Two Worlds, One Purpose
After one episode it’s fair to say The King: Eternal Monarch is good. Really good. Although confusing to begin with as we jump between the different timelines, The King: Eternal Monarch does a wonderful job setting the scene for the season to come and doing so with enough wit, charisma and intrigue to keep you coming back for more. Whether it’ll be another smash hit like Crash Landing or not remains to be seen but there’s certainly scope here for this one to challenge that illustrious 2020 title!
We begin episode 1 of The King: Eternal Monarch with an intriguing story told by a man named Lee Lim, complete with blood stained hands and handcuffs in the police station. Only, his police file reads that he’s 70 but yet, he doesn’t look a day over 25. The reason for his happens to stem from a rivalry involving his brother and obtaining the Manpasikjeok, a fabled flute of old that allows one to transport between worlds.
We then cut across to the Kingdom of Corea, in Winter 1994. A group of armed guards, led by Lee Rim, show up and confront his Father. Lee Rim stabs King Lee Ho in the heart and takes the Four Tigers Sword for his own. Only, a young Lee Gon turns up and demands Lee Rim be imprisoned and given the maximum sentence. Soldiers surround him and it leads Lee Rim to stab the boy in the throat against a pillar.
Suddenly, a strange man arrives, leading to a big shootout. Lee Rim bemoans the lack of time left and hurries out the palace, leaving behind the shattered glass and two bodies.
In the morning, word gets out about the murder and Lee Gon is crowned King. Prince Buyeong arrives to oversee affairs and the subsequent manhunt for Lee Rim. Only, our antagonist makes his way into the forest with the shattered remnants of the flute, which conjures up a portal to a parallel world.
That world takes him to the Republic of Korea in 1994; a world that’s far different from his own and much more like the Korea of today. Instead of the current royal appointment is a President. In this reality Lee Rim is disabled and confined to a wheelchair while Lee Ho is a beggar in the streets. Killing his alternate self, Lee Rim watches as this reality’s Lee Gon arrives and sees firsthand what’s happened. Sensing this could be bad news, Korea’s Lee Gon is killed.
In the Kingdom of Corea, the new King is crowned as our wounded Lee Gon steps up and mourns his Father. As he weeps in the palace, he meets Jo Yeong and hands him the “Unbreakable Sword”, a token to help him feel better and forge their friendship together.
In the Republic meanwhile, Lee Rim’s body (the one from that world) is shown to his wife and she confirms his identity. Back home she thanks the heavens for his death, given how much of a burden he was to her. Only, listening from the other room is the imposter Lee Rim, who stands up from the wheelchair and towers over her as she cowers in the corner.
Lee Rim’s body washes up on shore in Corea and with it, a declaration of his death and confirmation that every bone in his body has been broken. As we then skip forward to the Fall of 2019, Lee Rim returns after an extended absence and hasn’t aged a day. King Lee Gon however, certainly has. He has no interest in getting married and instead, busies himself with his duties as King.
At the Rowing Boat competition, someone shoots at Lee Gon, prompting his Head Of Security, Jo Young, to protect him. Holding two suspects up at gunpoint, Lee Gon spies a man dressed in a black rabbit suit behind them and is immediately reminded of his favourite fairy tale – Alice In Wonderland. After chasing him through the streets, the rabbit manages to get away but it doesn’t stop Lee Gon from being weighed down by the issues that have haunted him all these years, a lot of which stemming from the traumatic moments involving his Father.
Back in the Republic Of Korea, Tae-Eul works with the police to root out a criminal at his house but doing so in a pretty brash way. However, this does bring with it its own rewards, as she uncovers a murder scene in the parking lot. Underhanded and with little manpower in the force, Tae-Eul and the others refuse to do overtime to handle this new workload.
Lee Gon meanwhile, finds the rabbit again and grabs his horse Maximus, charging through the forest to try and catch him. He doesn’t find the rabbit but does happen to stumble upon the portal to the parallel world. Racing forward, he’s transported into Korea where Tae-Eul asks him to park his horse by the side of the road. He doesn’t listen though and instead, looks around this new world some more. Tae-Eul confronts him face to face and, realizing he knows her face, hugs her tightly as he whispers that he’s found her. This is where episode 1 comes to a close.
The King: Eternal Monarch sets the scene beautifully in its first episode. With lots of nods to Alice In Wonderland (the white rabbit, the actual book and the looking glass being the more obvious ones) plus plenty of glimpses for how this one is likely to play out going forward, The King: Eternal Monarch does a wonderful job setting the foundations for what’s almost certainly going to be a really dramatic season ahead.
Given this is Lee Min-Ho’s first drama after returning from military service, he slots into the role of Lee-Gon perfectly and his counterpart, Lee Rim, is certainly shaping up to be a formidable opponent going forward. At a guess, I’d imagine the cloaked figure we saw during the early parts of the episode is Lee Rim himself, possibly finding a way to travel through time as well as parallel dimensions and causing a time paradox to occur where this always happens on a loop.
Of course, take this theory with a pinch of salt but it’s not all serious doom and gloom here either. There’s some wonderful bits of humour injected into this one and the music really helps heighten the tension too. Quite what tomorrow’s episode has in store for us remains to be seen but based on what we’ve seen here, if it’s even half as good as this premiere then we’re in for one heck of a treat.