The Gist: It’s an instant connection when Yeon Woo (Kim Yoo Jung/Han Ga In) meets the young prince Lee Hwon (Yeo Jin Goo/Kim Soo Hyun) at the palace, even though she mistakes him for a thief. When her brother Heo Yeom (Siwan/Song Jae Hee) becomes the prince’s literature teacher and Yeon Woo is selected to be Princess Min Hwa’s (Jin Ji Hee/Nam Bo Ra) friend, the two can’t help but see each other everywhere. They are delighted when Yeon Woo is chosen to be the prince’s bride. Not so thrilled is the prince’s older brother Yang Myung (Jun II Woo /Lee Min Ho) who not only has to give the throne to his brother, but also the girl he loves, having known her from studying under her father. Also uneasy and hungry for more control, the Queen Dowager (Kim Young Ae) instructs the Head Shaman (Jun Mi Sun) to kill Yeon Woo so that her nephew’s daughter Bo Kyung (Kim So Hyun/Kim Min Seo) can be Queen. Unable to do so, the Head Shaman fakes Yeon Woo’s death, stealing her memories so that she can live as an ordinary shaman out of danger. The only person who knows the truth is her servant girl Seol (Suh Ji Hee/Yoon Seung Ah) who serves as a bodyguard. Destiny can only be interrupted for so long when Yeon Woo, now known as Wol, is dragged back into the palace, confusing both herself and the new king as they cannot seem to stay away from one another.
This show is a bit unusual in that each of our core characters is played by two actors – the younger version for the first 5 episodes and the older for the duration of the show. While I was impressed with the older cast, especially Kim Soo Hyun who I wasn’t fond of in Dream High, the younger cast was phenomenal. Every review you read will probably say the same thing. The kids have such great ability to express love, grief, death, moral confliction and everything in between. You get attached to them all quickly that it’s almost a shame to say goodbye to the younger set. I especially really like the younger Yang Myung, more so than his older counterpart. The story is good but these actors make it.
Played in his youth by Lee Won Gun and mostly by Song Jae Rim, Un is the personal guard of the prince and quickly became my favorite character. Not only is he bizarrely good looking, but has an intense loyalty and warmth that somehow he is able to show through his stoicism. He is not as emotional as the other characters, but that’s OK because you’re going to be overwhelmed by all the emotional people by the end of it. Un is just totally trustworthy and likable. I am stunned by how much I enjoyed his character by the end of it. Not only is he smart and reserved, but an awesome fighter. Love it. I recognized Jun II Woo from Flower Boy Ramen Shop immediately, but it was only looking up Song Jae Rim that I remember he had a cameo in that too! Congrats Un – your character rocks!
This story really strongly centers around the romance between Yeon Woo and the prince, which suits me just fine. It’s not 100% original, but it’s definitely different from everything else I’ve seen. It reminds me a bit of Faith, but really the only similarity are that they are both period pieces, which at this point I might as well just admit that I like. There is enough action to spice things up, but the characters are all well developed, with maybe one exception in the Queen but more on that in a moment. The writing is strong and the chemistry between our leads is strong enough to make the story captivating.
I feel like this character lost complexity as the show progressed. You could see her struggling with herself when she was a child – second to Yeon Woo, disappointing her father. While she wasn’t exactly likable, you still felt sorry for her. That totally evaporates as she gets older as there is just nothing redeemable about her character. I was really looking forward to liking her even as you root against her, but they just couldn’t do it. Also, she never gets a scene with Yang Myung who would have tons in common with her! WHAT THE HECK?! She just ended up being kind of a place holder. An important one, but still wanted more.
I guess I just have some issues with the second moon/sun pair. Yang Myung adds some good rivalry and complicates thing but I had some problems with his character. First, I hated Flower Boy Ramen Shop so much that I just couldn’t take the actor seriously. Moving past my personal preferences, he really should get over Yeon Woo. It’s one thing if she loved him, but it’s not like the prince stole her – she CHOSE him and Yang Myung can’t get over it. I mean, the story wouldn’t work if he did, but it made him sort of a jerk. Also, I am not stoked on how they ended on this character…unnecessary.
There’s not a lot to hate with this show. My only complaint is that as serious as it gets by like episode 16, everyone is crying all the time. I felt like I needed a break for that middle section there. I think a couple of those episodes could have been combined to condense the seriousness. Also, any scene with Bo Kyung’s plotting father just bored me to tears. There were important plot points, but they should have conveyed them faster. It’s not like we don’t have enough characters to deal with. I think they needed a little bit more happy to balance out the sad. Still, the drama is so good that you’re willing to put up with it.
So… this show is good. There’s no two ways about it. It received lots of acclaim and awards and they are well deserved. The show is smart and enjoyable. The acting is spot on and impressive. It’s long, but I powered through it way fast. Loved it.
Final Grade: A-