In a shocking and unexpected reversal of expectations stemming from the previews released of both Rooftop Prince and The King 2 Hearts, I have now switched over my watching allegiance. I am completely IN LOVE with TK2H after just one episode. I love the two main characters, and even the side characters are fascinating and show so much potential depth. Ha Ji Won and Lee Seung Gi already have chemistry up the chimney, and it’ll probably go up to the stars once they start sharing a dorm room (I’ll explain later) and interacting more. I laughed and then laughed some more in episode 1 of TK2H.
I also felt the frisson of palpable energy from a drama which set up its premise well and foreshadows interesting things to come. The OST is suitably tense and nicely used, and I don’t know how much dough this drama’s budget has, but every penny of it is shown onscreen. This baby looks good and hits me even better as a viewer. My one worry is that political thrillers are usually the most at risk for going off the rails in the second half, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. For now, I am rabid for this drama.
Episode 1 Recap:
1989: Fictional South Korea still with a monarchy. All the lights turn on in the Palace in the middle of a snowy night. A man answers a call. People are rushing back and forth, clearly an important situation is occuring. Right off the bat we see how pretty this drama is, and the cinematography is fast-paced without being jerky, and the editing either speeds up or slows down appropriately with the context of the scene.
A teenage boy watches the activity. He is Lee Jae Kang, the current Crown Prince of South Korea. We can tell that this boy is thoughtful and perceptive as he quietly observes the activity and processes it internally.
He walks through the hall of portraits of his ancestors and asks the Palace Secretary Eun whether war has begun?
Turns out it’s the opposite. The Berlin Wall has fallen. Jae Kang gathers with his father, the King, and his mother, the Queen, to watch this historic event. Younger brother Jae Ha arrives complaining about his broken Gameboy. Jae Kang tells him to pay attention to a monumental event unfolding before them.
The Queen takes Jae Ha to school, where he sees a pretty girl presenting flowers to his mom. He checks her out and then invites her to the Palace for a playdate. What a budding little player. Jae Ha asks where his brother is?
Brother Jae Kang is currently cornered in a classroom by a few of his classmates. Those classmates claim that their fathers pay plenty of taxes that goes to support the royal family. Jae Kang tries to stay calm and defuse the situation, but those boys are clearly wanting to pick a fight. Jae Ha slams the door open and charges the older boys who are harassing his older brother.
Little pipsqueak Jae Ha makes up for his lack in size by sheer will power and balls, as he kicks and punches the older kids. Jae Kang finally can’t take it anymore and punches back. One kid guarding the door is called to help and he takes out a pen and then stabs Jae Ha with it. When the teachers arrive, he puts the pen away and looks all scared and shifty.
Jae Kang goes to bandage Jae Ha up, wondering why his little brother got involved? Jae Ha says he needs to protect his hyung, who will be King one day. Jae Kang is touched, and tells Jae Ha that if something happened to him one day, Jae Ha will be King. Jae Ha wants to play and have fun his entire life, he does not want to ever be King.
Jae Kang locks Jae Ha in the classroom for ten minutes to reflect on what he did. Jae Ha sees a figure outside the window writing on the frosted over window pane. A finger writes the words “I am KING”. When that person removes the frost, Jae Ha sees that the writer is the boy who stabbed him with the pen in the earlier fight. That older boy stares at Jae Ha before turning around and walking away. Oooooh, eerie.
Jae Ha tells that boy to come back and tries to crawl out of the window. Cut to present day South Korea, where a grown up Jae Ha is currently in an army drill and trying to escape from the drill room by crawling through the window. He’s hilariously dragged back, but he eventually breaks out through the door.
Jae Ha is gasping and taken to the infirmary. He bitches about the son of the Prime Minister being exempt from army service, and yet he has to serve despite being a prince. He warns his commander that he’s dead.
A row of cars arrived at the DMZ and a group of North Korean generals and officials march in to join the already seated South Korean counterparts. A grown up Jae Kang is now the King and he marches to the meeting, dressed in his formal Kingly garb.
Everyone stands when he’s announced and he walks in, taking a deep breath before turning to face the assembled group. He stands before the podium and discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall 23 years ago as inspiring the hope for a cooperation of the Koreas. Today that dream is coming true, with the two Koreas joining together to create one team to send to the WOC (World Officer Championships). The cooperation agreement is signed and everyone goes to eat and drink. The King asks if the North team has been decided, and is told by one Northern general that his daughter will be a member of the team. She is the top of her class and super awesome at everything. I love how daddy is so proud of her. The King asks her name?
A female officer is walking down a hallway and someone calls out Kim Hang Ah. Everyone heads to the infirmary where one comrade is injured and cannot participate in today’s competition. The commanding officer looks at Hang Ah, who refuses to go because she always does this, plus she needs to go out later. Poor commander sighs that he’ll do it, despite his poor creaky bones. Hang Ah has no choice but to step up. LOL, she’s such a softie inside.
Cut to the competition, where Hang Ah walks out to the cheers of everyone watching. Hang An tells her opponent that she is going out later today. She toys with the guy a bit, but then the guy gets serious and manages to land a kick that causes Hang An to bleed.
The fighting gets serious and the match goes from the mat into the audience. Hang An is kicking the guy’s ass until he grabs a chair and swings the weapon at her. Hang An deftly ducks and then knocks him out. Her commander adorably gives her a standing ovation.
Hang Ah looks at herself in her make up compact and isn’t happy that there is a cut on the side of her lips. She then closes the compact and hops down to the subway station to meet two girlfriends. She’s dressed like a pretty housewife, LOL.
Her friends wonder if she’ll ever date. One suggests her dad the General set her up with one of his subordinates, but the other friend says Hang Ah’s dad thinks of Hang Ah as “Hwang Jin Yi” and no one is good enough for his precious daughter. Her friends remind Hang Ah how to behave today – sweet, keep her voice low, and hold hands. And hopefully kiss as well. Hang Ah is embarrassed, but one friend says some girls sleep with a guy by the third date, and this is Hang Ah’s fifth date with this guy.
Hang Ah and her date walk through the park. Hang Ah acts all coy and tries to hold his hand, which she does in an adorably awkward way. When he looks at her, she apologizes. But then he reaches over and holds her hand. Awww.
He then pulls her over and pushes her against a wall. He leans in to kiss Hang Ah, and the music is all romantic and soft, with the flower petals falling all around them. Too bad before the guy lands on her lips, Hang Ah instinctively grabs his jaw like a soldier does. The guy walks away and says he’ll call her. Hang Ah sadly looks at her hand and the falling petals as she remains leaning against the wall.
Hang Ah checks her phone, still no call from date guy. Her commander walks in and asks if she’s decided. Hang An says no, she doesn’t want to do. Commander says it’s an honor to be a team member. He reminds her that this is an unprecedented North-South cooperation, plus she gets to go on TV as a Korean woman representing her race and gender. Hang Ah says once on TV is enough for her fellow countryman to see her as a killing machine. Does commander want the world to know that she’s a woman who can take on twelve men at once and defeat them?
Her commander says Hang Ah can’t get married not because she’s a soldier, it’s because of her bad personality. She yells all the time. Her commander confirms that Hang Ah doesn’t want to go to the WOC because it will conflict with her romantic prospect. Her commander agrees to take responsibility for Hang Ah’s romantic future if she attends the WOC. Hang Ah gets roped in, and we see an official convey from North Korean pass through the DMZ barriers as the media crowds around capturing this unprecedented event.
Team North Korea takes their bus through Seoul and Hang Ah gapes at all the billboards. Hang Ah knows all the celebrities who are currently serving, such as Kang Dong Won and Jo In Sung. She’s excited because they might train with them. The one that gets Hang Ah the most excited is seeing a billboard of Hyun Bin. One comrade asks if Hang Ah likes those pretty boys? Hang An says Hyun Bin is no pretty boy, he’s in the marines! The other officer suddenly gapes to see SNSD performing on a large screen, dancing while wearing skimpy outfits.
Hang Ah remembers that her commander asked her to just get their team into the top four, and then he will make sure she marries well. Hang Ah is excited about this prospect. I love how this kick-ass woman is just looking for a husband in a logical and pragmatic way
Team North Korea arrives at the Palace and are going through a metal detector check. They are told to take off anything that has metal on it. One comrade has a metal pin in his foot from a childhood injury. He’s being prohibited from entering, which upsets Hang Ah. She orders the comrade to bite that nail out and show it to the security guards, since they clearly don’t trust them.
Secretary Eun walks out and defuses the situation, inviting them all in to meet the King. The King is sitting with Hang Ah’s daddy, who is pleased when all three soldiers walk in. The King shakes hands with everyone, and when he greets Hang Ah, he’s warm and polite. Hang Ah quickly asks her daddy if they are about to meet the South Korean members. The King overhears and says that will happen tomorrow. He asks that they help in dealing with a troublesome member.
Said future troublesome member is currently getting officially discharged from the army. Jae Ha gets his discharge from his commanding officer, who hands him a gift of ranking stars and asks him to sign some papers. Jae Ha immediately signs without reading anything.
Jae Ha changes out of his fatigues and into his official uniform, kicking his heels in happiness. The King arrives and the two brothers share an ADORABLE wink and grin. Jae Ha reads his oath and accepts his discharge papers. Jae Kang tells Jae Ha to remember that oath to serve the country, and smiles widely at his little bro.
Jae Ha tells his hyung that he can’t wait to enjoy life in Seoul with the ladies. Jae Ha falls asleep during the ride and when he wakes up, he’s not at the Palace. The Secretary welcomes Jae Ha and turns on the TV in the car. The announcer reads that the royal family places such importance on the WOC that the prince will be participating as a member. Jae Ha is fully shocked awake.
The two brothers pow wow and Jae Ha bitches about this unreasonable demand. He just got discharged a few hours ago. Jae Kang says that Jae Ha already agreed since he signed the papers, to which Jae Ha realizes his brother tricked him. Finally Jae Kang just sincerely asks Jae Ha to help him out this once. Jae Ha tries to reason with his hyung, he’s always been a good younger brother. He never coveted the throne or tried to get rid of Jae Kang. He also tries to protect his hyung all the time.
Finally Jae Ha asks why the WOC is so important to Jae Kang? Because of their dad? Jae Kang reminds Jae Ha that war is always a possibility. Jae Ha reminds his hyung that a royal family in the 21st century is just a figurehead, puppets to the people. The people don’t care about war, peace and reunification. They want their royals to smile and look good in front of people. Jae Kang just stares at Jae Ha.
Hang Ah walks out in front of the commanders gathered from both sides. The South Korean commander asks about Hang Ah being once an instructor for the Special Forces. Hang Ah answers that she taught assassination and covert activity merely as lessons, and it was so long ago that she doesn’t remember anymore. Hang Ah is told that the final member from the South Korean side is the Prince, the younger brother of the King.
Jae Kang tells Jae Ha that the citizenry pays for their upkeep and he needs to earn their affection. Since Jae Ha turned thirty, his new nickname is over-the-hill guy and burdensome prince. When Jae Ha claims that the men all emulate him, Jae Kang shows him the latest study where 52% want to kick Jae Ha out of the army. Jae Kang admonishes Jae Ha to give back as much as he has received. Jae Kang tells Jae Ha that if he refuses, he must quit the army and be kicked out of the Palace.
Secretary Eun reads the King’s decree to Jae Ha, that he will be kicked out of the Palace, all his stipend stopped, and he will also be stripped of his royal status. Secretary asks if Jae Ha is willing to attend the WOC. Jae Ha nods, and is told that the team will train for six months leading up to the WOC. Secretary tells Jae Ha that his own son is a member of the team.
When Jae Ha is being taken to the dorms, he asks a soldier if he has a knife. Suddenly the door to the armory opens and a man inside orders Jae Ha to stand up straight and then walk forward five steps. Jae Ha walks in and the door closes. The lights come on in the armory and Jae Ha finds himself facing Eun Shi Kyung, and correctly identifies him as the son of Secretary Eun. Jae Ha wants to ask for a knife to injure himself so he can get out of this tour of WOC duty.
Jae Ha asks Eun Shi Kyung to shoot him, but just slightly graze his finger so that he can’t pull a trigger for a few weeks. Shi Kyung takes out his gun and points it at Jae Ha’s chest and asks if he should shoot there? Jae Ha tells Shi Kyung to go ahead if he has the guts to pull the trigger. When Shi Kyung hesitates, Jae Ha grabs the gun and shoots it, intending to show Shi Kyung the right way to to shoot a gun. Jae Ha shoots and the gun goes off. He’s in shock that the gun has real bullets. The bullet passes right by Shi Kyung’s head and lodges in the wall behind him. When the other two soldiers come in, Shi Kyung lies that he fired the gun. Jae Ha defuses the situation by saying they were joking around. But before Jae Ha leaves, he warns Shi Kyung that he’ll remember this incident. Shi Kyung better watch out!
Jae Ha is led to the dorm, the entire time still complaining about Shi Kyung. When Jae Ha arrives, he sees that he’s sharing a room Rhee Kang Seok. The man in question is currently sweaty and shirtless, practicing martial arts in the room. Jae Ha is about to complain when he sees this, which leads to him closing the door quietly and takes off. Jae Ha complains about the rooming situation and is told one North and one South member sharing a room is the rule. Eun Shi Kyung has his own room as team captain. Jae Ha tries to use his Princely status to no avail. He’s told that the North captain is a woman, which finally interests Jae Ha.
Hang Ah is informed that she has to share a room with a male member from the South. The two captains will be sharing a room as well. Her commander tells her that nothing will happen, she needs to do this for the sake of their country.
The three North Koreans are already sitting down for a meal when Shi Kyung and another member arrives. Hang Ah walks over to greet them, and then asks about the third and final member. Which is when Jae Ha walks in. When she walks up to greet him, he sighs that it was his own fault for thinking of her as a woman.
Hang Ah says she’s quite familiar with him, he has a mole on his butt, right? Hang Ah calls him comrade and is quite forward with him. When everyone goes to sit down, Jae Ha kicks the chair out from under Shi Kyung, leaving the man sprawled on the floor. Shi Kyung picks himself up and says it was his own carelessness.
The meal starts and Hang Ah asks everyone to introduce themselves. When discussing their troop designations, Jae Ha purposes mentions war games played by the South where teams pretend they are conquering Pyongyang. This naturally gets Kang Seok pissed but Hang Ah tells him to calm down. When the other officer announces that he’s from a certain troop, Jae Ha gets up and says that his troop killed twenty of his troop mates. Hang Ah keeps asking him to be quiet, but Jae Ha ignores her and finally tells her to stop calling him “comrade” since he is never going to be her comrade. They stare at each other, until Hang Ah plays the coy card and asks to use the bathroom.
She makes Jae Ha take her, and then asks him to go in with her to check if there is anyone inside or any surveillance cameras. Jae Ha goes in and checks around, which is when Hang Ah locks the door and then proceeds to kick Jae Ha’s ass with a mop. She restrains his arms behind his back and tells him that she ought to introduce herself now. She is a member of the special elite forces, which is the assassin training unit. Her orders are………………public enemy Lee Jae Ha…..KILL ON SIGHT.
Thoughts of Mine:
Episode 1 of TK2H did exactly what it needed to do – keep my interest and make me care about the characters in this drama. It did so by having multi-faceted characters and a fluid execution. The writing was solid, nothing to win awards or write home about, but much better than I expected given the premise. Nothing guarantees quality for the duration of the drama, but a good episode 1 has never hurt anyone. The ratings started off quite high I think due to the star power of Lee Seung Gi and Ha Ji Won, and maybe some residual MoonSun effect. But having seeing the competition, I think TK2H has a good chance of maintaining the lead for the duration of its run as long as it continues to deliver the goods. The acting is across-the-board solid here, and some characters are already pitch-perfect. I love the OST, the directing is crisp and alive, and the cinematography comes across as rich and realistic.
Unlike Spy Myung Wol‘s (nonexistent) attempt at North-South political intrigue, TK2H actually delivers the solid political intensity for its premise, thereby providing the stakes for this entire exercise. I am also totally puppy worshipping the awesome King Lee Jae Kang, a decent, responsible, and intelligent titular figurehead rule of South Korea. I also have quite the affection for his ne’er-do-well younger brother Jae Ha, who complains a lot but seems to always end up doing whatever he’s asked to. He did his mandatory army service, and is now reluctantly participating in the WOC. I like that he’s not necessarily cowardly, but more like lazy and rather coddled. When push comes to shove, he steps up and protects what is important to him, such as rushing into a fight with older boys to protect his older brother. The drama shows these different aspects to Jae Ha, making him feel really three-dimensional and believable as a entitled prince who nevertheless seems like a good guy deep down.
I also adore Hang Ah to pieces, a tough girl who is looking for a man but not necessarily at the expense of her pride or career. Her relationship with her daddy general and her commander is so cute, and I enjoy watching her be ass kicking or girly depending on the situation. I see that she’s not faking it, because she does like cute guys and swoons over celebrities. But she’s a soldier who knows how to get someone in line, as experienced by Jae Ha firsthand in that bathroom. Like I said above, the chemistry between Ha Ji Won and Lee Seung Gi is palpable and doesn’t show their age gap at all. I’m looking forward to watching them go from reluctant teammates to friends and finally lovers, because I can see how they could be attracted to each other. Right now the political machinations remains murky so I can’t say if ultimately it’ll hold up to scrutiny. But so far the drama does a great job of balancing the funny, the intense, and the intriguing. I hope this drama stays good, because its succeeded in shaking me right out of my drama doldrums.