Summary: Maintaining Friendship in the Midst of Political Upheaval
The Crown Prince of Goryeo (Im Si-Wan, Misaeng: Incomplete Life) is the title character of The King Loves. Torn between his father the King, and his mother, the Queen who is from Yuan, he grew up isolated. He is the first Crown Prince who is also half-Chinese in a time when blood and heritage was everything. Against everyone’s advice, he forms a close friendship with his loyal bodyguard, Rin, who is also of noble birth. As the boys grow up, they each become more conscious of the distance between their positions. Will they be able to stay friends? Or will the weight of politics and numerous power struggles tear their friendship apart?
Enter Eun-San, a beautiful and free-spirited girl, played by Im Yoona (The K2). Of course, it seems cliché – the two friends, the love-triangle, boasting a story of love, friendship, and betrayal. We know where this is going, right?
Or do we? Eun-San is also hiding some secrets of her own. Why does a girl from a noble background masquerade as a poor village girl and wear a mask? With so many hidden identities, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out. Based on a novel of the same name, The King Loves is wonderfully complex with intricate storylines and character relationships that span years.
“This is the story about my loving you more than myself.”
What I Loved:
I’ll be honest. Knowing actor Hong Jong-Hyun would play Rin was the main reason I started watching this drama! His most recent performance in a drama was as the murderous third brother in Scarlet Heart: Ryeo. So, my curiosity was piqued when I found out he was starring in another sageuk (historical drama) less than a year later. Then, I found out his character was described as just and upright. Hong Jong-Hyun as a good guy?! Yes, please!
Even though he is the second lead (*prepares self for impending broken heart*) I couldn’t help falling for this stoic-faced, compassionate man who watches from behind-the-scenes to help those in need. (Team Rin all the way!) There were veritable factions of viewers with divided opinions between which swoon-worthy leading man Eun-San’s heart would be drawn to.
Im-Siwan does an excellent job of portraying the heavy emotions of a son who has constantly been neglected and under suspicion by his father. His anger is raw. On the other hand, the sweet way he looks at Eun-San can be as cute as a puppy. Yet, he is multi-dimensional: he makes selfish decisions in the guise of looking after his friends. He must choose who to save and weigh the consequences. It’s quite a journey from lonely, impetuous boy to man who consolidates his power to control the throne. It is enjoyable to see how Eun-San befriends both boys, as a kind and lively leading woman who is not afraid to make her own decisions, and handle the consequences.
Next on my list of things to adore: the costumes and setting! From the gorgeous hanbok (Joseon-era clothing) and lovely landscape (peony flowers play a role in the story), this drama is lush and beautiful to watch. Some highlights to look forward to include: the masquerade dance at the palace between the three leads and a literal cliffhanger when the friends traverse a mountain on an unusual quest. There are deeply artistic moments throughout this show that are quite breathtaking – whether it is a field of flowers or a sword fight as fluid as a dance.
A (Not Quite-So) Sweeping Historical Drama:
I must say, my expectations were set a bit too high for the story actually delivered. There are a couple reasons for this. For one, I felt the show couldn’t quite decide what audience it was appealing to. There was the promise of an intricate, mature plot, but at times, I felt the story delved more into youth-historical drama. (Think Hwarang, with its love stories around teenagers and young adults). This faltering had the effect of lessening the impact of the intensity and emotional depth, that could have been explored in the characters.
Secondly, the romance was not grand and sweeping. Even with two uniquely charming suitors, some of it felt hard-pressed. Some of this may stem from the indecisiveness of the show as to how mature of an audience it was geared towards. So, if you’re looking for fun, yet mature, heartfelt romance like in Queen In-Hyun’s Man or aching forbidden romance like The Princess’s Man, you might be a bit disappointed.
More than Meets the Eye:
However, despite its shortcomings, I kept coming back to the drama for one reason, that I think is at the core of the plot. The friendship. The title of the drama, The King Loves is about much more than the love-triangle which is the center of the show. It explores many other relationships and dimensions of love. The love, loyalty, and sacrifice between friends. Even the villains of the show (and there are a lot!) have those they care for. Or, love for family and those who, though they are not related by blood, are like family. For example, the Crown Prince’s affection for Eun-San conflicts with his sense of duty and honor to protect Rin’s sister, Dan. Will Eun-San and Dan become friends when their lives intersect?
There is also the relationship between the King and Queen and their love for the Crown Prince (and his love for his parents). Like the other relationships, it’s intriguing for its many facets. As the plot unfolds, we learn more about their past. Underneath the strife, the loss, and the mundane, is the King’s love strong enough to hold up his friends and family?
Content Note: TV-14 for instances of mild violence and thematic material throughout.
Where to Watch: You can watch the series on Viki.
Have you seen The King Loves? What are your thoughts on this Korean Drama?
Photo Credits: MBC and Viki
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a
matter of chance.”