Now, you see… this is exactly what I was trying to point out in my last review – here’s a plot with originality and imagination. It’s the first Kdrama I’m aware of whose characters get caught up in two different realities. After being released from his mandatory military assignment a year ago, Lee Min-Ho finally made his way back to the small screen in this fantasy love story, The King: Eternal Monarch.
“Most things that seem like coincidences are actually meant to be, and anything that was meant to be is called destiny.” – The King: Eternal Monarch
As a young child, Lee Gon walked in on his uncle, Lee Lim, just seconds after he had murdered his father, the king of The Kingdom of Corea. In an attempt to stop the evil man from stealing the legendary Manpasikjeok (a magical flute) Gon accidentally broke the thing in two. As his enraged uncle began to strangle Gon, a mysterious stranger came to his rescue and Lee Lim escaped with half of the magic flute, leaving the other half behind.
Twenty-five years later, using his half of the Manpasikjeok, His Majesty Lee Gon secretly travels to another dimension on his majestic, white steed Maximus, and comes across the person he believes is responsible for saving him so long ago. He also realizes this world is where his uncle had escaped to after murdering his father, and the man is using people from both worlds to try and get the other half of the flute, overthrow King Lee Gon, and finally take over as the Monarch of The Kingdom of Corea.
At the age of eight years old, Lee Gon’s first duty as the new king of The Kingdom of Corea was to mourn his father’s death; a death which, Gon himself had witnessed and, came at the hands of his father’s half-brother. Since his mother had passed away when he was even younger, the prince became an orphan who relied heavily on the kindness and love of Head Court-Lady Noh Ok-Nam and Doctor Lee Jong-In (Prince Buyeong, who is second in line to the throne) to help him realize his role as king. Gon graduated from the Royal Navel Academy and, although he left the military with the rank of Lieutenant, is now the Commander-in-Chief of The Kingdom of Corea. Lee Gon is a brilliant mathematician who relies on those skills to help him figure out the secrets to the dimension travel he has discovered.
Because Jung Tae-Eul’s mother passed away when she was young she has been raised by her single father who runs a Taekwondo studio. Needless to say, her martial arts expertise (black belt) comes in handy when she is carrying out her duties as a cop. She graduated from the National Police University and is now a detective in the Violent Crimes Unit at the Seoul Jongo Police Station in The Republic of Korea. This young woman, who has the unique ability of staying calm under pressure, is anxiously awaiting a promotion. When she meets the king of The Kingdom of Corea she is faced with the decision to believe the stranger’s fanciful tales or dismiss him as a crazy person. However, through her police work she discovers little tidbits of factual information that just may substantiate the man’s unbelievable claims.
As a boy of only four years old Jo Yeong could see the tremendous grief Gon was having to battle alone and, in an attempt to comfort him, the two became immediate friends. These many years later Jo Yeong is the Captain of the king’s Guards and still Gon’s most trusted and dearest friend. In fact, Gon refers to Jo Yeong as his Unbreakable Sword. The man is loyal, trustworthy, wise, and more than willing to die for his king.
Kang Shin-Jae was born into a rich family but his father’s business went belly-up and the man ended up in prison. Sadly, his mother’s gambling addiction has caused a strain in his relationship with her. As a teenager, Shin-Jae fell in love with Jung Tae-Eul the minute he saw her and, in an effort to be close to her, ended up taking Taekwondo lessons from her father and followed when she decided to become a police officer. Not surprisingly, they are on the same team at the same police station. Tae-Eul thinks of Shin-Jae as a brother and has no idea how he feels about her.
Although born into a lower middle-class family, Goo Seo-Ryun has been on an elite path. She went to Seojin High School and Corea University. After graduation she was hired at a public TV channel as an announcer and became the station’s main news anchor in just four short years. She married the second son of the rich and powerful family who own the KU Corporation but divorced him less than a year later and got into politics. It only took her seven years to become the first woman and youngest Prime Minister The Kingdom of Corea has ever had. The woman’s tenacious ambition is driven by greed and her lust for power.
Lee Lim has held a grudge his entire life, thinking what was rightly his had been given to his younger half-brother. Although his father was the king of The Kingdom of Corea, his mother was only the Monarch’s concubine, and when the queen gave birth, her son became first in line for the throne. Lee Lim began to plot a way to steal the throne from his half-brother and when he had gathered enough followers he put his evil plan into motion. After murdering the king, he was only able to escape with half of the Manpasikjeok. Gathering an army of people in both The Republic of Korea and The Kingdom of Corea, Lee Lim is now ready to murder King Lee Gon and finally take everything he believes is his.
Several actors/actresses play duel roles in the story – a character in The Republic of Korea and another in The Kingdom of Corea. Each person’s acting is excellent and we’re able to see a difference in the personalities of the characters they are playing. Good job!
Lee Min-Ho was born to play the part of King Lee Gon. He’s absolutely perfect in that role! The man looks gorgeous on a white horse – very kingly and quite romantic. You can find some information about him by going to my review of The Legend of the Blue Sea.
The role of Officer Jung Tae-Eul is played Kim Go-Eun and you can read a bit about her in my review of Goblin.
This drama, although highly anticipated by the citizens of its home country, had lower than expected domestic popularity. It seems the South Korean public was eager to pick apart any little thing they could find that even hinted at imperfection. Some of the stuff criticized were its plot development, some things being too complex to understand, the lack of catchy music and clever conversations, poor editing, the excessive use of product placement, The Kingdom of Corea’s architecture looking too much like Japanese temples, and Japanese warships looking like Korean warships. So, allow me to share with you my opinion on each of those complaints, one by one..
*Plot development: To me it seemed like Kim Eun-Sook didn’t have the whole thing figured out before shooting began. It was like she dreamed up some unique and fanciful ideas, they were shot, and then she had to come up with some way to explain those ideas and was unable to do so coherently. Kind of like, “If you build it, they will come,” – shoot it and I’ll find a way to explain it later. But the explanations didn’t always make sense, at least in my mind quite a few fell short.
*Some things are too complex to understand: I will admit there were things I struggled to grasp and, after not being able to think of anything, finally gave up even trying to figure out. Still, I thought the drama was wildly entertaining even though I didn’t comprehend everything. Were some things “too complex” or were they just not explained well? When I was in high school I thought algebra was too complex but it turned out, all I needed was a another teacher to explain it in a different way and I got it. I don’t think the audience couldn’t understand it, I just think the writer didn’t explain her ideas well enough for us to see it all plainly.
*Lack of catchy music and clever conversations: I’ll talk about the drama’s music in my usual music paragraph near the end of the review. As for the conversations not being “clever,” I can’t help but wonder what folks meant. I didn’t see a thing wrong with the way these characters spoke to one another. Do real people always have “clever conversations?” Absolutely not. So why are folks expecting more from imaginary characters? Beats me.
*Poor editing: Yes, oh yes, oh yes! This one I wholeheartedly agree with. There were so many “oops” in this drama I finally gave up counting. The problems are small and don’t effect the plot/story but the editing is noticeably sloppy.
*Excessive use of product placement: Here’s another one I’m in total agreement with. The show is jam packed with different products on display (such as food and make-up) but it’s done naturally and tastefully. I didn’t mind it one bit. Companies shell out big bucks to have their product in a show and that money goes to pay for bigger stars, better effects, shooting locations in different countries… So here’s what I’d like to ask the folks that complain about dramas using product placement – do you want some subtle advertising that blends into the story or would you rather the producers fund a drama without outside help? Personally, I’d go for the bigger budget every time.
*The Kingdom of Corea’s architecture looking too much like Japanese temples: Oh for Pete’s sake! The fictional country is supposed to look a certain way? Maybe this place’s history leaned a lot on other Asian cultures. It could very well be that the country’s architecture was inspired by Japan’s. Is there something wrong with borrowing ideas or being influenced by other countries?
*Japanese warships looking like Korean warships: I was thoroughly impressed with a scene that showed The Kingdom of Corea’s naval fleet fearlessly defending its country’s territorial waters against a Japanese invasion. It was amazing and on such a grand scale! It stands to reason that the producers of the drama could not go to Japan’s navy and, in the midsts of a Covid-19 scare, ask if they could use a few boats because they were making a show. The production team said they had to use “open source and stock images as reference material” because the pandemic prevented them from filming overseas. Come on, complainers – give the people a break, will ya!? That scene was spectacular! It would have been a shame to cut it from the show simply because they didn’t have access to real Japanese ships. And, once again, since this country is fictitious how do we know that Japanese boats didn’t look like Korean ones?
As I’ve mentioned before, an ending can either make or break a drama. So, what about The King: Eternal Monarch’s ending? Well… I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll just tell you it was very much like the ending of a drama I saw and did a review on a few months ago. Enough said. Personally, I was hoping it would end differently but was okay with how the writer choose to bring the story to a close.
Sadly, this romance Kdrama didn’t have as many kisses as it could have had. Lee Min-Ho proved in City Hunter that he is an amazing kisser, and there were lots of yummy kisses in The Legend of the Blue Sea so I’m not sure why the writer didn’t take advantage of what/who they had. Although this show does have some kissing scenes, they’re few and far between. The ones we do get are dreamy but we just don’t get enough of them.
The King: Eternal Monarch’s screenwriter is Kim Eun-Sook, a woman whose amazing imagination is responsible for many highly rated and beloved Kdramas. The ones I’ve seen that she’s written are Mr. Sunshine, Goblin (aka Guardian: The Lonely and Great God which also starred Kim Go-Eun), Descendants of the Sun, The Heirs (in which Lee Min-Ho was the star), Secret Garden, The City Hall, Lovers in Prague, and Lovers in Paris. If you check them out you’ll notice I’ve sung the praises of every single one I’ve reviewed. Screenwriter Kim Eun-Sook’s creative stories never fail to capture the hearts of those lucky enough to see her work.
The King: Eternal Monarch had a seasoned director, Baek Sang-Hoon, who has worked on some excellent shows in the past – Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, Descendants of the Sun (in which he first teamed up with writer Kim Eun-Sook), Who Are You: School 2015, and Secret Love (even though I felt that one had a dark and depressing feel to it, I’m still glad I saw it).
One thing I found interesting was how an episode would end but the next one wouldn’t necessarily begin at the previous episode’s cut off point. It could sometimes take up to 15 minutes before it got to the part where the last episode ended off. Just a little something you should be aware of.
So, now I’ll tell you my opinion about the complaint that The King: Eternal Monarch has a “lack of catchy music.” As soon as I finished the show I began writing its review and, I’ll be honest, right now I wouldn’t be able to hum any of the show’s songs. That’s not necessarily bad, though. At least the songs weren’t annoyingly over-played. Since the soundtrack is extensive I’ll only mention a few of the songs. I think Gravity, sung by Kim Jong-Wan of the rock band Nell, was probably played the most; Orbit, performed by Hwasa who is a member of Mamamoo, has really awesome sounding percussion; Maze, which has a dream-like quality, is sung in English by Yongzoo; Davichi hits some great high notes in Please Don’t Cry; and Heart Break, sung by Kim Na-Young with Gaeko doing the rapping, has an excellent sound of urgency about it.
The drama’s aesthetics are superb. Lee Gon’s magnificent white horse, the bamboo forest, the island palace, the (almost) naval battle, the long stretch of road in the dimension that has no time… it’s all so beautiful. Also, the show’s CGI work is top-notch and the action/fight scenes are excellent.
I remember how anxious I was to see The Legend of the Blue Sea simply because it starred Lee Min-Ho and I also remember how let down I felt because it wasn’t as wonderful as I had expected it to be. The King: Eternal Monarch is, in my un-expert opinion, far and away more impressive than The Legend of the Blue Sea, but you might not agree. I’m just glad we have Lee Min-Ho back safely and entertaining us once again!
Lee Min-Ho is back!
Fanciful, original story
Good CGI work
Lots of “oops”
Not enough good kisses
Parts are difficult to understand because they aren’t explained well enough