River Where the Moon Rises is set during the Goguryeo era and is about an ambitious princess (Kim So Hyun) that was raised as an assassin who uses a man’s (Ji Soo/Na In Woo) feelings to her advantage and experiences conflicting emotions.

Kim So Hyun plays Ga Jin/Pyeong Gang. She is a princess who loses her memory as a child as is raised to be an assassin. While looking for answers about her past, she meets a man who changes her life.

We then have Ji Soo (Ep. 1-6) and Na In Woo (Ep. 7-20) playing On Dal. He is a kind and gentle man who falls in love with Ga Jin. He then puts everything on the line for her as he joins her on a path filled with blood and war.

River Where the Moon Rises was a very average historical for me. The story was solid, but I didn’t find it particularly engaging. The production was also really good so everything felt that it was of a nice quality. The acting was great all around too, but I struggled to connect with the characters.

The main stand out for the drama was Lee Ji Hoon as General Go Geon. He is the son of our main villain and finds himself torn between his father and his feelings for Ga Jin. He had a strong presence, and I was always engaged when he was on screen.

His interactions with the mysterious Mo Yong (Choi Yoo Hwa), a trader of medicinal herbs, were also very entertaining to watch. These two had some serious chemistry. They were by far the best part of the drama for me.

River Where the Moon Rises comes on strong with a lot of plot developments and quick pacing in the first quarter of the drama. This was nice at the time, but I felt like it came at the cost of properly developing the characters and also hurt it on the backend as the pace slowed.

We do get plenty of palace intrigue and plotting from various baddies. This was fairly standard stuff that was pretty predictable and straightforward. The politics increase as the drama progresses which really made things draggy for me, especially in the latter half of the drama.

There are still plenty of other big happenings though as the country deals with war and our characters face some serious challenges that threaten them both physically and emotionally. I definitely think the drama would have packed more punch at 16 episodes instead of 20.

River Where the Moon Rises did hit a big bump in the road during its run where it had to replace one of its lead actors, Ji Soo. We had Ji Soo in the first 6 episodes, and then he was replaced by Na In Woo for the remaining 14 episodes.

The switch was unexpected, so adjustments had to be made, especially considering most of the drama had already been filmed at that point. The focus of the story clearly shifts to happenings at the palace with the character of On Dal barely present in episodes 7 and 8.

The switch was a little clunky as the absence of On Dal was very evident. Plus, the few scenes that feature him (with Na In Woo now playing the character) looked a bit strange because of the obvious editing tricks being used to make it look like Na In Woo was actually in the scene with the other actors. Like I said, it was clunky, but they did the best they could. Luckily, since most of the drama’s focus was on other happenings at that time, the overall quality remained high.

Now, it does take some major adjusting to get used to someone new playing a character. Ji Soo and Na In Woo have very different presences, and that was evident. Ji Soo’s version felt much more carefree with his signature puppy style. Na In Woo comes in at a more serious turn in the drama, and both he and the character feel much more serious.

Not taking into account any of the real life happenings that led to all of this, I personally felt like Ji Soo was cast for this character because he fit the character well. Not that Na In Woo was bad in anyway, on the contrary, he did great coming in and taking over this character, but I just didn’t feel that he was as good of a fit.

Of course, simply seeing Ji Soo play the character first could have easily influenced how I saw the character, and that couldn’t really be completely overcome. Thankfully, Na In Woo does eventually settle into the role quite well, and the improved chemistry with the other actors did come through as the drama progressed.

So overall, River Where the Moon Rises was an okay watch. It was predictable and not particularly engaging. It was average in many ways, but it told its story adequately and with good production behind it. The actor switch didn’t help and was definitely felt, but I would consider it more of a minor issue. Not a bad watch, but not very memorable either.

My Rating: 6/10

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23 responses to “River Where the Moon Rises Korean Drama Review”

  1. D Avatar

    I was going to watch this but after reading your review, I’m not so sure anymore. 🙂

    1. Kay Avatar

      Well, lots of people liked it a lot, so you might. And it definitely wasn’t bad, just very average 🙂

  2. Jessy B. Avatar
    Jessy B.

    I started watching this one, then stopped after the JiSoo controversy.. after your review, I’m okay that I didn’t go back to it.. Thanks (:

    1. Kay Avatar

      Yeah, it had its good elements, but it got draggier as it went along. Probably good you went ahead and bailed 🙂

  3. learjet1 Avatar

    I really enjoyed the first third and then it got ….a bit boring. It was beautifully filmed and the acting by the four leads was excellent. Also the ML transition was clunky from episdoe 7 to 10, I think he did a great job after that. I just found there was too much palace and other politics and too many fight scenes and that got old quite quickly. I admit I like my sageuks either very fluffy or fusion (preferably both) so I might be the problem, not the drama. I totally agree with your final comment, Kay: I also just didn’t feel engaged for the latter two-thirds, although I enjoyed the last episode.

    1. Kay Avatar

      That was similar to my experience. First third was the best, and then it got more boring after that. Yes, all of the leads were great and so was the production, but it just wasn’t particularly engaging. The ML transition was definitely clunky, but Na In Woo did settle into the role quite well after a few eps thankfully. And I don’t think its just you. This drama had a lot of solid elements, but they all just came together in an average sort of way. It felt like a drama I should love, but I stayed firmly in the okay category, hehe.

  4. River21 Avatar

    Have you tried watching the refilmed first six episodes with Na In Woo, though? It helped me a lot in giving this drama a new perspective esp for Ondal’s character. There are a few added and modified scenes, too. Na In Woo’s interpretation of it, as reviewed by Korean viewers, was nearer to the original folktale Ondal so his ‘early Ondal’ characterization was somewhat more of a foolish, goofy, softer one while JS was more ‘rough’ and ‘devil may care’. I do agree that eps 7-8 felt lacking in many aspects due to the reduced screentime, plot holes and edited scenes. It got better afterwards for me when it was fully Na In Woo in the role without the edited stuffs.

    1. Kay Avatar

      Yes, I did actually go back through and watch Na In Woo’s scenes in the first six episodes after I finished the drama 🙂 I did still prefer Ji Soo’s initial interpretation, but I think it would be helpful for any viewer to just watch the drama with Na In Woo all the way through since it does make the character feel much more consistent.

      Na In Woo came in during a bit of a shift in the character, and combined with his own interpretation, it just made the switch more noticeable. Just watching him all the way through helps smooth that out a lot. The middle clunkiness really couldn’t be helped from a production standpoint, and Na In Woo had very little time to get into character for those first episodes he was in. But with such an intense filming schedule, luckily, it did allow him to really get into character after a few episodes which was evident in the second half of the drama where he did very well 🙂

  5. kfangurl Avatar

    Well, there goes any lingering good intentions of going back to this one! 😂 I’d put this aside after swopping this out for Vincenzo for Patreon coverage, thinking I’d go back to it, if only to see how Na In Woo takes to the role, but.. that good intention has been dwindling as my drama plate has continued to explode, and now, with your verdict, I feel like it’d be fine to just leave it as is. 😅

    1. Kay Avatar

      Yeah, I would say there are much better dramas to spend your time on, hehe. Like I said, it’s not a bad drama at all, very adequate with lots of good qualities, but mostly just not super engaging. After an awkward first few episodes, Na In Woo does settle into the role quite well and really makes it his own. Maybe if you ever just get in a mood to cross off unfinished dramas on your list. Otherwise, I’d just go for other things 😂

      1. kfangurl Avatar

        That’s good advice! I’ll take it! 😉

  6. seankfletcher Avatar

    Kay, I have to agree here re your thoughts on River. Initially, I did find the first six episodes mesmerising and full of so much promise. By coincidence, the writing nosed dived after that. In my mind, Ji Soo was on the money. I haven’t gone back and watched the reshot first six episodes. What I found in the second half of the show though, it seemed to be all about the princess (and it was a fine performance), and not our hero, except towards the end, by which time I didn’t care for the story at all.

    With Taxi Driver, they changed out the original second female lead after 60% of her scenes were shot, due to her own controversies and perhaps her career is now over. However, we never got to see the change due to how the show was filmed and released. It’s hard not to imagine anyone else in this role. The writing is superb (despite the harrowing content at times) and the acting is right up there, as is the action, but that’s another story!

    1. Kay Avatar

      Yes, it does sound like we had a similar experience with this one. The beginning was the strongest, and then a variety of factors seemed to contribute to it losing its way. It did mount a solid last stand in the latter eps, but like you, I was fairly disengaged by that point.

      Although I preferred Ji Soo’s portrayal of the character, the reshot episodes with Na In Woo help a lot with the continuity of the character. I think people will have a better experience if they see the same actor in the role all the way through. It still doesn’t help some of the other issues I felt the drama from suffered from though.

      Sounds like Taxi Driver had some of its own difficult casting issues. I’ve heard mostly positive things about that drama though, so it looks like they’ve been able to make everything work with the great writing, production, and acting, which is very fortunate 🙂

  7. Snow Flower Avatar
    Snow Flower

    I watched the first 6 episodes, and then stopped. I am curious to see how Na In Woo fared in Ji Soo’s role, but I am not inclined to see all episodes. Should I just watch the last 2 episodes just to get an idea?

    1. Kay Avatar

      Well, it depends if you’re wanting more of a direct comparison between Ji Soo and Na In Woo before big character changes or how the character ultimately turned out. For more of a comparison, I would go with a couple episodes more in the middle, around 10-11. For how the character turned out, the last couple would be good. On Dal quite a different character by the end. Or just re-watch some of the re-released first 6 episodes with Na In Woo. I did that so I could really compare scene for scene how the two actors approached the character since they really did come at it differently.

  8. Kate Avatar

    I am a bit on the other side regarding the ML as I preferred Na In Woo having recently come off Mr. Queen and liking him there. I never thought Ji Soo fit the role well and despite the clunky actor transition, I think he ended up doing a better job over all. The issue was the draggy 20 eps and the over dose of politics. I watched too much of it to drop but wished I had before spending 20 hours on it.

    1. Kay Avatar

      Yeah, we definitely had similar feelings regarding the dragginess and politics with this drama 🙂 It seems like many people were split on who they liked better as the ML, including us, hehe. I too liked him quite well in Mr. Queen, and although I did still like him in River, I never completely clicked with him after seeing Ji Soo in the role first.

      I think it’s mostly a personal preference thing as each actor portrayed the role differently, and it probably depends how each person preferred the character portrayed. Luckily, I don’t think the actor switch was a major detriment to the drama as it more just compounded some other problems. And those who watch the drama from start to finish with Na In Woo in the role will likely fair much better 🙂

  9. Yugit Avatar

    You should definitely watch the Refilm with Na In Woo. I think the reason why he’s not so goofy in ep 7-20 is because of the plotline needed him to be more serious (a pathway on becoming a general), because honestly I was shocked to see the ep 1-6 refilm, he was way more entertaining and silly than I could’ve even imagined that changed my mind about his version of Ondal. I smiled so much my mouth turned sore lol

    1. Kay Avatar

      I have seen the reshot episodes with Na In Woo 🙂 I did still prefer Ji Soo, but I agree that he came in just as the character was undergoing a shift which made the difference between the actors stand out more. I think anyone who watches the drama with Na In Woo all the way through will have a better experience though since the character will feel more consistent 🙂

  10. […] River Where the Moon Rises also had to deal with a main actor switch in the middle of its run which didn’t help and was definitely felt, but I would consider it more of a minor issue. Not a bad watch overall, but not very memorable either. (River Where the Moon Rises Review) […]

  11. […] River Where the Moon Rises also had to deal with a main actor switch in the middle of its run which didn’t help and was definitely felt, but I would consider it more of a minor issue. Not a bad watch overall, but not very memorable either. My Rating: 6/10 (River Where the Moon Rises Review) […]

  12. Meshack Avwerosuo Avatar
    Meshack Avwerosuo

    I am not dropping this review base on your comments but base on the possible view of a normal viewer who have watched this movie.
    I dislike this movie and regretted downloading almost all the full episodes. I was force to stop watching it at episode 9 when I discovered one of the main actors was switched 😩because of personal issues of which was not suppose to be. This character☺️ have been keeping my mood before the wrong😠 person was place to take the role.
    Over all, the princess did well in her own acting but how can they use the same person to act queen and princess. It quite difficult especially for those who are fond of her e.g me and with this I can say that the switching of the princess actress and the actor “Dal” was a very bad idea and that made me loss interest from the beginning because the four persons who acted the this role don’t look alike at all and including their actions.
    In fact, this movie is a total garbage and even if I try praising their efforts and good chemistry they portray into it. I still think I can not hold my self from saying this movie is a waste of data. Even if they have issues with the production or whatso ever, they should have still continued with the same actor.Even after removing the actor because they don’t want to spoil the production,the production still went bad and I wonder what they were thinking before taking such stupid decision, still yet, I think the capital raise in sponsoring this movie “river where the moon rises” was a total waste.

    1. Kay Avatar

      Yeah, it really is too bad what happened with this drama. So much potential that didn’t play out. Plus, the actor switch midway through was very noticeable and definitely impacted the drama negatively. Very disappointing 🙁

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