This was the MOST anticipated drama of 2020.
The King: The Eternal Monarch was in to-wait and watch lists of many viewers right from the beginning of this year. Not only is the story intriguing—following treachery and love across parallel universes, it also stars two of the most popular actors: Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun.
I watched this drama as the episodes were released, with two new episodes every weekend. As each episode is ~72 minutes, a ton happened story-wise and I have proper notes for this review. Let’s get to it.
What’s the drama about?
The drama mainly follows two parallel worlds—one has the Republic of Korea like how it is currently in real life, and the other has Kingdom of Corea which is very different from current day Korea.
Lee Gon is the King of Corea. When he was a kid, his father was murdered by his (born out of wedlock) uncle out of jealousy. Lee Gon was almost killed as well but was saved by a masked person who left behind just an ID card of “Jung Tae-eul”.
The uncle’s main goal was to obtain the manpasikjeok (henceforth referred to as “the flute” in this review), which is a famed object that allows it’s owner to travel between worlds and time.
Due to some skirmish, the flute gets divided in half with the uncle escapes with one half and Lee Gon has the other. Decades later, Lee Gon travels to the parallel world searching for his saviour. He meets Jung Tae-eul and hence begins their love story.
Lee Gon also finds out that his traitor uncle is still alive and hiding in this parallel world. In order to get vengeance, the King begins hunting for him.
This series has fantasy, thriller, and also romance.
My opinions on the drama
As I said earlier, I watched this Kdrama as the episodes released. So I had ample time between episodes to properly think about them and analyze them. Which is probably a reason why I’m being so critical.
A friend of mine also watched it as episodes released and we discussed about every episode immediately after both of us were done. This is another reason why I thought so much about the story and nitpicked all of it.
- The concept was really good.
It’s the reason why this drama was on my list. Especially because parallel worlds means that every character has their counterpart in the other world, living a completely different life.
I was super excited to see how they’d handle the intricacies of this concept, especially with a mystery/thriller story.
And I have to say, the basic plot and storyline was quite good. They did explore the vastly different lives of people and their counterparts. There were many switcheroo cases which were especially fun to watch.
- The execution was not good.
It was fine in the beginning when things were relatively easy to keep track of. As a viewer, I was not confused very much and could not see any mistakes.
But as the drama went on, things got convoluted. Considering that this concept is quite tricky, especially when time travelling is involved, there should have been more thought put into the story.
My friend and I started getting confused with the intention of certain scenes as well as how they play into the bigger picture quite early. By the time we got to episode 10 (out of 16), I was clearly seeing plot holes. There were some facts and scenes that were logically questionable.
Episode 10, 11 and 12 were simply bad and I hated all of it. Everything was jumbled, nothing made sense, and there was no point to those episodes. There were also random romance scenes in the middle which completely shifted the ongoing vibes.
- The direction was not good.
Direction and editing is super important for any TV show or movie. When dealing with confusing topics and timelines, it is important that the viewer is not confused. How shows usually handle this is by changing the colour tones just a little bit or by adding a border.
But there was no distinction between the worlds in this drama. Especially in the first couple episodes when distinction is needed in order to get used to it, there was none which confused me. Not even a mention saying which world we’re in.
I got used to it later but it still threw me off in the beginning.
- The drama becomes worse as it goes on.
I really liked this drama in the beginning. The concept was cool, the characters were interesting, the editing was proper and all my attention was engaged.
But as the episodes went on… I started losing interest and became increasingly annoyed.
- The romance sucked.
I HATED IT.
It was fine in the beginning before Lee Gon and Jung Tae-eul started to like each other. They had a spark. Their conversations were actually funny and entertaining. They bantered.
All that personality vanished when they caught feelings. They became two extra sappy characters who only made sad faces every time they met again. And they pine whenever they’re apart. All the actual banter and personality which I liked was removed.
And that’s why I hate the romance.
Plus, I didn’t actually like the two actors together. I couldn’t ship them. In my opinion, they were cast only because they’re both popular actors. I don’t think their chemistry was seriously considered.
It is clear through multiple romantic scenes that the goal was to show Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun together for some time instead of actually having a point to those scenes.
There would be times where the characters simply stared at each other with sad faces and longing. And these scenes actually were shown in the most random times.
For example, there would be something intense going on and that scene would get cut abruptly to show these two with a pointless supposed-to-be romantic segment.
Even when there were genuine scenes between the couple, the dialogues were SO BAD. I cringed at most of them. Where do they come up with this stuff? Some of the lines that were supposed to be critical made no sense. Maybe it makes sense in Korean but not English? I don’t know.
Some of the scenes honestly gave me secondhand embarrassment. I had to look away from the screen and wipe my face to deal with my frustration.
So yeah, the romance was a no-go for me.
- Lee Gon’s character was made only to show Lee Min-ho off.
This is Lee Min-ho’s first drama since coming back from mandatory military service. Hence, this drama got a lot of attention.
But the character… oof. Lee Gon, or the King of Corea, is portrayed as a perfect person. Let me explain.
The King is:
- a GENIUS because he is super into math and can solve equations really quick in his head. He can also draw conclusions for fantasy concepts like travelling between worlds through math and physics equations.
- ALL-KNOWING. He is well-read, knows about every topic under the sun, draws conclusions quickly and before any other person, comes up with the best plans because he is the smartest ever, and is almost like God.
- the MOST HANDSOME man to ever exist. Throughout the show, his good looks are given extra attention and brought to the forefront with and without subtlety. Multiple times, strangers will double-take and comment about his looks, even in the world where he is not the king. There were several scenes where he is lit with a glow behind him to emphasize his beautiful smile.
- great in tense situations. He is at ease in control and NOTHING FAZES HIM. People around him cannot keep up with the speed of his brain.
- VERY ROMANTIC. When he likes Jung Tae-eul, he goes all out to spend time with her and protect her. She comes first to him and that is hella romantic.
- CHARMING. He can charm anyone with his smiles and words.
- A TRUE HERO.
The King’s only flaw is perhaps his inherent pride since he is King. He is used to ordering people and getting his way. But that is also portrayed as something to admire, so it is not really a flaw.
Lee Gon was like every woman’s dream guy.
I mean.. who can resist such a charming, smart, and capable leader? There has never been a King like Lee Gon and there will probably never be again. Just by looking at him, you can see that he is from an entirely different league.
Every time he does something, another character will react like “he’s so charming/smart/great/handsome/cool.” Ugh.
The King is simply unreal and that is why I could not stand him. Every time I saw his smug face and every scene where he is shown as a holier-than-thou person, I wanted to print out a photo of him and tear it up.
I won’t lie, I definitely appreciated Lee Min-ho’s good looks. He looked hot. But after a certain point, I need more of the personality than just looks.
Lee Min-ho is a good actor. My problem is the character itself. The character has zero flaws. The only thing that gives this character some depth is his tragic past. That is all. There is nothing beyond that.
It’s almost as if everything about this character was polished a little more because Lee Min-ho was cast for it. And I’m sure that the show’s creators/writers/producers banked on Lee Min-ho to bring in a ton of viewership. And hence, they showed him off with this perfect AF character.
- Jung Tae-eul was good… but also not good.
She was more real, with a snarky personality and flaws. I actually quite liked her at times.
Jung Tae-eul is a cop, has smart instincts, and does not need to be saved from every single situation. She is not a damsel-in-distress. She is strong and tough.
Much of her personality vanishes when she is with the King. She turns into a pining, sad cry-baby. There were even some scenes where she was shown as a damsel-in-distress in order for the King to rescue her even though she didn’t need it.
Jung Tae-eul had some good scenes but they were nullified with some really bad scenes. I was annoyed when she’d be turned into the King’s love interest instead of her own person. What a shame.
- The love triangle was not bad.
I usually hate love triangles but this one didn’t actually bother me. Probably because there wasn’t much outright tension between all three of them.
Kang Shin-jae, who is Jung Tae-eul’s long time friend and colleague, mostly pines after her in silence and doesn’t even try doing anything about it. I felt bad for him right from the beginning because obviously he won’t end up with her.
The reason I didn’t dislike this love triangle is because there weren’t drawn-out scenes showing the love triangle. Kang Shin-jae likes Jung Tae-eul but we don’t see the guys fighting over her or having much tension because of her.
Personally, I didn’t think Kang Shin-jae and Jung Tae-eul were right for each other anyway so I wasn’t invested in the possibility as well.
- Kang Shin-jae had actual life issues.
He was the only one who had issues of his own which were different from the parallel world thing. Most of the time, he wasn’t even involved with Lee Gon and Jung Tae-eul. He had other problems to deal with.
Kang Shin-jae had a difficult relationship with his mom, had lingering feelings about his childhood and how his life changed etc.
Him being in love with Jung Tae-eul didn’t determine his role in the drama. I appreciated that.
- My biggest disappointment: Koo Seo-ryung.
She was THE BEST female character of the show. I was in awe of her right from the start.
Koo Seo-ryung is the Prime Minister of Corea. She started at the bottom in her life and worked her way to becoming the PM. How cool is that? She has ambition, is ruthless, and is a role model.
The drama even highlighted issues of being a woman in politics. The men constantly undermine her even though she is smarter than them, and they say that she should resign and stay at home. But Seo-ryung pushes through and proves her abilities.
The writers were really onto something with this character. And they messed it up royally.
Koo Seo-ryung was portrayed as a villain because she is ambitious and goes after what she wants. She wanted to become the Queen because that is the highest position achievable and there is nothing wrong with that. A PM can only serve two terms but a Queen’s term never ends. And she vied for that.
But. There was negative light on her because of that and the King constantly undermined her.
Even when the situation was political and she deserved to know the information, the King simply told her to mind her own business. How rude. She would have been able to help him but he told her no simply because of personal reasons.
She asked for honesty because it’s her JOB and he gave her stupid horse-riding riddles.
Through it all, the King is the good guy and she is the witch. That is a strong no in my book and it affected my overall opinion of this drama.
- There were some good comedy segments, but not enough to redeem the show.
Honestly, the segments I actually liked were ones with supporting characters and not the main characters.
Towards the end, there were barely any funny parts. The show seemed to consist of only:
- scenes with the main plot and
By the end, the show was just a mess and I couldn’t wait to be done with it.
- The villain was awesome.
The villain of this show is the King’s uncle. Lee Lim is a son born out of wedlock and hence could not inherit the crown even though he was older than Lee Gon’s father.
The royal family is in possession of the powerful flute but Lee Gon’s father was not interested in exploring it’s powers. Considering that a waste, Lee Lim leads his followers so he can steal the flute and have infinity and eternity in his hands.
The King is portrayed as the smartest person ever but in my opinion he is dumb compared to the villain. The villain is cunning, clever, patient, and ambitious*. Lee Lim is smarter than the stupid King who can only say cringe-worthy lines he thinks are romantic.
I was awed and super engaged every time the villain was on-screen. You could not make me pause watching. Keeping up with the villain’s plans was interesting as hell.
Lee Lim was another character that the writers messed up at the end. He had a few out-of-character scenes where his actions did not make sense with who he is. That’s all I will say because I want to avoid spoilers.
*do you see a pattern with the characters I liked or is it just me.
- The supporting characters were awesome.
I wish the drama only included the supporting characters and did not show the main couple. They were much more interesting and entertaining.
Any time the supporting characters had a good scene, I gobbled it up with affection. Their scenes without the King and Tae-eul were even better.
Besides PM Koo Seo-ryung, my favourite character was the King’s right-hand man and (kind of) best friend Jo Yeong. I. LOVED. HIM. He is badass and pure and any time he showed emotion, I was gripped.
His counterpart in Korea, Jo Eun-sup, was hella entertaining as well.
Since we’re on the topic, I would like to show my appreciation for Woo Do-hwan. His acting is BRILLIANT. He played two very different characters and pulled it off so well. His acting was better and had more complexity than Lee Min-ho’s. Woo Do-hwan deserves recognition for his roles. I would like to see him as a lead in the future.
An underrated supporting character was Head Court Lady Noh. She raised the King and always had good intentions for him. She’s also a mother-hen and frets over King all the time.
There was one fact which was randomly thrown out in the middle only to never be brought up again. And that was really weird. Her character, especially with that twist, had so much potential and it was wasted.
- Supporting characters were overshadowed a lot.
One of the reasons I like Kdramas is because they usually give attention to the plot and characters arcs of the supporting characters as well. It’s not only about the main characters.
But in this drama, everything was about the main characters. There were barely any scenes that really focused on the supporting characters alone. And this really disappointed me.
In the last episode there was ONE scene about a random character that we never got much of. It was very off because that character’s role in the plot was minimal at best. And they got focus in the epilogue when other supporting characters didn’t.
- Supporting characters falling in love was better than the main couple.
I was so into the romance between Jo Yeong and Myeong Seung-ha in the Kingdom of Corea. And I was also into the romance between Jo Eun-sup and Myeong Na-ri.
Basically, the same two people but in both parallel worlds.
This pairing was so good and even though there wasn’t much attention given to their relationships, it was enough for me to love it.
- There was too much confusion.
Confusion is warranted and usually expected when watching shows with mystery plot-lines. This drama definitely banks on viewers being confused and waiting to see how everything is resolved. We watch so our questions get answered.
But this drama caused too much confusion. My friend and I had tons of questions. If I look back on our texts from episode 8 or so, I can see us asking each other questions to see if we missed anything.
The worst part is that many questions went unanswered.
While there can be elements, especially in fantasies, that cannot be explained, this drama simply chose not to explain some things. The questions were raised and forgotten.
Before the finale aired, my friend actually went through all recaps to understand things better and even read theories. I did not spend that much time on it and I am glad. Because even those efforts did not lead to anything. Many viewers were confused.
- There were a TON of plotholes.
I am generally a person who keeps up with the logic and analyzes things. I’ve noticed plot holes in other shows and dramas as well. Plot holes are never good to notice but they can open up conversations through which you may find out that you missed somethings.
This drama had the latter, where we figured out what happened through discussion. But it also had a lot of unresolved plot holes.
In fact, there were massive plot holes in this drama. So huge and obvious that you’d think the writers deliberately ignored them. Because they can’t be stupid enough to not notice them.
The concept of parallel worlds is tricky alone. The concept of time travelling is complex as well. When both are used together, there needs to be much more thought put into the story and plot-lines. The writers should spend time going over timelines and see that everything makes sense.
That was clearly not done for this drama. The plot hole in the last episode is so glaring and massive that I really wonder, how did they not think of it?
It’s almost as if viewers are expected to not analyze anything because we’ll get distracted by Lee Min-ho’s face.
This review on dramabeans (which includes spoilers) accurately describes many of my opinions.
DISCUSSION (INCLUDES SPOILERS)
If you don’t want spoilers, click here to skip to the “overall” concluding section.
I had a lot of questions and noticed many plot holes. But there are quite many and hence I will only talk about the bigger ones here.
- If all parallel worlds were the same until one event which split them, then how is the flute in only one world? Won’t there be multiple flutes, one in every world.
- Lee Gon went back in time to save his younger self twice. How is it that the second time he went back, only one older Lee Gon was there? What happened to the dressed-in-black Lee Gon from the main timeline? If you think about the logic for a minute, you’ll realize there are supposed to be 2 older Lee Gons in the past at the same time. Time travelling doesn’t work however you want it to. It’s tricky and messy.
- The epilogue showed the couple going on dates by travelling to a point in the past. But Lee Gon is the king. He has to marry and have heirs at some point? How will that work?
- Why do they always travel to the past when all eternity and infinity is at their hands?
- A main point in the plot is that time stops longer the more times Lee Lim and Lee Gon travel between the worlds. But Lee Lim has been travelling for almost three decades. How is it that time started slowing down only when Lee Gon started travelling? Makes no sense. And when time did stop for longer periods, what Lee Lim and Lee Gon did was not shown. They could have actually done crucial things when everything is paused but they didn’t.
- Due to the altered past events i.e. Lee Lim dying in 1994 itself, many things would have changed. It appears that the writers of this show did not consider butterfly effect at all. Several people in both worlds died at Lee Lim’s hands and since he was killed, they would be alive. The world would look very different. That was not shown or accounted for.
- Also, according to the new past where Lee Lim is killed and young Lee Gon is saved by Yeong and doesn’t have the ID card, Lee Gon’s memories would be vastly different. Those memories were not shown. If a point in past is changed, everything from then changes. And yet this show had the past changing massively but the current day remaining same. Makes. No. Sense.
- What was up with the stupid scene in the epilogue where the new PM’s kid comes up on stage and asks the King who he is? And that glow behind the King when he smiles? Ugh. Barf.
Okay that’s all I can remember as of now. If there are more, I will come back and add them here. If you have theories or answers for any of these, let me know in the comments. And if you have any questions, feel free to mention them below as well.
I had high hopes for this drama and was disappointed by the execution of it all. I regret wasting 19.2 hours watching it.
If you would like to simply look at Lee Min-ho, this drama is good for you because he looks handsome AF.
If you care about the plot and substance, I suggest skipping this because it will only confuse and irritate you.
Dramas that I recommend instead of The King
While You Were Sleeping (fantasy, dreams come true, badass heroine)
Kill Me, Heal Me (multiple personality disorder, mystery, comedy)
W: Two Worlds (Lee Jong-suk looks great, reality blends with fiction)
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Have you seen The King already and are here to seek validation that you’re not alone in disliking it? What are your thoughts?