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The Moon Embracing The Sun or Haereul Poomeun Dal or 해를 품은 달 (2012): the teen years

The Moon Embraces the Sun

The Moon Embracing The Sun or Haereul Poomeun Dal or 해를 품은 달 (2012) may be touted as sageuk historical drama, but it’s actually almost pure fantasy romance, based on the novel “Haereul Poomeun Dal” by Jung Eun-Gwol. At first sight, it looks like another of these court dramas in which the king of the day has to deal with the factional infighting between the different family kin groups. Except little of what we see on the screen relates to any of Korea’s history. King Lee Hwon did not sit on the throne and none of the families who conspire to destabilize the country map onto known kin groups. More excitingly, this is a Korea in which shamanic magic actually works. This is not the simple foretelling of the future magic. It’s a much darker system which allows illness and death to be visited on enemies either by burying appropriate talismans in or under their houses, or by performing rites to invoke spirits which them go off like roiling black smoke snakes (someone obviously watched Lost) and invade bodies. Thematically, we’re into heavy-duty metaphor land.

Heo Yeon-Woo (Kim You-Jung)

Heo Yeon-Woo (Kim You-Jung)

The now quite common prefatory section to the first episode shows the key supernatural event which drives the rest of the serial. In this world, the sun divides. This is meant both literally and figuratively. For these purposes, assume that the sun represents the light and power attaching to individuals who may become king. During the serial, we actually see different people slightly backlit to create the effect of light generation. People nearby as these individuals walk past see highly attractive men and, more often than not, have to shade their faces and turn their eyes away. As in the real world, this radiated light can reflect off nearby bodies. So we see the moon because it stands out in the sky when the sun shines. This demonstrates the inherent sexism in the metaphor. Only men can be king (ignoring the right of the mother to act as regent during the son’s minority or incompetence). So the only women who can become visible in the sky are those who catch the light from the men. Were it not for the men, they would be invisible. So the plot device at play here is that, for our immediate purposes, the king of the day has two sons. The older was born to a royal concubine, the younger to the Queen. So according to the rules of succession, the younger son is the Crown Prince and the older is the heir apparent, i.e. he will take over should anything adverse happen to the Crown Prince. Not unnaturally, this gives conspirators hope because, if they get the heir apparent on their side and the Crown Prince then conveniently dies, they have their puppet on the throne. For this reason, the Crown Prince is not allowed in the palace, but is sent off to rusticate in the countryside where, hopefully, the conspirators will not find him. Unfortunately, both royal sons fall in love with the same woman. Hence the title of the serial leaves us to worry over the choice the moon will make and what effect that will have on the sun who loses out in this race for love.

Lee Hwon (Yeo Jin-Goo)

Lee Hwon (Yeo Jin-Goo)

All this future history is foreseen by Ari (Jang Yeong-Nam), a powerful young shaman who meets the heavily pregnant woman (Yang Mi-Kyeong) who will give birth to the moon. To create the maximum drama, Ari is later tortured but, before her execution, she passes on a message to her young friend, Nok-Young (Jeon Mi-Seon). She is to protect the girl who will become the moon by keeping her away from the sun. Not unnaturally, there are no names given which makes this task somewhat difficult to perform.

Prince Yangmyung (Lee Min-Ho)

Prince Yangmyung (Lee Min-Ho)

We now move forward thirteen years and find Heo Yeon-Woo (Kim You-Jung) attending a celebration in which her brother, Heo Yeom (Siwan) is to be acknowledged as scholar of the year (at the same ceremony, Woon (Lee Won-Geun) is to be confirmed the top martial arts exponent). A supernatural butterfly, one of many different mechanisms to make fate work out, leads Yeon Woo into a supposedly closed section of the palace where she meets the young Crown Prince Lee Hwon (Yeo Jin-Goo). Later at home, she’s visited by Prince Yangmyung (Lee Min-Ho). Yes, the older prince has known her for some time and is in love with her. The other key player is Yoon Bo-Kyung (Kim So-Hyun). She’s the daughter of Yoon Dae-Hyung (Kim Eung-Soo), one of the senior ministers who’s plotting with the Queen Mother (Kim Young-Ae) to ensure his daughter marries the Crown Prince. Needless to say, these two moons are polar opposites. Heo Yeon-Woo is a socialist and not ashamed to treat the poor with respect, helping those in need and generally being a do-gooder, wise beyond her years. Yoon Bo-Kyung is born into old money and privilege. She is petty, vindictive and absolutely determined to do everything in her power to advance her family’s interests.

Yoon Bo-Kyung (Kim So-Hyun)

Yoon Bo-Kyung (Kim So-Hyun)

Once we’ve established the love triangle as teens, we now move into the power plays. The king initially intends to allow the Queen Mother to decide who shall marry the Crown Prince. For once showing some life, the Crown Prince winds up the scholars to petition for full and fair elections. Democracy is a wonderful thing. All girls from the right families are to be eligible and the best shall be chosen. Not surprisingly, when the king accedes to the multiple petitions, Heo Yeon-Woo is the winner. This seriously dents the ambitions of the Yoon family so the Queen Mother leans on Nok-Young. By this time, she’s become shaman-in-chief and performs a rite to send the smoke monster to eat Heo Yeon-Woo. Now you’re thinking this is a bit hypocritical. Nok-Young knows this girl is the moon she’s supposed to protect, yet here she has the maiden at death’s door. But fear not. This is all part of a cunning ploy. She engineers a situation in which the girl is seen to die and is buried. She returns at night and digs her up. Unfortunately, she’s a little late and Heo Yeon-Woo goes through the trauma of waking up inside a coffin several feet down. This trauma (or perhaps the residual effects of the smoke monster) causes her to lose her memory. The shaman then takes her off into the countryside where the girl is raised as a shaman. So the teen years come to an end with everyone except the Yoon family devastated. The Crown Prince marries Yoon Bo-Kyung but, as revenge, he refuses to touch her. Without an heir, he thinks he’ll be safe.

To see how this is resolved: The Moon Embracing The Sun or Haereul Poomeun Dal or 해를 품은 달 (2012): to the end.

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 26 to end

December 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Well if anything can be dragged out until you are bored to the back teeth, the team behind Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) can do it. Let’s start with the redemption ploy. We’ve been watching the terminally incompetent In (Park Cheol-Min) crawl from one malevolent disaster to another, snarling in frustration and shedding body parts. Well, he has one more go at Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook), offering gold to a group of mercenaries recruited by Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) to chop off our hero’s head. He should know by now this man is invincible. You could send a squadron of M1 Abrams against him and he would snip the ends off their 120 mm smoothbore guns with his supersword and leave them helpless in conveniently adjacent quicksand. However, despite this latest provocation, our hero just smiles wearily and lets him go. Hong Dae-Joo is not nearly so forgiving. He has his men collect In and start the slow process of beating him to death. While taking a breather, our hero wanders into their camp and frees In. This finally convinces the worthless slob that there’s something to this hero lark and perhaps he’d better get on board before the end of the series. So in a moment of nobility of spirit, he surrenders his life to protect a group of poor people who are being wrongly accused of being terrorists. He manages a smile when everyone of note gathers around to say he’s dying a good death and can go to Heaven after all.

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) and the Japanese sword ace

Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) and the Japanese sword ace wait for the end

At the betting hall being used as a showcase for recruiting competent mercenaries, Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) is acting like the energiser bunny. Wearing a mask matching her hat, she’s beating all-comers and proving she’s a lethal weapon. Yes, it’s another of these terminally stupid cross-dressing sequences. She’s wearing a mask covering half her face and no-one’s supposed to notice she has breasts, hips and speaks like a woman. Only when she actually gets to meet Hong Dae-Joo does anyone notice she’s not quite what (s)he claims to be. Meanwhile our hero has to fight the Japanese ace while under the influence of drugs. I’m suddenly conscious I’m watching all this without the benefit of anything to dull the pain. Fortunately, Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) covertly saves our hero from being slaughtered. There are then some terminally silly scenes where Hwang Jin-Joo pops up with her bow and arrow. First she saves In (which is pretty magnanimous of her given the way he was beating and kicking her in earlier episodes). Then she kills a couple of musket-wielding men about to shoot our hero (yes, we have flintlock muskets in use at this time). Finally she and Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) go off to prevent the baddies from launching the signal meteors from the local hilltop and fail miserably (a necessary idiotic trigger for the coup attempt to go ahead so we can see our hero fight and defeat an army on his own).

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) as the female warrior

Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) as the female warrior

Curiously, Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) has almost completely disappeared from sight. She’s trailing round doing vague detective work, trying to follow people to find where the gunpowder is being stored. It’s a major fall from grace. Originally it looked as if she was going to be a star player, but she turned into a wallflower. Meanwhile Yeo Woon, the man who has been doing everything for his love of this wilting flower, is playing a deep game, shuttling between Hong Dae-Joo and Queen Jungsoon (Keum Dan-Bi) working out the details of the coup. So when the “meteors” fall from the sky, battalions of soldiers and assassins converge on the Palace. Fortunately, Baek Dong-Soo climbs over a wall (note to designers of palaces that five-feet walls are not a good defence against infiltration) and becomes a one-man killing machine until he gets tired. At this point, Yeo Woon stands back-to-back with him and they kill all that are left standing. Except, at one key moment, Hwang Jin-Joo pops up from behind a wall (she’s definitely a lot more useful to have around than the wallflower) and rescues both of them with a few well-placed arrows — she kills the musketeers who would shoot our heroes dead from a distance. This is tediously repetitious fighting and the rebellion is ludicrously easy to defeat.

Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) early warrior promise not fulfilled

Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) early warrior promise not fulfilled

Now Hong Dae-Joo and his fellow conspirators are captured, loudly proclaim how virtuous they were in trying to protect the kingdom from the son of a traitor, and are executed. This just leaves a few loose ends to tidy up. At this point, there’s a remarkable shift in tone from feel-good Korean drama sageuk to realpolitik. The standard pattern is the heroes all get the romantic endings they deserve after all the baddies have been seen off. But this recognises the impossibility of Yeo Woon’s position. As the head of an assassin organisation, he’s never going to be free of suspicion and intrigue. Indeed, the harder he tries to dissolve the organisation, the more the rank and file resist. So, in the best spirit of melodramatically silly endings, he decides to commit suicide by Baek, i.e. following in his father’s footsteps, he runs at our hero, jumps in the air and deliberately impales himself on Baek’s sword. Our hero is naturally devastated and holds his friend in his arms as he dies. This leaves Yoo Ji-Sun with no choice but to step away from the wall and hold our hero’s hand, while the always-useful-in-a-fight Hwang Jin-Joo gets to marry the soppy scholar with the artistic bent. As a final thought, it’s completely incomprehensible why Yeo Woon should save the Queen from any fallout connected to the coup.

Chun (Choi Min-Su) an engagingly tragic figure

Chun (Choi Min-Su) an engagingly tragic figure

Summing up, there are a number of running jokes. First, if any minion is touched by a sword or pricked by an arrow, it’s instant death but no accumulation of wounds slows down our main players in the heat of battle and, even if they appear seriously damaged, they are up and about the next day as if nothing had happened. Second, our heroic Baek is terminally stupid, running into fights when he’s obviously outmatched but, with consistent accuracy, the arrows of Hwang Jin-Joo save him from certain death. Quite why he never looks at this woman and wants to keep her around as his bodyguard is beyond me. Finally, Yeo Woon has an unerring radar for people about to do something they shouldn’t. As if by magic, he materialises behind them with his short sword and instantly terrifies them into agreeing to do whatever it takes to avoid death. The man is an entire organisation of enforcers rolled into one slim body with hair covering part of his face making him look mysterious.

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) with a self-satisfied smirk

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) with a self-satisfied smirk

You are therefore warned to avoid Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo. At no point is Ji Chang-Wook likeable as the supposed hero Baek. Yoo Seung-Ho is marginally better as the conflicted assassin but he’s never really convincing. Most of the women are there for decoration (except for Yoon So-Yi who can beat any man apart from one of the headliners) and almost all the other men are caricatures. The only one of any interest is Choi Min-Su as Chun, the Sky Lord of the assassins who finds the young Yeo Woon and trains him as his successor. His relationship with the one-armed wonder Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) feels authentic even though Jeon Kwang-Leol’s passivity gets a little wearing — he really should put a hook on the end of his fishing line every time he wants to eat fish.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 6 to 10
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 11 to 15
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 16 to 20
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 21 to 25

Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 6 to 10

December 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Those of who read these reviews of sageuk Korean drama will know my attention span is short and although the opening was not unpromising as we ran through the backstory, the newly adult bunch are proving to be boring. We need to start with the political rationale for all this toing-and-froing. It seems to be driven by two quite different issues. Externally, the Qing Empire seems worried the Koreans will invade at some time in the future. According to the backstory, an earlier King did a comprehensive geographical survey and identified the most effective route for an army to attack and overwhelm Chinese defences. Let’s put to one side the problems of reliability in military maps. The actual lay of the land does not change that much, even with some deforestation through the development of agriculture. However, the disposition of troops and the construction of walls round defensible sites, the placement of outposts to monitor for movements of troops. . . are all subject to change. The idea the Qing Empire would be alarmed by the prospect of Crown Prince Sado (Oh Man-Seok) launching an invasion seems excessively paranoid. Then we come to the Norons. I really can’t see why they have taken such a dislike to Sado. Although he might not directly favour the Noron faction, he’s clearly pro-Korea and, as a good patriot, should be popular. It’s all rather baffling as to why everyone should be plotting to bring him down. That said, Hong Dae-Joo (Lee Won-Jong) is great fun as the evil guy even if his motivation is, for now, obscure.

Baek Dong-Soo (Yeo Jin-Goo) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) apparently on the same side

Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho) apparently on the same side

Then we come to the status of Hoksa Chorong. This is a guild of assassins that, in theory, sells its services to the highest bidder although we only see its interaction with the Noron faction. Allowing for differences in skill level, it’s run by Chun (Choi Min-Su), a morose drunk, Ji (Yun Ji-Min), his “wife”, and In (Park Cheol-Min), a looney coward who has been losing body parts and an alarming number of supposedly highly trained assassins in his various expeditions. There’s a remarkable attrition rate in the black masked brigade of killers. Whenever they come up against anyone who can actually fight, they fall like flies. It’s inconceivable this organisation could actually survive. Where would all these incompetent people come from to keep filling the ranks of the masked? This is not to deny the skills of the drunk and his “wife”. They are in the elite of Korea. But they seem to have their own agenda and bend the instructions to suit themselves. Making all this even more murky, Ji seems to have had a child thanks to Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol). The daughter, Hwang Jin-Joo (Yoon So-Yi) has been brought up as the natural child of Hwang Jin-Gi (Sung Ji-Ru), a bandit and apparent traitor. The fact of a birth is known by both Chun and Ji but, so far, Kim Kwang-Taek does not seem aware of a daughter’s existence (it’s a secret who the father is, of course). With this love triangle, you see why Chun is a bit depressed and prefers to drink himself to sleep.

Chun (Choi Min-Su) wondering where his next drink is coming from

Chun (Choi Min-Su) wondering where his next drink is coming from

However, central in this drama are Baek Dong-Soo (Ji Chang-Wook) and Yeo Woon (Yoo Seung-Ho). The annoyingly cocky titular character is so full of himself without the discipline to train and genuinely improve his skills. He’s also flooded with testosterone and lacks all normal social skills. He therefore lusts mightily after Yoo Ji-Sun (Shin Hyun-Bin) but has the sex appeal of a daft puppy. However, he’s unfailingly loyal to Yeo Woon, being prepared to lose his arm to defend him. Yeo Woon, however, is the mole planted by Hoksa Chorong. He’s the only one to come out of their training school to have any skills — that’s why he never has to wear one of the black masks which always means instant decapitation or disembowelling. This pair epitomise the tension between warriors and assassins, and mirror the mutual respect between Chun and Kim Kwang-Taek. Indeed, Yeo Woon goes on to save Baek’s arm which would otherwise have been removed after a snake bite. They could not be more different. Baek is a braggard but slowly catching up to Yeo Woon in skills. Yeo Woon is taciturn but increasingly coming to terms with his own demons — he now acknowledges that he killed his own father, a fact he had been trying to forget.

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) — he's the sword saint, i.e. the best

Kim Kwang-Taek (Jeon Kwang-Leol) — he’s the sword saint, i.e. the best

The story is moving with the pace of a snail. Our heroes have completed their early training and, to celebrate their arrival in the palace and cement their place in the affections of all, beat up the sons of the nobility and upper class on the training ground. As a reward they are sent out into the wilds to guard a small section of the wall with Qing. Sado finally gets to see the map tattooed on Yoo Ji-Sun‘s back and has it copied. Now all he has to do is get rid of the tattoo without killing her. We then have an attempt to kill our heroes by staging a beacon lighting test immediately after heavy rain. Failure to complete the lighting sequence of beacons means instant execution. This challenge encourages the two young men to co-operate to get the job done. It’s all rather petty as more people find out about the map and plan to kill off the Crown Prince. It’s not that the plot is lacking invention or that the acting is deficient. It’s just milking every moment instead of getting on with things. Unless the pace picks up, I’m going to lose interest.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 1 to 5
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 11 to 15
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 16 to 20
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 21 to 25
Warrior Baek Dong Soo or Musa Baek Dong Soo (2011) episodes 26 to end

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