The highly-anticipated comeback drama of Lee Min-ho has finally premiered, and fans are ecstatic, making The King: Eternal Monarch a trending topic online hours before the first episode’s release. I am ecstatic myself as well, given that this is Lee Min-ho’s first post-military series. So let me recap real quick before I dive deep into the comments.
The first few scenes take us into the Kingdom of Corea in the winter of 1994, where a prince named Lee Rim (Lee Jung-jin) commits treason and kills his half-brother, the King (Kwon Yul), for a fabled flute that could open a portal to another dimension. I’ve seen this plot hundreds of times in other historical and political films, where the force acquisition of power always ends up in family feud and assassination. I’m just disappointed there wasn’t much screen time and struggle for the King since monarchs usually display a fight before they go down. But a few lines in and he’s dead, and his son, crown prince Lee Gon (Jeong Hyun-jun), witnesses the crime. Lee Rim tries to kill him too, but a masked person comes in and saves the day. Lee Rim escapes, his wounded hand cloaks the magical flute with his blood. And BOOM! He’s entered another universe, where Korea is a republic. (That’s a nice substitution of letters, Corea and Korea.)
This is where the confusion of the audience comes in. A lot of scenes seem not to make sense, but they actually do. The settings and time of the show seem to shift alternately between the two worlds, which is indeed kinda confusing, but a good amount of balance nonetheless since we’re trying to absorb different events in two different places at the same time. Remember the opening scene where Lee Rim in handcuffs narrated to the police of Korea about the magical flute and how he killed his brother? He claimed to be aged 70, but he doesn’t look anywhere near that old. The explanation is that after he traveled from his world, time seemed to have stopped for him.
If anyone of you is a fan of Asian Superstar Jet Li, you might be familiar with one of his films, The One, which is about a multiverse agent who goes on a manhunt in different universes to kill all of his doppelgangers. There’s a belief that in every universe, there exists one particular you. If a doppelganger dies, his life force is transferred to the remaining living doppelgangers in the multiverse. If only one is left, he gains all the life force and becomes so powerful. This could explain Lee Rim’s actions right after he arrives in democratic Korea.
He stumbles upon his “brother” from that universe, kills him, and goes on to murder his doppelganger too. The crown prince’s doppelganger once again witnesses the crime and SEEMS to have suffered from the same fate (we don’t know for sure yet if Lee Rim killed him too). Since Lee Rim murdered his counterpart in Korea, I think time has stopped for him so that the multiverse can regain balance in the system.
Has anybody noticed that the parallel universe (Korea) is a total opposite of the other one (Corea)? One is a monarchy, and the other is a republic. The former King of Corea is a weak, drunkard commoner in Korea, and his powerful, traitor of a brother is a disabled mute and cripple on a wheelchair in the other world. I’m starting to understand now why the past promos of the drama repeatedly mentioned that Kim Go-eun would play the roles of a detective and a criminal. So what happened to young Lee Gon of Korea, and where is he now?
The Masked Man (or Woman?)
Going back to the masked person who saved the crown prince just before Lee Rim tried to carve a hole in his throat, I’m sure a lot of fans are already speculating that behind the mask is the adult Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) himself, who went back in time to save his younger self. Kind of like the Avengers: Endgame plot, in which the characters sort of time-warped on different timelines to change history and beat Thanos.
The mask part is a bit predictable since Lee Min-ho also starred in another drama, City Hunter (2011), where fans used to see him wearing a mask in the whole duration of the series. But I don’t think Lee Gon is the only one who has traveled back in time, considering there is another mystery figure involved in the play of the events. I guess it is Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun) of Corea who time-traveled to the future to lead King Lee to the portal. Besides, when young Lee Gon tried to reach out for the masked man who saved his life, he accidentally caught an ID. We find out later in the episode that this ID belongs to Tae-eul of Korea, which leads us to believe they might have teamed up on this time-traveling stint with their doppelgangers.
Next, progressing scenes make a reference to the popular children’s story “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, so I’m starting to think that the 1865 classic has some influences on the plot. In a scene where King Lee Gon is reading that story to a group of children, one child tells the King, “You should follow the Rabbit too, Your Majesty.” When you of think of it, ‘down the rabbit hole’ was a famous allusion to Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, which means entering a journey to a bizarre or extremely odd situation, and, pretty self-explanatory, is similar to one of the themes of the drama—traveling between two universes.
In the story, when Alice followed Mr. Rabbit down the rabbit hole, she entered a dream-like world that seemed almost surreal. In the same way, King Lee Gon follows a mysterious person dressed in a rabbit suit and enters a parallel universe. And let’s not forget the Queen of Hearts who is infamous for the line “Off with your head!” that is repeatedly imitated by Lee Gon, albeit by using different words: “You should be beheaded.”
Now, let me talk about some of the characters. Lee Min-ho is flawless in his appearance and performance as the King. Meanwhile, we’re seeing another side of Kim Go-eun, as she tries to fit Tae-eul’s character as a somewhat boyish and impressive (who on earth smells a dead body from a distance?) detective into her style of acting. And if my eyes aren’t deceiving me, South Korea’s “National Grandma” Kim Young-ok is playing the head maidservant of Lee Gon. She’s also the head maid of the Gu Family in Boys Over Flowers (2009), where Lee Min-ho was also the lead character, so their scenes in Eternal Monarch are very nostalgic.
I also want to mention the undeniable chemistry between King Lee Gon and Jo-young (Woo Do-hwan), the head of the Royal Guard, which reminds me of Gong Yoo and Lee Dong-wook in Goblin (2016), a smash-hit drama that was also written by Kim Eun-sook. I’m getting a vibe that Lee Gon and Jo-young will be our source of amusement, given that both possess the modern, subtle humor that’s very popular in Hollywood movies.
Aside from the somewhat predictable plot, similarities in some of the writer’s past projects, and a few technical flaws, the story development of the first episode is quite good, with the fairy tale inspired-story line giving fans many theories to ponder on as early as now. It’s too early for now to drop a final judgment, so I have both fingers crossed for this one.
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