Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch.

The King: Eternal Monarch

Dept. of Lee Min-ho-ing It


Umapagan Ampikaipakan decides to pop his K-drama cherry by getting in on the ground floor with the brand new Lee Min-ho series The King: Eternal Monarch.

Barely ten minutes into the first episode and I’m hooked. A tense interrogation by the police flashes back to an incredible face-off between two brothers, one the reigning monarch, the other, a resentful bastard looking to usurp his throne. Both men stand in stark contrast, the traditional and the modern, the king and his guards in their royal regalia, the assassin and his henchmen in slick black suits. There are guns and swords. There are shards of glass and snow raining from above. The room drenched in blood. It is a stunning scene, choreographed with such care, as to create suspense and drama and mystery.

Fine. I’m a believer. Actually, scratch that. I’m a convert. Born again and spreading the good word to anyone who will listen. I might as well be starting every conversation with: “have you heard the good news?” I spent most of the week going on and on about this exciting new discovery of mine while the rest of the world rolls their collective eyes. “Tell us something we don’t know,” they say. “The last decade called, they were wondering where you’ve been?”

Why didn’t anyone tell me these things were so good? Okay. Maybe they did. Over and over again. For years. Maybe I just didn’t listen. But I’m here now, incredibly late, but fashionably so. For I don’t think I could have picked a better place to start than with The King: Eternal Monarch.

Lee Jung-jin in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch

But before I go any further, a primer for all my fellow freshmen. The King: Eternal Monarch marks the long-awaited return of OG heart-throb Lee Min-ho to our small screens. After taking a three year hiatus from show business in order to fulfil his mandatory service with the South Korean military, the series sees him paired with Kim Go-eun (of Goblin fame) for a world hopping, wibbily wobbly timey wimey tale of action, adventure, romance, and drama.

The series, sees our characters traverse two parallel worlds, our own present day reality and an alternate one in which Corea (that’s Korea spelled with a “c” according to Netflix’s subtitles) remained a monarchy, complete with a king, a four tiger sword, and a magical flute. This fantastical premise serves as the foundation for our story. Of an illegitimate prince murdering his way to the throne, of a romance that transcends time and space, and all of the conflict and intrigue in between.

Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch.

Lee Min-ho is utterly charming as the intelligent and thoughtful King struggling with the traumas of his past. Watching this, it is immediately clear why he is such a star. His ability to switch seamlessly between commanding and vulnerable, between the dramatic and comedy, is truly something to behold. And then there’s his face. So pristine it looks like it was sculpted from a single block of marble by Michelangelo himself. For years, I sat next to a colleague who was obsessed with Lee Min-ho. I now understand why.


Kim Go-eun too is eminently watchable as Jung Tae-eul. She isn’t just another damsel in distress looking to be saved. In line with her character, she is everything a police detective should be: observant and skeptical, in relentless pursuit of the truth.

The both of them have incredible chemistry. Not just with each other, but with every one of the other characters. There are complex and emotional interactions here. Which make for a truly interesting ensemble.

Kim Go-eun in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch.

The King: Eternal Monarch is soapy and operatic. It is melodrama at its finest. But I urge you to look past the soft focus slow pans, the hopelessly sentimental music, and the heavy make up, because there is so much more here.

The Koreans, it seems, have fine tuned their ability to craft this sort of serialised fiction. By now, we’re all incredibly well-versed with the mechanics of storytelling. We know how a plot unfolds, how characters evolve, and how mysteries are unveiled. The K-drama leans into what we know, cunningly manipulating us, by withholding information, by teasing us with minor reveals, and giving us just enough to leave us coming back for more.


What’s more, the series is also very aware of everything that has come before. It builds on those fictions. There is a pace to the storytelling, where obvious plot points are dispensed with quickly, leaving room for new dramatic tensions. This isn’t, say, Lucifer, where you’re 40 episodes in and Chloe still refuses to believe that Luci is the actual devil. This is a series that doesn’t rely on unnecessarily prolonged contrivances to keep you interested. It quickly answers the will-they-won’t-they question and creates new conflicts instead.

Lee Min-ho in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch.

The most fascinating thing about The King: Eternal Monarch is how unafraid it is of genre. (Which, I have since learned, is one of writer Kim Eun-sook’s signature traits.) This one show seamlessly blends science fiction and fantasy, police procedurals and romantic dramas, with a little political and palace intrigue thrown in for good measure. This is all but unheard of in the West, where the mere threat of science fiction is enough to scare audiences off. Surely you remember the barrage of think pieces that tried to explain how Game of Thrones was successful in creating appeal among demographics that would otherwise be turned off by all of that “Lord of the Rings nonsense”. Here, our hero uses the idea of zero being a complex number to flirt.

Lee Min-ho and Jung Eun‑chae in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch.

I’m new to this. Which means that all of this is new to me. If you are a seasoned observer, you might already know how all of this plays out. As for me, besides the simple notion of “love conquers all”, I have no idea what’s coming next. And it’s left me counting down the days until the next episode.

If you’ve been here all this time, if you’ve been a long-time devotee, then this is me reaffirming what you already knew. I’m not here to preach to the converted. I’m here to join your heavenly choir.

If you’re not already watching The King: Eternal Monarch, or K-drama in general, I’m here to tell you not to be like me. Stop wasting your life watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Do yourself a favour and get in on this instead. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

I’m going to leave you now with a picture of Lee Min-ho on a white horse.

Lee Min-ho in Netflix's The King: Eternal Monarch.

The King: Eternal Monarch
Director: Baek Sang-hoon
Writer: Kim Eun-sook
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Kim Go-eun, Woo Do-hwan, Kim Kyung-nam, Jung Eun-chae, and Lee Jung-jin

The first four episodes of The King: Eternal Monarch are now streaming on Netflix. New episodes drop every Friday and Saturday night at 10:30PM (MYT).

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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