With heavy hesitation after seeing the train wreck of Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo’s poorly executed female lead and romance arc, I took the plunge into what I believed would be another overblown tragedy of a young, doe-eyed damsel caught between the love of two men—one of whom would become King.
Frankly, The King Loves defied all expectations; the trailers did not do this series justice. While it starts out a little goofy and seems to avoid giving the viewer enough context to know which characters were whom—therefore establishing the antagonists and supporting characters rather vaguely—the story and emotional conflict within the drama are by far among of the best I’d seen since Moon Lovers for its political intrigue.
Unlike Moon Lovers’ female lead, Hae-soo (played by IU), who seems to float aimlessly from scene to scene with almost no purpose other than to be a forced romantic plot device, Eun-san (played by Im Yoon‑ah) is a key player in the show. More importantly, she is believable and relatable, and for that, she’s been one of my favorite female leads in a period drama. Her personality holds depth and her backstory is wonderfully introduced in a way that makes you understand her circumstances as an adult.
The children and adults that portrayed the three main characters all did wonderfully, keeping the characters consistent, rich and versatile. Their performance immediately immersed me in their psyche and the story they were weaving for those twenty episodes. Even the minor characters, like the Queen’s bodyguard, Furatai (played by Kim Jae-woon), drew me in, not just through the use of great costuming and makeup, but through their abilities as actors. The actor gave a small character big personality with few lines, as well as through his body language and micro-expressions.
In regards to the music, the instrumentals in The King Loves have been among my favorite. Both beautiful and moving, they are in sharp contrast to the unnecessary k-pop, which still feels out of place. However, the pacing of the story is nicely done up until the end where it starts to feel a bit rushed. While this was based on a multipart book, it still seems a tad rushed as they brought everything to a close. The love triangle is done in a slightly more believable way, staying true to Prince Won’s (played by Im Si-wan) historical counterpart who was considered bisexual.
I felt that element gives a nice plot point that, at least through Wang Rin’s perspective, truly expanded on an idea that love can transcend friendships and sexual labels. Going forward, I would like to see more stories that express love beyond what our society has labeled it as for centuries and explore the limitless spectrum of human affection.
Perhaps one of the biggest and most memorable elements of the show isn’t necessarily the romance itself, but the subtext that the show hints upon. The King Loves utilized the villain character, Song In (played by Oh Min-suk), in a way that feels timely. Playing on the fears of the people, using racial intolerance, and exploiting the power that the King and others in power held through the terror of Yuan’s iron-like grip on the country speaks to, in many ways, the manipulation of the radical political figures that hold power today.
This timely narrative is taken from the perspective of Prince Won who (while it’s not entirely overtly expressed) has dealt with racial and fear-driven backlash from those of the Court, and in some ways even from the King himself.
Overall, The King Loves is among my favorite Kdramas thus far. Its political and social narrative felt timely to current events, and each member of the cast and crew gave their best efforts, providing us viewers with one of the best-executed historical series in 2017.