At long last, Soo has left the palace. From there she...hangs out at a new house for awhile, enjoys some flashbacks, and then dies while King Gwangjong sulks like a grumpy teenager. Hilariously bad communication brings everything to an unnecessarily tragic end. Last-minute revelations end up affecting pretty much nothing, since the extended epilogue is just more flashbacks set to sad music. In short, this is about everything we could have reasonably expected from the finale of "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo".
If I have to pick any one big disappointment in this drama, it would be Prince So. In early episodes he was brutal, yet competent and determined. A clear compelling argument could be made that Prince So was the prince who should be king. Yet as time went on, and especially when Prince So finally became King Gwangjong, he never actually did anything. As King Gwangjong, Prince So actually managed to obsess more about Soo than he used to, even though the man had vastly more critical covereign reponsibilities.
Prince Wook also stands out as a character who really got the shaft. We got an impressive turnaround at the midway point where Prince Wook took on some darker qualities in the name of ambition, yet by the end Prince Wook is so completely out of the loop on the latest royal conspiracies that he legitimately looks baffled upon being informed that in the long run his victory is assured. After all, there is no sunshine in the world anymore now that Soo is gone, so why bother trying?
Soo is...well, while I didn't really dislike her in the end as much as I was expecting, I'm continuously struck by how she has never had any sort of real overarching goal. One episode she backs off from Prince So completely, the next she's head over heels, and I swear it feels like this happens every single episode. Their relationship has no stability or growth, so there's no particular impetus for it to continue save for inertia and nostalgia.
Which is a pretty accurate summation, I think, of "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" as a whole. The only way I can make sense of the plot is to remind myself that the original Chinese version was forty episodes long and presumably had enough time to flesh out the various storylines. Although even that's no excuse for the drama to rely so excessively on flashback. This is what unearned catharsis looks like, and it's why "Scarlet Heart: Ryeo" is such a disappointment.
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 email@example.com. 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 20 Final"
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