Edited by Kim Won Hee
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
The King: Eternal Monarch is the new drama of writer Kim Eun Sook, who returned two years after the success of Mr. Sunshine. The drama, which combines fantasy and romance to display Kim Eun Sook’s unique atmosphere, has already reached the middle of the story. The story revolves around the love and cooperation of Yi Gon, the emperor of the Korean Empire, and Jung Tae Eul as they cross two parallel universes of a monarchy and a democracy. However, despite the fact that the drama was named one of the most anticipated works in 2020 from the production stage, the viewership is maintaining its downward trend from the second week. Why?
The significant factor that shattered the expectations from the first episode would be the characters’ anachronistic lines and actions. Goo Seo Ryung, the first female prime minister of the Korea Empire, caused a stir from her first appearance by saying, “Wireless bras don’t hold up my breasts well.” Such a retrograde line and her outfits that did not suit the occasion or the time shocked the viewers. Still, because her character was described to be ambitious and with Jung Eun Chae’s exceptional performances, people expected that the role would get better in the future. However, she is still showing signs of regression of the current trend as she angered over being asked about undergoing plastic surgery rather than being criticized for her ability. It feels like she has taken over the role of Yoon Seul, the role Kim Sa Rang played in Secret Garden 10 years ago (although a decade has gone by).
The bigger problem lies with the unattractive main character. Maybe it’s because the role that Lee Min Ho plays is not so different from his previous roles in Boys Over Flowers and The Heirs. The setting and lines of Yi Gon, played by Lee Min Ho, are quite unique, but pretty much the same acting makes it hard to eradicate the feeling of familiarity. Since the viewers are not attracted to the main character, the holes in the narrative stand out even more so, making it harder for people to focus.
Above all, establishing clear emotions and the process of falling in love is crucial in a romance drama. However, the romance between Yi Gon and Jung Tae Eul in The King: Eternal Monarch seems very sudden. Perhaps, the fact that Yi Gon has searced night and day to find Jung Tae Eul ever since he was a child makes it easier for us to understand how and why he developed feelings of her as he approached her. However, the case for Jung Tae Eul is different. At first, she treated Yi Gon, who appeared out of nowhere and talked ridiculous stories about a parallel universe, to be a freak, but displayed a sudden change in her attitude as soon as she visited the Korean Empire. The drama loses viewers as the romance between the two suddenly advances even before Jung Tae Eul’s emotions towards Yi Gon were sufficiently built up. The narrative between Jung Tae Eul and Gang Shin Jae becomes even more attractive than the romance between the main characters.
Excessive product placement also plays a big part in making the drama even less appealing. Fried Chicken, which is eaten deliciously by Yi Gon in every episode, is nothing. All the “honest” ads, including coffee and LED masks, appear unnaturally to the point that it feels like we are watching the home shopping channel set in the backdrop of the Korea Empire. Such excessive product placements throw cold water on the story that has increased the level of immersion.
Still, The King: Eternal Monarch has hopes. Although it has its shortages, the setting of the parallel universe is still attractive. The fact that traitor Yi Rim has been designing a big picture by replacing people from the Korean Empire with the people in the Republic of Korea for a long time has been gradually revealed. Then in recent episodes, it also has been shown that Gang Shin Jae, the closest person to Jung Tae Eul, is also from the Korean Empire. He was transferred to the Republic of Korea in his childhood by Yi Rim. Jung Tae Eul and Yi Gon’s romance has crossed the irreparable path. Still, if the drama manages to unravel the narrative of the parallel universe and Yi Rim’s ruse well enough, it will be able to satisfy viewers. I sincerely hope that The King: Eternal Monarch will bring out a successful conclusion.
Verdict: An attractive parallel universe, a disappointing romance (4/10)