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DRAMA REVIEW: Love, destiny and the ties that bind
Publication Date : 29-11-2012
He is a 15-year-old crown prince in disguise, she is a royal scholar's 13-year- old daughter, and their eyes first meet across a courtyard in the palace, as pink petals rain down magically.
Then their minds meet, more romantically, through puzzles and coded epistles.
He reveals his identity to her in a riddle, which she solves on a sleepless night. She sends him a mystery seed in potted soil, which he watches every day, wondering when it will sprout and the meaning of her present will grow apparent.
The Moon Embracing The Sun is a tale of these lovers, whose entwined fates have long been foreseen by shamans. Figuratively, the scholar's daughter is the moon and she circles the crown prince, who will be the sun in the centre of the kingdom.
Beguilingly, this South Korean costume drama brings the two together with the lightness and immediacy of teen romance, and the imagination and emotional weight of period fantasy.
The lovers are written like adults, essentially, even when they are played by teenagers, Yeo Jin Goo and Kim You Jung, in the earlier episodes. (They are played by Kim Soo Hyun and Han Ga In in the later grown-up episodes.)
The two can be so silly, it is charming when the drama goes comic-book daft, showering them with flowers or bathing desirable bachelors in a golden glow whenever they are sighted by sighing maidens.
But more often, the lovers are so preternaturally serious about each other, it is heartbreaking when the drama gets tragic or puts on a crumpling, crying face.
On the eve of their wedding, the 13- year-old falls ill under a spell and dies seemingly, leaving the 15-year-old to marry somebody else sorrowfully.
When she shows up again in his life years later, he is the king and she is his shaman, who has neither a name nor coherent memories of their relationship. She has a similar appetite for books and the same penmanship as her past self, however, and he is drawn to her once more.
Destiny can be a deadening word to hang on a love story, but the drama has an intuitive understanding of it.
The lovers are much more than celestial bodies in human form who can't help orbiting each other. Rather, they are individuals who connect over and over again, mind, heart and soul.
Me, I always gravitate towards the Korean weekend family drama on KBS World. (Is it destiny? Was I a Korean auntie in a past life?)
In the past year I have been following Ojakgyo Family, My Husband Got A Family and now, Seo Yeong, My Daughter, the only one of the three which pulled me in from the first episode.
It had me at the moment the title character (Lee Bo Young) runs from her mother's funeral with the urn, refusing to empty it at a seaside spot which her brother (Park Hae Jin) says is "mum's favourite place".
Seo Yeong retorts: "Did mum say that she came here because she liked it? Not because she had nowhere else to go, but couldn't leave and felt so alone?"
Instantly, questions about closeness come to the fore: How well do you know the people you love and live with? How well can you know them and let them know you?
The drama soon goes deeper into the subject, when Seo Yeong marries into an affluent family and can't bring herself to tell her husband (Lee Sang Yoon) about her ne'er-do-well dad (Cheon Ho Jin). Her brother can't condone her decision to erase their father from her life, and cuts her off.
Although her marriage is fine from all appearances, even her mother-in-law, a self-absorbed ditz, senses something is not quite right.
Her daughter-in-law is perfect, she complains to a close friend. She makes all the right noises, she cooks and she doesn't put a foot wrong in the house.
It is so hard to warm to someone like that, the mother-in-law says, who doesn't really relax, isn't really herself and is cold and unknowable.
Well, chilling or not, this drama has insights into intimacy that keep me coming back.