A solid start to a funny, well-crafted, fast-flying drama that has just enough real feeling to balance out its satirical humor. Which I love. I was a bit on the fence after the first episode, which I liked but not whole-heartedly, but Episode 2 was enough to get me onboard. The drama has all the stuff to make it a keeper: fantastic visuals, sweeping score (whose grandiosity is sometimes a point of humor in addition to being pretty to listen to), wit, sarcasm, and another outstanding performance from Kim Myung-min, with Jung Ryeo-won holding up her end well. And while Siwon doesn’t make his appearance till the next episode, by all accounts he is hilarious. Good signs all.
SONG OF THE DAY
Casker – “The Healing Song” [ Download ]
EPISODE 2: “Fall of the King”
Anthony gets doused in orange juice by one mightily pissed-off Go-eun, but frankly that’s the least of his worries since he’s being Jerry Maguire’d by his company. His preoccupation is with scrambling to salvage his career, not dealing with her.
Go-eun says that what burns her up the most is that the drama world is run by garbage like him, but that his end will come. She storms out, and Anthony gets back to his client list, or soon-to-be-ex-client list, to poach as many of them as he can. As he works his way down the list he gets more and more desperate, and the conversations more hostile—especially since he’s done his share of screwing everyone over. There’s a life lesson in here about golden rules, and not burning bridges you might need later.
He pins his hopes on No. 1 on his list, who is last to decide. Unfortunately, she’s sitting right next to Writer Jung from Elegant Revenge. He apologizes to Writer Jung for that whole mess, but she snaps that he’s finished.
And he is. He’s ejected from his cushy office, and takes one last mournful look outside his window. I love the epic music of the moment, making this scene just SO TRAGIC. In fact, this drama’s ability to mock pomposity by amping up the pomposity is one of my favorite things about it.
Anthony takes the walk of shame out his doors, and then, we’re three years later.
Empire has a new CEO, and Anthony? He’s orating to a darkened room, much like he did in the first episode, relating a story about his life like he’s recording it for posterity, or Inside the Actors’ Studio. “I have always lived a brilliant life,” he says. “Of course, there was shade as well. The problem is, that shade has persisted for the past three years.”
Turns out: This is therapy. Hahaha. He tries to spin everything in a positive light, how the tough times weren’t really so tough, but it sounds more like denial. Anthony fiddles with his unadorned pinky finger, bereft of its maaaagical Absolute Ring, and explains how he moved his office around and sold his house, and you know, that wasn’t really so terrible.
The facade cracks. “But…” he adds, bursting into tears. In the past three years, the formerly tear-less Anthony has found himself randomly assailed with crying fits. Ha, he would think it was random, though the doctor points out that whenever he’s uneasy he toys with his finger—perhaps there’s a connection.
Anthony doesn’t care about getting to the psychological root of the problem, he just wants to be put back on his prescription. His shrink advises that medicating isn’t a permanent fix, but he argues that the drugs kept him 100% tear-free.
Then his credit card gets denied for exceeding its limit at the pharmacy. Ha. I love that Anthony continues to dress the part of the big exec—ordinarily I’d say it’s an attempt to keep appearances up to the world, but in his case I seriously think it’s an attempt to keep himself fooled.
The dinky offices of his World Productions are another hilarious bit of overcompensation—from Empire to World, eh? There’s the great visual gag of Anthony’s extravagant CEO desk set in this tiny office: It’s half corner office, half folding chairs and peeling wallpaper. I love this kind of humor, which is thoughtful but not played up for the laugh; if you notice, great, and if you don’t, no matter because it’s all a part of the character’s world.
Anthony’s also months behind on office rent, the gas bill, and his sole employee’s salary.
What about Go-eun? She’s left behind showbiz entirely (not that she had a choice, having been blackballed from it) and now works at her mother’s restaurant, Eunie’s Go-Kalbi. When the ajummas miss part of a drama scene, Go-eun amazes them by rattling off the plot, which to her is obvious. They gasp that she should be a writer, and her smile fades. Mom notices the change, and it hurts her heart.
Anthony returns to Empire Entertainment and gets the cold shoulder from everybody. He wrangles Director Oh into conversation and suggests that they work together again, despite the director clearly wanting nothing to do with him… but his therapist’s words ring in his brain (“You must acknowledge reality and recover”), and he lets the guy off the hook. Aw, he’s trying.
He’s here to meet with his replacement (and hoobae), CEO Oh Jin-wan, who occupies his old office. Anthony asks for a loan, lying that he just happened to get in a fender-bender outside and wanted to pay off the other guy with a small amount ($3,000) and forgot his wallet. It would be too humiliating to reveal that he needs it for basic necessities.
CEO Oh blows him off with an excuse, but gets in a dig about a Japanese investor who’s giving him a headache. They want to invest in a Korean drama, and have 10 billion won to toss at it, but on the stipulation that it be a drama about the Japanese occupation years. Uh, does that mean they’re very contrary investors, or just ballsy? You do remember what those years were about, don’t you?
CEO Oh offers up this information condescendingly, like, Why don’t you give it a try? He doesn’t consider Anthony a real threat, since they’ll never find a script about one man’s fierce struggle during the colonial years. Just one more reason why this world is dramametaland, not dramaland, where Gaksital has yet to exist.
And then, Anthony flashes back to one such script. Kyungsung Morning, which he’d dismissed for its uselessly huge production budget and tossed in the armoire with a bunch of other discarded scripts. Wheels… turning…
Go-eun’s mother is sensitive to her daughter’s abandoned dream, and tells her to go back to writing. Go-eun says she’d rather work with Mom, but Mom heaves a sigh, knowing that’s not true.
Anthony makes a hasty exit from the meeting, then ducks in a closet to hide away the rest of the workday. After everyone leaves and the building is locked up, he finally emerges to claim his meal ticket.
Only… that armoire is empty. Meal ticket go bye-bye.
Anthony heads to another executive’s office and continues his search. There, stacked in a heap under a desk, is a pile of scripts. I know this is a tiny plot point but it’s filmed like a spy movie, split-screened with the night guard doing his rounds, and it’s surprisingly suspenseful with the score and sleek look. I’m diggin’ it, and rooting him on.
Finally, pay dirt. He grabs Kyungsung Morning, hearing the night guard approach with just enough time to duck out of sight. Phew.
Anthony takes it back to his office and starts reading. Properly, this time. He’s satisfied with the results, deciding that it’s rough around the edges but capable of being a success. He gets to work, writing long into the night, and the next. Finally he’s done, and sends off an email to that Japanese investor, Watanabe Productions.
Soon enough, the call comes. It’s fantastic news: the CEO loved the script and wants to invest. He wants to meet… in Japan tomorrow… along with the scriptwriter.
Anthony agrees, of course, but now he’s got to convince Go-eun to work with him. Worse yet, the phone number on the script is invalid, and none of her former colleagues know her current one. His assistant suggests they take it to an inquiry agency, so off they go. The investigator quotes them a price they can’t afford and Anthony looks like he’s about to make some Very Bad Decisions… just as a commercial comes on the TV. For Eunie’s Go-Kalbi. Starring Lee Go-eun. HA. (Coincidences that solve problems rank high on my list of hated drama clichés, but as satirical punchlines? Love it.)
Anthony turns down the investigator’s quote flat, and then the investigator hurriedly slashes his price in desperation. Heh.
Business is already booming at Eunie’s, where Go-eun strains to hear Anthony’s call. Hearing herself referred to as Writer Lee has an effect on her, and she starts to tear up as he introduces himself as World Production’s CEO, who happened upon her script and wants to contract her and make her drama.
He offers to come to her, and then steps inside the restaurant.
He greets her with a friendly salutation, at the sight of him she suddenly hardens. “Get out right now,” she orders.
He acknowledges that he wronged her, but that does nothing to smooth things over. She’s not buying his pretty explanation for finding sincerity in her work, and tells him to cut the crap. So he levels with her: “I used your script to entice a rich old man.” That makes more sense to her, but it doesn’t make her any more willing to accept the offer.
He admits to being completely ruined, with not a penny to his name: “But I can stand again. King of Dramas Anthony can stand again. To conquer the world again, I need you.”
She says, “I don’t need you. So leave.”
Awesome Mom steps in to tell Anthony fiercely that he took enough tears from Go-eun three years ago, and that he’d better go if he doesn’t want to die by Mom’s hand.
Anthony asks for one last word, and tells Go-eun, “Yes, I’m a bastard and nasty and cold-hearted. But what does that matter? How is my being a bastard and you giving your dream another attempt related? Do you want to spend your life here? And one day in the far-off future you’ll tell your kid, ‘Your mother once had a dream,’ and leave it at that? Dreams aren’t made to be memories. They’re made to be achieved. And when tonight passes, the very likelihood of that will disappear. You can hate me. But don’t commit a wrongdoing to your own life.”
That speech is a lot more persuasive, and Go-eun is shaken. Anthony walks out to his car, and waits anxiously for hours. He’s so desperate for her to agree that another crying fit comes on, and he pops pills like they’re a lifeline. He thinks despairingly that this was his last chance: “Will it all end like this?”
Awesome Mom, whom I think of as Mama Bear, keeps quiet all night but doesn’t miss a thing. Like how Go-eun is lost in thought and near tears all night, thinking of her lost dream. So when Go-eun looks at her and thinks, “I’m sorry, I want to go,” Mama Bear telepathically thinks back at her, “Don’t worry about me and go.” Then, to ease the moment, Mom tells her, “It’s for the best. You sucked at grilling go-kalbi. Girl, you’ve just been fired.” Aw.
Go-eun stomps over to Anthony to accept, with two points to make: “First, I hate people like you. Know that you’re a dirty, greedy mercenary.” Anthony: “Thank you. Next?” Go-eun warns that if he screws with her again, she’ll kill him. Anthony: “Make sure I die without pain.”
Go-eun has a warning message from Mom, too, who gives an awesome glare and makes a throat-slitting gesture at Anthony. She’s so badass.
Off to the airport they go. Anthony catches Go-eun’s eye in the rearview mirror and smiles at her. She shoots him an “I’m watching you” glare, with pointy fingers and all.
Chairman Watanabe’s rich enough to send them a swanky private jet, which Go-eun finds impressive. (Ah, he’s Korean-Japanese, which sort of explains his drama interests.)
During the flight, Go-eun reads over her contract with World Production… and balks. There’s zero signing fee? He slaps down a 10,000 bill (ten bucks), saying that’s all he can offer her now until they get the first installment of the investment. Go-eun gives him an incredulous look, but pockets the cash. Ha.
In Japan, a stretch limo awaits to take them to their lodgings. Anthony directs them to the ultra-luxe hotel and thanks his guide, confirming their morning meeting. As soon as the limo pulls away, he heads straight for a taxi. HA.
Now that there are no witnesses, he takes them to a cheap, rundown motel, which is still expensive enough that he does the mental math and despairs of taking out two rooms. Instead, he turns to Go-eun, taking advantage of her lack of Japanese skills: “Oh no, there’s only one room available.” Pffft. I love when tropes are spun around on their heads. Coincidence is lame, but cheapness is always funny.
He takes the bed and leaves her to sleep on the floor. In the morning, they head back to the fancy hotel, so they can look appropriately posh when the aide comes to pick them up. Naturally every excess must be experienced, so the next form of transportation is a yacht—a yacht!—and then the chairman’s lavish estate. At least, I think it’s his estate. It could be a resort. Or his personal island.
A Japanese actress makes a brief cameo here (Fujii Mina), and Anthony takes a moment to ogle (discreetly, of course) as she serves tea. Too bad for him she’s Mrs. Watanabe.
Once again, Anthony makes cheeky use of his language advantage, “translating” for Go-eun. He doesn’t see the need to fluff up her ego by telling her how much Watanabe loves her script, or that he expressly arranged the meeting to meet her.
Instead, Anthony plays it cool and says that Watanabe was uncertain on the script but saw glimpses of potential, and throws some self-praise while he’s at it—like how Watanabe was swayed by his faith in Anthony. (The bragging goes both ways; he translates Go-eun’s comment into Japanese, conveniently adding a part about how Anthony was a huge help in the writing process.)
Watanabe wants to contract the drama, with one big condition: It must be on the air within the year. Can they make that happen?
That’s beyond his power to lie, so Anthony tries to explain that the timeslots for the year are likely filled. But Watanabe’s kindly mien suddenly turns hard, and Anthony makes the promise.
The contract is signed, and the first deposit is set to pay today.
After the meeting, they are escorted to the guest quarters where, in the privacy of his own room, Anthony finally lets out some of his glee. “My empire is coming back!”
Go-eun has humbler goals, and thinks, “I’ll show you I can do it, Mom. I’ll become a drama writer you won’t be ashamed of.”
Both are dead-set against letting this opportunity slip through their fingers. Their sentiments are, tellingly, similar and yet opposite: She vows to prove her naysayers wrong with her sincere writing, and he vows to seek revenge on his detractors by wielding his power.
A bit later that night, Anthony heads outside, and catches an unexpected glimpse of Go-eun taking a dip in the hot spring. He ducks out of sight and wanders in the other direction, coming upon a storehouse.
He hears sounds of fighting, and peers inside to see an unnerving sight: gangsters beating up one of their own. The victim begs for mercy, but the leader reminds him that the cost of breaking a promise is death. He pulls out a gun and levels it at the man’s head.
Watanabe steps in and stops the shooting. He pats the fallen gangster in an avuncular way and says, “Promises can be broken.” The gangster breathes in relief. Watanabe takes the gun and shoots, adding, “But promises broken with me get you killed.”
Anthony gasps in shock, not least because, uh, he just made a promise with a very high likelihood of breakage. His stumble is heard inside, and the gangsters look up curiously, just as a hand slaps across Anthony’s mouth to shut him up.
Maybe not the most suspenseful cliffhanger (it’s clearly got to be Go-eun, having heard someone mid-bath), and even the conflict is a bit oversimplified to be realistic. But this drama cracks me up not merely for plot points, but for its attitude—there’s bombast and cheek and Importance, served up with a heavy dose of irony.
So while I don’t expect to be surprised or kept on my toes by the story itself, I think the execution will be the thing to carry the day. In addition to being an interesting take on the meta-world of drama-making, I just find this drama fun. It flies by, and the little details always get a laugh out of me, whether it’s Anthony’s little character tics, or the visual gags like him dressing for a power meeting in a shabby motel.
As much as I love the cracked-out humor, though, it’s the show’s current of sincerity running through the performances that really gets me. I wouldn’t say the story is sincere, but Kim Myung-min and Jung Ryeo-won play these characters with complexity and commitment. The drama is funny, but they know that the humor comes from the absurdity, and not by trying to be funny.
I appreciate the groundedness of Go-eun, especially in a character who sounds, on paper, a bit of a fuddy-duddy. She’s the idealistic humanist, pitted against the cynical blowhard. Sounds like a recipe for a flat stock heroine, all lily-white and damsel-in-distress-y, no? Yet Go-eun is strong and fierce, and if her mother is any indication, has solid hints of being badass as well. I love that about her.
In Episode 1, I wondered whether Kim Myung-min was treading too closely into past character waters, with pompous Anthony bearing quite the resemblance to his maestro in Beethoven Virus, with some of his White Tower imperiousness as well. But with the character’s fall from grace (or at least fall from success, since it’s not clear whether he was ever blessed with much grace), we see a really wonderful dichotomy to Anthony that makes him such a treat to watch. He’s got the hilarity of the out-of-touch Former Bigshot, but it’s the desperation that makes him compelling. I love the occasional cracks in his facade, the way that we get to see past his powerful outer shell and into the soft, bleeding heart underneath. It’s almost like I feel privileged to get that access to his character, since I’m part of the omniscient audience and not, say, a character to whom Anthony remains shut off. It’s fascinating, and I’m intrigued.
I thought the main setup between Anthony and Go-eun had the potential to fall into the same tired old tropes, because it’s a classic case of opposites attract, taken to an extreme. I do find the character conflict simple, but thanks to the acting (and the deft directing, which knows just how to cut a scene to wring the laugh) I find it working. It’s banter and bickering, done in a smart way to be revealing of character. A lot of rom-coms throw in bickering as a requisite step in the dating dance, but here the repartee is smart; I appreciate how Anthony and Go-eun cut each other down because they see through each other’s self-defensive bullshit. No need for euphemisms or self-denial here; call the spade a spade.
I don’t even know if I need these characters to be romantically involved, because I find the dynamic rich already at the platonic level. Er, would platonic mean they had to be friends? Fine, at the reluctant-enemies-in-detente level.
I like it already, and that’s not even throwing Siwon into the mix. He may not be the most technically sharp actor around, but he gets props for being game to poke fun at himself and make himself a ridiculous character. Bring it on, King of Dramas.
- King of Dramas: Episode 1
- Even more stills from King of Dramas
- More stills from the set of King of Dramas
- Siwon (and abs) for King of Dramas
- Jung Ryeo-won begins shoots for King of Dramas
- Choi Siwon joins King of Dramas
- Jung Ryeo-won to star opposite Drama King Kim Myung-min?
- Kim Myung-min becomes King of Dramas