[The Moon That Embraces The Sun debuts soon on DramaFever!]
It’s here! The long awaited, long titled The Moon That Embraces The Sun. And I’m here to recap it all for you. This is actually my first sageuk, so I’m pretty excited. If you’re new to historical dramas, this is a great time to start – we can explore this genre together!
Let’s get started, shall we?
We begin with a folktale, told by the Queen Dowager to Lord Yoon, which tells of a past when there were two suns and two moons in the sky. The day was very hot, and the night was very cold, and, understandably, no one was happy. Then a hero came and shot arrows at one of the moons and one of the suns, making them fall from the sky. Thus, the world was at peace (and a comfortable temperature). The Queen tells Lord Yoon that unlike this tale, they can’t just wait around for a hero to appear – they need to get rid of one of the suns by taking action on their own, and Lord Yoon must be the hero that shoots down the second sun.
It so happens the queen wants to eliminate the second SON, Prince Ui Seong, the brother-from-another-mother of King Seong Jo, the queen’s son (the situation is not nearly as confusing as that sentence). Looks like Prince Ui Seong is a little too close to the throne for the queen’s liking, and she wants to protect her son’s position of power.
Cut to a nighttime scene in a darkened neighborhood. A group of masked men sneak into town, and split off into different ranks. We see one masked figure put up a yellow talisman on a wall, and another buries a yellow package outside a house. Ooooh, mysterious! A masked assassin sneaks up to a house and opens the door… to find that his target isn’t in his bed. The prey becomes the predator when our assassin finds himself face to face with the sword of his target, who’s introduced as Prince Ui Seong. Ui Seong demands to know who sent the assassin, and the two start to fight.
A shaman named Ah Ri wakes up from a nightmare. She can sense something is wrong. There’s murder in the air! She runs off to find the man in danger (who she seems to know, or at least know of). Her fellow shaman Nok Young asks her not to go running off into the dark night, but Ah Ri ignores her.
Back to poor Prince Ui Seong. He’s now fighting FIVE masked men, and it looks like he’s doing pretty well, until they overtake him and he’s left unarmed, surrounded by assassins. Here comes Lord Yoon, looking pretty satisfied with himself. Ui Seong knows that his brother will take his side over Lord Yoon’s, but Lord Yoon is one step ahead of him. Ui Seong will die tonight, and to drive his point home, Lord Yoon says that he’s already eliminated another nobleman. (We see him hung, and his killer leaves behind a fake suicide note.)
It seems Prince Ui Seong’s luck has run out, and as Lord Yoon slits his throat, Ah Ri watches in horror, hidden behind a wall. Lord Yoon spots her, and the team of assassins chase her into the woods. Ah Ri runs right up to the edge of a cliff, and ends up falling off. The masked men search the canyon for any sign of Ah Ri, but all they find is a piece of cloth, which signifies that she is a palace shaman. When the head shaman takes roll and notices Ah Ri is missing, she is revealed as the witness to Prince Ui Seong’s murder.
When the queen dowager hears the news about Ah Ri, she takes it in stride. Ah Ri was a servant in Prince Ui Seong’s house, so it’s conceivable that the two could have been in a relationship. She could have been using magic on Ui Seong to control him and try to get him to take over the throne. The queen has no proof of this, but she’s got the head shaman wrapped around her finger, and those two working together can make anything look true.
We finally meet King Seong Jo. He’s being debriefed on the (staged) suicides of Ui Seong and his fellow nobleman. The fake suicide note claims that they were traitors so overcome by guilt that they ended their own lives. The head shaman is summoned to decipher the talisman left behind at Ui Seong’s house. She’s been coerced into lying, and, frankly, doesn’t do the best job of hiding her suspicious ways. With a glance at her coconspirator, Lord Yoon, the head shaman says that the talisman is asking for the power of the sun. Basically, it was a charm to try and get Ui Seong the power of the throne. And, she adds, it was made by Ah Ri.
Speak of the devil! Ah Ri stumbles out of the woods and collapses in the middle of the road. Coincidentally, a noblewoman, Lady Shin, is traveling the road and comes upon poor Ah Ri, and insists on carrying her into town in her sedan chair. Lady Shin’s servant doesn’t want her Lady having anything to do with Ah Ri, as she is pregnant and the sight of Ah Ri will scare her unborn child, who apparently has x-ray vision. But the Lady gets what she wants, and Ah Ri is rescued.
As the group approaches the city gates, they find that a guard is there searching for a runaway. The servant sees that the woman they’re looking for is Ah Ri, but decides to protect Ah Ri and insists that there is nothing suspicious about their group. The guard senses something’s afoot, and goes to inspect the sedan chair. Lady Shin has hidden Ah Ri under her dress, and says the guards can’t possibly trouble her, as she could give birth any minute. As the chair passes the guards, we see blood seeping through the back of the chair. The guard orders them to stop, but Lady Shin is a quick thinker, and makes it look like she’s having some pregnancy trouble. It’s believable, and she is the wife of a high-ranking official, so the guards let her pass. Whew!
Ah Ri is grateful to Lady Shin, and says that her baby girl is as beautiful as the moon. Lady Shin is pleased to hear her child will be a girl, but as she says that Ah Ri has a vision of the girl’s life, and judging by Ah Ri’s expression, it’s not looking good. Ah Ri promises the Lady that she will do whatever she can to protect her child.
Just as Ah Ri is headed to safety, she’s captured by guards and brought before Lord Yoon to be tortured. Lord Yoon demands to know who ordered her to make the talisman. Of course, Ah Ri has no idea, and when she’s called a traitor, she insists that it is Lord Yoon that’s the traitor, because he’s using false evidence to frame an innocent person. Then she focuses on Lord Yoon with a look of pure crazy in her eyes and tells him she wasn’t the only one who saw what he did that night. The moonlight was also a witness, and it covered his blade as much as Ui Seong’s blood. Someday, that same moonlight will end Lord Yoon’s own life.
Ah Ri is in prison, awaiting her execution, and is visited by Nok Young, who is beating herself up over letting Ah Ri, blinded by love, run to Ui Seong. Ah Ri assures Nok Young that she was never in cahoots with Ui Seong to take over the throne, and tells Nok Young that she must protect the child. The child is fated to be close to the sun, but being close to the sun will result in her ruin. Nok Young must protect the child from the sun. A little roadblock: Ah Ri never tells Nok Young who the child is, or where to find her.
The next day is Ah Ri’s execution. She’s about to be literally torn apart (yikes!), when she sees two suns, and has another vision. She sees the girl again, and two young men. “Two suns and one moon?” Ah Ri thinks. “Heaven help you three. Ah Ri out!” (Okay, that’s not exactly what she said, but we could all use a little levity right now.)
And as one life ends, another begins. Lady Shin has her baby, a girl named Yeon Woo. The Lady and her son, Yeom, fawn over the new adorable baby.
Nok Young visits Ah Ri’s grave, and remembers Ah Ri’s last request that she protect the mystery child. Nok Young looks up at the moon, which transforms into the sun, aaaand…. Time jump!
The palace is getting ready for a ceremony to honor the young men that have passed the civil service exam. The palace is abuzz with activity, but Crown Prince Hwon isn’t in his room. In fact, he can’t be found anywhere. He’s hiding in a room, surrounded by food and other goods stolen from the festivities, looking at a map of the palace (which I’m choosing to believe is a Marauder’s Map). He packs up a little backpack and is ready to set out on a secret adventure.
Lady Shin and Yeon Woo arrive at the palace. Yeon Woo’s brother Yeom is one of the scholars being honored, and her father is one of the officials presiding over the ceremony. The door to Yeon Woo’s sedan chair opens and we find her reading a book. She seems like a girl thirsty for knowledge – too bad she can’t be a scholar too.
At the ceremony, Lady Shin points out Yeom, and his friend Woon. Yeon Woo’s father taught them literature, together with their friend Yang Myung. The ceremony begins, but Yeon Woo is distracted by a butterfly and wanders off.
Yeon Woo follows the butterfly into a courtyard, where Prince Hwon is climbing a ladder, about to hop over the palace wall. Prince Hwon sees Yeon Woo and seems to be a little love struck. Either that or he’s shocked someone found him after all his careful planning over the Marauder’s Map.
Hwon falls off the ladder and knocks into Yeon Woo, and the two are left on the ground with Hwon’s arm around Yeon Woo, covered by Hwon’s stolen red parasol. The two share a nice moment of gazing into each other’s eyes, then quickly get up and try to avoid eye contact altogether. They both accuse the other of suspicious activities. Prince Hwon insists he’s done nothing wrong, and that Yeon Woo has no reason to call the guards. He picks up his bag, and all the stolen goods fall out onto the ground. Busted! Hwon scrambles for an excuse, but before he can give one Yeon Woo calls for the guards. We see the guards approaching, but before the two kids can be caught Hwon grabs Yeon Woo and they run off.
The pair run across the palace, and finally find a place to stop and rest. Yeon Woo is still planning on alerting the guards to Hwon’s thievery, and Hwon realizes it’s time to come clean. He was going to visit his hyung, Yang Myung. The two brothers have different mothers (a recurring theme, it seems), and because he was the illegitimate child of a concubine, Yang Myung didn’t get to participate in the civil service exam, advance his position in life, or even be shown love by his father. Even so, Hwon and his brother were very close, and Yang Myung is highly skilled in both academics and martial arts. He’s a renaissance hyung!
Hwon blames himself for his brother’s position, and admits that the two haven’t seen each other in a long time. Hwon was going to go find his hyung and reconnect with him. Yeon Woo thinks it’s crazy for Hwon to blame himself for his brother’s illegitimacy and their father’s anger. She quotes Confucius, which surprises Hwon, then goes off on a tangent about how there are lots of laws that are wrong. Why are there class divisions, when all people are essentially the same? (A nerd and a feminist? I like this girl more and more.) She catches herself speaking so radically, and Hwon teases that he’s going to call the guards on her for her traitorous speech against the King.
Now that they’ve bonded a bit, Yeon Woo asks Hwon who he really is, and why she should believe he’s not a thief. Hwon gets defensive and says, “I am Joseon’s…” but stops, because he doesn’t want to reveal his princely status.
Prince Hwon and Yeon Woo head back into the palace, where a worried Lady Shin is relieved to see her daughter. Hwon takes the guard aside and asks him to not reveal Hwon’s identity. Yeon Woo is brought back to her sedan chair, but before she leaves a lady comes and gives her a note from Hwon (he refers to himself as “Eunwolgak’s Young Master”) that says he’s angry and Yeon Woo should watch out when walking alone at night. Cheeky.
The king is pissed at Hwon for always running away and breaking the rules. Hwon explains that he just wanted to see his hyung so they could study together and share ideas. (Nerd alert! He and Yeon Woo are made for each other.) The King decides Hwon needs to be on a shorter leash, and restricts Hwon’s privileges even more.
The Queen Dowager and Minister Yoon (someone got a promotion!) meet and get metaphorical over a bonsai tree. Minister Yoon says that bonsai trees are all about raising something small into what you want it to become. The Queen Dowager agrees, but adds that your timing has to be perfect or the tree won’t grow the way you want. Hmmm…
The Queen Dowager says the Crown Prince needs a new teacher, and she’s worried about who this teacher will be, since they will influence the entire kingdom by educating the Prince. Don’t worry about it, assures Minister Yoon. He’s got it all taken care of.
Hwon’s mother, the Queen, tries to convince the King that he should go a little easier on Hwon, and should allow Yang Myung to live in the palace. The King stands his ground, and the Queen sadly tells Yang Myung’s mother, the concubine, that her son is still unwelcome in the castle.
We meet Yang Myung in a marketplace, trying to sell some pheasants so he can buy presents for his friends. Aww, he IS warm-hearted! Yang Myung overhears someone touting a miracle drug that can cure any ailment, and a blind child that can diagnose any illness without even touching the patient. His interest is piqued, as is Nok Young’s, who is looking to debunk the con men selling the magic drug and abusing children. She sees Yang Myung and is reminded of the two suns.
The psychic kid racket is pretty much like any other. There’s a con man planted in the audience, who asks people what their ailment is, and then signals to another con man, who tells the kid what to say. Yang Myung watches this carefully and picks up on the system. He pretends to have hurt his leg while hunting a boar, and surprise, surprise, the kid “senses” that his leg was hurt by an animal. Then the girl adds that she sees a golden or red light in Yang Myung, which attracts the attention of both Nok Young and Yang Myung.
The show goes on, and Yang Myung stands, clearly uninjured, and announces to the crowd that they are being conned. The crowd goes wild, and a fight breaks out. Yang Myung grabs the girl and runs off, stopping on the way to ask Nok Young to call for guards.
Yang Myung doesn’t make it very far before he and the girl are surrounded by angry con men. The girl is taken from Yang Myung, but Nok Young shows up and demands that the child be given to her. The con man complies when he sees that behind her is a gang of palace guards. Yang Myung is still fighting, and suddenly taps into his expert martial arts skills and takes down the whole lot of con men.
That night, we see Yang Myung, finely dressed, standing outside the palace walls. He greets his father and wonders after the Crown Prince, and apologizes for not greeting them face to face.
Inside the palace, Prince Hwon is being trailed by a group of chaperones everywhere he goes. He remembers Yeon Woo, and remarks that if she knew he was the Crown Prince, she’d only nag him more, but it doesn’t matter because they’ll never see each other again. He looks up to see the red parasol floating in the air. What could it mean?!
Yeon Woo is at home, reading her note from Hwon. It contains two riddles. One says, “If you draw it, it’s round, but if you write it, it’s straight.” The other says, “The rabbit lives, the rooster dies.” Yeon Woo asks her servant, Seol, what the rabbit/rooster riddle could mean, and Seol responds that if the rooster died, who would wake them up in the morning?
Outside Yeon Woo’s house, Yang Myung sits on the wall, looking into the garden. Yang Myung’s hobby is apparently hanging around outside people’s houses in the middle of the night. Yeon Woo comes outside and holds the note up to the moon, hoping to reveal some hidden letters. There’s no hidden message, but Yeon Woo is starting to put the pieces together. It’s not a rabbit and a rooster, but rather something that’s born in the morning and dies in the evening. Add that to something that’s drawn round and written straight, and Hwon is revealed to be Joseon’s…. sun (AKA Prince). OMG!
Back at the palace, Hwon hopes that maybe he and Yeon Woo will meet again. At the same time, Yeon Woo is in shock after her discovery that Hwon is the prince, and is relieved that they will never meet again. Yang Myung is still watching from the wall, and thinks, “Nice to see you again, Heo Yeon Woo.”
A Few Thoughts…
This show is off to a good start, and the performances by the child actors are especially excellent. This episode did a great job of introducing the characters and showing us their personalities and motives. (I completely love Yeon Woo, the radical feminist bookworm.) Being the first episode, this was mostly backstory and establishing the world our characters exist in, but it did get me invested in the story. I thought I might have trouble understanding some things, seeing as this is my first foray into sageuk territory, but I didn’t have any problems at all. I guess political power struggles and illegitimate births transcend all eras and cultures. Overall, a satisfying first episode, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things unfold.
Sarah Chrzastowski previously wrote here about Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, how to win over a kdrama lady, and kdrama playground scenes. She writes about the things she loves at Itswhatyouneed, and is @sarchrz on Twitter.
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