The King’s Affection has an interesting storyline that easily helps it stand out among other sageuk that aired this year. Or at least it was for me since I’m really into gender bender series and well, monarchs. And a royalty being forced to disguise herself as a man is something that really piqued my attention. So even though the series spent its first two episodes (two long hours!) just to lay down the groundwork for its setting, I didn’t mind it and still pushed through watching the next episodes with excitement. And good thing, the first act of the series surely amped up that excitement further.
Since the back story of our main characters, Dam-I (Park Eun-bin) and Jung Ji-un (Rowoon), was extensively told, the next episodes after its premiere week immediately delve into how their tragic past affected their present selves. The once bright Dam-I became the cold Crown Prince Lee Hwi while Ji-un spent most of his years away from Hanyang as much as possible. I like this set-up actually since we rarely see a female lead character in a position of power in a sageuk drama. And romance-wise, the forced proximity trope they used to develop Dam-I and Ji-un’s relationship is cute. Granted some scenes can be considered cliché but the actors make them work.
I’ve also said this in my First Impression: I needed some time to adjust to seeing Park Eun-bin act as Lee Hwi. It was mainly because I really find her pretty but I got convinced by her acting around the mid-run episodes especially during action sequences and those scenes where Lee Hwi needed to stand up to his antagonists. And towards the end of the series, I couldn’t imagine anyone playing Lee Hwi’s role. I could even remember messaging my friends saying Park Eun-bin had been making my heart flutter these days because of her scenes in Yeonmo.
Rowoon, for his part, was also good at portraying Ji-un both as a love interest for Lee Hwi and as an individual character with his own story arc. One of the things I very much enjoy in this series is the subplot about Ji-un and his father, Jung Seok-jo (Bae Soo-bin). His father’s redemption arc is one of the best-written parts of the series. Seok-jo and Yoon Heyong-seol’s (Kim Jae-chul) past story is a bittersweet tale, especially after Hyeong-seol’s death. Some might think it was included as a filler plot but it made Ji-un’s character more credible as it showed that he, too, had an equally heavy past he carries which could be of similar weight to that of Lee Hwi’s. This is the exact reason why even though I was very much charmed by Prince Jae-un (Nam Yoon-su), I didn’t waver a bit when it comes to supporting Ji-un and Lee Hwi’s romance.
But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t understand why people got the second lead syndrome for Jae-un. He’s one devoted character to Lee Hwi. His feelings is so selfless he never once prioritized his desires over Lee Hwi’s safety. I think Lee Hwi was very much lucky to have him by her side. As he ascended to the throne, I realized he is the only character in the series deserving of that position. Although, he could have had a queen consort, you know, because seeing him alone on that hill pierced my heart. At least, he had Lee Hwi’s trusted people around him during his reign.
Actually, everyone around Lee Hwi is as devoted as Jae-un. Lee Hwi, Court Lady Kim (Baek Hyeon-joo) and Eunuch Hong (Ko Kyu-pil) goes long way back so it was no brainer they stick to each other until the end. Kim Ga-on (Choi Byung-chan) – although he had an ulterior motive at the start – had eventually sworn his loyalty to Lee Hwi. His subplot is actually also interesting. It could have been developed further if only TKA is a full-blown sageuk and not a mini-series. But I enjoyed every second of his air time. I even liked Ga-on and Hyeong-seol’s interactions.
Shin So-eun (Bae Yoon-kyung) and Noh Ha-kyung (Jung Chae-yeon) were two female characters in the series that could have longer screen time. I’m well aware though that they were just used as plot devices for Ji-un and Lee Hwi’s romance as well as individual character development. I’m fine with that. It’s was needed in the storyline. But I felt so much for these two that I wished they could have had better happy endings. So-eun won my heart at the start of the series while I cheered for Ha-kyung’s love in the latter parts. I was surprised by how good the chemistry is between Ha-kyung and Lee Hwi. I could have supported this pair if I hadn’t yet sworn my allegiance to Ji-un. Anyway, these two characters were sadly victims of palace politicking because of their family ties.
This said palace politicking part of TKA felt loose, to be honest. Almost borderline messy even. The downfall of the main villain Han Ki-jae (Yoon Je-moon) was predictable at most. The events leading to it were gripping but the reason behind the bloodshed wasn’t as solid as it should be. This whole palace politics plot wasn’t as tightly written as those seen in other period dramas but that was fine with me. The series wasn’t really plot-driven from the very beginning. Its focus is on the characters’ acceptance of themselves (even somehow reminding me of Mulan’s tale). And it was also clear from the start that romance is its focus anyway. It might be quite predictable especially for romance period drama lovers who witnessed a lot of epic love stories but I really enjoyed how the story unfold. One couldn’t help get attached to the characters, empathize with their woes and predicaments, and the pacing didn’t bore me nor overwhelm me. It was just right. A delightful watch from start to finish.
Image credit: KBS