The premise of the romantic fantasy K-drama “The King: Eternal Monarch” is ambitious and it’s proving difficult for the showrunners to let the world-building naturally seep through its narrative. South Korea has its share of otherworldly titles. While some succeed in exploring romance through magic, there are shows like “The King: Eternal Monarch” that end up getting restricted by the world it’s trying to sell.
The series revolves around King Lee Gon’s (Lee Min-ho), who rules over the fictional Kingdom of Corea, pursuit of justice over the murder of his father and his quest to stop the traitor Lee Lim (Lee Jung-jin) from wreaking havoc in two parallel worlds. In doing so, he’s also hoping to solve the mystery surrounding police inspector Jung Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun) of the Republic of Korea while determinedly keeping her by his side.
It feels as if screenwriter Kim Eun-suk, known for writing “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” and “Descendants of the Sun,” is trying too hard to dazzle us. Kim shares with us his imagined (and unified) Korea. On the show, the famed statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin located in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Plaza stands near the King’s palace in its version of Busan instead. It’s thrilling to learn more about it but it’s been keeping us away from the actual plot. Halfway through “The King: Eternal Monarch,” the show is still setting up when we should already be invested in the characters at this point. I suspect that it’s using the popularity of Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun as crutches. There’s hardly any chemistry between their characters and they get together rather abruptly. On the eight episode, it’s revealed that police inspector Kang Shin-Jae (Kim Kyung-Nam) is actually from the Kingdom of Corea. I’m expecting things to speed up from here. But if that doesn’t end up being the case, Woo Do-Hwan’s dashing Jo Young and goofy Jo Eun-Sup are the only ones keeping me hooked.
Kim’s Kingdom of Corea is at the brink of war with Japan and we watch as the King rides a war vessel for a stand-off in territorial waters. We get to see Prime Minister Koo Seo-Ryeong (Jung Eun-Chae) take charge in a war room and shut down her sexist detractors. Kim didn’t reimagine the Republic of Korea but we do get to know about the stories of its fictional citizens through the cases that Tae-eul works on.
King Lee Gon is your typical boyish lead but he likes bringing up scientific theories into conversations that are more obtrusive than they are entertaining. Perhaps the mystery is part of being a monarch. Not unlike his subjects, we only got to see more of his personality show during a sequence that was structured like a-day-in-the-life of a king.
The trailer for the next episode doesn’t reveal much that we aren’t expecting yet. Although it’s unlikely, my guess is that Lee Lim will meet his fate not by the King’s hand but by someone else’s. I’m also betting that inspector Kang is actually the King’s cousin. What do you think?
“The King: Eternal Monarch” is available on Netflix.