Moonlight Drawn by Clouds is a beautifully crafted, romantic 2016 South Korean historical drama series set in the 19th century Joseon era, and very loosely based on a real Prince who became King, a man who loved literature, art, music, and dancing, but who had a short reign because he died young at only twenty years of age.
The drama was directed by Kim Sung Yoon and starred a beautiful pair of young, extremely talented actors, gorgeous Kim Yoo Jung (whom I first saw in 2006 when she was a tiny girl and played the young Su Jeong Im character in the beautiful horse film Lump Of Sugar), and handsome Park Bo Gum (Tomorrow's Cantabile, I Remember You) who is her senior by six years. Of the two of them, however, Kim Yoo Jung is actually the senior (sunbae) of the older Park Bo Gum in regards to acting experience, by several years. Because Kim Yoo Jung was only 16-17 when she made this drama even the love scenes were sweet and tender, more than flagrantly passionate. Apparently the Korean audience really cares about stuff like that (unlike American audiences who are used to seeing all kinds of smut thrown at them). The ratings for this series were very high and broke over the 20% level many times, the number which makes cast and crew celebrate that they have a big hit on their hands. My guess is that young people tuned in in droves and then their parents would sit down with them and join in watching, then they would tell their co-workers the next day what they had watched with their families the night before -- word of mouth among the generations therefore promoted the show more than any specialized promotions via trailers could ever hope to accomplish. I'm sure it was also helped by boasting such a lovely title. Moonlight Drawn By Clouds. Sigh. It could be the title of a painting done by a classic Master Painter.
"When we had love scenes together I would almost faint,"
Kim Yoo Jung was quoted as saying. "He was so handsome."
The series is based on a web novel of the same title written by Yoon Yi Soo and “kk”, and was serialized on Naver and in a series of illustrated books. This is definitely a coming of age story and geared more toward a younger audience, compared to many sageuk (historical dramas) which are aimed at adults and feature a lot more violence (and sexual innuendo). The comparative cleanliness of this story will either be a turn on for some (it was for me - yay! I could avoid horrible torture scenes!), or it will bore you. I think if you are Young At Heart you can appreciate this story, even if you are an older person. Young love can be sweeter than old love, after all, because it is so fresh and new for the people smitten. I rarely give end spoilers but I will say that we do not see any death of this eventual King. The narrative ends happily, before any tragedy will be experienced by the characters. So if you are a K-drama fan who stays away from dramas in which you think there will be an unhappy ending then please reconsider because you won't find that here. This is largely romantic fantasy for young people, and the cinematography and acting are top-notch.
The Story: Can a disguise be an obstacle to true love? Hong Ra On (Kim Yoo Jung from May Queen) is a young woman who, guided by her mother during the Joseon era, disguises herself (in the beginning for mysterious circumstances that are revealed later) as a young man named Sam Nom. He (she) supports himself (herself) by writing romantic fiction and anonymous love letter ghostwriting where he (she) gives relationship advice to lovelorn men! What a profession for two hundred years ago!
Pretty Lanterns For Luck Scene
A love letter that Ra On writes for a client brings him (her) into unexpected contact with a man named Lee Young, whom he (she) has no idea is actually the Crown Prince Hyo Myeong (Park Bo Gum), the first son of King Sunjo (Kim Seung Soo) and heir to the throne. He (she) also meets his trusted bodyguard and friend Kim Byung Yeon (Kwak Dong Yeon), who takes a shine to him (her) pretty much right away and seems to be able to tell much earlier what sex Ra On really is, while the Prince seems clueless (at first).
Park Bo Gum, Kim Yoo Jung, Kwak Dong Yeon
Through a series of strange events, Ra On gets sold into the Royal Palace as a eunuch in training and amazingly she passes physical inspection (the inspector conveniently gets sloshed drunk). She (he) is eventually assigned to work for Royal Consort Soo Ki (Jun Mi Sun) and oddball Princess Young Geun (Heo Jung Eun), who seems to take an early dislike to Ra On. Eventually Ra On is assigned to Lee Young as his own eunuch after he saves her from almost being executed by the Princess, who falsely accused Ra On of rudeness.
Ra On becomes embroiled in a political power struggle with Queen Kim (Han Soo Yeon) and her father, Prime Minister Kim Hun (Chun Ho Jin), who somehow manage to keep King Sunjo in a perpetually weakened, hallucinogenic state, for cruel, secret motives of their own.
Prime Minister Kim is grooming his grandson, Kim Yoon Sung (Jinyoung), to take over the throne but that would put the young scholar in direct competition with his childhood friend, Lee Yeong, to become the next King. It is inevitable that court jealousies, rivalries, and outright battles will take place over the succession (a common plot device in these sageuk) and drive the two former friends apart.
Jo Ha Yeon (Chae Soo Bin) is a minister's daughter who has her eyes set on Lee Yeong for marriage, but how will he deal with his emerging feelings for Ra On, whom he believes at first is a male eunuch? He begins to ponder his own sexuality until it becomes clearer with time that Ra On is actually a girl, particularly after a dance sequence in the court in which Ra On dons a female dancer's costume and performs before the court and visiting dignitaries. Her eyes bewitch Lee Young. After the dance the Crown Prince tries to chase Ra On but she is helped to escape before he can put two and two together. For several episodes the writers deliberately keep you guessing about whether or not the Crown Prince understands Ra On is a girl or a boy, and what his reaction would be upon his discovery. (It was the topic of great debate on the online sites for awhile).
The beautiful dance performed by Kim Yoo Jung;
apparently she practiced this dance for weeks
This is the only reason I give this drama an A- instead of an A: in real life there is no way that a girl who is eventually discovered to be pretending to be a male eunuch would NOT be executed for lying to the court, but of course in this "gender bender" modern version romantic show, primarily aimed at teenagers, they couldn't show this reality or they would face a huge backlash from the audience. They would have to create ways for Ra On to escape such a fate, and so they cleverly did.
I kept asking myself as I watched this drama, "This one really is like Sageuk 101 for teens, so why can't I tear myself away?" (I haven't been a teen in decades!). My answer has to be that the series was executed with such physical beauty that I couldn't stop watching it. For instance, in one scene the people at night send magic lanterns flying into the sky and I just gasped, "So beautiful!" In its set up it was similar to other gender bender sageuk stories I've watched, the main difference being that the personal charms of Park Bo Gum and Kim Yoo Jung together were off the charts in this story! You can't fake this level of chemistry, it's real. They used this attraction and chemistry between them - plus some wonderful humor - to get young audiences interested in a dramatic historical story, to get the young ones' feet wet on the historical genre, but saved the audience from seeing their favorite characters suffer too much or be killed. (To be sure, a favorite character does suffer a sad fate by the very end, but not our two lead characters).
With secret sweetheart Ra On and faithful bodyguard Byung Yeon by his side, can Crown Prince Hyo Myeong (aka Lee Young) fight the power-hungry ministers and jealous royals to claim his rightful place in history, the throne of Joseon?
I enjoyed this gentle sageuk and the wonderful, warm acting of the main leads together. I would say this historical drama is absolutely a must see for fans of these two actors because they make the experience such a total delight. The show is very addictive. Also try it if you are a sageuk fan but want to watch something without a lot of violence, a story which is more fantasy based and romantic. The music is lovely, the production values are excellent, it's almost like a fairy tale come to life, although based on a real royal who lived a long time ago.
Born Lee Young, Crowned Prince Hyo Myeong
Died in 1830 at twenty years old
If anything made me sad about this story is that I felt like I never really got to know the REAL human being who existed back then, because he wasn't a typical royal -- he preferred an artistic life instead of a stuffy political one, although apparently he did engage in some political reforms in his short life. There isn't much history about him online, but here is a painting of him. Physically he was no Park Bo Gum, but then, who is?
Enjoy the romance and enjoy the show! It's perfect for all those folks who are romantic at heart, no matter what their age is on a calendar.
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