Directed By: Baek Sang-hoon, Jung Ji-hyun, Yoo Je-won
Written By: Kim Eun-sook
Lee Min-ho – Lee Gon
Kim Go-eun – Jeong Tae-ul/ Luna
Woo Doo-hwan – Jo Yeong/ Jo Eun-sup
Kim Kyung-nam – Kang Sin-jae
Jung Eun-chae – Koo Seo-ryung
Lee Jung-jin – Lee Lim
Genre: Sci-fi; thriller; romance
Number of Episodes: 16
Run Time: 60 – 70 minutes
The King: Eternal Monarch is a 2020 South-Korean sci-fi romance drama. The story is set in two parallel worlds – the Kingdom of Correa and the Republic of Korea. There are similarities between the two worlds, enough to cause some confusion as to where the characters are, but with differences that stand out as cues to remind the viewers. Since the narrative is about parallel worlds, it goes into the convoluted region of time-travel and the paradox of time.
The doorways between the worlds open twenty-five years before the story begins, when the mythical flute Manpasikjeok is split in two. This tears the fabric of the worlds, upsetting the balance. Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho), the young king of the Kingdom of Correa possesses half the flute while the other half belongs to Lee Lim (Lee Jung-jin), the traitor who fled after his unsuccessful coup.
Armed with tangible clues as to the existence of a parallel world, Lee Gon stumbles onto the doorway in a bamboo forest, and his entry into the Republic leads him to meet Jeong Tae-ul (Kim Go-eun), the woman who might be tied to his past. Jeong Tae-ul is a no-nonsense police officer, whose life gets thrown into chaos with his entry.
The two parallel worlds are in many ways mirror images of each other with there being a doppelganger of each person in the other world. Their family names may be the same but their personalities, lives and experiences are not. The more that Lee Gon and Jeong Tae-ul learn about each other’s worlds, the more imbalanced it begins to seem – why are strange murders occurring all over the Republic of Korea? Why are certain doppelgangers being targeted? Is it possible that in this race for power, they may find their memories and their existence wiped out?
The series is tightly paced switching as required from suspense to romance to comedy especially in the encounter between the king’s bodyguard Jo Yeong (Woo Doo-hwan) and Tae-ul’s childhood friend Jo Eun-sup (Woo Doo-hwan) – who are doppelgangers with diametrically opposed personalities and who may have to step into each others’ lives.
The relationship of the two protagonists is maturely handled because they are world-weary, duty-bound and far less frivolous than the average k-drama couples. They are light-hearted too because early in their relationship they establish the possibility that time may not always be in their favour.
In keeping with the political intrigues that are a staple of every monarchy-based drama, the kingdom has its fair share of power politics especially with the presence of the shrewd and manipulative Prime Minister Koo (Jung Eun-chae), who aims to win over the king to keep herself in power. Unfortunately, most of the battles of the kingdom get fought on Republic’s soil. Many of the characters become pawns in this battle, such as Jeong Tae-ul’s senior in the Violent Crimes Division, Kang Sin-jae (Kim Kyung-nam) who finds himself increasingly forced to take sides in a fight that he got unwittingly drawn into.
The writer, in the course of the story, introduces us to the various trajectories that the time-crossed love story could take. By exploring the possible futures they could have, the viewers are brought to an alternate conclusion of the narrative.
The series has been criticised for its complicated plot but most of the plot twists fit within the framework of the time paradox. An event that occurs could be an interaction between a future self and a present self. The lack of memory of such incidents is well within time travel narratives. The similarity between the two worlds became an issue but it is the sameness and unfamiliarity that creates a space for a revisionist history. There have been other criticisms levelled some of which can be chalked to production errors and others to a lack of awareness of the current socio-political temper.
With a captivating OST that reverberates with longing, and a smart plot peppered with metaphors of time, it bridges the unexplained in science with magic.