We’ve reached the end of historical drama “The King Loves,” and it’s been quite a ride. The drama started out lighthearted and fun, and while it maintained notes of this until the very end, it also left me with a whole lot of bitter feelings ranging from dissatisfied to completely devastated. But along with this frustration, there was also a lot to love about “The King Loves,” so let’s review.
The backbone of the drama is the friendship between Crown Prince Won (Im Siwan) and Wang Rin (Hong Jong Hyun); this relationship is undoubtedly the best part of “The King Loves.” Won and Rin are often in bromance mode, playing off each other in delightfully adorable ways. But their friendship is also uniquely intense: Rin is the only person in the world that Won can rely on, and he treats the crown prince with unwavering loyalty and devotion.
It’s a credit to Im Siwan and Hong Jong Hyun that this brotherhood resonated in such a wonderfully touching way. Im Siwan had his work cut out for him with Won, who is an incredibly complex character, but he played the prince’s wide range of emotions with compelling expertise.
Alongside such talented co-stars, YoonA held her own as Eun San, and the love triangle was another one of the drama’s strengths. It was almost impossible to choose a side: Won has lived such a lonely life that my heart ached for him to end up with San so he could have just one other person to lean on… but Rin has spent his whole life subverting his needs to Won’s, and part of me wanted him to finally get something he wanted. I was so torn that even in the final episodes, when I thought I knew which couple I was rooting for, there were moments when I almost jumped ship and switched to the other.
That being said, I found the love plot perplexing at times. Initially, I had trouble believing that both Won and Rin could be so desperately in love with San. Don’t get me wrong, San is very likable (not to mention beautiful), but not quite captivating enough to justify the men’s obsession with her.
But the three characters had enough chemistry that the love triangle became more believable as it gained momentum.
I also wish the drama had given us more insight into San’s feelings; the show spent a lot of time focusing on Won’s and Rin’s love for San, but was often vague on what exactly she was thinking. This points to a larger problem that the drama had with transparency, which made the plot feel needlessly confusing at times. Sometimes it was unclear which characters knew certain things already and which hadn’t yet found out, and often the motives behind characters’ actions got lost, leaving me scratching my head.
The villains in particular fell prey to this ambiguity. The show made a few passes at suggesting that the bad guys wanted to depose Crown Prince Won to free Goryeo from the control of China’s Yuan Dynasty, which would have made their cause almost admirable. But then it changed its mind and ultimately settled for motivating the villains simply with a hunger for power. As a result, we got one-dimensional, stereotypical villains that fell short of the more nuanced characters they almost became.
Far more interesting than the vapid bad guys were the not-quite-bad-guys: Won’s parents. Their complicated love/hate relationship with each other and with Won led to some of the most emotionally impactful scenes of the show, providing insight into the tense family life that shaped Won’s character.
That’s family for ya!
Won’s relationship with his mother, Princess Wonsung (Jang Young Nam), is especially fraught and complex. While she’s often horrible, everything she does is to help and protect Won — for which I grudgingly respected her, despite her cruelty and her distrust of Rin.
All in all, the relationships were the highlight of “The King Loves,” and when the storyline got bogged down in convoluted political schemes, the meaningful bonds between characters carried the show. Through these relationships, the drama paints a powerful picture of what it means to care deeply about someone, and the selflessness that this kind of friendship entails.
Those around Won constantly sacrifice their own needs, desires, and safety for his sake, and for a while he doesn’t seem to get it, selfishly asking more and more of them.
But by the end of the drama, Won, too, has learned that loving someone means making room for their happiness even when it is at odds with his own. And it is with this newfound wisdom that he ultimately lets go of trying to control his friends.
Warning: the following paragraph contains spoilers for the final episode.
The biggest way that “The King Loves” misses the mark is with its finale, which prioritizes shock factor and heartbreak over staying true to the drama and the characters. The result was an ending that packed an emotional punch and gave Won a chance to show his character growth, but also undermined the friendship that was the centerpiece of the entire drama. Did we really spend 19 episodes watching this unbreakable bond between Won and Rin survive every obstacle that threatened to tear it apart, only for Rin and San to completely desert Won in the end? I’m not buying it.
Me watching the finale.
“The King Loves” is beautifully filmed and acted, and refreshingly lighthearted, even when dealing with some emotionally-charged content. The plot is unexceptional, but the main characters save the drama from being forgettable. Im Siwan and Hong Jong Hyun carry the show, and their spectacular performances alone make this drama worth a watch.
At the end of the day, I’m just going to pretend that the last 30 minutes of the drama didn’t happen, and leave off with this instead:
Because, at its essence, “The King Loves” is about friendship and the sacrifices we make for those we love, and the drama navigates this with a poignant mix of camaraderie and conflict that resonates in a very real way.
Watch “The King Loves” at Rakuten Viki!
What did you think of “The King Loves”? Let us know in the comments!
hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.