I had high hopes for this drama, and I’m really glad it delivered. I’m like the above photo – hesitant about the looming kiss, but I’m satisfied it happens in the end. (Ha Ji Won doesn’t get that kiss, but oh well!) There were a few pitfalls and issues I had to get past, but after I did, things became smooth sailing for me. What really sells the drama is the story, and Lee Seung Gi‘s character. Everything else just adorns him.
I watched the first 6 episodes before writing this. Let’s just say, once I started, it was hard to stop and write a review.
Premise is simple: the spare to the throne, Lee Jae Ha (Lee Seung Gi) would much rather goof around than be a responsible royal, especially since he has such an upstanding older brother like Lee Jae Kang (Lee Sung Min). (I’m sure that youngest sister Jae Shin (Lee Yoon Ji) thinks the same thing, except instead of goofing off she just performs at rock concerts.) However, he ends up being part of the North-South Korea team for the World Officer Championships, and is teamed up with Eun Shi Kyung (Jo! Jung! Suk!) and Kim Hang Ah (Ha Ji Won), among others.
(Side note: I love how the royal siblings in real life all have Lee as the last name. Destined, no? Haha.)
They all have difficulty trusting each other, and Jae Ha is a complete jackass and prankster to all his North Korea teammates during their six months of training. However, with every difficulty, there are shining moments when you actually see his heart and his inner strength. Jae Ha very nearly disbands the team when he makes a shocking move that shows just how much he distrusts North Koreans, but thankfully he has enough of a conscience to rectify his mistake. If it’s not because he feels guilty towards the North Koreans, it’s certainly because he feels guilty towards his brother, whom he loves so much.
When the training for the WOC ends, the media frenzy surrounding Jae Ha and Hang Ah don’t die out. Instead, they intensify with rumors of their engagement. Jae Ha tries to create a drama out of nothing, manipulating Hang Ah’s feelings and the media’s thirst for drama by admitting that they are in love (when they’re not) and stating that they are engaged (when they are not). What ensues is a complicated game of “I love him/her but I’m actually lying, but I’m actually really lying to myself because I do love him/her.”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the plot was going to go. It didn’t really feel solid until perhaps the fourth to fifth episode. I thought it was going to be just one awkward situation after another between the North and South, until a real foe started emerging: John Mayer/Kim Bong Goo (Yoon Je Moon). (I cracked up when I thought that the singer of “Your Body is a Wonderland” was the enemy. Aaaaaanywayyyyss….) His storyline is actually the one that feels the most out of place, but I know he will solidify as an enemy in the coming episodes. The idea of the WOC didn’t feel solid for me, because I thought it was just a gimmick that would last a few episodes. There is no way this drama could be all about the WOC…could it?
Since I thought it was just a gimmick, I figured I didn’t have to pay attention to any of it. Boy was I wrong. The training for the WOC helped solidify the camaraderie that the soldiers would later have, and gave an opportunity to show off Jae Ha as a person. I think those episodes made me understand who he was completely, so that later on when he changed, I could understand why. I can also now see how the WOC will play a larger role in the drama. It’s the first step in unification, and it is the foundation for a lot of upcoming strife between the Koreas and John Mayer’s organization, Club M. It is also the perfect place where everyone could get their biases out in the open, and I enjoy watching people getting over their prejudices. Also, if the competition does come to fruition onscreen (meaning, we actually see them all participate in this), then I will feel like the first five episodes paid off in a more fulfilling way; not only did we see the characters’ personalities, but we also got to see them act upon the skills they learned.
By episode 6 however, I started to get really excited in the most shallow of ways. Jae Ha and Hang Ah were coming to face their feelings for each other. The Koreas were in a bit of a mess behind-the-scenes, trying to orchestrate the perfect marriage for Jae Ha, but to the rest of the world, it sounded like a fairy tale come true – or a nightmare come true for those heavily biased against North Korea. I love arranged marriages for drama characters!
I’m going to be blunt: Ha Ji Won’s accent pisses me off, and made me hate her character. Actually, it’s more like she has this weird way of speaking the North Korean dialect that is so much more different from her other costars, and it makes her sound like a complete ditz. Now, if this were intentional (to juxtapose her tough nature with her innocent way of talking), I think it works – but it still makes her a ditz. If this were unintentional, then it just means Ha Ji Won can’t speak in accents, and can only sound like a Korean Valley Girl. Her accent threw me off so much because it clashes so much with her supposed tomboyish personality. I couldn’t believe in her character for quite a while.
I eventually got used to her accent, but it doesn’t make me like her any better. Yes, she may be a soldier who’s known nothing but beating guys up and best ways to assassinate someone. But it’s not really an excuse for her to not understand a single thing about guys, and to sound like an idiot. Also – if you’ve lived with Jae Ha int he same room and saw all of his tricks first hand, wouldn’t you realize he was fooling you later on?!
As for Lee Seung Gi’s character, I actually LOVE HIM. Yes, Lee Seung Gi may be typecasted into that spoiled brat role, but he does a better job of it here. Jae Ha continually shows shades of something deeper within him, and Lee Seung Gi does a great job in conveying it with each episode. We keep seeing how foolish he is, and how much of a cad he is, but then he defuses the tension, or solves a situation (not so diplomatically) that earns him the respect of his comrades. One of his best moments is when Hang Ah points a gun at him in episode 4, and he goes to the bathroom for some time to think. His hands start shaking – which shows another side of him we never see. This continual growth makes it more believable that he’s going to change by the end of the series, because we know there’s more to him than meets the eye, and it just needs to completely crack through.
What’s also great is that I am fooled every time he acts sincere. Because we see his cracks of sincerity, I start wondering when he is being true, and when he’s just acting. It’s great that I am constantly on my toes with his character, and this is a testament to the writing, and to Lee Seung Gi.
My next favorite character is Jo Jung Suk’s Eun Shi Kyung. First of all, I LOVE THIS ACTOR – he hasn’t failed me so far! I think I’ll just watch anything with him. His character confused me a little because he started off so daring and strong, as if he didn’t care that Jae Ha was a prince. But later on he became so submissive. I thought Shi Kyung was going to be a foe in later episodes – a rival in love or power. I’m glad he isn’t, but that also means I’m expecting a bromance! If I’m going to try to resolve Shi Kyung’s moments of aloofness towards the prince, and complete subservience, I’m going to say that Shi Kyung thinks he understands the prince, but the prince always does something that surprises him.
Lee Yoon Ji is becoming the favorite go-to princess, I feel. She’s got the “awesome sister/princess” role down pat, and I love that she’s moonlighting as a rockstar. I want her and Shi Kyung to end up together.
Verdict: I can’t wait for more episodes! If anything, this series knows how to bring out the tensions between the north and south through the people. Peninsula tried to be broad about the north and south tensions, but didn’t really touch the heart of the matter: how do North and South Koreans view each other? King 2 Hearts is the opposite: it shows how people react to the label “commie,” and it highlights differences between their lifestyles. I don’t think it gets too preachy at all, and doesn’t extol one Korea’s society over another. If anything, we haven’t seen anything good about South Korea just yet (except for SNSD and Jang Dong Gun, heh).
So for a drama about the North and South, this is it for me!