K-Pop and K-Dramas: The King: Eternal Monarch

Screenshot from ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’ starring (left) Lee Min-ho and (right) Kim Go-eun. Copyright goes to Hwa&Dam Pictures, Studio Dragon, SBS, and Netflix.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I apologize profusely from taking away from Halloween posts, but I finished this K-drama a while ago and the more I think about it the more I just need to talk about it. For those of you who aren’t aware, Netflix has a large collection of K-dramas to drown yourself in over quarantine. It has been, at least for me, a welcome distraction and you should definitely check out some of them if you have the time. Which, let’s be honest, who doesn’t have the time right now? ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’ was not my favorite of the dramas that I ended up watching, but it was definitely the one that left me with the most…thoughts. As always: LIGHT SPOILER WARNING! I’m going to try and go at this with mentioning the least amount of spoilers possible, there will be a few semi-major spoilers I’ll go over, but I’ll announce it before I go over it. I’ll mainly go over basic plot points.

The Good:

  • The lead female character: The series primarily follows Jung Tae-eul, a cop in modern South Korea who is part of a fairly small homicide division of the local police. What’s nice about her is that she’s an actual badass. She carries the weight of all of the other cop characters in this show on her back and immediately strikes the audience as being fiercely intelligent. She is not the typical romance drama lead. Saving everyone else’s asses is one of the things that she does best, and it’s really great to watch.
  • The lead male character: I’m not generally a huge fan of the ‘fish-out-of-water’ plot when it comes to main characters. I often find that writers fall back on it for comedy too much. For some reason, I felt it worked here. In fact, it worked so well sometimes I forgot they were even using it. Lee Gon is a King from an alternate dimension and you can tell. But not in a bad way. I attribute this mostly to the actor, because the writing seemed like it could have been really cheesy on paper. In the end it was Lee Min-ho who sold me on this character by just being so endearing. Also, no perfect boyfriend syndrome here! He’s an actual character with actual flaws!
  • The skepticism: With a lot of dramas or television shows, this can get annoying. One character has some supernatural element to their story and, originally, the other main character doesn’t believe them. I mean, it’s always realistic for the other person to not believe at first; but a lot of times I feel like shows go too far with this. The skepticism in this show from Jung Tae-eul after Lee Gon tells her that he is a King is the best I’ve seen in a show. It isn’t over-dramatized or too focused on, it feels like something more in the background. It’s still present, but not violently so. They also get rid of this pretty early on by finding a way to prove to her the truth, which was also a relief. I’m glad they didn’t focus on this as much as they could have.
  • The side characters: This is one thing I’m finding about all of the K-dramas I’ve watched so far. The side characters are focused on more which makes them more likeable. This show’s main plot deals with alternate realities, so what’s more impressive is all of the side characters in each plot line are played by basically the same actors. Serious hats off to Woo Do-hwan who plays two characters so completely different that he is absolutely unrecognizable in each role. He played the characters who were probably my favorite in the entire show. The side characters are completely fleshed out and so many of them have secrets from the main characters that you start to wonder which of the side characters you can actually trust. And that breaks your heart because the side characters are all so incredibly likeable.
  • The romance: The romantic moments in this show are incredibly sweet and definitely make single people feel lonely. You get everything from this show. You get the cheesy romance moments as well as the constant saving each other amidst bloodshed. Best of all, they aren’t weirdly unrealistic. Even after they get together they are constantly teasing each other and making fun of each other. There’s one specific scene in a hospital that just felt so natural that you couldn’t help but smile. You really buy their chemistry.
  • The deaths: I won’t tell you who dies, but keep in mind that there is somewhat of an ongoing war, so people do die. When they die it is sudden and heartbreaking. You get so attached to so many characters that you care automatically about them and when they die it’s awful. These aren’t unfeeling deaths, which I massively appreciate.

The Bad: (All of the MAJOR SPOILERS are here, so read with CAUTION.)

  • The romance: Why is the romance in both the good and the bad? Because it was both very good and very bad. Moments of their romance are adorable; but the romance happens far too fast. I don’t mean just the dating to falling in love bit, I mean every single part of it. Lee Gon is immediately romantically interested in Jung Tae-eul, but it isn’t clear why he is. She is somewhat of a comforting presence for him without her knowing, but it’s honestly kind of weird that he viewed her romantically considering he’s known about her existence since he was a child. And he only ever knew about her existence as she was as an adult. I know that sounds confusing and I’ll get into that a bit later, but it’s kind of odd. They fall for each other pretty suddenly without a whole lot of build up and then are constantly finding ways to declare their love even though they just got together (mostly him). It is WAY too rushed.
  • The sub-plot romances- The only sub-plot romance I have ever seen in a drama like this that I loved was in ‘Crash Landing Into You’ and that one made me CRY. Really, it’s difficult to find anything that I like after that one; but this one was still disappointing because I wanted to see it happen. They were constantly hinting at Jo Yeong and Seung-ah as well as their counterparts, but you didn’t get to see any of this in either reality. It never went beyond constant hinting and ended up being kind of disappointing in the end. If you count it, they also addressed the one-sided crush Kang Shin-jae has on Jung Tae-eul, but it was difficult to feel sorry for him when the characters really felt like brother and sister.
  • The time travel: They start with alternate dimension jumping, which the show revolves around so it makes sense within the context of the show. They never explain it too well, but it’s not really to the point where you feel like they have to explain it. Then you get to the time travel that comes out of nowhere. They kind of hint at the time travel at the very beginning with Jung Tae-eul’s ID card, but looking back none of that had to be there. It just made the plot so much more confusing and the time travel was just weird in general. There were little to no rules explained and they threw in this weird little world where time didn’t pass that didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all. There’s only so much you can put into a show without explaining it to the audience first. They could have stuck with defeating the villain in the alternate dimension and skipped the time travel from the beginning onward. Honestly, the romance would have felt more natural if Lee Gon didn’t have the ID card.
  • The villain: This villain has no substance. He’s a pretty typical mustache-twirling villain. He murders for almost no reason, he’s given very little in the backstory department, and it’s honestly just boring when he’s on screen. He also didn’t have super clear goals or paths to these goals. He did a few things that you knew were him working towards getting the throne, but it wasn’t always entirely clear why those things would help him. He created some interesting scenarios for the main characters, but really anyone could have done that. He was not an impressive villain.
  • The ending: The ending was depressing and you can tell that they were trying desperately to not make it depressing; but they kind of wrote themselves into a corner. I’m not going to say exactly what happens, but for almost no reason they wrote that both of the main characters were too stubborn to be happy. It was disappointing and frustrating after everything literally everyone did to help them be together.
  • Luna: The alternate version of the leading female character. She didn’t have to be in here at all and I just try to erase her existence from my brain. There’s not much to say other than that.

The Verdict:

I would say this drama was ok. There was a lot of good and a lot of bad, so it really has to end up somewhere in the middle. The good in this drama really makes you wish it was better! It would have been better if they hadn’t tried to over-complicate the plot and kept with something a bit simpler. Alternate dimensions and time traveling can be really difficult to keep simple to the audience, and really they could have just taken out the time travel and they wouldn’t have had to deal with the plot becoming such a mess towards the end of the show. There are definitely better K-dramas to watch on Netflix, but this one is still cute if you need a distraction. Thank you for tolerating my K-drama ramblings during spooky season!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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