‘Captivating the King’ Review: The Power of Characters and Acting

captivating the king reviews

Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

captivating the king reviews
Credit: tvN

In an era where light and breezy fusion historical dramas prevail, Captivating the King has emerged as a serious romance series, carving its own niche with a tale of love and ambition. The series intriguingly positions its lead characters—a king and a spy, entangled in a web of espionage for the sake of their goals. This narrative unfolds amidst a backdrop of power struggles among officials, and the loyalties and betrayals of the subjects toward their king and country. Unlike the ongoing trend of instant gratification dramas, Captivating the King demands a full engagement with its story, emotions, and ambiance to truly appreciate its depth.

The story kicks off with the Joseon Dynasty’s surrender to the Qing invasion. Prince Yi In (Jo Jung Suk), taken hostage by Qing, returns after years only to find himself under the king’s suspicion and the ministers’ manipulative ambitions. His solace is found in Go, particularly enchanted by an enigmatic gambler’s skills. This gambler, Hee Su (Shin Se Kyung), disguises herself as a man to win money from the nobility in Go, aiming to ransom citizens taken to Qing. Hee Su, having admired Yi In for long, becomes friends with him through Go, believing he would protect her loved ones when danger looms. However, convinced his brother was poisoned, Yi In chooses to ascend the throne and betrays Hee Su. Surviving by a narrow escape, Hee Su vows vengeance, leading to their poignant reunion in a royal contest to find the King’s Go partner three years later.

Captivating the King draws inspiration from several historical facts of the Joseon era. The narrative threads involving a prince despised by the king after returning from Qing, the uncle who usurps the throne, the constant threat to the throne posed by the previous king’s offspring, and a princess married off to Qing are not new to historical dramas. These elements collectively craft the tragic character of Yi In. Then the character Hee Su is created in the stories of a capable noblewoman disguised as a man and her mission to save her fellow countrymen from Qing oppression.

Yi In and Hee Su’s connection is through Go, a meticulous brain game that requires looking several moves ahead. When events inside and outside the palace push the two into a corner or force them to make specific choices, they strategize to escape their predicaments and turn situations to their advantage. The world within the drama resembles a Go board, with Yi In and Hee Su fiercely playing the game, one move at a time. However, the characters do not always make rational and logical decisions. At moments when they should be most calculating, their deep love for each other complicates decisions, leaving them in constant agony. At these contradictory moments, viewers may empathize with Yi In’s endurance of pain and Hee Su’s conflict between love and revenge. You might even find yourself shouting, “Sheesh, just be honest with each other!”

captivating the king reviews
Credit: tvN

Captivating the King closely follows its characters through life-and-death stakes, initially seeming disjointed in its portrayal of characters and their dynamics. However, the narrative solidifies by episode 5, which jumps three years ahead, with the actors’ performances infusing life and vigor into their roles. Notably, Jo Jung Suk’s portrayal of Yi In transcends expectations. He presents a character stronger yet more vulnerable, wavering yet consistently upright than the Yi In introduced in the character description. This effect is significantly achieved through his control of breathing, facial expressions, and voice projection, vividly conveying the character’s emotions in fleeting moments. His contribution is substantial in transforming what could have been “just another power struggle drama” into the unique story of Yi In and Hee Su.

The drama begins its march toward the climax in episode 12, heralding an oncoming storm of bloodshed. The truth behind the poisoning case that forced Yi In to betray Hee Su will come to light, along with the grand schemes Yi In has been preparing. It will also explore what choice Hee Su, who has been by Yi In’s side despite the conflict between love and betrayal, will make upon learning the entire truth. How the king will react once he finds out that Hee Su is not just a woman disguised as a man but her true identity adds another layer of intrigue. Given the current trajectory of the story, their future seems to be fraught with thorns, leading one to think that perhaps the best happy ending might just be for the two to escape with their lives and live out their days in quiet comfort. But one thing is for sure: I’ll continue watching the show, curious and eager to find out how the story unfolds, not to mention enjoying the “insane acting skills” of the cast. (6/10)


Editor Seo Hae Lan: I’m not picky and like all genres. I am in constant search of a balance between criticism and a fan’s heart.

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