Last episode's actions were so intense that apparently the entire cast needed to take a yearlong break. It's times like this I wish "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" was more clear about how much time has progressed in general. Of course Prince So and Prince Wook are still pining for Soo, but all the same, when nearly every character action in "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" is a careful calculation based on a long-term plan, how Soo fits into that is pretty essential information.
That's the usual strength in "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo"- the complicated royal scheming. That was why the timeskip blindsided me, because did everyone really just take a break for a year, or are they biding their time? And what's the deal with Princess Yeon-hwa? Whose side is she on? Or is the dramatic impetus how we really have no idea, what with her being kind of a jerk? Prince So ends up looking good mostly by comparison, because while everyone else is engaged in schemes, Prince So is doing actual useful work for Goryeo at large with no real thought to personal ascension.
These moments make "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" a useful case study in why ambition is so commonly seen as bad, even as society obviously needs leaders. Characters like Prince Yo and Princess Yeonhwa consistently demonstrate no useful abilities except for political plotting. While useful for acquiring power, these skills do not an effective leader make. Mostly they just call attention to how alarmingly bad King Taejo is at intercepting threats.
Incidentally, Woo-hee (played by Seohyun) ends up being a really important character this episode, which is awkward because she's so underdeveloped I had pretty much completely forgotten that the poor woman has her own complicated backstory. I blame the drama's tonal issues. When almost all of Woo-hee's scenes involve goofy lovey-dovey hijinx and skippy modern pop music, it's pretty natural to assume that her character is just a throwaway romantic subplot.
It doesn't help that there were clearly important scenes between Soo and Woo-hee in the timeskip that we rather frustratingly do not get to see. It really is a shame just how disjointed "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" is. The cliffhanger is pointed, extreme, and packs a wallop- but nowhere near as much as it should, first because we know so little about Woo-hee, and second because those blasted close-up shots once again make it impossible to figure out where the characters are standing in relation to each other.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" Episode 12"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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