Korean Movie Stories

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 5




The princes, dressed ceremonially, look on as King Taejo pays his respects to the ancestral tablets of kings past. What’s important is that So is counted among the princes, and it’s clear by the queen’s glare toward him that she is not happy about it.

But rather than choose to live in his designated palace quarters, So brings his things to Astronomer Choi’s tower, much to the man’s dismay. Despite the astronomer’s arguments, So claims he can’t see the sky from his room the way he can here in the tower, and smiles at the thought of what Su said about being able to see the stars in Goryeo.

Lady Hae presents Su with a host of medicinal herbs courtesy of eighth prince Wook, since she’d expressed interest in them before. Su is delighted, and mixes a concoction together to create soap for both Lady Hae and the queen. Wook watches from afar, a smile lighting his face.


His wife doesn’t miss this look from him, but only mentions how happy Su is, and how much she’s changed since her injury—for the better, in most respects. But when Lady Hae mentions that she wants to find a good husband for Su, Wook’s face turns unreadable. He only agrees with his wife’s wish to keep Su around for as long as possible.

Lady Hae sees the change in her husband’s expression, and looks from him to Su. Next thing we know, she’s asked Su to meet her in the library… only when Su enters, it’s not her cousin she sees, but Wook. This is cute and disturbing all at once.

Wook decides that being politely dismissive is the best course of action, and goes about his work as best he can. Unfortunately, Su is too awkward to just ignore, so he has to speak up in order to guide her to the ink she was supposed to fetch for her cousin.

This requires Su to come closer to Wook at his writing desk, where she becomes transfixed with his calligraphy. He notices her staring awkwardly and smiles, telling her that it’s a poem originally penned by the famous Chinese poet Tao Yuanming, and that he’s including it in the letter he’s written for his wife (since she always sends a poem along).

He suddenly asks her whether she likes poems or songs more, but he’s surprised when she answers that she likes songs, which were more popular with commoners than poetry, which required literacy. She realizes this belatedly and changes her answer to the much more ladylike “poems,” which gives Wook pause. When did she learn to make ink, anyway?

Wook decides to give her a poem instead, instructing her to read it carefully. Is he, by chance, testing her? Su has no hope of being able to read the complex Hanja characters, and she’s severely misguided if she thinks that her slave Chae-ryung will be able to read it, which she can’t.

Su tries her best to figure the poem out one character at a time, only to bemoan the fact that she’s as good as illiterate in this time period. After spending a moment cooing over how the characters are written as handsomely as their writer, she falls back into her illiterate lamentations, which thirteenth prince Baek-ah overhears.

“Are you illiterate?” he asks. Su claims that she totally does know how to read, she just conveniently forgot when she hit her head. Baek-ah begins to read for her, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Lady Hae, who finishes the poem from memory. The poem is by Liu Yuxi, entitled “Song of Bamboo Branch,” and one of the lines is, “Hark and I hear on the river, songs from my love, my beau.”

When Baek-ah asks if Su understands what the poem means, she looks at it from the surface level only, guessing that because it mentions willows and water, it must be about nature. His expression grows grave when she innocently reveals that Wook gave the poem to her.


Lady Hae seems happy that he gifted her such a poem, and tells Su to prepare to visit the queen tomorrow to gift her the soap she made. When Su’s gone, Baek-ah gets angry with his brother on his sister-in-law’s behalf, since the poem is a love poem. “Is my brother in his right mind?” he all but bellows.

He calms considerably when he sees Lady Hae’s shaking hand go to her chest, figuring out that she already knows how Wook feels. Instead of answering, she only asks Baek-ah to finish a drawing he was preparing for her. It sounds like she’s on a timeline, and Baek-ah realizes this, despite not wanting to acknowledge it.

Su tries to parse out the poem based on what she heard, but isn’t able to get very far in figuring out its true meaning. Or rather, she doesn’t want to acknowledge that there’s another meaning to it, and tries to convince herself to think of Wook in non-romantic ways.

The next day, she’s all smiles as she travels with Lady Hae to the palace. Wook admires the wonder in her eyes as she takes in all the sights, smiling.

Queen Sinjeong, Wook’s mother, pays a visit to the surly Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, and the two share barbed comments about whose son is superior in scholarly pursuits. Queen Sinjeong shares her desire to get medicine for her daughter-in-law from one of the concubines, which Queen Sinmyeongsunseong sneers at—the concubine is nothing more than a court lady, and she certainly is no doctor.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of Lady Hae, Wook, and Su. Queen Sinjeong is happy to see them, especially Su, but Queen Sinmyeongsunseong only knows Su from the bruise she gave the tenth prince, Eun.

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Su gives Queen Sinjeong a box of her handcrafted soap, and struggles hilariously to speak properly in front of her, eliciting a muffled laugh from Wook. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, who wasn’t doing her best in hiding her dismay in not receiving a gift, tries to act nonchalant when Su gives her a box of soap.

Since Queen Sinmyeongsunseong can’t be happy about anything, she lands a barb about Wook and her rival queen’s daughter-in-law being childless, but before she can go on, they receive another visitor: King Taejo.

Su’s eyes grow as big as saucers as she beholds the founder of Goryeo, who she’s only ever seen in dramas before (hah). She can’t help but gape at him, but the king instantly recognizes her as the girl who got into a fight with Eun. Wook tries to defend her, but the king isn’t having it.

Su’s first line of defense is to fall to her knees and beg forgiveness, but when that elicits a less than favorable response from the king, she realizes something vital: Tyrants feed off fear, but wise kings value virtue. So when the king asks her if she’s afraid of him, she rises to answer that she isn’t afraid, since she knows him to be a good and wise king.


This seems to please Taejo somewhat, but when he asks her why she thinks he’s wise, she’s without an answer. It just lands her in hotter water now that the king thinks she was using empty flattery, so Su racks her brain to think of something to say… and comes up with the baseline bits of history she knows about Taejo, like how he united the three kingdoms, founded a new nation, etc.

The king laughs, and Su inwardly thanks her junior high school history teacher for making her memorize these facts, when she used to curse her for it. Hah! The king rewards her with a fine rug, and Wook prods her to thank him. She launches into a parody of sageuk when she does, causing even more laughter. They must think she’s absolutely insane.

Once out of there, Su goes running around for a restroom, the nerves finally getting to her. Just as she’s about to use something that’s probably not a bathroom, she’s stopped by none other than So, sporting a more refined hairdo and mask.


She takes one look at him in wonder, noting that no one would see him as anything other than a prince now. He quips back that he’s always been a prince, but then turns the subject back to her, and what she’s doing at the palace.

They share a brief but friendly conversation about So’s adaptation to palace life, though it becomes clear that Su thinks he has a much better relationship with his family than he actually does. She realizes just the opposite is true when she spots his mother coming and hides within perfect earshot to hear his mother spew vitriol at him.

Even so, So thanks her for her her concern and remains cordial. When he turns around to find Su, she’s already gone, feeling awkward about having overheard them.

Lady Hae alarms her mother-in-law when she coughs up blood in front of her, but she quickly falls to her knees to remind the queen that she’d once promised to honor any request she made.

Queen Sinjeong grasps her beloved daughter-in-law’s hands and asks what she wants, but is taken completely aback when Lady Hae asks her to accept Su as Wook’s wife. If she didn’t know before, Queen Sinjeong knows now that Lady Hae doesn’t have much time left.

While on her way back with Wook, Su spots Astronomer Choi, recognizing him as the homeless man from her time. She grabs him by the shoulders to ask if he recognizes her. Doesn’t he remember the drink they had together?

The astronomer just shakes his head, and hilariously imitates Su’s whole-body shaking as he imitates her whining about having looked all over for him with a similarly whiny, “But I don’t know you, Agasshi.” She insists he does, reminding him that the last time he saw her was one thousand years in the future.

“Be careful,” he warns her, and for a moment, it seems like he’s warning her because he’s in on the secret. But his words are eerily similar to his future counterpart’s as he tells her, “If you ended up living here, you should abide by the norms here. Your life can’t change just because you want it to.” Then he winks at her. It is him!

After their meeting, Su trudges after Wook in the heavy snow, with him occasionally looking back to check on her with a smile. She doesn’t seem to notice that he’s caught onto the fact that she keeps stepping in his footsteps (either for fun or to make it easier for her to walk), but he’s there to catch her the second she stumbles. Likely because he made his steps wider just for fun.


He asks her about Astronomer Choi, though she claims that she only thought she knew him. She offers him a bar of soap she made just for him, saying that she did it to thank him for all that he’s done for her—even the poem.

Wook takes the gift with gratitude before asking if she’s discerned the meaning behind the poem. Su recites what she knows from it, claiming only that it was beautiful. Wook can’t help but laugh, seeming to know that she didn’t truly understand it, but advises her to respond with a poem of her own. It’s only proper etiquette, of course.

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That night, Su sits down with a brush and paper, trying her best to copy the characters from another page. It’s useless, and she soon gives up on the endeavor. She can’t even begin to wonder how she’ll compose a reply… but then a smile lights her face as she thinks of something.


Instead of writing a poem, she draws a reply, and eagerly leaves it on Wook’s desk where he’s most likely to see it. But she’s greeted instead by all the princes and Princess Yeonhwa, and the eager tenth prince Eun is quick to snatch up the letter she left.

Su sends a pleading look Wook’s way, but he can only move his eyebrows by way of silent response—it’s like they’re kids having to hide notes in class. Luckily, he steps in before she can be completely humiliated, and gives her leave to go, though it means admitting that she was responding to a poem he gave her.

This makes thirteenth prince Baek-ah decidedly unhappy, and Wook is powerless to stop Eun and fourteenth prince Jung from opening her letter and finding what they can only decipher as gibberish on it. It’s not a poem or a drawing. Is that… an emoji?


The princes each take a turn trying to figure out what the strange symbol (\^0^/) means, with Wook being the most puzzled of all. Omg, I’m dying. It’s So who tells Eun how to raise his arms and contort his face to mimic the symbol in the drawing. Hahahahahaha! He is WAY ahead of the times.

Everyone has a good laugh at this, as So recognizes the drawing as a face laughing with excitement—Su must have been pretty happy to receive Wook’s poem. Jung also tries to mimic the expression, much to everyone’s amusement.

Baek-ah is less than thrilled, and pulls Su aside when he finds her. He asks her how she could do this to Lady Hae, though she doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about.


“You steal glances at each other,” he accuses her. “If your hands happened to brush, you [two] would reflect upon that for days. I’m sure the thoughts of ‘What sort of food would that person like, what would make that person laugh’ would likely never leave your mind. Anything you see would make you think of him. How you and Wook would fuss over one another! Did you think that no one would find out?”

He grows more and more upset as he goes on, leading Su to look fearfully up at him. It’s only when he tells her that Lady Hae knows everything that’s been going on that she looks absolutely stunned into silence. Baek-ah warns her against interfering in Lady Hae and Wook’s relationship, threatening that he won’t stand idly by if she hurts Lady Hae.

Wook is standing there when he turns to leave, and soon the two forbidden lovebirds are left alone together. They both apologize to each other, though Wook says it’s not her fault—he’s the one who gave her a poem and received hers in an effort to make her laugh. “It’s all my fault,” he adds gravely. “Don’t blame yourself.”


But she does, because she knows that her complicity and silence didn’t help matters. She knew what was going on but hoped things would resolve on their own, even though she made advances of her own, like taking his hand, or leaving her room that night when she pretended to be asleep at first.

Tears spring to Wook’s eyes as he tells her not to say things like that, and tears fall down her own cheeks as she apologizes for always crying when she’s with him. She bows in apology and leaves, going home to hide the poem he gave her within the pages of a book.

Likewise, Wook locks away the soap she gave him in a box. The metaphor is clear, but it still makes me sad.


Princess Yeonhwa visits her father the king to gift him a silk pillow she embroidered. King Taejo loves the gift, but the talk soon turns to marriage, and how one of his daughters by Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, Princess Naklang, was married and left the palace.

Though Yeonhwa tries to hide her true emotions behind smiles and kind words, she’s unhappy at the thought of a potentially unwanted marriage. She brightens at the sight of her half-brother, So, noting that she’s still unused to seeing him in the palace.

She mentions that their father is planning to marry her off, but when So asks who, third prince Yo interrupts with a haughty, “You don’t think it’s you, do you?” He’s… teasing his half-brother over being too ugly to marry their half-sister?


When Yo asks Yeonhwa if she could stand to look at So’s ugly mug forever, Yeonhwa demurs by saying that she only wants a man who will cherish her. Yo’s quick to say that he would regard her as an empress since her potential husband would need to know her value in order to treasure her, but she’s more interested in So’s reaction.

So refuses to put a value on her (nice), and says that he wants a woman who would treasure him, and one who would think nothing of his face. Yo just scoffs at his reaction, claiming that he’s just like an animal. Yeonhwa smiles, seeing it as a challenge: “How fun would it be to turn an animal into a human?” Ack, stop it.

Su finds Lady Hae burning clothes and trinkets that seem precious to her, and intervenes only when she finds her cousin coughing blood. Lady Hae picks that time of all times to ask Su what her feelings are for Wook, but when Su goes quiet, she calls her foolish. Both of them are foolish.

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With tears in her eyes and blood on her lips, Lady Hae then asks Su to do her makeup for her, one last time. “I want him to remember me as being beautiful,” Lady Hae adds, which is just heartbreaking.

Lady Hae studies Su as she prepares her makeup, and Su does her best to hold back her tears as she applies it. We hear what she doesn’t say aloud to Su, willing her to control her actions and temperament in the future, especially around the royal family. But most of all, she wills Su to be a good wife for her husband, and to be his “pillow,” someone he can depend on and somewhere to rest his head in order to help ease his many worries.


Su’s tears fall despite her attempts to smile, and Lady Hae’s cheeks grow wet as well. The two share a moment where it’s like they’re speaking to each other without words as Su brings color and brightness back to Lady Hae’s wan face.

Next thing we know, Su is rushing out to bring Wook to see Lady Hae. Despite how ill she is, Lady Hae still manages to walk with the support of her husband out in the snow. She reminisces about when they first met, prompting a flashback of her seeing, liking, and subsequently hiding from him.

She tells of how she was the one who pushed for marriage because she wanted to help him, since he was a prince who had been kicked out of the palace when they met.

In the present, Wook tells her he knows exactly how she feels. She reaches a hand up to touch his face with tears in her eyes. “Now… I want you to watch over Su,” she pleads. But soon, she’s doubled over in pain, and Wook has to carry her home on his back.

As he walks her home, Wook mentions how she’d said he didn’t love her before. He tries to amend that now, but Lady Hae stops him from finishing. “I was able to love you more,” she breathes. “That was enough.”

And then, she goes limp. Su, from behind, calls out for her cousin. Wook’s eyes fill with tears as the realization of her death hits him… or not. He turns and shushes Su: “Let us not wake my wife.” Oh. Oh no.

Su clasps both hands to her mouth to stifle her sobs as Wook walks on, carrying his dead wife.



Gah, the whole “They’re just sleeping” thing gets me every time. I wish we would’ve gotten to hear the rest of what Wook had to say to Lady Hae, and if he was going to admit that he loved her—though, knowing her, she wouldn’t want him to say it so as not to feel guilty. Lady Hae presents an interesting picture overall though, especially since she deviated so far from the norm of what we’d expect to see.

Despite being a wife who desperately loved her husband, she also desperately wanted him to be happy, and was more than aware of her own mortality. Situations like this can easily come off as making the wife in the relationship look bad, but here, she actually came off as a bonafide saint. I was repeatedly surprised by just how selfless she was being, and found her relationship with her husband and Su as heartfelt as it was morbid and strange. It’s as confusing for the viewer as I’m sure it was for those three characters, but definite props are deserved for the story being much more immersive this hour.

It’s a tough day to be So as a romantic lead though, even if it feels like we’re setting up for the end of Wook and Su as we know it. Lady Hae’s death is bound to cause a shift of some kind, and it’d be way too easy for them to just be happy now that the main obstacle to their romance is gone. (I know this sounds clinical, but it’s true.) Years of dramas tells me that there’ll have to be some scaling back with the second lead in order to make room for the first, but I can’t help but like where we are now. Change is scary, even if it’s good.

Su was definitely much more endearing this hour, and I’d credit that to us seeing her sweat a little—her illiteracy and her thoroughly modern reply to Wook’s thoughtful poem was a hoot. But there were also deeper feelings going on, and not just between Wook and Su. I’m not quite sure what Baek-ah’s game is at this point, but he seems primed and ready to be the one prince (besides Yo, who hates everyone) to be a foil for Su, which gives him a whole new exciting layer. Slowly but surely, we’re getting to know each prince in turn, so I feel confident that no one’s going to get lost in the shuffle.

But how hilarious was it to see Su use what little she remembered from her history class to get on the king’s good side? These are the kind of fish-out-of-water moments I was missing, so I was glad to have them today. Watching her flail about spouting “Your grace is immeasurable!” to the king was enough to make my belly ache. And having So of all people discern the true nature of her emoji reply was priceless. If only we had gotten these moments sooner, maybe it would’ve changed some things. Alas, the most we can do is look forward to next week.



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