Netflix’s “The King: Eternal Monarch” has begun its reign over K-drama streaming, with one episode dropping every Friday and Saturday. Super will devote itself to make sure you’re fully informed about each episode, so Super’s Ruel S. De Vera and Ruth L. Navarra will recap and break down every episode for you as soon as it comes out. All rise!
In Kim Eun-sook’s “The
King,” there are two parallel Koreas, the real-world Republic of Korea (with a
K) which is our world, and the Kingdown of Corea (with a C) which is the same
but they have the traditional monarchy.
Korea: It is 2019. Seoul Metropolitan Police
officers Jung Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun) and Kang Shin-jae (Kim Kyung-nam) are in an
interrogating room, talking to a hand-cuffed well-dressed man with
blood-splattered man. This is Lee Lim (Lee Jung-jim). He is talking about the
legend of the Manpasikjeok, an apparently
extremely powerful magic flute given to a King named Sinmun in 1682. The
officers cannot understand how Lim, identified in their records as a
70-year-old man can look so young, so Lim explains he has not aged since 1994.
Time passes differently for him because of the flute. He said he took the flute
from his brother, who did not believe in it. Tae-eul asks Lim if he killed his
brother. Lim admits to it. Lim said his half-brother was allowed to be king
simply because he was legitimate, and saw the flute every day and did not do
anything with it. Then he says he never expected his nephew to face the same
Corea: We flash to two stone monoliths with
lightning flashing. There is a man on a white horse (Lee Min-ho). He has a
sheathed sword identified as the Four Tiger Sword.
Flashback to 1994. Lim takes
the sword from a glass case. He is identified as Prince Imperial Geum, Lee Lim.
He and his bodyguards go to Cheonjongo, where the king is. Lim’s bodyguard’s
shoot the king’s bodyguards. The king (Kwon Yool) is locking the flute in a
case when Lim arrives. Lim runs the king through with the sword. But
right then, the king’s son, Lee Gon (Jeong Hyun-jun) arrives, horrified to find
his father dying. He takes up the sword and threatens to strike his uncle. Lim
laughs at him, but Lee Gon swings the sword at him, wounding him and cutting
the Manpasikjeok in half. An angry Lim pins Lee
Gon to the pillar and starts killing him by running his half of the flute to
the boys neck. But there is a masked, capped figure walking into the chamber.
Just as Lee Gon passes out, the unknown man shoots the ceiling, shattering the
glass. The figure starts shooting and taking out the bodyguards as the alarm
sounds. Lim’s lead bodyguard Kyung-moo (Lee Hae-young) says they have to go.
Lim is trying to find the other half of the flute but Lee Gon has taken it. Lim
flees. The masked figure bends over Lee Gon to check if he has a pulse. Lee Gon
reaches out and grabs the figure’s ID. The person leaves. Alarms blare, snow
falls. We can see the ID reads “Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.”
Kingdom of Corea is in mourning. Lim has been disowned and is a fugitive. There
is a ceremony for the coronation of Lee Gon as the new king we meet a variety
of people including Prince Buyeong (Jeon Mu-song), a doctor who is a royal
relative and No Ok-nam (Kim Young-ok), who takes care of the Crown
is a kingdom-wide manhunt for Lim. Lim is desperately running through the woods
with the flute. Then there is a shimmer. The two monoliths appears and there is
a crack in reality. He walks through.
Korea: He is walking around Seoul in 1994, disoriented but
slowly realizing this is a parallel world. At the newsstand he knocks down a
man who is shocked. The name is a dead ringer for his brother, the murdered
king. Lim asks him where he lives. Lim walks into a shabby, tiny apartment. He
seems himself, unable to move in a wheelchair, apparently having suffered from
a stroke. Lim is disgusted and breaks his double’s neck. Just then, this
world’s Lee Gon walks in and is shocked to see his uncle standing, picking up a
pipe to defend himself. Lim simply says: “Even in this world, you’ve seen
something you shouldn’t have.” Off screen, Lim kills the boy.
Corea: Lee Gon goes through the coronation ceremonies. We
can see the center of Seoul, Gwanghwamun Plaza, with the statues of Admiral Yi
Sun Shin and the statue of King Sejong, is different with traditional Korean
palace instead of modern buildings.
Korea: The corpse of the king’s double, apparently murdered
by Lim, is in the morgue. A police officer asks the wife (Ko Eun-min) to
identify the corpse, which she does, asking that the government cremate it. At
home, the wife starts laughs, saying “There is a god.” She said she no longer
had to wait for her apparently abusive husband to die and or to have to kill
him. We can see Lim sitting in his wheelchair but know it’s him because the
close-up shows he is wearing his royal signet ring. He stands up, shocking the
wife, and seems to kill her offscreen.
Corea: Lee Gon is now king and after the ceremony, breaks
down in Ok-nam’s arms. Lee Gon is befriended by Jo Young (Jung Si-yul), the son
of one of the late king’s former bodyguards. Lee Gon dubs Jo Young “The
Unbreakable Sword.” He is now king.
fisherman is walking by the shore and is shocked to find the dead body of Lim,
complete with signet ring. At the royal hospital, Ok-nam and Prince Buyeong
discuss, saying that the body is indeed that of Lim and that every bone in his
body was broken. Because the police are saying it was suicide, they have decided
to keep the true cause of death a secret.
far-off salt field, Kyung-moo is recovering from his wounds. He is angry at the
news in the newspaper that Lim is now dead. He walks to the field and
works. Now, time passes.
years later, a dapper man with an umbrella. Walks up to Kyung-moo. It is Lim,
who has not aged a day. We can see the broken half of Manpasikjeok is
integrated into his umbrella. Initially shocked, Kyung-moo reiterates his
loyalty to Lim. “Let me show you a new world,” Lim says.
It is now 2019. A
helicopter is arriving with Koo Seo-ryeong (Jung Eun-chae). She is the Prime
Minister of Corea. Lee Gon is getting dressed. He flinches when the man
dressing him nears his throat, which we see has a scar. A grown-up Jo Young
(Woo Do-hwan) is there, stern and dutiful. He is now the king’s lead bodyguard.
In his bedroom, Ok-nam is hiding talismans for finding a wife all over the
place but Lee Gon is on to her. They argue about him finding a wife (she
doesn’t like Seo-ryeong) but he waves her off, throwing the talismans in the
garbage can before leaving. She takes the talismans back and starts putting
them in the room again. He has an expression he jokingly uses a lot: “You will
Out in the VIP field, he
is happily riding his horse Maximus around when Seo-ryeong arrives. She sidles
up to him and leans in so that a film crew can shoot them. He plays along,
leaning into her, but also credits her for helping run the kingdom well. There’s
a scene in the bathroom where it is made clear Captain Jo is always around and
Lee Gon is always late. They clearly have a bromance going on. The camera zooms
in on the case for the Manpasikjeok, which is
Dressed in traditional
garb, Lee Gon is attending a read-along for kids, who are bored. He is reading
Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” particularly the scene where Alice is
falling endlessly into a hole after pursuing the white rabbit with a clock He
says it’s is his favorite book partly because Carroll was also a mathematician.
A girl raises her hand and asks if he has a girlfriend (Ok-nam out her up to
it), and he says no, he does not) and they laugh. The girl suggests he follow
the white rabbit. “Should I,” he says, and continues reading, and the kids
another day, a woman is running through a crowd pursued by two men who look
like gangsters. They accidentally run into a sculling competition where Lee Gon
is competing as part of the very popular Navy 88th Class. Captain Jo keeps
a close eye on him. There is a photographer in the audience who is taking
photos of Captain Jo, Myung
Seung-a (Kim Yung-ji). Lee Gon’s team wins.
pursuit continues. Frustrated when they couldn’t find the girl in the crowd, a
gangster fires a revolver into the air. He is immediately surrounded by armed
secret service members. Crouched in the corner, the woman—we never see her
face–puts on a bunny-eared hoodie. Lee Gon sees her and remembers what the
book “Alice in Wonderland.” The woman runs, and Lee Gon runs after her
barefoot. Seung-a points Captain Jo in the right direction. The same girl from
the read-along tells her mother that the king really is running after the white
rabbit with the clock. She managed to run away after turning a corner and so Lee
Gon has to stop, looking at himself in the mirror; Captain Jo catches up to him
with a pair of sneakers. “I think you need some fairy tale in your life,” Lee
Gon tells Jo. Back at the palace, Lee Gon refuses to wear a bulletproof vest
saying Jo will protect him anyway. Jo says they caught the men but not the
white rabbit. “I will check whether it is a rabbit or a clock when we find it,”
he says. Lee Gon says he’s not trying to catch the culprit but a person only he
can recognize and we get a quick flashback to the masked figure who rescued
him. “Every time something like this happens, it feels like the person is
there,” he says. “We may have already met unknowingly.” Lee Gon sends him home.
Opening his copy of “Alice,” we see that his bookmark is the ID from 1994. It
is the ID of Jaeong Tae-ul, and it identifies her as a Lieutenant. “I’m older
than you now.”
Korea: It is fall, 2019. Tae-eul dressed in a bizarrely
colored outfit boards a car and rams it into another car and then loudly says,
oh no. The security guard and the delivery rider says she’s overdone it—they’re
all clearly undercover policemen. Criminals, including the one who owns the
damaged car, run out of the building. Tae-eul is talking over the radio to
Shin-jae, who criticizes her outfit. But Tae-eul realizes there was a weird
smell. She stops and, running entirely in reverse, goes back. There she opens
the trunk, where there is a dead body. The shocked illegal gambling man says he
doesn’t know who that is. They try to escape but are caught. The team complains
to their captain Park Moon-sik (Park Won-sang), that this is now a homicide
investigation not an illegal gambling investigation and that they don’t have
the manpower as they still lack one member. Tae-eul says she is not doing any
overtime. Captain Park makes fun of her outfit.
Corea: At the ranch, Lee Gon catches a glimpse of the
rabbit-hooded woman running and gives chase on Maximus. He tells the nearby
bodyguard, Tell Captain Jo I’m going to check whether it’s a clock or a rabbit
Korea: Lim is at a workplace where he is mixing paint for
banners, some of which carry the symbol of the Kingdom of Corea. Outside one
building, Tae-eul is on her phone, saying they’ve identified the body as that
of a 45-year-old hardware store owner, a member of the gambling ring.
Corea: Lee Gon is still riding. Captain Jo is chasing him on
horseback. Maximus stops in the woods, afraid of something. Lee Gon sees the
monoliths appears as does the crack in reality. we can now see that his half of
the Manpasikjeok has been integrated into his riding crop. He urges Maximus
forward. He vanishes into the crack.
Korea: Lim is working on a banner when he hits a small cup
of point and it falls. Instead of falling all the way, it stays suspended in
mind air, the paint frozen as well. He bends down and examines it. Then the cup
suddenly unfreezes and falls to the ground, breaking, the scarlet paint
splashing on the floor like blood. He thinks deeply.
Seoul, a tired Tae-eul is stuck in traffic when she is startled because in the
rearview mirror she suddenly sees another version of herself, with longer,
unkempt hair of a slightly browner color, still in the rabbit hoodie, peering
rather intensely at her. But when she turns around, there’s nobody there. She
thinks she’s hallucinating. “My heart hearts.”
Lee Gon, still on Maximus, rides slowly past her. “What a weirdo.”
is looking around at the strange surroundings, eerily familiar but not the
same. He looks up at the “Queen Yuna” billboard. On the bus people are using
their phones to take photos. Hey it’s a horse? He is so handsome. Maybe it’s
for a movie. Tae-eul uses her loudspeaker to ask him to pull the horse over.
When Lee Gon doesn’t respond, she puts the gumball on her car and chases him.
stops in Gwanghwamun Plaza and looks around him. Tae-eul approaches him, but
Lee Gon can’t hear what she’s saying because he realizes it’s the woman in the
ID—we get another convenient flashback here as well as a shot of the ID as a
bookmark—Tae-eul approaches even closer. Tae-eul wonders why he is staring at
her and then realizes she’s not wearing her ID. She takes out the lanyard and
puts it on. Lee Gon gets off Maximus and walks towards her. He takes the ID and
looks at it. “I’ve finally met you, Lieutenant Jeong Tae-Eul,” he says and
suddenly embraces a really surprised Tae-eul.
Ruey: So just a few initial observations. The thing many people are going to take away from this episode is what shows it is similar to in feel. Obviously, Eun-sook having written 2016’s “Goblin,” there are many, many thematic, structural and executional elements. In many ways, you can swap out Gong Yoo with Lee Min-ho. But there are also elements of time-travel shows, probably most notably, 2017’s “Tunnel,” where they have a tunnel that allows you to travel through time just like the forest monoliths. The idea of a modern-day Korea with a monarchy was the premise of “Princess Hours.” Now to talk about the show’s diegetic physics: The monoliths seem to allow for travel only if the character actually has a bit of Manpasikjeok with them. That’s the literal key between dimensions. We also know the moment of travel between worlds causes a moment that makes the laws of physics cease to function, as Lim sees with the cup of paint, in a moment right out of “The Matrix” and “Inception.” From a narrative point of view, this will allow us to know whenever someone travels through the crack. We can assume that as long as you have the piece of broken flute, you can travel back and forth, because Lim does this several times. He did this immediately to bring his double’s corpse back to Corea to “fake” his death and to visit his bodyguard ten years later. It’s also clear he doesn’t age in Korea, or at least not the same way. I wonder if it means that if a person travels from Korea to Corea they also don’t age, or do they age faster? We can assume that Lim has brought Kyung-moo to Korea. By the way, this doesn’t explain how Tae-ul sees her double in the rearview mirror. It may just be some kind of echo? Now, we know that the persons have a double on the parallel world, so the person in the rabbit hoodie is implied very heavily to be Corea’s version of Tae-eul. I love parallel worlds in K-dramas. Again, we return to the modern Korea in “Princess Hours.” Ruthie, what did you think of the Korea-Corea thing?
Ruthie: I think the difference between the two
nations is something that will be fun to unravel in the next few
Ruey: Now the symbolism of “Alice in Wonderland” is pretty
obvious, what with the whole going down the rabbit hole to another business.
The literal act of Lee Gon chasing the rabbit into the rabbit hole of parallel
Korea through the woods is a bit on the nose. But because Lee Gon has been
thinking about Tae-eul’s ID all this time—he assumes it’s her—why hasn’t she
come back, etc., right now Tae-eul is also the white rabbit
symbolically-speaking. In particular, this echoes the first part of the
Wachowski’s 1999 “The Matrix,” when Neo (Keanu Reeves) is told to follow the
white rabbit, and Neo sees a woman with a white rabbit tattoo and follows to
the club where he meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) which leads to revolution.
In this case, Lee Gon is partly triggered by his favorite book and the little
girl at the read-along who suggest he chase the white rabbit. Also it’s funny
that Maximus is the name of his horse, considering Maximus is also the name of
the white horse in Disney’s “Tangled.” What did you find was the funniest thing
about the episode?
Ruthie: Not the funniest, but I really enjoyed the
part where Woo Do-hwan has a fangirl. While everyone else is looking at
the prince, she was looking at her. And the best part of that? He
gave her his e-mail address. The boy was pleased!
Ruey: Obviously the main mystery is who is the person who
saved the young Lee Gon. The show right now is pointing to Tae-eul, which is
what Lee Gon thinks because of the ID. But all we know is that it is person who
was wearing Tae-eul’s ID and knows how to use firearms. It is also either
someone who has traveled from the future or at least has access to Tae-eul’s ID
in the future. Other possibilities are: Captain Jo, Shin-jae, and, the one I’m
with right now, Lee Gon himself. Ruthie, who do you think is the masked man and
Ruthie: The most obvious would be Lee Gon. He’s the
only one who knew what happened that night therefore he knows the exact
timing. By the time he can control the flute to travel through
Ruey: As for the overall plot, the press materials talk about the Devil who has opened a crack between worlds and I’m not sure if this is another character but I think this is just a reference to Lim. He is clearly going to try and put the flute back together and use it to rule Corea and/or Korea. He will at one point or another figure out that Lee Gon is in Korea. I think Lee Gon is going to become the new “member” of the police team even though he has no identity there (it happens). By the way the two boy actors playing Lee Gon and Jo are very cute and effective. And there is also the obvious romance between Lee Gon and Tae-eul, which we have to wait and see in the future. Go-eun looks very grown up here from her turn in “Goblin,” but still baby-faced, like she’s too young to be a cop. It is fun to have the other cops make fun of her bad outfit, kind of like Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality.” Did you see the roundhouse kick she did? Also the backwards driving scene (with a stick shift!) was cool. This is really the first role of this kind for her and it’s welcome. I have to say, the show looks really gorgeous. They spent a lot of money on it, with lovingly long shots and great production designs and costumes (horses! Helicopters!). The second leads are interesting. Eun-chae is pretty has ambition all over her. She and Do-hwan promise to be the breakout stars of this show. What do you think about the bromance on the show and the show in general?
Ruthie: It’s cute. The fans are going crazy
about their chemistry and for good reason.
Ruey: Finally, this is Min-ho’s first show coming off his
mandatory military service and it’s been three years. It’s the next step for
Go-eun. People are looking for something good to watch during the lockdown
after bingeing “Crash Landing On You” and “Itaewon Class.” I liked “The King”
much more than I expected, and it’s turned me into a camper (I’m a binger) so I
hope it comes through.
Ruthie: Yes, it’s the 10:30 pm habit. This is
what K-drama fans are enjoying now. When “Goblin” and “Legend of the Blue
Sea” were airing, we had to wait six to ten hours for a new episode. Now
there’s only a 30 -minute difference.
it for the first episode. The second episode is streaming now, so come back on
Friday for our Super breakdown of episode 2.