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[K-Drama Review] ‘River Where the Moon Rises’: We Fall in Love with the Story Inside and Outside the Series

Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

 

I never expected to fall in love with the series so much. There were various attractive elements to it, but the project itself failed to captivate me. However, when the school violence issue was sweeping over the industry, River Where the Moon Rises revived like a phoenix. And viewers fell in love with the stories inside and outside of the work. I, myself as an editor, also belatedly became a new fangirl of the show. 

Credit: KBS

The series River Where the Moon Rises is based on The History of The Three Kindom’s “On Dal Tale” and Choi Sagyu’s novel “Princess Pyeonggang.” The series completely reinterprets the familiar classic Goguryeo folktale about Princess Pyeonggang and On Dal.

Princess Pyeonggang dreams of succeeding the throne from her father, King Pyeongwon. But her mother, Queen Yeon, is killed by Gyeru Tribe’s Gochuga Go Won Pyo and his people. On Hyeop’s son On Dal manages to save Pyeonggang’s life, but she loses all her memories. Eight years later, Pyeonggang became an assassin named Yeom Ga Jin, and she meets a herb gatherer teaching a poacher a lesson. At the moment, she recovers her lost memory and realizes that she was the princess, and the herb gatherer is On Dal, who lost this father because of her. To make things worse, those who killed her mother are still gunning after the throne.

With the help of her martial arts teacher Go Geon, Pyeonggang recovers her position as a princess. Teaching On Dal martial arts and writing, she plans to reconstruct the Sunno Tribe and augment her influence. On Dal picks up the sword for the person he loves the most and becomes the princess’s sword for her grand goal.

The TV series that was sailing just fine ran on a reef after the 6th episode. The controversy over school violence rose against Ji Soo, playing the role of On Dal. And the actor admitted his wrongdoings in just two days. It was a disaster that struck the entire production since 95 percent of filming was already completed. Since then, the drama outside of the work has begun. KBS and production company Victory Contents made an unprecedented decision to stop VOD service, discard existing recordings, and re-shoot with a new actor. Na In Woo hurriedly joined the production, and it aired re-edited version of the 7th and 8th episodes without cancellation.

There have been cases where the production replaced the main actor in the middle of the show. But to re-shoot the already-filmed scenes, immense physical and humanly losses were required. The only way to cheer for the production team and the cast who made a difficult choice is to watch the series steadily.

Credit: KBS

In River Where the Moon Rises, Pyeonggang is not a coward. Instead, she is a princess who has grand aspirations and loves the country and the people. She stands up against the aristocracy by refusing to marry politically. Furthermore, she marries On Dal, a déclasséd aristocrat, and trains him to be a general. She engages in a fierce political battle with the veteran politicians, and if necessary, she jumps into the battle with a sword. Oh the other hand, On Dal, who hates the act of killing, grabs the sword for his wife and willingly gives himself up. Thanks to the reinterpretations with a touch of modernistic sensibility, the familiar story begins afresh.

But River Where the Moon Rises has more than a love story from 1,500 years ago. In the scene where Pyeonggang cuts down the enemy with a sword, the action scenes fill the screen. When the princess and the aristocrat pressure each other with their political tactics, the series disguises itself as a political drama. And when Pyeonggang and On Dal whisper love, River Where the Moon Rises turns into a rom-com. Lastly when Pyeonggang turns down Go Geon’s heartfelt confession, and melodrama unfolds.

Every story unrolls rather quickly, and conflicts are resolved swiftly. In other words, most stories go as predicted, and there is not enough room for viewers to enjoy the play. Therefore, the director’s choice and actors’ performance stand out much more. Director Yoon Sang Ho, who filled his filmography with the historical genre, meticulously crafts every scene. And on top of that, actors fill in all the details with their acting.

Credit: KBS

In particular, Kim So Hyun’s presence as princess Pyeonggang is outstanding. Even shooting 20-episode series twice, she stuns us with the best performance in her filmography. She is Queen Yeon, assassin Yeom Ga Jin, On Dal’s wife, and princess. Looking at her performance, we can tell that her 14-year career finally flourished. Kim So Hyun, now 21 years old, reassures us as a “go-to” actress.

Na In Woo, who joined midway as a replacement, also surprises viewers with his overachieving acting. To viewers who shouted, “We’ll forgive you even if read off from script in front of the camera,” the actor showcases his version of On Dal. Perhaps it’s because his interpretation is closer to the already familiar “foolish On Dal.” People came up with many nicknames for Na In Woo and gladly welcomed him to the team. It does seem a bit hasty, but I’m ready to say that Na In Woo can be considered the “discovery of the year.”

What’s most surprising is that Pyeonggang and On Dal’s love became even more powerful when Kim So Hyun and Na In Woo met. The chemistry between the two is so incredible that it’s unbelievable that they only first partnered up not long ago. Whether you watched the series from the first episode or joined in halfway, viewers laughed and cried with the passionate love of the Goguryeo power couple.

Credit: KBS

River Where the Moon Rises has overcome the crisis and reached itself to the second half. After the war with Northern Zhou, Pyeonggang and On Dal entered the palace, and the plot became even more absorbing as the tangled relationships got untangled. Now there’s only one question left. Will the drama follow the footsteps of history? The folktale says that On Dal died at war and his coffin only moved after Pyeonggang comforted him. I am both afraid to watch the foreseen death yet excited to see how they will illustrate the tragic ending. So now, I plan to stay grateful for those who didn’t give up on the production as I fully dive into the great love story that changed the history of Goguryeo.

 

Verdict: An ancient love story in which the production process itself became a movie (8/10)

 

Editor Seo Hae Lan: I’m not picky, and like all genres. I am in constant search of a balance between criticism and a fan’s heart.

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