King of Dramas may not have started off with a ratings bang, but this first outing proved to be a zippy and surprisingly nerve-wracking look into the crazy world of drama production. There’s straight-laced humor interwoven into the life-and-death stakes, providing plenty of fun in a very polished package. (Seriously, the show looks great.)
The self-aware commentary is definitely a highlight, and it’s nice to see a drama bring to light all of the behind the scenes happenings in a thoughtful (and sometimes very funny) way. When it wants to be funny, it is, and when it wants to be serious, it is.
That part definitely surprised me most, since I wasn’t expecting to be moved emotionally when characters are racing against a literal ticking clock trying to get a scene in for broadcast with the same kind of time-crunching gravitas you’d see in 24. And you know what? They sell the stakes here. If we can buy into the world, then we’re good to go.
I’m a little late to the party, but we’ll be catching up soon. I think we’ll all be needing a good comedy after Nice Guy, so here’s hoping King delivers.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A voiceover discusses the effects of Hallyu (The Korean wave) throughout Asia, and more specifically the biggest names – Yon-sama (a nickname Japanese fans use to refer to Bae Yong-joon of Winter Sonata), and Lee Young-ae from Dae Jang Geum.
Everything from dramas is converted into money, from the cosmetics the actors wear to the cars they drive. Even ddukbokki, rice cakes normally served as street food, are served in Japan like fine cuisine. All because of – you guessed it – Hallyu.
People of all ethnicities are shown learning Korean from Secret Garden, and satellites are brought on horseback to tents in the middle of Mongolia just so Korean dramas can be watched. Well, we’ve all been that desperate one time or another.
The narrator mentions how those who work in the drama industry live a third-rate life, just as a director falls asleep at the helm. Hah – did that actor just fool him by using saliva instead of tears?
(Blink and you might miss it, but the actress on the receiving end of the spit-take is Park Shin-hye.)
Our narrator is ANTHONY KIM (Kim Myung-min), CEO of Empire Productions. He’s in charge of the drama we’ve been seeing in the midst of live-shoot called Elegant Revenge, which is just a hilarious title. He tells his lecture group that dramas boil down to one thing: M-O-N-E-Y.
And what’s a drama, he asks? A war with numbers. Special attention is paid to a gold ring on his pinky finger as Anthony proudly admits that twenty-seven out of the twenty-nine dramas he’s produced have been a success.
When asked what happened to the two that failed, Anthony coolly replies that the 2002 World Cup and the 2008 outbreak of mad cow disease caused the ratings to drop. As long as those things don’t happen again, Anthony stresses, “I’ll absolutely never fail.”
So the ring on his finger is called “Absolute Ring,” and he’s called the “King of Dramas.” No surprise there. A note with bad news stops his lecture.
We find our heroine, LEE GO-EUN (Jung Ryeo-won) attempting to get yet another bank loan. Her errant teller brightens up once she sees Go-eun’s occupation listed as “drama writer,” and launches into squeals and questions when Go-eun shyly admits that she’s working on Elegant Revenge.
Of course, the teller’s face falls when Go-eun reveals she’s a secondary writer. To her, that may as well mean Go-eun’s unemployed.
The shy Go-eun disappears in order to set the teller straight – her job is just as important, she’s paid her loan interests, and she wants her loan. NOW.
We find out what’s so pressing for Anthony – the finale for Elegant Revenge is airing tonight, and they don’t have the last ten minutes because the writer refuses to change the script to add some orange juice product placement.
This news is relayed through OH JIN-WAN (Jung Man-shik), who’s revealed to be the Managing Director of Empire Productions, and second-in-command next to Anthony.
In her studio, Writer Jung is failing miserably in trying to add orange juice to the script. A call from “Cheongdam-dong Crazy Dog” Anthony means she’s used to his temperament, and she explains coarsely that there’s no place for orange juice when the main character is supposed to die “elegantly” after completing his revenge. Pfft.
“No” is not a word Anthony likes to hear, so he switches to banmal as he orders Writer Jung to add the juice, or else she’s fired. One pack of orange juice equals three-hundred-million won, and as he explains: “Dramas may be an art to you for all I know, but to me, they are business.” End of discussion.
Not to mention, they’ve got ten hours till airing. I love the ticking clock that flashes in the corner and the super dramatic music.
Writer Jung furiously kicks the boxes of orange juice Anthony sent as a friendly reminder, and takes out her anger on assistant Go-eun the second she walks in the door: “Does this make sense? The main character who is about to have a heroic death dies after drinking the orange juice of PPL? Does it make sense?” (PPL = product placement advertisement.)
Pfft, it’s just so ridiculous. She finishes the script and hands it over to Go-eun, who notices that there isn’t any juice. Writer Jung tsks at her that real artists can’t bow down to greedy businessmen, before dismantling her phone and leaving Go-eun to edit and deal with the production company.
Anthony rages over the juice-free script and the fact that he can’t get ahold of Writer Jung. Jin-wan wonders if they can’t just hand the lead a juice box before filming, only to have Anthony fire back that getting the juice in the lead’s hands has to be explained.
So, for ten seconds (and roughly $300,000) worth of PPL, they have to change the location and dialogue. The scene has to fit around the product, which is a pretty sobering thought.
The Chairman of the company calls Anthony for a status report, and Anthony assures him that they’ll make their broadcast while creepy music plays. It’s time to move to plan B: Who’s the assistant writer?
He pretty much pounces on Go-eun just as she’s leaving, and concocts a lie about Writer Jung getting into a car accident right before she planned to edit juice into the script. He appeals to Go-eun’s dreams of stardom by telling her that Writer Jung appointed her, her “other half”, to make the changes.
Go-eun is dubious, but Anthony puts on his straightest face as he asks, “Do you think I’m telling a lie?” Bahaha. His expression totally sells it, and Go-eun buys it.
Man, he’s a smooth operator. He might have done his research on Go-eun, since he knows just enough to lead her into giving details, all while seeming interested in her work – like that script she’s been working on, what was it called? “Gyeongsang Morning,” Go-eun eagerly replies.
He tells her to bring her script by tomorrow, and that she’ll debut with the next show. Go-eun, meet Hook, Line, and Sinker.
She’s ushered into a fancy production RV to write on the way to the filming location. Her and Anthony brainstorm a way to include the juice and settle on changing the final location from a construction site to a juice factory. Hah.
Meanwhile, instructions are sent to the filming crew to move locations. It’s pure, but somehow organized chaos. Even I feel nervous, and I’m not even on their deadline.
Anthony, seemingly used to the chaos, orders that a helicopter and a quick-service driver be sent to the shooting location to transport the final copy ASAP, since they’re a couple of hours out of Seoul.
Filming commences on the scenes Go-eun freshly sends over, and she isn’t even done yet. The lead disposes of baddies surrounded by orange juice boxes, and takes one to go. Cut! Time to switch locations.
It’s 5:27pm, and the director just receives the second to last scene in piecemeal, which they’ll have to film while they wait to receive the final scene.
Anthony has a planted spy in another broadcast company (the hint being that it’s MBC) who tells him that their rival show’s running time is just over sixty-five minutes. So, if they can make Elegant Revenge one minute and thirty seconds longer, they can scoop up last minute ratings when nothing else is airing.
Go-eun is fine with the idea, but claims that there isn’t anything to add since the lead dies alone in the final scene. Anthony agrees – they don’t have time to film an additional scene anyway.
So how do they add the time? Why, they’ll just edit in a flashback scene. Ahaha. We’ve so seen dramas do this. (Maybe one too many times.)
Go-eun finishes the last scene and shows it to Anthony, who hones in only when “orange juice” is mentioned. Pleased, he sends it along to the filming crew scrambling to finish the show.
They film the lead as he walks to the shore with a gun, and Anthony forces the director’s hand in doing a closeup of the orange juice… which the lead dramatically squirts into his mouth seconds before shooting himself. Hah.
The finished tape is given to Anthony, even though the director worries that it takes four hours to get back to Seoul while the broadcast is three hours away.
The helicopter isn’t able to come due to weather, so he turns to the quick-service driver instead. He offers to give the man a hefty sum to deliver the tape to SBS within one hour. Lordy.
Everything is percentages and numbers to Anthony, since he recognizes that the driver’s chance of success (without, you know, dying) is 36.2%. But if he follows on another motorcycle, the chances increase to 72.4%. Again, I say: Lordy.
He’s willing to risk death, because as he tells Jin-wan, “What I’m afraid of more than death is failure.” He orders Go-eun to ride behind him since they’ll need her for editing, and off they go.
They’ve got thirty minutes till broadcast, and the broadcasting company crew is feeling the pressure. There’s a lot of chyron introductions in a short amount of time, and it’ll probably be easier to identify them when they get individual scenes later. But just know we’ve got coordinating producers, drama directors, and deputy directors up the wazoo.
The two motorcycles rush toward Seoul, but the quick-service driver crashes. Eek. Anthony skids to a stop behind him and gives the exact coordinates to 911 before approaching the bloody driver sprawled on the asphalt.
The driver reaches up to Anthony for help, and Anthony takes his hand… before fishing the tape from the guy’s pocket?! Are you serious? That’s cold.
The man trembles and loses consciousness, accidentally pulling Anthony’s “absolute ring” off in the process. It rolls into a storm drain and he has no choice but to leave it.
Go-eun can’t believe he’s about to leave a dying man, but Anthony’s patience is running thin as he tells her there’s nothing he can do to help anyway. They’re off again.
They’re halfway into the finale by the time Anthony delivers the tape by driving the motorcycle into the broadcasting station’s lobby. Hardcore. He literally sprints to get the tape to the editing room only five minutes and twenty seconds before the scene is supposed to actually air.
The ratings are rising by the minute as the broadcasting crew waits nervously for the final scene. Fifteen seconds to air, fourteen seconds… Gah, my nerves. How do they handle it in real drama life?
As the seconds tick down dramatically and Anthony rushes to deliver the edited version to the broadcasting room, the motorcyclist is rushed to the hospital. The final scene is plugged in mere seconds before it was supposed to air while the unconscious cyclist undergoes defibrillation.
The cyclist dies, and the minute-by-minute ratings surpass thirty percent. While everyone cheers in the broadcasting room, the cyclist’s body is covered with a sheet.
Anthony seems unsurprised but satisfied at the results. He turns to Go-eun: “You asked me earlier what on earth a drama is. This is the drama we make.”
He attends a funeral the next day for a high-profile corpse, and not the cyclist. Jin-wan informs him that the man died, and Anthony merely remarks that he’s sorry to hear it.
Meanwhile, the cyclist’s funeral is attended only by his grieving wife, daughter, and brother. Go-eun has come to pay her respects but hesitates in the doorway, since the sight of the crying daughter reminds her of her own father’s funeral.
In the end, she can’t work up the nerve to go in.
Anthony’s fellow rivals from different networks “jokingly” rib him about his recent elegant success, only to curse him the second he turns his back. Even his own broadcaster’s Drama Director MOON SANG-IL (Yoon Ju-sang) mutters “Right now, he’s hot. But some day, he will fall. When it comes, let’s be sure to step on him.”
And Anthony is no fool, since he murmurs to Jin-wan that he knows those directors are waiting like vultures for him to make just one mistake.
Go-eun pays a visit to her mom, who owns a small restaurant. The two are cute and friendly (why do I feel like nice mother/daughter relationships are so rare in dramas nowadays?) while Go-eun asks for the night off so she can prepare her script for tomorrow’s meeting.
She still thinks Writer Jung is in the hospital, and leaves a thankful message on her voicemail now that she’ll get the chance to debut because of her.
Anthony visits the motorcyclist’s funeral while Go-eun stays up to finish the script. He pays his respects to the dead before telling the man’s wife and brother that he was responsible for the delivery that got him killed. Huh. Points for honesty.
At least Anthony seems genuinely torn up about it, but the grieving wife won’t accept his consolation money. Even Jin-wan doesn’t think the money was necessary – it came from Anthony’s personal account, and it’s not like he’s legally responsible, either.
Anthony turns to him, his face grave. “Someone died while working for my drama. And I’m in charge of that drama. Is any other reason necessary?”
Later that night, Anthony watches about six TVs and broods in his luxurious apartment overlooking the city.
Go-eun brings her script to Empire Productions the next morning, and sees the sane director and lead actor from Elegant Revenge. Ha, is the vicious cycle starting all over again?
She’s a bundle of nerves while Anthony seems strangely surprised to see her, but he covers for it in that effortless way of his. He claims he’ll read over her script later (I doubt it) and can’t seem to remember his own lie when she asks about Writer Jung. Or he’s just pretending not to.
Right on cue, Writer Jung storms into the office to demand to know who butchered her script. Seeing Go-eun in the same office is all the evidence she needs, and she starts pulling Go-eun’s hair as payment for betraying her teacher.
Go-eun pulls away and defends herself by saying that she edited the script because someone told her that’s what she wanted, and Writer Jung demands to know who. Anthony: “I know, right? Who told you that?” Haha. He’s really going to throw her under the bus, isn’t he.
Go-eun tells her all about Anthony’s lie, but Anthony pleads innocence and claims that Go-eun offered to change the script in exchange for him to look at her script. Thinking Go-eun turned against her in order to debut, Writer Jung tells her that she’ll blackball her in the industry so she can’t work again.
After another catfight, Go-eun stands alone before Anthony: “Why on earth are you doing this to me?” He pleads innocent, again, and Go-eun’s temper flares. She’s worked under Writer Jung for five years and he’s destroyed her in the blink of an eye. What does he plan to do about it?
“I’m sorry,” Anthony replies. She’s flabbergasted, especially when he offers to read her script and get back to her, since she can’t believe his lies. He pretty much sits her down and explains that he just had his eye on the prize, and there’s nothing wrong with what he did to achieve it.
Poor Go-eun. Everyone watches her as she trudges out of the office. At least Anthony pulls out her script to take a look, but shakes his head at what he sees. It’s a Gaksital-esque story, which means money. He files it away to the island of unread scripts in his office.
Later, his meeting is interrupted when news breaks out about the motorcyclist’s death, along with Anthony’s part in causing it. He looks down to his empty ring finger and remembers it falling near the body.
Instantaneously, every phone in the meeting room goes off as the news spreads. The office goes into damage control mode.
Anthony tries to get the articles pulled through his connections, but the news has spread too fast, and no one wants to do it alone. He finally loses his patience after he’s spurned again and again.
The media is swarming outside of the office, all of them blaming him and his greed for the motorcyclist’s death. Worse than them is the Chairman’s call, as he expresses disappointment in Anthony and tells him he’s doomed.
Anthony’s eyes fill with tears as he asks the Chairman for clarification, and he gets it: He’s fired. “Who made Empire Productions number one in Asia?” he asks. “How could you say I’m doomed? Because of me, Empire was made. The fame of Empire was made because of me, Anthony!”
The Chairman is nonplussed and his decision remains, so Anthony issues his own veiled threat – he’ll leave, but he’ll take the writers he’s raised with him. He warns the Chairman: “You know well, that baseball is dependent on a pitcher, and a drama is dependent on a writer.”
The Chairman’s reaction? Game on.
Ah, but we find out the man behind the leak is none other than Managing Director Oh Jin-wan, who wants nothing more than to see Anthony fall. He’s in cahoots with the Chairman, who tells him that he’ll get Anthony’s recently vacated spot if he can stop any writers from going with him.
So while Anthony tells writers that he’ll offer them more per episode than Empire, Jin-wan basically tells them that he’s full of shit. Plus, they’ve got contract breaching penalties to think about if they leave Empire.
Jin-wan makes sure to remind writers that Anthony mutilated Writer Jung’s script, while Anthony claims he didn’t mutilate it – the show reached thirty percent ratings, after all.
As the calls go on, Go-eun walks into the office carrying a bucket of orange juice. I. Can’t. Wait.
And just as Anthony is about to talk to the number one most sought after writer, Go-eun marches in and throws the juice on him. Fist pumping is happening on this end.
When Anthony blusters, Go-eun gathers her courage and declares: “I’m Lee Go-eun, who got screwed over in this field because of you!”
Not the greatest cliffhanger ever, but for the most part this opening really clipped right along, and managed to build a lot of suspense around something we all know about, but aren’t able to see in fine detail all that often: Live-shooting. Because, honestly, how does the production team even find time to talk about live-shooting when they’re all too busy live-shooting?
That’s why most of the events struck a chord with me, and I’m guessing it’ll be why viewers find it compelling – we can all believe what’s happening. We’ve heard about the bus crashes, the car accidents, the debilitating illnesses, the IV treatments. The rush to get Elegant Revenge’s final scene in reminded me a lot of Episode 19 of Equator Man, except Equator Man didn’t have an Anthony to rush the tapes in. That episode unceremoniously cut off ten minutes short of its ending because they just didn’t have a scene to broadcast. (It was a pretty awkward watching experience.)
So we’ve seen live-shoot go wrong, and we’ve seen it go right, usually at the cost of everyone involved. That’s why Anthony’s speech about the people involved in drama production living third-rate lifestyles worked, mostly because it’s all very true. Sure, there’s the glamour and pride for a job well done. But all the stress it takes to get there? My heart was racing just watching. And that wasn’t even a real drama.
Character-wise, I like what we’re working with. Go-eun is average done right, as opposed to a wild character without much of a basis in reality. Her conflicts are relatable and her reactions make sense, so she’s an easy like in my book. Doesn’t hurt that it’s Jung Ryeo-won, who was all kinds of amazing even as a spoiled princess with the mouth of a sailor in History of the Salaryman.
And then we’ve got Kim Myung-min, who’s certainly bringing intensity to the role. Anthony has potential to veer into caricature territory, but so far he’s proven his worth and even proven his humanity by visiting the motorcyclist’s funeral. Granted, we could argue that him leaving the motorcyclist in the first place was rather inhumane, but I think regret counts for a lot. And he looked pretty damn sorry.
I went into this drama pretty much unaware of anything but the initial synopsis, so as the episode went on I was wondering exactly where this was all headed. Now that Anthony’s kingdom has crumbled, it’ll be fun to see him hopefully team up with Go-eun to take the drama world by storm. It’s never fun when someone starts at the top and stays there through a series, so with Anthony knocked down a few pegs, we can get a general feel for the conflict to come. And when it’s handled with this kind of slickness and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor, I just can’t say no.