The King: Eternal Monarch Kdrama review

The King: Eternal Monarch was on many viewers’ lists immediately after its release announcement. 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.

The drama was Lee Min-ho’s first project after returning from military service. There were high expectations for due to the cast, the writer, and the promising story.

I watched this drama as the episodes were released, with two new episodes every weekend. As each episode is ~72 minutes long, a ton happened story-wise and I have proper notes for this review. Let’s get to it.

what is The King: Eternal Monarch about?

The drama mainly follows two parallel worlds—one has the Republic of Korea as how it is in real life and the other has the 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 due to jealousy. Lee Gon was almost killed as well but was saved by a masked person who left behind an ID card bearing the name “Jung Tae-eul”.

The uncle’s main goal was to obtain the manpasikjeok (henceforth referred to as “the flute” in this review), a famed object that allows its owner to travel between worlds and time.

Due to some skirmish, the flute gets divided in half. The uncle escapes with one half and Lee Gon obtains 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 fantasy series is about purpose, revenge, and love. It is mainly for the fantasy and action buffs and for fans of Lee Min-ho.

the king eternal monarch cast

my thoughts on The King: Eternal Monarch

As I said earlier, I watched this Kdrama as the episodes were released. So I had ample time between episodes to properly think about the story and analyze it. This is probably why I’m being so critical*.

A friend of mine also watched it as episodes were released and we discussed 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.

In order to quantify my thoughts on each aspect, I am doing this review in points.

*but also, maybe not. The show did tank in overall ratings and viewership.

the concept: +2

It’s the reason why this drama was on my list. Parallel worlds mean that every character has a 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 were quite good. They did explore the vastly different lives of people and their counterparts. There were many switcheroo cases which were fun to watch.

lee gon on a horse in a crowd

the execution: -1

It was fine in the beginning when things were relatively easy to keep track of. As a viewer, I was not confused and could not see any mistakes. 

But as the drama went on, things got convoluted. Since the concept is quite tricky, there should have been more thought put into the story.

My friend and I were confused about the intention of certain scenes as well as how they play into the bigger picture. By the time we got to episode 10 (out of 16), I was clearly seeing plot holes. There were facts and scenes that were logically questionable.

Episodes 10, 11 and 12 were simply bad and I hated them. 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: -1

Direction and editing are super important for any TV show or movie. When dealing with confusing topics and timelines, it is important that the viewer is not confused. Shows usually handle this by changing the colour tones just a little bit or by adding a border to differentiate between times or universes.

But there was no distinction between the worlds in this drama. Especially in the first couple of episodes when some difference is needed in order to get used to it. There was not even a mention saying which world we’re seeing. 

I got used to it later but it still threw me off in the beginning.

scene from the king eternal monarch where jung tae eul points a gun at the king and the king's bodyguard stops her while two other guards point their guns at her

the romance: -3

I HATED IT.

It was fine in the beginning before Lee Gon and Jung Tae-eul developed romantic feelings. 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 were sad every time they met. And they pined whenever they were apart. All the actual banter and personality which I liked was gone.

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 and their chemistry was not 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 were scenes where the characters simply stared at each other with sadness and longing. And these scenes were thrown in at 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. Some 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 and jung tae eul looking at each other and holding hands

Lee Gon: -3

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 itself was so bad. Lee Gon, or the King of Corea, is portrayed as a perfect person in the worst sense.

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 about fantasy concepts like travelling between worlds through math and physics equations pretty fast. 
  • 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 a 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. You can clearly see that he is in an entirely different league.

Every time he does something, another character will react like “he’s so charming/smart/great/handsome/cool.” Ugh.

lee gon from the king eternal monarch

The King is simply unreal and that is why I could not stand him. Every time I saw his smug face and in 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. 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 only thing that gives this character some depth is his tragic past.

It’s almost as if everything about this character was polished a little more because Lee Min-ho was cast for it. It felt like the show’s creators/writers/producers banked on Lee Min-ho to bring in a ton of viewership. Hence, they showed him off with this perfect character.

Jung Tae-eul: 0

Jung Tae-eul was more real, with a snarky personality and flaws. She 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.

BUT.

Much of her personality vanishes when she is with the King. She turns into a pining, cry-baby. There were 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 by the really bad scenes. I was annoyed when she’d turned into the King’s love interest and ceased to be her own person. What a shame.

jung tae eul from the king eternal monarch

the love triangle: 0

I usually hate love triangles but this one didn’t actually bother me. Probably because there wasn’t much outright tension between the 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 try doing anything about it. I felt bad for him right from the start because obviously, he won’t end up with her.

The reason I didn’t dislike this love triangle is that 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: +1

Kang Shin-jae was a good character. He had much more depth than the primary leads of the drama. He was also the only one with issues apart 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.

Being in love with Jung Tae-eul didn’t determine his role in the drama. I appreciated that. He had issues with his mom, his childhood, and more. He had a positive character arc.

kang shin jae from the king eternal monarch

Koo Seo-ryung: -2

She was THE BEST female character in 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 of the ladder 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 the issues of being a woman in politics. The men constantly undermine her even though she is smarter than them. 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.

You know, I get it. She went about things the wrong way and wanted to marry the King for non-romantic reasons. But not everybody has the privilege to marry for love. Her prioritizing being in a position of power because of all that she’s been through is valid.

But I HATED that she became a tool to create shadows that would make the King shine brighter rather than being a powerful character on her own. The King constantly undermined her and made her look like the villain.

koo seo ryeong from the king eternal monarch

Even when the situation was political and she deserved to know the information, the King simply told her to mind her own business. She would have been able to help him as the PM 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.

the comedy: 0

There were some really good humorous scenes but they weren’t enough to redeem the drama for me. 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 drama seemed to consist of only:

  1. scenes with the main plot and
  2. romance.

By the end, The King: Eternal monarch was just a mess and I couldn’t wait to be done with it.

the villain: +3

lee lim from the king eternal monarch

The villain of this show is the King’s uncle. Lee Lim was 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 a powerful flute but Lee Gon’s father was not interested in exploring its 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 nothing compared to the villain. Lee Lim is cunning, clever, patient, and ambitious*. Lee Lim is smarter than the annoying King who can only say cringe-worthy lines he thinks are romantic.

I was awed and 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.

But 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 his personality. That’s all I will say because I want to avoid spoilers.

*do you see a pattern with the characters I liked?

the supporting characters: +2

I wish The King: Eternal Monarch 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 swooning. 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 more complex compared to Lee Min-ho’s. Woo Do-hwan deserves recognition for his roles. I would like to see him as a lead in the future.

jo yeong from the king eternal monarch
Jo Yeong

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 the King all the time. Her character, especially with a random twist mentioned, had so much potential and it was wasted.

The supporting characters deserved more spotlight. 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 focused on the supporting characters alone. 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. They got time in the epilogue when other supporting characters didn’t.

the supporting romances: +2

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 in South Korea. Basically, the same 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 them.

loose ends and confusion: -2

Confusion is warranted and expected in shows with mystery plotlines. This drama banks on viewers being confused and anticipating a resolution.

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 in fantasy stories that cannot be explained, this drama simply chose to NOT 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 those efforts did not lead to anything. Many viewers were confused.

jung tae eul and kang shin jae stand back to back as they are surrounded by gangsters

plotholes: -3

I generally keep up with the logic and analyze 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 things.

This drama had the latter, where we figured out what happened through discussion. But it also had a lot of unresolved plot holes. 

There were massive plot holes in this drama. So huge and obvious that you’d think the writers deliberately ignored them.

The concept of parallel worlds is tricky even without adding time travelling into the mix. When both are used together, there needs to be much more thought put into the story. The writers should spend time going over timelines to make sure 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 due to the number, I will only talk about the bigger ones here.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. Why do they always travel to the past when all eternity and infinity is at their hands?
  5. 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 done crucial things when everything is paused but they didn’t.
  6. 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 the 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. 
  7. 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 remained the same. It. Makes. No. Sense.
  8. What was up with the 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.

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.

overall

final score: -5

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.

I had high hopes for this drama and was disappointed by the execution. 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 very handsome. But if you care about the plot and substance, I suggest skipping this because it will only confuse and irritate you.

error: