River Where the Moon Rises starts in a way I expected it to be – rich background story and the main character I’ll root for no matter what. But I had my reservations at first. I questioned whether it’d be worth the watch since it didn’t really give me anything new or surpass any expectations I had in it. Usually, dramas like this will get better in the next episodes. However, my interest started to wane episode after episode to the point that I almost drop it. I’m glad though that I stuck around until the turning point of the characters because the rest of the story is gripping. Also, who wouldn’t stay even if it’s just for Kim So-hyun’s battle scenes alone?
I’m not an action-genre fanatic but somehow, battles in sageuk dramas always draw me in. There’s something about sword-wielding and military tactics that is much easier for me to watch than car chase and exchange of bullets. It’s more dramatic with horses, I suppose (haha). I believe it really is a personal preference but no one will argue, though, when I say the battle scenes in River Where the Moon Rises is cinematic. From the music scoring to costumes to the actual grand face-off, they are nothing short of epic.
One of the factors that made those action-packed sequences a success is the actors behind the main characters – Kim So-hyun as Princess Pyeong-gang and Na In-woo as On Dal. I know Kim So-hyun would deliver when it comes to emotional scenes but I didn’t know she would be this awesome when she’s on the battleground. It is a challenging role and she definitely pulls it off. Probably much thanks to her long list of projects in the past that honed her acting skills to a sophisticated finesse. This is the character that showcased that experience and at the same time put a new color on her filmography.
That’s also why I liked how On Dal matches her on so many levels. He balances her strong-ness with the simplicity of his mind while they are both hard to knock down during combats. And can I just say Na In-woo is superb in this role. I’ve only watched two of his past series and he’s the antagonist in both roles so I definitely like that he didn’t continue to get typecast in a scheming villainous role. Being in a male lead role has tapped the potential he obviously has. He showed his duality in his scenes. He showed the softhearted side of On Dal with his scenes with Pyeonggang and Lady Sa (Hwang Young-hee) while he commands resolute braveness when he’s in his armor as General On and taking charge of the army of Goguryeo.
On Dal and Pyeong-gang are a strong couple to beat and Go Geon and Hae Mo-yong definitely had a hard time doing that. I like how these two characters made the whole series more interesting. But I’m kind of questioning myself for actually liking their dynamic because if we put them in the modern context, their relationship is definitely not that healthy (but who am I to judge? There are more questionable relationships in other K-dramas that I liked as well haha). Especially for Mo-yong because it seems – most of the time – that she’s just in a one-sided love affair. It doesn’t help that I always question why they support each other’s decision even if it’s a rebellion or a war-starting trickery. But somehow, them as a couple/partner works for me. Maybe I can’t fully hate their characters despite their treachery and questionable decisions because of the way Lee Ji-hoon and Choi Yu-hwa portrayed them. These two have great chemistry on screen. They owned their storyline as if they are anti-heroes in a separate drama.
Now that I mention them, River Where the Moon Rises strongest point for me is how they really made these four young actors shine in their respective roles. Veteran actors like Kim Pub-rae as King Pyeong-won and Lee Hae-young as General Go Won-pyo brought their a-game as if challenging their co-stars to do as well as them but without totally outshining them. Because that’s what great supporting acts do. Actually, all characters complement each other very well. And that, I think, was what makes the elements of this series work perfectly well.
Is it worth watching? Yes, it is, especially if you love period dramas. It’s filled with everything a sageuk-enthusiast would want in a miniseries: interesting characters, dramatic war battles, endless politicking, and a grandiose backdrop for all of it. Although I must admit, my non-saeguk fan friends probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much. Most of the story elements they used only work for historical dramas. Nonetheless, River Where the Moon Rises is a good watch for its intended audience. It also didn’t hurt that it’s a project that the young actors could be proud of as it definitely showcased their acting chops – be it bloody fight scenes or an emotionally wrenching scene.
-Kwon Hwa-woon’s time here is short but impactful. He’s a too-watch-out-for actor! Hopefully, he’ll get bigger roles next time. I won’t even complain if it’s a villain/psycho-murderer role as long as he’ll be able to showcase his potential.
-Can we have Na In-woo as a boy-next-door type of character in his next drama, please? Just so we can see him in plain clothes like this.
I also won’t mind if his role is another secret Reveluv fanboy.
I mean just look how cute he is. Yes, this is a random Na Inwoo gif dump
– Jasper Cho / Cho Tae-kwan is back on my good graces after that infamous Alex Kwon betrayal in Start-Up
-Kim Hee-jung and Kim So-hyun’s bff reunion
Image Credit: KBS