Exploring Korean Drama: The King 2 Hearts

jae ha on a throne at gunpoint

Being royalty: not always that easy.

The King 2 Hearts suffers from being the best kdrama with the worst name I’ve ever heard.  It was originally titled The King, and I have no idea what was going through the minds of the people who decided to change it.  The name could be different in Korean, but its English name is just so dumb that it disservices the series; I expect it scares off many potential American viewers (and potential Korean ones as well if the title is the same).

And that’s a real shame, because The King 2 Hearts is great.  It’s got weak moments, certainly; the villain is super over-the-top, and most of its English-speaking actors are so bad that their scenes are just cheesy.  But King is in reality full of suspense, humor, has a super cool heroine, and well, a whole lot of heart.

King is set in a fictional alternate universe: one where the country’s monarchy still exists.  North and South Korea are still divided, but South Korea is a constitutional monarchy.  The current king, Lee Jae Kang, has made it his life’s work to improve the relationship between the two countries.  His ultimate goal is reunification, the dream toward which he works whether or not he thinks he’ll see it in his lifetime.

For the first time ever, North and South Korea have decided to participate as a joint team for a World Officer’s Championship sponsored by the United Nations.  The whole world is watching to see whether the two countries can get along, or if they’ll cause an international incident and jeopardize peace.  To demonstrate his commitment to cooperation between the North and South, the King appoints his younger brother, Lee Jae Ha, to the team.

hang ah in uniform

Kim Hang Ah: Leader of the Korean WOC team.

Jae Ha is not an obvious choice.  He may have just gotten out of the military, but he was a grunt soldier, not an officer like the rest of the members of the team.  He never wanted to serve in the first place, and now he’s livid that he has to participate in the games, rather than finally being free to goof off and party like he always did before becoming a soldier.  Right off the bat he butts heads with the team’s leader, Kim Hang Ah, daughter of a top North Korean official and a special forces officer.

Jae Ha doesn’t appreciate the unforgiving pace of training Hang Ah sets out for him, and because he’s a petty child, he decides to get her back for the perceived slight.  He takes it way too far, planning to seduce and then dump her.  In typical rom-com form, he falls for her in the process.  That process is a little underdeveloped; I totally bought our leads’ passion for each other once it got going, but I didn’t feel that it was clear enough how they got from loathing to loving.

If the romance were the primary point of the show, King would be stale.  Although the couple is cute, it doesn’t make sense at first why they’re together.  But the show has a lot more going for it; the romance is a subplot, and all the silliness I just mentioned is over by midway through the series.  Then the characters are forced to grow up.

I may not love King as much as City Hunter, but it reminds me a lot of that show.  The story is much more than just a romance, but there are cute moments between the two leads.  The other relationships are just as important, if not more, than that between the romantic pairing.

Take Jae Kang and Jae Ha.  I couldn’t stand the actor playing Jae Kang for ages; he was a little weasel of a man in the first series in which I saw him.  Now I can barely look at his face without tearing up.  The brothers’ relationship is the backbone of the show: Jae Kang never stops pushing his brother to grow up and put his responsibility to his country before his own desires.  It’s not that he cares about duty more than family, but he realizes that he and his brother are in a unique position to help their country, one that no government official can fill.

jae kang and jae ha

They’re just two brothers, not king and prince.

Their differences of opinion aren’t polarizing: they love each other first and foremost.  Their relationship isn’t fraught; their moments together are affectionate, sweet, and even silly.  Perhaps if Jae Ha showed an interest in anything other than partying, Jae Kang would let him pursue it.  As it stands, Jae Kang may have been the one to nudge his brother in the direction of marrying a North Korean woman, but he still put his brother’s needs first.  If Jae Ha hadn’t fallen in love with Hang Ah, or any other woman from North Korea, Jae Kang wouldn’t have pushed it.

My favorite character, though, is Hang Ah.  She is just so cool.  I love action heroines, especially ones that have more to them than just being “strong female characters.”  Hang Ah is in touch with her emotions, girly, and obsessed with the facial products she can find in South Korea.  And she’s a totally awesome soldier.

She rescues multiple characters from hostage situations, keeps her cool during a ridiculous Speed-style bomb threat, and stares down the series’ psychotic villain.  She’s not unflinching in the face of danger: she keeps it together when necessary, but she falls apart later when she’s free to, be it over her difficult relationship with Jae Ha or having a showdown with the evil, crazy Kim Bong Goo.  Though not as wonderful as Buffy, Hang Ah reminds me a lot of her: a powerful, tenacious, vulnerable, intensely human female lead.

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