ALL HAIL THE KING AND QUEEN
Set in a world where the Korean monarchy is still in power in the South, Prince Lee Jae Ha (Lee Seung Gi) meets his match in a North Korean female soldier, Kim Hang Ah (Ha Ji Won).
After a sour first impression, Jae Ha and Hang Ah work through their differences and mistrust to bring about peace between the two Koreas. Eventually the two fall madly in love.
I’ll be upfront about this. I was expecting a mediocre drama. The posters and the trailer just do not do this drama justice. What I found was something deeper and heartwarming. I like Lee Seung Gi. I do. It’s just that I found him to be more of an entertainer rather than a serious actor.
He’s got too many part-time jobs: singer, actor, CF model, variety show host/participant. He’s just part-time everything and it’s hard for me to see him be overwhelmingly excellent in whatever he does. While I enjoy him, I reserved him for his ahjumma fans or as my mom likes to call him “애 늙은이 (ae neulgeunni = elderly kid)”.
However, what I learned is that Lee Seung Gi’s acting has vastly improved since My Girlfriend is a Gumiho. It graduated to that adult level where he can smoothly transition from the lighter scenes to the heavier moments. It’s particularly evident when Kim Bong Gu/John Mayer (Yoon Je Moon) first tells Jae Ha that he was responsible for killing his brother. Jae Ha is shocked at first but tries to suppress his emotions in front of Bong Gu.
And can someone tell me when Seung Gi became a man? Rawr. I usually reserve that word for after a Korean actor/singer returns from the army. But boy, do those army fatigues look good on him.
Then there’s Ha Ji Won. I’ve seen her play enough of these badass female leads but I think the fact that her North Korean accent was so convincing just added a different level to her acting.
I’m not sure what affect accents has on those who are following along with subs. Sure, you can tell she’s talking in a different way from the sound of it but there’s a larger cultural implication of how communism has affected the Korean language.
I like that the drama addressed it slightly when Hang Ah and Jae Ha’s mom, the Queen Mother (Yoon Yeo Jung), teaches her how an elder should be addressed or how one should apologize to an elder in the South because there’s a difference between “미안합니다 (mianhabnida)” and “죄송합니다 (jwesonghabnida)”.
Also, the way Hang Ah dressed and moved like a North Korean is distinctly different old-fashioned. She takes all this into account when creating her character which was something I really appreciated.
I feel like with the success of Tree with Deep Roots, Yoon Je Moon is now being typecasted as the villain more. It can be fun for an actors and I think Yoon Je Moon is more than capable to play them. Be reminded that this drama is a dark dramedy. There’s a blend of that morbid satire with the melodramatic elements. I’d say Bong Gu is more of that morbid satire more than anything else. At times, I found his character to be a little over-the-top and a part of me wished to know a little more about how he grew up and became so vengeful in order to seem less like a caricature.
Eun Shi Kyung (Jo Jung Seok). Ooooh Eun Shi Kyung. I really, really respect Jo Jung Seok as an actor and his ability to choose such different roles, one after another. It showcases how talented he is.
For the character though, he made me laugh, cry and warmed my heart. I love almost every scene that he’s in because he either moves the plot along or the characters are developed further.
However, his most memorable scene for me is with Princess Lee Jae Shin (Lee Yoon Ji) as it defined the type of person he is. She suggests that they both make a wish underneath the stars and Shi Kyung wishes for world peace. She finds it laughable, and so did I at first, until we hear his honest explanation. He’s the type of person that does things with purpose and wholeheartedly. If there’s anyone who can bring out world peace, it’s gonna be someone like him.
While it was kind of absurd to see Lee Sung Min play the part of King Lee Jae Kang, I like that he made himself seem younger while Seung Gi made himself seem older to lessen the gap.
Once you get past how their initial appearances, you accept that these two could be brothers. Also, knowing the premise of the drama, you know that he’s not the king the drama is really focusing on. So there was a time limit to his reign, I just didn’t expect for him to make such an impression on me.
It’s important that he’s such a vital figure at the start of the drama because Jae Ha wouldn’t have had the courage to lead without his brother as a model. His presence still echoes through the latter half of the drama but that’s all due to the impact Lee Sung Min makes with Lee Jae Kang.
At one point, I did think Jae Shin would be one of those throwaway characters. She’s plucky and works to open Shi Kyung’s heart but I didn’t see how she’d factor into the politics storyline.
Everything changes that fateful night. I was so scared to see Jae Shin going off that cliff of her own free will because I just didn’t see it coming.
Then to witness her realizing she’s paralyzed and forced to face her fears of Club M, there was a lot of Jae Shin working underneath the surface. We felt her pain as we saw her struggle through her physical therapy and we agonized when she forced herself to remember the events of that day her brother was assassinated.
I liked that we don’t fully get to see her recover and walking at the end because just because the world is safer again doesn’t mean the scars of war disappear completely. She just happened to be one of those casualties.
While Lee Je Hoon’s name was thrown around as being one of those actors that was given the role to play Lee Jae Ha, it’s hard to say who would have played it better. I just think they would have been vastly different kings as Lee Je Hoon wouldn’t have had the same boyish charm the way Seung Gi does.
Lee Je Hoon is a bit more serious and I’m not sure that that would have been the right tone for Lee Jae Ha.
Perhaps, I envision him more as the Eun Shi Kyung type but I couldn’t imagine not having Jo Jung Seok in that role as he’s excellent with both the comedy and the drama. Plus, his lovely crooner of a voice. See, even Ha Ji Won is swooning. So while I would have wanted Lee Je Hoon in a drama that was better written for his talents, I really like the casting here.
As for the final episodes of the drama, I really appreciated that the drama revisited that issue of trust. Trust was a huge them plaguing the characters of this drama but mostly our power couple. When they were training for the WOC, it was an issue of a personal betrayal and inability to work as a team.
When their romance was blooming, it was the inability to have faith the other’s intentions were pure towards each other.
When they were competing at the WOC, Hang Ah was able to trust Jae Ha even though he lacked military skill and Jae Ha was able to trust that Hang Ah would live up to her word.
By the end, it became their final test of how much they trusted each other because an inkling of doubt would have lead to disastrous nuclear incident.
Yeeah, that’s what makes this couple rock.
If I can say one thing about the ending when Jae Ha visits Bong Gu in the prison. I almost wished for that same sentiment that young Bong Gu wrote to young Jae Ha on that glass.
You could see it Jae Ha’s eyes but here is where I felt that subtlety wasn’t enough, especially when dealing with a person like Bong Gu. I wished for a parting quip.
The drama as a whole was a pleasant surprise. It was nicely paced and I think it wrapped up pretty well unlike some other dramas that ended that same week.