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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