While I tend not to be attracted to Eastern Asian movies, I was drawn to this subtitled series because the misleading Netflix blurb states, “Years after she's assumed dead by the palace, a young noblewoman, now trained as a shaman, returns to court to reclaim her rightful position as queen.” In reality, this statement doesn't even begin to make sense until the sixth episode; shamanism did not have nearly the role I expected in the beginning of the series though by the end it has risen to a crucial plot line. As someone who identifies as a shamanic practitioner and has been a shaman, a witch, a medicine woman, and other types of healers in past lives, I’m always fascinated by seeing shamans and the role they play in other cultures. In the Joseon dynasty, according to this series, shamans were very lowly members of society despite their power. The show gives the impression that the female shamans were far less revered than the male academics in similar fields of astrology and other metaphysical realms probably in large part due to their sex and the lack of power they had in society. Shamans were not even considered fully human; they also had to register and were forbidden from entering the city without royal consent.
I think a better summary might be, “The fictional royals of a Joseon dynasty explore their duties as they rise to power as well as struggling with the conflicts between their hearts and duties.” The love stories of these characters begins when the young women are 12 and 13 and the young men are 15-17. This is seen as the appropriate time for them to marry. However, as with the European monarchs whom many of us are more familiar with thanks to the biased teaching of “world” history in our schools, marriage for love was often not a possibility. Duty to country was far more important for royals. The very title of the drama refers to the queen (the moon) protecting and serving the king (the sun).
Unlike many Western royal dramas where the men seem unable to keep themselves from having sex with every possible women, getting the royal men in this show to consummate their marriages seems far more difficult than getting pandas to mate. A primary struggle for many episodes occurs as the young king, in an arranged marriage to a woman he does not love, endures heart pains and faints any time he attempts to consummate the marriage. Eight years after the marriage, they both are still virgins. This problem is very much a representation of the mind-body-spirit connection that I so often blog and talk about: When there is something wrong with our emotions and our spirit, our body will get sick. The characters in the show seem vaguely aware of this connection, too.
The series makes frequent use of repetitious flashbacks, especially later in the episodes, to help clarify plot lines. I found these unnecessary and boring, though I can see how they might serve a purpose for someone watching the show as it originally aired over almost half a year rather than binge-watching in a few days’ time. I also did not enjoy a few of the violent scenes at the beginning, middle and end of the series. If you are a highly sensitive person, you may want to fast forward through the initial fight scene, the torture scene, and the dismemberment scene in the first episode. There is another torture scene in episode 14 that is worth forwarding over, and in the final episode, there is a very bloody battle that triggered my finger on the remote as well.
Despite these few drawbacks, I loved The Moon Embracing the Sun. The internet declares that there were two additional specials in addition to the 20 one-hour episodes; I hope that Netflix someday gets these specials available for viewing. The drama was amazing, and I’m missing the characters already as I move off of the couch and back into functioning in the world again.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC