Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Joint Drama Review: Heartstrings + Moon Embracing the Sun

This post was delayed until I changed browsers and was able to post pictures. Sorry for the delay, but here it is at last!

Time for a drama review! Or in this case, two of them! Heartstrings and Moon Embracing the Sun were two of about four or five dramas I was watching simultaneously, so they all got finished up at about the same time. Interestingly, both Heartstrings and Moon Embracing the Sun share a few actors/actresses in common (though none of the main cast in either case).

Fortunately/unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), I watched the last of Heartstrings first. I thought there were 17 episodes to it, as listed on Drama Fever, but the two last episodes were 'best of' episodes, rather than part of the show itself. Therefore, I didn't realize it would end as soon as it did.

Boy did it end. It ended with a rush, like they had to end faster than they thought. At 15 episodes it's considerably shorter than most dramas, K-Dramas normally running 20-21 episodes though occasionally more. They all looked exhausted too - about halfway through the drama, you can start telling where they stopped sleeping as much as they needed to, because Park Shin Hye and Jung Yong Hwa both looked beat. There were a lot of little subplots that got dropped in a hurry and things that were glossed over too easily nearing the end, though surprisingly I didn't mind them.

This drama was a seriously easy watch. This is definitely no melodrama (which is fast becoming my favourite type of drama, actually). It's sweet and typical, but the chemistry between the two main actors is stunning. The way they interact is very believable. Perhaps a side effect from this being their second drama together? Both starred in You're Beautiful, though not as the main couple. Everything about the drama is everything I say I never watch - but with this one it just seemed to click.

Shin Hye's character, Gyu Won, is nearly all about a character I don't generally care for, and I loved her character. I don't like the actress generally, and I loved her in this drama! Gyu Won plays a traditional Korean instrument, the Gayageum (가야금), and is majoring in Traditional Korean music at college. Her character is childish, innocent, and easily annoyed with the male lead, but otherwise girlish and giggly. I generally don't like these characters. They rarely have any development in the shows, while the men are made to conform their characters to her childlike innocence. I'm all for being a little more innocent (though in a different sense - I really need to write that post), but can we allow ourselves to grow up a little here? She acts more often like an elementary student than a college student, and it's easy to forget that they aren't actually in a much younger grade than they are!

Her supposed opposite is Lee Shin, played by CNBlue lead singer Jung Yong Hwa. He's a passably good actor, with the way he acts suiting a second male lead role than a first, which was refreshing in this drama. In a way it felt like the second male lead getting their turn at last - and in a way, it was, as his first drama role back in 'You're Beautiful' (again with Shin Hye) was as the second male lead! Lee Shin is a modern music major, playing a guitar with a part time job in a band at a nearby bar. It is this that is makes the pair 'opposites,' especially as Gyu Won's grandfather absolutely forbids even hearing modern music by accident, saying that only traditional music has true soul or can move a person by hearing it. Modern music is just disharmonic noise to him. Though they try to play up this opposite, I find the two characters are really close to each other in temperament and style, both on the quieter side, though slightly rebellious to insult or being told they can't do something. Both get upset for others who are denied opportunity or are made fun of. I think this was a big factor in the two characters - and in a small extension to the actors themselves - getting along so well. Trying to pair an outgoing, bubbly, proud girl of the lower classes with a quiet, reserved, choosy boy of the higher classes (spoiled) does not always equate a love match, while two quiet sorts nearby to each other (without having to come up with ridiculous scenarios to make them meet enough times to realize they like each other) easily fit together.

While Gyu Won is a little more outgoing than Lee Shin, they each have their group of friends they hang out with, and their interactions are absolutely adorable. This drama gave me happy feelings nearly all the way through, and even the 'mishaps' that occur - Lee Shin hurting his wrist, Gyu Won being found out making fusion music of traditional with modern - never seem very large or oppressive. It's firmly in the realm of 'fluff' and enjoys being there!

I really didn't care for the second love story playing out with the teachers. It never interested me, with their attempts to get back together and rekindle their college days. Honestly, I started skipping over some parts near the end with them, because they just never seemed to do much. They had an-almost-romantic moment that become awkward and funny because not everything got set up, but there was just too much 'serious talk' going on in the otherwise chipper drama to make it anything but a weight on the show. The third love story with the gawky and slightly slow band member Yeo Joon Hee (played by another CNBlue member, Kang Minhyuk) and Han Hee Joo (Kim Yoon Hye) was considerably better. Though they have their seriousness in a forbidden relationship and Hee Joo's health problems as she attempts to get ever thinner, it's done in a way that fits with the rest of the drama. Joon Hee is clumsy and cute, and Hee Joo's not all serious either. Though they aren't 'officially' together by the end of the drama, it's obvious that they're together anyway.

Another way this drama was refreshing was that there was no second male lead syndrome going on. There are occasions when attempts are made to introduce such a character, but it's otherwise absent, choosing to focus on its three love stories and the obstacles created by Gyu Won's grandfather.
Sorry for the GIF but the guy on the far left reminds me strongly of a tall Onew (SHINee)

Some things that was a little annoying: first, the constant back-and-forth on whether or not the musical was going to happen. One episode, they're working on it, the next it's been cancelled, put back on schedule, and cancelled again. Evil mothers and injured stars repeatedly put the musical out of commission and back on at their every whim, taking out cast members or directors and then sticking them back in. As a monetary backer, I'd've pulled out sooner than they actually did!

And the second one: Hugs. Honestly. The real world does not hug like that. Wrap your arms around each other, tuck your head in, and hug. It's not the end of the world. If I kept hugging someone who stood perfectly straight, with their head directly over my shoulder, I wouldn't bother anymore. What's the point of a hug if you don't actually hug? Just interlock your arms or something, it's about as effective. -_-

The soundtrack for this drama is one of the first that I've really loved. Several months later, I'm still listening to it!

Moon Embracing the Sun

This drama was a heartbreaker. It's not the first drama I've cried at, but it's the second (the first being City Hunter, in that dreadful last episode), and it was much worse crying than the first drama. DX I was house-sitting when I really got into watching it, for which I am eternally grateful because I actually sobbed through those episodes where Yeon Woo was dying. Yeo Jin Goo plays Prince Lee Hwon and is extremely good at what he does. Even though I knew that she didn't actually die, it was still so painful to watch. What made it worse was that it was the last you'd see of these 'child actors,' who had done so brilliantly in setting the show up, so though her character hasn't died, you don't see the same actress any longer and it makes the scenes feel all the stronger. Introduce the main actors, and it takes a while to get used to them. I always find this transition difficult, even if I really like the main/adult actors, and with this show all the more so. I've since seen Kim Soo Hyun in two or three other films/dramas now (such as You Who Came From the Stars, which I've reviewed on here already), and have grown to love his acting and abilities, but at the time he was the last person I wanted to see on screen!

As a side note, this drama was based off of a book! The story 'Moon Embracing the Sun' was written by the same person who wrote the book Sungkyunkwan Scandal was based off of - I had no idea either were based on books until the end of this drama. And it makes complete sense that they would be books first, as I look back on how excellently plots were handled - and perhaps why the endings of both dramas are similar, and 'happy endings' rather than the ambiguity a lot of other shows end on.


Prince Lee Hwon: Prince and heir to the throne of Korea; young version acted by Yeo Jin Goo/여진구, 15 at the time of filming, grown up version by Kim Soo Hyun/김수현.

Heo Yeon Woo: Youngest child and only daughter to Heo Young Jae and Shin Jung Kyung, a couple of the nobility/yangban class, sister to Heo Yeom; young version acted by Kim Yoo Jung/김유정, 13 at the time of filming, grown up version Han Ga In/한가인.

Prince Yang Myung: Older half-brother to Lee Hwon, a wanderer and not welcome at court; young version acted by Lee Min Ho (No, not that Lee Min Ho, it's another guy)/이민호, grown up version by Jung Il Woo/정일우.

Heo Yeom: Elder brother and only son to Heo Young Jae and Shin Jung Kyung, a couple of the nobility/yangban class, brother to Heo Yeon Woo; young version acted by Im Shi Wan/임시완 (member of K-Pop group ZE:A), grown up version by Song Jae Hee/송재희. This character also got a 4 year old version in one scene!

Kim Chae Woon: Loyal bodyguard to Prince Lee Hwon from the get-go; young version acted by Lee Won Geun/이 원근, grown up version by Song Jae Rim/송재림

Other characters include the sweet and spoiled princess, Lee Hwon's younger sister, Princess Min Hwa; the loyal bodyguard of Yeon Woo's, Seol; and the power-greedy but easily manipulated Yoon Bo Kyung. These three orbit around the outside of the main cast, each with their important moments, but otherwise are fillers for the background. Perhaps because I was not as invested in these characters before the cast changes over to the adult version, I felt that all three of these had the best transition from child to adult, with very similar faces between a pair intended to be the younger and older of the same character, and these felt strangely as the characters that held the drama together across that bridge between young and older. Soo Hyun is a fabulous actor; so is Jin Goo; they don't quite look similar though! They have very expressive faces and larger mouths, but there's no way the young Lee Hwon would have grown up into Soo Hyun. I felt the same about the elder half-brother Yang Myung, as well as with Yeom, Yeon Woo's brother.

Young Cast, Left to Right - (Top) Yang Myung, Hwon, Yeom, Woon; (Bottom) Hwon, Yang Myung, Yeom, Woon
Adult Cast - (Left to Right) Yeom, Yang Myung, Hwon, Woon
Young Cast - (Left to Right) Bo Kyung, Princess Min Hwa, Yeon Woo
Adult Cast, Left to Right - Princess Min Hwa, Seol, Yeon Woo, Queen Bo Kyung
Young Seol on Left, Adult Seol on Right
The plot of the show could be summed up this way: Prince Lee Hwon falls in love with young Yeon Woo, and she is chosen as his future bride. His grandmother has decided on Bo Kyung to strengthen the ties with their clan/faction, and disagrees violently with the decision of Yeon Woo as her father is part of the rival clan. The grandmother conspires to murder Yeon Woo through shamanistic means, and involves the child Princess to achieve it. The head shaman does not want to kill the girl, instead faking the death, while Yeon Woo loses all memories in the process. The head shaman goes on the run with Yeon Woo and the girl's former servant Seol for several years, telling Yeon Woo that she too is a shaman though Yeon Woo does not have any powers; YW is convinced she is simply too weak to fully possess her talent.

Bo Kyung is made queen after Yeon Woo's supposed death, a marriage that Lee Hwon refuses to participate in. The Princess Min Hwa is married off to Yeom, Yeon Woo's older brother, to keep Yeom out of court politics (a law of the court is that the princess' husband cannot be in court; this removes Yeom's scholarly intellectual nature from so the Grandmother's clan/faction can do more as they please). Lee Hwon ascends to the throne.

Yang Myung is the second male lead of the drama. He fell in love with Yeon Woo long ago, and was trying to win her hand before Lee Hwon took an interest in her and decided to marry her. Her 'death' broke the spirit of both men, but when the head shaman and Yeon Woo travel back to the court he recognizes something in the new shaman named 'Wol' and falls in love with her again. Meanwhile, under her new name Wol, Yeon Woo is taken into the palace. The king repeatedly falls ill, and the cause is deemed to be evil in the space, something that can be absorbed by a pure talisman, in this case, a living person - Wol. She sits in his room while he sleeps to 'absorb the evil influence,' though the real effect is quite different. This pair were intended by the heavens and the shaman's attempt to kill Yeon Woo has changed their fates. The heavens are moving to put the fated couple back together no matter the cost, and this is what makes Hwon ill. Yeon Woo's presence in the room is not absorbing evil, but is being near him as they were supposed to be, which heals him of his ills.

While that part is a little weird, it's definitely a unique way to bring the two together again! Hwon sees a resemblance in Yeon Woo and tries to figure her out, though Wol denies ever knowing him before. He attempts to discover the exact nature of his intended bride's 'death' so many years before again, stirring up action at court, inciting threats and the murders of many witnesses (such as the doctors who served at the time and examined Yeon Woo).

The ending was 'happy' - but only at the very end. They kill off some of the characters, and that was not all that great to watch. DX

Overall, excellent acting, excellent plot, really well done. Loved it, would watch it again (and I've seen it twice). The beginning remains my favourite, and there is a good dose of humour throughout. Highly recommended, though perhaps not to the same audience who love Heartstrings! Definitely for Melodrama fans, and those who enjoy something darker and more serious.