Can I just tell you how awesome this show is?
I've even started watching the live broadcast on MBC (even though the real time subtitles leave much to be desired) because it's just that great.
I found this show to be interesting from the start, but I got more and more into it as it progressed. It's easily my favorite current airing drama, and it's the one I choose between the three 21:55 Wednesday-Thursday airing battle without hesitation. I love all the suspense and it has great comedic relief (and I'm glad it's been toned down from the overt Girls Generation/SNSD-type conflicts to little moments of humor like the-fridge-door-opening-after-getting-caught-making-out ones).
The world building for this drama has been extremely long when you think about it, but I don't really mind or notice it too much. The WOC that started this whole thing has been put on the back burner, though, and I'm wondering when we'll get to see our North Korean comrades again (complete with Jae-Ha's frilly camo wear, lol). Even Dong-Ha gets limited action on screen even though he's a part of the Royal Guard just as much as Shi-Kyung is.
The only annoying part of the world building was John Mayer/Kim Bong-Goo. His scenes for the first 6 episodes were entirely too long. I can only tolerate so much screen time with a lunatic who needs serious mental help. His basic magic tricks are boring, and I've yet to figure out why they're important to the overall plot. It's Episode 11, guys, why hasn't this been explained?
BUT the saving grace is that his interactions with Jae-Ha are amazing! Jae-Ha can act just as crazy when he wants to, and putting two crazies into the same room is a great way to get things going. And I love how you get a glimpse into both the good guys and the bad guys heads, showing us that each side is playing an elaborate game of poker; neither showing their entire hand, but playing a strategic game with bluffs, poker faces, and high stakes.
On the love side of the drama, I'm still not totally sold on the Jae-Shin/Shi-Kyung relationship. It bugs me because Hang-Ah had a momentary infatuation with Shi-Kyung that made (and still makes) Jae-Ha jealous, but that triangle was never fully fleshed out! I hate when something is used as a plot devise and then wholly discarded. The fact that Jae-Ha is still jealous of Shi-Kyung interacting with Hang-Ah means that there should've been some more Shi-Kyung/Hang-Ah moments, even if it was one-sided on Hang-Ah's part. The Jae-Shin/Shi-Kyung relationship just seems so contrived to me. I get that they're realizing that they're falling for each other now, but the way Jae-Shin just randomly appeared in the story and right into Shi-Kyung's then-forceful arms was done way too obviously.
Jae-Ha and Hang-Ah are wonderful whenever they're not wrapped in a shawl of miscommunication. I love how Jae-Ha depends on her even though he won't admit it to himself, how he always seeks her out for a bit of strength or encouragement. It's adorable how his face lights up whenever she crosses his path. I especially like how Hang-Ah was still a badass military leader all through their accidental courtship. She can go toe-to-toe with Jae-Ha (and beat him in any physical contest, lol) and sees right through his cool guy facade.
Speaking of which, I love, love, loved Shi-Kyung's declarative speech to Jae-Ha in the palace hall (btw, BOF/BBF used the same front entrance facade for Jun-Pyo's home). It was so powerful the way Shi-Kyung told him to do his best, even if Jae-Ha didn't want to hear it. No, I don't need tissue, there's just something in my eye. Shi-Kyung is showing is complete loyalty to Jae-Ha, choosing the king over his own father, and continues to do so. As an aside, I loved the camera work for this scene as well. This drama pulls at your heartstrings, right before they rip it to bits! It runs the gamut of emotions and truly makes you feel for the characters.
One of the characters I was always rooting for was Jae-Kang, and let me tell you, I was NOT ready for him to die! I loved big oppa and was so not prepared for him to go so soon! I mean, we all knew it was coming because Jae-Ha had to end up as king at some point, but I was thinking it would be an Episode 10/11/12 deal and not an Episode 7 one! I'm pretty sure my neighbors didn't appreciate me screaming at the screen in the middle of the night for big oppa to get out of there. Ugh, it was so sad because he was such a loving character and we really got to see all sides of him. Fine, I'll take the box of tissue this time, but it's not because I'm crying, really.
I do like how the drama handles Jae-Kang's impact on Jae-Ha through flashbacks and through the video diary. He was such a good hyung to Jae-Ha, and it shows on Jae-Ha's face every time he thinks of him. It's nice that we get glimpses of Jae-Kang's inner thoughts and that makes me love him even more.
Can we just pause for a moment and discuss how HOT Jae-Ha is as a king?! A lot of it comes from actor Lee Seung-Gi (also written as Lee Seung-Ki; 이승기 in Hangul) being hot himself, of course. He speaks not just Korean but French and English (with a wonderful accent that improves as we go along), too, and who knows what other language they may pull out of the woodwork next. He's intelligent and thinks well on his feet; and can therefore tackle any complicated situation (minus his dealings with Hang-Ah, but that's just boys being dumb in relationships as they always have and always will be). And even though his playboy attitude can be a pain, it causes people to underestimate him, which makes the rewards even more sweet. Cha-ching. If Hang-Ah won't take you back, I'm available!
At least Jae-Ha is finally being a man and off to get his girl. The fact that he was willing to die to go get her was swoon worthy. Respect for him just went up a few notches. Their reunion is painfully awkward, but what do you expect after a public trial, pseudo deportation, and a stress related miscarriage? It was a real reaction, and I thank the drama for not sugar coating the rift that's formed between the (former?) couple.
There's so much more ahead, with Mr. Insane plotting directly on Jae-Ha, the potential reconciliation between Jae-Ha and Hang-Ah, daddy issues between Eun Shi-Kyung and Secretary Eun Evil, Jae-Shin and Shi-Kyung's potential relationship, Queen Mother calling Jae-Ha trash whenever she has a free moment, and of course, the WOC. I have my seat belt strapped on tight because I have a feeling there's several more high speed loops coming on this roller coaster ride.
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