim Soo Hyun fans. It also has a lovely soundtrack.
This was a great transition story for Kim Soo Hyun to graduate from playing teenagers to a more mature, thoughtful man. It did a lot to prepare him for his even more serious role in the blockbuster My Love From Another Star in 2013-2014.
Just love this "Bromance" picture of Jung Il Woo and Kim Soo Hyun napping from The Moon That Embraces The Sun