Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2hearts

Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2heart

Ah… King 2 Hearts… a hit from 2012 that is still great.  It imagines a constitutional monarchy in modern South Korea, but with the same divide between North and South.  Our male main character is the second in line to the throne, but reluctant to step up to the demands and responsibilities of his title.  In an attempt to help him “grow up,” the King sends him on a peace-making mission to work with North Koreans for a military collaboration.  There he meets our female lead, a North Korean assassin.  Throw in a maniacal global arms dealer determined to crush the monarchy, a motley but lovable group of soldiers, royals, and all the family and political intrigue of mixing two long-separated countries… and you have an amazing show that is sure to entertain.

Overall Rating 9/10.  A Fairy Tale Romance With North Korean Cuteness.  Who Knew?

More discussion, ramblings and spoilers follow….

You’ll learn a lot about South Korea and its relationship with North Korea through this show, even though we’re dealing with an imaginary monarchy.  You’ll also learn about South Korea’s relationship with other countries… including the USA.  South Korea has the upper hand against North Korea, but at the same time, tensions run high as war is to be avoided at all costs.  And though both countries are proud of their military programs… the King’s face when he realizes he just picked the USA to be the Korean competitor at the first round of the WOC (World Officers Contest) is priceless.  Of course, our Koreans will win… cause it’s a K-Drama.  But still… this was a nice global moment.

The villain in this show is quite possibly one of the weirdest ever to cross the small screen.  He’s a creepy man-child, who is obsessed with magic tricks.  In a way, it made him scarier.  People of power and wealth have been known to indulge their whims when no one is around to tell them to grow up.  His weird behavior reeked of emotional damage.  Here he was, this terrible creature who controlled this vast empire of horrors… internationally traded weapons.  And he was obviously crazy as a loon.

His henchmen were equally weird.  The dude with the wig.  The goth girl who kept popping chocolates in her mouth as she murdered people.  The supermodel girlfriend who seemed oblivious to everything as she lounged around the mansion.  Just an odd hodgepodge of menacing international trouble.

Personally, I hated the villains.  They were lame.  The quality of the acting was considerably lower than everyone else in the entire show.  But I tolerated it for the sake of the plot.

On the flip side, we had the charming royal family.  I loved the strength of both the families in this show, actually.  Both the Royal family and the North Korean girl’s family.  Her father was a tiger when it came to his daughter.  And the Royal family was dignified and loving, their criticisms of each other harsh but true.  They would never throw a wayward Royal under the bus, but they would do their best to help correct their bad behavior and steer them in the direction they needed to go.  For our young King, to grow up and accept his weaknesses and build on his strengths.  For our young Princess, to overcome the shame and despair of loosing her ability to walk.  For our Queen Mother, to hold the family together and attempt to maintain the status of the Royal Family as they floundered through one tragedy after another.

There are also the made-families.  The camaraderie of the soldiers. The friendships that helped guide and support our main cast.  In particular the friendships that formed between the North and South Korean military peeps.  Looooooved it!

I really appreciated how they handled depicting North Koreans.  They included all the stereotypes.  But the stern, suspicious, militant North Koreans were given humanity.  Families.  Casual lives.  We saw birthday parties and easy smiles.  It was a glimpse into the secret wish of unification – that under the differences, they were still all Koreans.

They still made midnight calls to their parents and woke them up in their cotton flannel pajamas.  They were parents and children and… people.  Lovable people.

Of course, the real jewel in the crown is our two lovers.  There is so much character development in this show.  On the one side, you have the King.  He starts out as the Crown Prince, his older brother doing an excellent job as the current King.  Our Prince has enjoyed his lack of responsibility for years – and is a rebellious, bratty, spoiled kid who has the social skills of a 12 year old.  He’s adorable.  Even when he’s being mean and cruel.  He torments everyone around him, pushing them to extremes to see if they’ll come back.  It’s your basic insecurity model – “Prove to me you’ll like me even if….” And off he’ll go, playing tricks and pranks or saying wildly hurtful things.

Ideal casting, too.  Lee Seung-Gi is great at these roles.  That smirk alone!  You can’t help but love him, even when he’s a dick.  And he spends a long time being a dick.  Until he’s forced to step up and become a King.  And then he spends a long time being confused and frozen and unsure of himself.  He lets other people control him.  He starts to let go of anything that is too hard – including his newly formed relationship with his North Korean sweetie.  Until he pushes too hard and loses her.

One of my favorite parts of this show is when our lovers relationship is strained – and our North Korean gal feels deserted and alone… and our new King feels helpless and confused.  She turns on him and calls him trash.  Upset, he sends her back to North Korea.  His entire family then turns on him – saying he really is trash to have let her go because of his wounded pride.  Couple’s fight.  They hurt each other.  If you know someone well enough, you know their weaknesses and how to sting them.  While in North Korea, our gal has a miscarriage and the news goes viral.  Our King really does feel like the biggest piece of trash in the world.  Consequences.  Regret.  Anger.  Despair.  It was so powerful and emotional… you could feel the weight on both their shoulders as they struggled to maintain their love through such obstacles.

And it’s a break through moment for our leading male.  Because it shakes him out of his stupor and he finally gains enough confidence to go after what he wants.  And to be the King he is meant to be.  He runs after his lover, all the way to North Korea, crossing the border on foot to reclaim her.  Not that she takes him back right away – this show is nothing but painfully realistic on how people respond to emotional situations.  But she does, eventually… because they’re in love.

Let’s talk about our North Korean gal.  She’s so badass.  In North Korea, she is one of the top soldiers.  An athlete, a fighter, an assassin.  A total tomboy, struggling to find her feminine side.  All her female friends have been married off, but she’s still having a hard time getting to first base.  Men are put off by her strength.  And when she meets a bratty Prince who enjoys teasing her and touching her, she allows herself to become vulnerable.  She tells him secrets.  She shares her struggles.  And she slowly lets him into her heart.  SLOWLY.  When she’s not trying to kill him.

There is a lot of hesitation.  For one thing, the dude is a total jerk.  And she is always the butt end of his jokes.  Repeatedly.  But then he woos her, drawing her back in like no one else has before.  Treating her like a fairy tale princess.  How can she resist?  When she does end up becoming his future Princess, it’s even harder for her.  She has to leave her country, her friends, her family, her culture.  Not only does she has to assimilate to the “enemy” but to the duties and expectations of the royal family.

It’s a rocky road.  But they both realize they are stronger together.  And that they need each other.  And want each other.  And are happier united.

Gah, it’s adorable.  And really genuine and lovely.  I loved the love in this show.

It’s not just the King and his future Queen falling in love though.  We also have a delicious side romance with the King’s younger sister and one of the captains of the guard, played by the beautifully pale and sensitive Cho Jung-Seok.

They liked each other immediately, though their positions kept them at a fair distance.   She was wild and extroverted, he was somber and introverted.  She hated rules and he loved to follow them.  Yet they both loved music and their chemistry was spot on.  When our Princess gets into an “accident” and becomes paralyzed from the waist down, she has to face a whole new world.  Her confidence is shaken.  She’s traumatized from the event.  Her family and friends are there to ground her, and help her rise above it.  But it’s believably slow and in stages, with set backs along the way.  Her silently loving body guard ever there to watch over her and encourage her to do better.  Gah, it was so sweet.  I loved them.

Okay, now let’s talk about the costuming.  They spent a lot of money on this show and it paid off.  The various uniforms, costumes, and sets all presented the perfect illusion of this imaginary world.  Modern royalty.  How fun.  From the hallway of portraits of past Kings, to the beautiful regal attire, I was sold.

Just… beautiful.  Such nice work from the costuming department.

The perfectly tailored suits.  The small altered details, such as the ruffles on the camouflage military uniform our King wore.  No one else had ruffles, just our stylish little man-child.  How perfect that he had his military uniform altered to be fashionable?  Not only did it fit the character, it was just a nice nod to how incorporated everything was in this show.  They took care with drama.  Writers, actors, costuming, sets, all working together to give us this extraordinarily unusual and awesome show.

Okay – now for some complaining.  There are three things that kept this show from being perfect, in my humble opinion.

One, the lead couple.  I have this gripe with other shows too.  Though I love Lee Seung-Gi and I love Ha Ji-Won, I didn’t think they were a perfect pairing.  She seems more mature than him.  Not just the nine year age gap between them.  Not just in character – but in the face.  There’s an austerity to her looks that gives her added maturity and depth.  She’s better paired off with slightly more mature (and yes, older) featured men… like Hyun-Bin in Secret Garden.  Or So Ji-Sub in What Happened in Bali.  They have more “weight” on them.  Lee Seung-Gi is so feisty and quirky, I prefer him paired off with feisty, quirky girls with easy smiles… like Han Hyo-Joo in Shining Inheritance or Bae Suzy in Gu Family Book.

Two, the pacing.  This show covers a lot – and bounces back and forth between court politics and military operations.  I enjoyed that – the wide range of problems and locations and situations our leads had to deal with as an internationally loved/hated couple.  But it still dragged at the end – which seems crazy as it was so intense but the whole show had been pretty intense and as a viewer, I was ready for a break and a happy ending already.  The last four episodes, in particular, felt drawn out.  I was exhausted by then… and the repeated high-alert drama just felt draining towards the end.  I’m not sure if it was originally a 16 ep drama that got “extended” or what, but it felt like it should have concluded a while ago and yet it still kept going.  If they’d wrapped it up a little sooner, it would have been a perfect 10 show.  But the mental and emotional toil of those last few episodes… sigh.

And three.  I hated the villains.  I just couldn’t get behind the concept of them.  They were like bad Bond villains, vague sketches of quirks and menace that turned out silly because it didn’t quite work.

Still, you gotta see it.  This show is a classic and has held up over the years.  It’s different and funny and serious and just beautifully done…

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