All hail to this series that should be treated as royalty among dramas this year!
The King: Eternal Monarch had a really solid premiere with its mysterious plot and interesting characters. The main plot was anchored on Lee Gon’s (Lee Min-ho) tragic past. It introduced us to the conflict right away which immediately hooked me in as a viewer. It felt like we were transported into the story rather than watching it behind a screen (or am I the only one who wished to live in the Kingdom of Corea?). The expository details were just enough to catch my attention and build an air of intrigue to the next episodes.
The fictional world (or should I say worlds?) presented was as detailed as other Kim Eun-sook-written dramas. The Kingdom of Corea has a rich backstory including historical events, maps, and even GDP ranking (!!!). I’m putting emphasis on The King’s effective worldbuilding because we all know that a fantasy series needed a reliable setting for its plot to be believable. This was definitely the strongest aspect of TKEM. Its characters were moving inside a well-crafted world with a solid foundation. So when things turned complicated and our brain cells went haywire with all the plot twists (and math/physics theories), the established fictional world wasn’t even rattled. It firmly held the plot on its place and smoothly continued its progress.
After discovering the powers of the Manpasikjeok, Lee Gon has created a new normal for him – a king who could travel between two worlds. The middle part of the series was filled with scenes that took us high as the clouds and dragged as low to the ground. It was also where we got to know better our main leads and other characters around them.
The King: Eternal Monarch has cast the top names of this generation: Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun. It definitely created the buzz it wanted and excitement from fans. So much so that when it finally premiered, a lot of disappointment was aired for their initial appearances. It was mostly about Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun still carrying the images of their previous dramas’ characters. But it got me thinking about whether it should be blamed on Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun’s acting or it was the audiences’ fault for not moving on? Because clearly, their previous roles were iconic and it wasn’t their fault we keep on associating it with them. Personally, it took me some time to shake off Ji Eun-tak’s image away from Go-eun’s acting in TKEM.
Things started to change though on her first action scene. That scene made me realize that it was me who keep comparing her to Eun-tak even though Go-eun was making efforts to act more like a lieutenant than the Goblin’s wife. She shined brightly throughout the series. She unleased every emotion I could ever imagine: love, fear, sadness, anger, and so on. One of her best scenes was the confrontation between Tae-eul and Luna. I couldn’t believe she did that all alone. Another fave scene from her was the “Queen of Corea” scene. I felt the fear and relief from her cries in that crossroad scene. And as GenZers always like to say, she definitely has range.
Speaking of standout performances, Woo Do-hwan gave us the bromance of the year (and no, I’m not talking about Jo Young x Lee Gon). I never thought I would love a bromance between characters played by the same actor. Woo Do-hwan has a way of inflecting his voice in delivering dialogues of Eun-seop and Jo Young. Their distinction wasn’t just about Eun-seop’s accent.
Woo Do-hwan’s posture, strides, and stares change depending on who he’s currently playing. He really made the most of his airtime, which should have been longer than what he got. The lack of Myung Nari (Kim Yong-ji)/Eun-seop and Jo Young /Myung Seung-ah was an injustice for me. They should’ve have introduced a strong second couple like them if they wouldn’t fully tap their potential.
Kim Kyung-nam and Jung Eun-chae were part of the promos of the drama so I anticipated their parts. I just finished Prison Playbook when TKEM premiered so it also kind of took me a while to adjust to very serious Kang Sin-jae. I low-key shipped him with psychiatrist Jo Hae-in (Sojin) but it was clear though that Sin-jae was a character on his own. Sure, he has a one-sided love with Tae-eul but he was never been a threat for Lee Gon. Besides the fact that he’s a victim of Lee Lim’s evil plan, Sin-jae’s character arc was independent of the main leads.
He definitely got better luck than Prime Minister Koo Seo-ryeong who got the short end of the stick. She went from glory to doom. I was excited about this femme fatale leader but then she chose the wrong path. They could have just used Lee Lim as the only villain because he was effective on his own. She could have been a strong female character but oh well, guess I would just have to look for it in other dramas.
And yep, there’s no questioning that Lee Lim contributed a lot in making the series exciting. He’s greed and pure evil caused a lot of complications with the lives of our two main leads. There could have been more explanation of where his greed was coming from. But I guess, it’s alright since I couldn’t give this character an ounce of my pity. It was the first time I’ve watch Lee Jung-jin and I must say he’s one good actor. He definitely made my blood boil with his evil plotting and I laughed a lot when he killed his own self. That was unexpected but it totally makes sense. That plot twist allowed his character to travel for 20 years without making the world paused infinitely as calculated by Lee Gon with his own mapasikjeok (anyway, that’s enough math for this review).
Now, where should I start with Lee Min-ho. I’ve watched most of his dramas and watch his acting skills improve in every role he took. I have to admit though that sometimes he could be easily overshadowed by his co-stars. Not on this series though. My stage fan mom was so proud of Lee Min-ho in TKEM. Lee Gon was a character made for him. He has this natural of air of royalty in him that only a few K-actors exude. He was not just good at romantic scenes but he proved he was more than a pretty (well-sculpted and gorgeous) face. He delivered on emotionally-straining scenes and answered his co-stars’ fervent performances. Saying he was effective in his role would be an understatement.
Cliché as this may sound, the final arc of The King: Eternal Monarch was a rollercoaster ride. It peaked so high that the ending felt kind of anti-climactic. I was just smiling throughout the final episode. It gave me the kind of lull I needed after tension-filled episodes 11 to 15.
I couldn’t express in words how I love that finale episode. I always said this on my reviews: I love my happily-ever-afters and the Lee Gon x Jung Tae-eul ship gave me one beautiful HEA.
Talking about their romance, I didn’t saw the sparks between them until episode four happened. And they made explosions after explosions using their chemistry. Actually, I kind of “ranted out” on Twitter because the couple didn’t deserve the hate some people gave them. Apparently, they couldn’t feel anything from them because their love story was too fast for their taste; emphasis on the last part: for their taste. It was a matter of preference. I would possibly discuss this in one of my futures TCAs but for now, I would just like to say that Lee Gon and Jung Tae-eul sailed at just the right pace. They couldn’t afford the usual push-and-pull of other K-drama couples because they didn’t have the luxury of time. They didn’t know when the mapasikjeok would stop working. Every moment could be their last.
What sets them apart from other star-crossed lovers in K-dramaland was their choice in the end. Instead of the usual “we’ll be together in another life,” they ended it with “no, we’ll cross universes and eras to be together.” They decided to be together ‘now’ instead of ‘later.’ They embraced their fate TOGETHER. I couldn’t think of any alternate romantic ending for these two. It just felt so right.
The King: Eternal Monarch was a fantasy romance in its basic form. The plot centered on the two main characters with some equally-interesting side plots inserted along the way. What makes it a good series though was the storytelling and how the conflicts and character developments were laid throughout the series. It felt like Kim Eun-sook planted a lot of landmine-like plot twists that left us shocked and in awe in every episode. She’s just one brilliant storyteller. I couldn’t stop admiring the details in her work. And The King: Eternal Monarch has become one of my favorite series from her. Mainly because this time, she didn’t butcher the ending. She gave her character an apt and beautiful finale.
Of course, it’s only just and right to also appreciate the whole production team of TKEM for giving us A-plus cinematic experience. Sure, the CGI could be arguable but the shots and the set (especially the KOC sets) were just exquisite. It lived up to what the script wanted to show.
I would like to repeat what I’ve said in my First Impression. TKEM might not be your preferred series, especially with its escapist fantasy theme, but this is definitely a must-watch.
-Someone in our squad is crushing over the Manpasikjeok Spirit (Kim Wook)
-This is my favorite out of all their OSTs:
-Er, these behind-the-scenes are 🔥
-Can someone cast them again together?
-Manpasikjeok should be included in every spelling bee contest. The name was so hard to remember.