The King: Two Koreas in parallel universes

K-dramas on Netflix often have rather uninformative English titles. The King: Eternal Monarch is no exception. For a long time I assumed it was a biopic set in the Joseon period. But it’s not.

The King: Eternal Monarch is a modern urban fantasy set in South Korea and its parallel universe counterpart, the Kingdom of Corea. In our world, of course, South Korea is a republic. Corea, on the other hand, is a constitutional monarchy. In that world North Korea and South Korea were never divided. Corea has the 4th highest GDP on the planet. And its king is a handsome young man called Lee Gon.

This K-drama is about what happens when Lee Gon crosses a portal into our universe, and then takes police detective Jeong Tae-eul back to his. But not only that. There’s a villain moving between the worlds, working on a plot to achieve the ultimate power.

So, is The King: Eternal Monarch worth watching? I’m half way through the 16-episode first season. It isn’t as intense or hurried as romantic K-dramas such as My Holo Love or My Love from the Star. To British viewers this drama may feel like something made for ITV’s weekend viewers. The King: Eternal Monarch is part police drama, part romance, and part alternative history. There is also a mythical element, though that hasn’t come across very strongly so far.

What I’ve really enjoyed about this series is how its creators have imagined a modern constitutional monarchy in a Korean context. The costumes and the interiors are just lovely. The characters are good too. Lee Gon and Jeong Tae-eul have a really interesting dynamic. At first she assumes he’s making everything up, and treats him like a fool. I hate to describe any female police detective as “feisty” – it sounds like such a cliche. But it has to be said, she is quite feisty.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this show will depend on your viewing tastes. It hasn’t blown me out of the water but I am interested by its depiction of another Korea that might’ve been.

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