“Moon that Embraces the Sun” (해를 품은 달)


By Jae-Ha Kim
March 20, 2016

4 stars

Crown Prince/King Lee-Hwon (played by Kim Soo-Hyun)
Heo Yeon-Woo/Shaman Wol (played by  Han Ga-In)
Prince Yang-Myung (played by Jung Il-Woo)

A sweeping dramatic series set in Korea’s Joseon era, the “Moon That Embraces the Sun” is a love story that at times is painfully heartbreaking. But, it’s also filled with hope and humor. That combination makes for an addictive series that will leave viewers hungering for more.

The King has two sons. His eldest, Prince Yang-Myung, is brilliant, but is an outcaste in his own family through no wrongdoing of his own. His mother was the king’s concubine. He has the luxury of money and a royal title, but he holds no power. He is free to roam the world, but can never become the King.

Though he loves his brother, Crown Prince Lee-Hwon, he is not allowed to spend much time with him. Politics dictate that Yang-Myung must live outside of the palace compound, so as not to be a threat to Lee-Hwon. (Think of the lion kingdom where the alpha male kicks out his male cubs.)

At 15, the Crown Prince is bright, but stubborn. He misses Yang-Myung and desperately wants to attend his brother’s graduation. He sneaks out of the palace grounds, where he meets Heo Yeon-Woo, a studious and beautiful young girl of 13. Her brother, Yeom, is also graduating.

What the Crown Prince doesn’t know is that Yang-Myung is already in love with Yeon-Woo. Though she only thinks of him as one of her brother’s best friends, Yang-Myung is persistent and hopeful that he can marry her some day. He even asks the King to make his wish come true.

The Heo family members are renowned for their intelligence and beauty. Yeon-Woo’s father is the King’s trusted adviser and confidante. And with his scholastic achievements, Yeom is being groomed to work alongside his father in the palace.

The King selects Yeom to become the Crown Prince’s new teacher. Though Lee-Hwon is sure he can get him dismissed — just as he has with Yeom’s predecessors — he quickly grows to respect his youthful teacher, who — at 17 — is only a couple years older than he is.

Moon Embraces the Sun Cast

Child actors portray the central characters in the first six episodes and they are fantastic, especially Kim Yoo-Jung — who was just 12 when she portrayed the teenage version of Yeon-Woo. Poised and remarkably beautiful, she showed range beyond her youth. Yeo Jin-Goo, then 14, was equally compelling in his role as the young Crown Prince.

Though Lee-Hwon wants to marry Yeon-Woo, the nefarious royal court plots otherwise. Worried that bringing Yeon-Woo into the royal family would interfere with their plans to wrestle control away from the King, Yoon Dae-Hyung conspires with the King’s mother (the Queen Dowager) to arrange a marriage between the Crown Prince and his daughter, Bo-Kyung.

Oh, did I mention? Yoon and the Queen Dowager had already killed the King’s half brother to ensure that he wouldn’t be a threat to the royal line.

When Yang-Myung learns that his brother wants to marry Yeon-Woo, he is heartbroken.

While I felt sorry for him — that he would always be Jan to Lee-Hwon’s Marcia — it was also troublesome that he felt entitled to Yeon-Woo, even though she repeatedly told him that she didn’t return his feelings. It was obvious that she and the Crown Prince were in love.

His selfish reasons aside, Yang-Myung was also trying to protect her. All the candidates to be the Crown Princess had to go through a selection process. The winner would marry the Crown Prince. The law dictated that the runners up would becomes his mistresses. Yang-Myung didn’t want Yeon-Woo’s life to become like that of his own mother, if she were not chosen to be the Crown Princess. He also feared that any children she had (if she wasn’t chosen) would become like him — royalty in name only, but left to live lonely lives away from the palace.

Yeon-Woo is anointed as the Crown Princess, but the young couple’s happiness is short-lived, thanks to the Queen Dowager and her crony, Yoon.

Moon that embraces the Sun

By the middle of the sixth episode, the adult actors have taken over the roles. Eight years have passed since Yeon-Woo was selected to be the Crown Princess. And eight years have passed since her untimely death.

Now married to Yoon’s daughter, Bo-Kyung, King Lee-Hwon refuses to consummate the marriage, because his heart still belongs to Yeon-Woo.

This causes much concern in the palace, because one of his primary duties is to produce a male heir to the throne.

Though some of the child actors did a better job than their adult counterparts, Kim Soo-Hyun is exceptional as the 23-year-old King. Displaying the haughtiness and strength that accompanies the King’s birthright, he also shows compassion and love for his people.

Taught early by his father that he has to be alert and wary of those who profess to have his best interests at heart, he trusts few, except those in his inner circle: his bodyguard, Woon (who is also his brother’s best friend) and Hyung-Sun, the chief of eunuchs who has been his aide since Lee-Hwon was a child. They would protect him — and those he loved — unconditionally.

Many people will die before peace is restored.

There is a happily-ever-after ending for some of the central characters, but it comes at a great cost. (To find out more of what happens, check out my spoilers below.)


MBC aired this 20-part series in Korea from January 4 to March 8, 2012.

Spoiler alert:

• The series starts with the assassination of the King’s beloved half brother. It is followed by the torture and killing of Ari, a shaman who witnessed his murder. Before she dies, she vows to protect the child of the woman who helped her. She knows that the yet-to-be-born baby will grow up to be beautiful and wise; and that she will become the nation’s queen. She also sees that her entrance into the royal family will bring devastation to her entire family. The baby, of course, is Yeon-Woo.

• When the Queen Dowager and Yoon plot to murder Yeon-Woo and install Yoon’s daughter as the Crown Princess, they enlist the help of another shaman, Jang Nok-Young. Nok-Young was Ari’s best friend. Before Ari was executed, she made Nok-Young promise to look after Yeon-Woo.

• In order to prevent Yeon-Woo’s assassination, Nok-Young casts a spell that would make it appear that Yeon-Woo was dead. After the burial, she would dig up Yeon-Woo’s grave and become the girl’s spiritual mother. In order to protect her, she doesn’t tell Yeon-Woo about her family or her ties to the royal family. She is now known as Shaman Wol. It won’t be until the final episodes that Wol pieces together that she is Yeon-Woo.

• In the last handful of episodes, it appears that Prince Yang-Myung is going to help assassinate his brother, so that he can become King. Though I suspected that it was a ploy arranged in collusion with his brother (and it was), enough seeds of doubt were planted to cause concern. Knowing that he has protected his brother and that Yeon-Woo could now take her rightful place as Queen, Yang-Myung also knew that he would never have a chance to have her as his own bride. He allows himself to be killed by a member of Yoon’s evil army. Ugh. This was such a waste. He was such a good man and was loved by his brother. The two of them, along with Yeom and Woon, would’ve comprised quite the palace Dream Team and kept the kingdom safe.

Moon that embraces the sun_men

• Princess Min-Hwa — the youngest member of the royal family — fell in love with Yeom at first sight. When she asked her father to allow her to marry him, he said no. Prince Consorts are not allowed to take part in politics or hold office, and the King knew that Yeom’s honor, intellect and trustworthiness would be more beneficial in helping guide the Crown Prince when he became King. The Princess was just a young girl at the time — maybe 10 or 11 years old. When her grandmother — the Queen Dowager — promised her that she could have Yeom if she helped punish Yeon-Woo, Min-Hwa agreed. She knew she was doing something wrong, but she didn’t realize to what extent she was involved in Yeon-Woo’s death.

• In the final episode, everyone involved in the attempted murder of Yeon-Woo is killed or banished. Yoon’s daughter, Queen Bo-Kyung, was implicit in her father’s wrongdoings. Knowing that she will be dethroned and that her father views her as useless, she hangs herself. King Lee-Hwon sets about righting all the wrongs. Though he loves his sister, he strips Princess Min-Hwa of her royal title and demotes her to slave status. Because of her actions, he declares she and Yeom are now divorced. Since Yeom is no longer married to a royal, the King can now have him at his side as his counselor. After enough time passes, the King grants his sister a pardon. Though it doesn’t show them remarrying, it’s clear that Yeom and Min-Hwa still love each other and will forge a life together. Because she no longer carries the title of Princess, Yeom may keep his position with the King.

• There is a sweet scene at the end showing King Lee-Hwon’s young son playing with his cousin (Princess Min-Hwa’s son). As he watches the children running around, you get the feeling that he is remembering the care-free days when he and Yang-Myung were little boys.

• As a bonus, I wanted to include a side-by side photo of Kim Soo-Hyun and my son dressed in royal garb (during our recent trip to Korea). You’re welcome.

Kyle_Moon Embracing the Sun

For those of you who saw “Dream High,” you already know that Kim Soo-Hyun is a very good vocalist. Here, he sings “The One and Only” from the soundtrack to the “Moon That Embraces the Sun.” It’s really quite lovely. Without fangirling too much … seriously … is there anything that he can’t do?

@2016 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (34)

  1. Andrea Miller says:

    I don’t usually like historical dramas but I love Kim Soo Hyun so I will put this one in my queue. This is a great review and sounds like it could be really good. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Peter says:

    This is my favorite all time Kdrama. I love everything about it. The set, the actors, the music, the plot. I could watch this again every day. HAHA! I can’t think of another drama that I love as much as this. My Love From Another Star comes a close second, but this is still #1 in my opinion! 🙂

  3. Lauren Miller says:

    If they ever make a movie about Kim Soo-Hyun, your son could play him! What a cutie pie!

  4. Kyle is so handsome!!! I love it!

  5. gyoungranusa says:

    잘생겼어요. ??

  6. karenaug22 says:


  7. jennymariacarolina says:

    Oh! Siblings lookalike!

  8. lee.dae.ho_038 says:

    ㅋㅋㅋ 쿨!!! ???

  9. Brianna says:

    I agree that Kim SooHyun was superior in the role, but the actress that played his true love wasn’t nearly as good as the child actress. The older actress pretty much just cried and walked around with a blank stare on her face.

  10. Emma Swenson says:

    I had no idea Kim Soo Hyun could sing! WOW I am so impressed! I’m heading over to read your “Dream High” review now.

  11. Samantha says:

    OMG, Kyle is so cute!

  12. Maria says:

    I loved the review Jae. This is one of the few series that I want to rewatch. I think I missed a lot the first time because I was confused about what was going on! HAha!

  13. Judy Lee says:

    I have yet to see this one. I think this is the first time I’ve seen K’s face!

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      It’s really good. It’s one that I think I’d like to re-watch one day when there’s more time… 🙂

      • Jennifer Syre' Parker says:

        I actually watched that! I kept thinking these are the prettiest people I’ve ever looked at, lol!
        Where was Kyle’s photo taken?

        • Jae-Ha Kim says:

          At the palace when he became king. 😛 It was taken at the Children’s Museum at the National Museum Of Korea/국립중앙박물관 in Seoul.

          And, right? Everyone was so beautiful–the child actors and actresses and their grown-up counterparts. It was insane!

  14. Sherry Bagnall-Theroux says:


  15. Pat Lewis says:

    Your son IS very handsome!!

  16. Kim Jaehwa says:


  17. Melanie Falconer-Brown says:

    your son is a beautiful boy……..and I’ll wager, is going to be a very handsome man ♥

  18. Mariette Poirier says:

    Very handsome both of them proud Maman!

  19. Renee Schneidewind says:

    Ha! This is awesome!

  20. Jenny Lee says:

    I did not know he could sing. But then again, aren’t a good number of kdrama actors/actresses also singers (and vice versa)?

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      It seems like the idols all become actors, but not vice versa. I was so surprised when I first heard him sing in “Dream High”!

      • Kim Jaehwa says:

        I think he could’ve made a really good kpop idol. He can sing and dance, but I think that would’ve been a waste of his talents in some ways. He is such a good actor and I’m not sure casting directors would’ve wanted to have him audition for some of these roles. I saw in one interview that said he would like to put out an album one day. I’d buy it! 🙂

  21. Anna Tzanova says:

    Moon Embracing the Sun… such a beautiful drama! Kim Soo Hyun – pure perfection Before knowing k-drama and k-pop, as the popular belief goes, I also thought perfection doesn’t really exist. Those two genres made a convert out of me.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      I think I’ll catch things I missed on the first go-around… So, really, it’s research! tongue emoticon Also, the child actors were phenomenal. Really amazing, each and every one of them. And, as you say, Kim Soo Hyun was perfection. Such a talented young man!

    • Anna Tzanova says:

      Although so young they are quite seasoned actors, those kids. Their resume is no joke smile emoticon

  22. Mariette Poirier says:

    I loved this! Beautiful song and peoples

  23. Kathy Jean says:

    I must agree because I see that it is true! 🙂 May I also add that I have son named Kyle, too. 🙂

  24. Golden DreamGoddess Crystalle says:

    Your son is so cute❤❤❤

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