Director: Song Hyun-wook Cast: Park Eun-bin, Rowoon, Nam Yoon-soo, Choi Byung-chan, Yoon Je-moon
The King's Affection is available for streaming on Netflix
3 out of 5 stars
Gone are the days that period K-dramas have filmed from 60 to even 70 episodes in a season (examples, Dong Yi, Yi San).
For The King's Affection, the latest romantic period K-drama to grace the number one list on Netflix repeatedly over its run is slightly longer than its contemporaries at 20 episodes. But the real reason that it's peaked in 2021 on Netflix and beat out other competitors is because of its premise of a cross-dressing romance that makes it remarkably unique.
But many other period dramas have used cross-dressing in their plots before, you might say. Sure, it's been done in Sungkyungkwan Scandal (2010) and Tale of Nokdu (2019), although King's Affection takes it up one more notch.
The series relies solely and entirely on our cross-dressing protagonist King Lee Hwi, played by actress Park Eun-bin and her romance with idol group member Rowoon as scribe Jung Ji-un, to move its plot device forward.
From the very get-go, child actor Choi Myung-bin showed remarkable versatility in portraying both genders as Crown Prince Lee Hwi and Dam-i, twins born to Joseon's royal family and separated at birth.
Afraid of the shadowy political forces which may topple the royal family, the show's primary antagonist and Chief State Councilor Han Ki-jae (Yoon Je-moon) makes the machiavellian decision to eliminate the female twin so that the royal family's prestige remains untarnished.
Yet, years later, in a twist of fate, the crown prince Hwi is assassinated by mistake, and his twin Dam-i is forced to take his place as crown prince and eventually king. As a result, she now bears the weight of the entire kingdom in her hands, in addition to having to conceal the truth that the monarch is, in fact, a female.
King's Affection is a romantic drama, even though director Song Hyun-wook has tried his best to weave the political intrigue common to period dramas into his story-telling.
Unfortunately, it ends up feeling relatively underdeveloped, perhaps in some part due to director Song's first foray into period dramas.
Chief State Councilor Han Ki-jae, as the primary antagonist, spends most of the show slapping his subordinates, threatening the royal family and railing against the perils of a faceless enemy that poses a threat to the throne and the country, when none is found (ironically, he is his own worst enemy).
Despite being his first breakthrough role in a period drama, Rowoon as the king's tutor and scribe Jung Ji-un dazzles as a knight-in-shining-armour with his mischievous grins and boyish good looks.
The tall, lanky actor whose 190cm height almost didn't make the cut for the drama joins the handsome, boyish main cast that has sustained the hearts of the show's enraptured female audience, starring alongside co-stars Nam Yoon-soo and Choi Byung-chan, who are almost as tall as he is.
Nam plays prince Ja-eun, Lee Hwi's cousin and forms a rather awkward love triangle with Ji-un, as both are best friends who are in love with the king. Choi plays Kim Ga-on, the king's bodyguard who harbours a deep secret that strangely doesn't really impact the show.
King's Affection has also been praised as a positive LGBTQ portrayal by some and will definitely not be the first of many dramas that have been as progressive, seeing as how the lead actor falls in love with a woman dressed up as a man.
Minor spoilers ahead
Of course, that idea will remain unfulfilled for now as a romance drama clad in plot armour would do, as the series forged head with its forbidden romance, determined to bulldoze over any loopholes that would stand in between the purity of a happy heterosexual-love ending.
I have previously expressed my thoughts that South Korean filmmakers tend to be overly concerned about their image and reputations at home, which is why more conservative plots in K-dramas, period or otherwise, have been crafted carefully to appease the majority.
It is definitely pleasing that this romance series was dressed up (pun wholly intended) and packaged in an unconventional premise between a woman bound in man's clothing, holding the highest office in the land, with a man who is comfortable enough in his masculinity to fall in love with a woman who spends their entire courtship dressed as a man.
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