First Impression: River Where the Moon Rises

Kim So Hyun is back, and she’s kicking some major ass in her new drama. With Ji Soo by her side, this drama has a sweet youthful feel that we’re loving. Not that we’re fooling ourselves into forgetting there is a 90% chance that one, or both, of our leads won’t likely make it to the end of the drama.

River Where the Moon Rises is based on a classic Goguryeo folktale and retells the love story between Princess Pyeongang (Kim So Hyun) and On Dal (Ji Soo). The Princess’s goal from a young age is to become the first female king of Goguryeo, while On Dal was a lowly peasant who became a remarkable general and won the heart of the Princess.

Kim So Hyun: Queen and Princess

Kim So Hyun rides onto the screen with a fierce passion before she slays soldiers left and right. Then we jump back in time, and she graces the screen as a young regal queen and mother to the princess we first witness in battle. The Queen and the Princess are strong women, and the actress fills both roles with subtle changes to her gate and fighting style, so each one is believable and engaging.

Drama Geek: The time jump could be confusing since the mother and daughter are both played by Kim So Hyun, but once we realize what’s going on, it’s fine. I was pleasantly surprised at how she commanded the screen in every scene. While I love her as the Queen, I am totally all in for her character as the warrior princess.

Kmuse: Kim So Hyun really shines anytime she is in a Saguek. As Drama Geek says, she commands the screen. And while the story did get a bit confusing with the double roles, she played both parts brilliantly. I especially was happy to see that she didn’t look like a young kid in the Queen role but had a gravitas about her that you didn’t question how she had a daughter that age already.

Kdrama Jen: I must admit that I was a little confused at first because I missed that we went back in time. Then, I saw her as the Queen and I was even more confused. That bit of confusion, though, was quickly replaced by awe. She played the role of the Queen with such grace and serenity. I really could believe she was much older. Even when the Queen began to sword fight, the style was completely different. I think she did a really incredible job playing both roles.

On Dal the Fool

History tells us that On Dal was a simple-minded pauper who rose to the rank of general with his battle skills and bravery. But as with most Korean heroes, the fool part is a ruse, and On Dal is the son of a general. Smart and skilled, but also kind. His father (Kang Ha Neul) dies when On Dal is young, and he must hide who he truly is so that he can survive. Then the princess rampages through his life with her hidden agenda, and he’s sucked into helping her.

Drama Geek: Ji Soo has a way of playing characters that aren’t the smartest person on screen, and he makes you love him so much. You can see the slight change between genuine, sweet guy who just wants to help, to understanding there is more to this girl than meets the eye. He’s both simple and complex with a flash of his smile. I’m preparing myself for some major heartbreak with him, but glad he will get the girl this time, even if he dies soon after.

Kmuse: I like that we know Ji Soo’s character has hidden depths right from the beginning. Does he live a simple life? Yes, but he as a person isn’t simple. When the girl needed saving from palace guards, he dispatches them with ease. He obviously has learned to fight while hiding in the mountains.

Kdrama Jen: Ji Soo’s character is so kind and caring. I love how his less refined way of managing situations contrasts so sharply with the Princess-turned-assassin’s. She is cold and calculating and he is warm and bumbling—on the surface.

Young Love

Kim So Hyun and Ji Soo fight their way to each other in the first scene, and the moment they’re together, you can see the love and devotion they have for one another. Soft, wonderful chemistry flies between them, and it’s the same when they meet for the first time in the forest. They banter and smirk at one another, and we can see the beginnings of what ends up on the battlefield.

Drama Geek: These two had sweet chemistry in Page Turner, and it’s blossomed as they’ve gotten older. I was smiling like a fool anytime they were together. This love is going to hurt so good.

Kmuse: Ji Soo was one of my all-time favorite co-stars of Kim So Hyun so I was thrilled that they would be bringing their chemistry to a new drama. And man, was I not disappointed.

Kdrama Jen: I am here for this romance! I love how their early history connects them, and I look forward to the dawning realization they will both have when they both recognize one another.

Female Driven Plot

Our Princess is traumatized and left without memories of her lineage and position. She’s taken in by assassins and trained, and is one day tasked to kill the King. Eventually, her only goal is to take back her original place as heir, at all costs. Sound familiar? Usually, it’s the prince, the next in line to the throne, who finds himself in this predicament.

Drama Geek: There are actually many Cdramas that follow plots like this, but they tend to stay away from them in Kdramas. I think a lot has to do with the action scenes, and Kim So Hyun is doing an amazing job with her part. I’m excited to see her character develop into the woman we see at the beginning of the drama.

Kmuse: I am really loving how strong the female narrative is in this drama. Even before the Princess, it was the Queen who was the strong character, looking to save her country.

Kdrama Jen: Yes! Honestly, even the “mother” of On Dal who sacrificed her sight to save him shows a kind of protective strength that was horrifying and impressive at the same time. I love the character development that we can already see happening.

Friends to Enemies

The Princess is trained at a young age to fight with a sword, even before she leaves the palace. She also is knowledgeable of future politics because she tells her young trainer that one day he will have to choose between his family and the monarchy. He coolly tells her he’s already made his decision, and he chooses the throne (and her more specifically). When she returns as an assassin, it’s this very person who is sent to find the traitor and get rid of her.

Drama Geek: I LOVED Lee Ji Hoon in both Rookie Historian and Your House Helper, so I was excited to see him cast in this. His character could end up being an ally for the Princess, but he could also be her ruin. Time will tell, but I’m looking forward to their reunion. I’m 100% team On Dal though.

Kmuse: He has slowly grown on me as an actor, and I loved how charismatic his character feels. It also helps that he is obviously smart and has some issues with how ruthless his father is.

Kdrama Jen: I feel like his presence is going to provide just the kind of angst that will add another layer to this story. I have also enjoyed seeing him grow and mature as an actor.

Beauty All Around Us

You know that cinematography is very important to Kmuse and Drama Geek, and this show is beautifully shot. Gorgeous landscapes and dense battle scenes.

Drama Geek: I long for the beautiful shots in the field and on top of the mountains of Korea. They warm my heart and make me want to jump on a plane. I also love the angles with which this director frames the actors. We get so much depth in their expressions. Love it!

Kmuse: I love how well-lit everyone’s faces were. Even in the night/dark sequences, we could see all the emotion and power of the characters.

Kdrama Jen: Ha! I am laughing that the lead-in here is about how much Drama Geek and Kmuse appreciate the technical side of drama production. I mean… it’s not that I can’t appreciate some good backlighting and angles… I am just more interested in being immersed in the story and appreciating fight scenes. I can appreciate the overall effect, but I don’t dig in and analyze.

Final Thoughts:

The setup and story are very strong. A princess who wants to rule in a man’s world is taught how to navigate as a warrior and is set to take back what her insane father no longer controls. The romance already feels formed and solid, with the uncertainty that they’ll both live to see it to fruition.

Drama Geek: I am SO excited to have this type of story to invest in. Yes, it could get too political for me, but I think there’s enough possibility for an amazing romance, that I’m willing to see this through.

Kmuse: As I always say, if a Saguek has the word “moon” in the title, I am probably going to like it. At least I have so far, so why break a winning streak. I’m totally in for this one.

Kdrama Jen: So far, we have a strong beginning with compelling characters. The set-up is here for some good political maneuvering and machinations and, of course, awesomely choreographed fight scenes. I am in!

Until the Next Impression,

The Fangirls.

Dramas With a Side of Kimchi

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