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 legend someday.
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.”
The 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 Prince.
There 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.
A 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.
On a 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.
Ten 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 be beheaded.”
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 empty.
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 groan.
On 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.
The 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 first.”
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.
Back in 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.”
Then, Lee Gon, still on Maximus, rides slowly past her. “What a weirdo.”
Lee Gon 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.
Lee Gon 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 days.
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 why?
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 time.
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.
That’s it for the first episode. The second episode is streaming now, so come back on Friday for our Super breakdown of episode 2.