The King’s Affection: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
The King’s Affection is off to a running start, with a wonderful and well-crafted premiere week. The story is both touching and compelling, and sets up the internal and external battles our heroine must face. Forced to hide her true identity and masquerade as the prince, her entire life becomes a well-acted play with life or death stakes.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
We’ve got an epic 20-episode sageuk romance ahead of us, and like many before it, the drama opens with important backstory to set the stage for the drama to come. There’s loads of characters to introduce, with their ambitions and political connections, the palace dynamics to understand — and last but not least, the story of how a young princess came to live under the guise of her brother.
It’s a lot of exposition, but we need to know and feel it all in order for the present-day storyline to pack its punch. So first, an overview of our drama’s setup.
The drama opens with the crown princess (Han Chae-ah) giving birth. She first births a son and heir, but everyone is surprised when the baby is a twin, and a little girl soon follows. Twins are considered not only a bad omen, but it’s unacceptable for “the crown prince to share a womb with a girl,” and no one in the palace will allow the infant to live. CROWN PRINCE HYEJONG (Lee Pil-mo) follows the king’s orders and is willing to kill his own daughter, as is the crown princess’s father, who is willing to kill his own granddaughter.
The crown princess is lovely and wonderful — a true sageuk heroine — and she risks it all to save the girl, first by faking the baby’s death, and second by sending the baby girl far, far away from the palace. Better that she lives an orphan than dies at the hand of her family.
The royal infant grows up into the lovely adolescent prince LEE HWI (played fabulously in the past storyline by Choi Myung-bin). Rather than be conceited and arrogant, he’s a lovely kid with a thirst for adventure. One day, he and his friend and servant EUNUCH HONG (Kim Geon) discover a girl that works as a palace maid. She’s called DAM-YI (also played by Choi Myung-bin) and she’s the spitting image of the young prince, and he of her. They’re both speechless.
Soon, Lee Hwi requests Dam-yi’s presence at the palace, and at his command, they start an elaborate masquerade where he can dress as her, and be free to roam around. In particular, his beloved tutor and father figure is condemned to death, and this has Lee Hwi cross-dressing more often, and Dam-yi sitting in his chambers awkwardly faking her way through the day.
It’s important to note that though several years have passed since the twins’ birth, there are a few important figures that still have their guard up. Among those is INSPECTOR JUNG SEOK-JO (Bae Soo-bin in both storylines). The man is ruthless when it comes to his palace duties, but is a devoted father to his young son JUNG JI-WOON (Go Woo-rim).
Ji-woon is a scholar-in-training, but like Lee Hwi, he also gets in trouble like the kid he is. One day he discovers the well-hidden courtyard deep on the palace grounds where young Dam-yi lives and works, and the two have an instant connection. They’re only about twelve at this point (according to my reckoning), but it’s every bit the innocent childhood romance.
They share important moments regarding a volume that Ji-woon copies for her, a near-drowning in an (extremely deep) fish pond, and a set of dice that will likely prove important later. For now it seems we just need to know their deep and immediate connection, and the fact that both are good souls who know right from wrong.
Having that moral compass is important, because the kids are soon face-to-face with lots of evil. Lee Hwi’s masquerading as Dam-yi doesn’t go on for long before it’s uncovered(ish) by Inspector Jung. He believes he’s found the twin princess… he does not know that the two were already acquainted and secretly switching roles. This key reveal (or lack thereof) is what causes the terrible tragedy that follows.
While dressed as Dam-yi and trying pay his last respects to his tutor, young Lee Hwi is murdered by Inspector Jung. OMG! When the body is brought to the crown princess, she’s in mourning for the daughter she was forced to abandon… only to look at the corpse and notice it is missing the scar that was on her young daughter’s neck.
Grief turns into more grief when the crown princess, her court lady, and Eunuch Hong learn that Lee Hwi is dead. And this is where the true masquerade starts: the crown princess tells Dam-yi that from now on she is the prince. And her very life depends upon keeping that secret safe.
Another important note at this point in the story is the people that know about the switch, versus the people that are merely suspicious because of the existence of the twins. In addition to the crown princess and Eunuch Hong, there’s COURT LADY KIM (Baek Hyun-joo) and the royal guard who was responsible for secreting the twin girl away all those years ago, who know about Dam-yi.
With those four having the deepest inside knowledge, there’s also an outer layer of the secret, and those are the characters that are either aware that the twins were born, or are newly aware (mostly my happenstance) that Dam-yi looks just like Lee Hwi. Inspector Jung quickly dispatches of these people — even innocent young court maids — to protect the secret. He’s following orders and hiding the existence of the female twin (not to mention the fact he thinks he killed her!), but he’s also quick and crafty enough to remain a threat to our heroine.
Also worth noting, his son Ji-woon – and the real Dam-yi — see the murder of the young maid and are traumatized by Inspector Jung’s actions.
Dam-yi struggles to fulfill her role, fill the shoes of the prince, and effectively become someone she’s not, but the four lovely humans around her protect and aid her. She’s also able to know and love her mother for the first time in her life, and it’s absolutely lovely. Too lovely, in fact, which means the crown princess’ untimely demise (sudden and unexplained) comes shortly thereafter. Thus, slowly, the people that know Dam-yi’s secret are shrinking in number.
At this point we’re a good chunk of the way through Episode 2, which means it’s about time to transition the story to the present-day timeline. The past storyline and characters were so affecting that I’m as sorry to see them go as I am happy to see them again after our ten-year time jump.
Much has changed. Though Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong remain close at Dam-yi’s side, she’s become more Lee Hwi than we ever thought possible (and now played by Park Eun-bin). We see the daily transformation she must undergo to don her princely robes. We also see first-hand how she uses arrogance, power, and position to keep her true identity safe.
Lest we get through our premiere week without meeting our hero in present-day as well, we have an introduction to Physician Jung (A.K.A. Ji-woon, now played by Kim Ro-woon). He’s flashy and fun, and seems competent and full of mischief at the same time. He saves an important minister’s life while also causing noblewoman SHIN SO-EUN (Bae Yoon-kyung) to break out in a pimply rash due to his tinctures. It’s our first bit of humor in the drama, which I might not have been expecting, but am willing to go with.
Finally, we have a bit of set-up as to the challenges that our heroine currently faces at the palace, with a prince that mocks her right to the throne as readily as he mocks her small and delicate features. This guy even goes so far as to shoot out her topknot when the nobles are out on a hunt. Her glorious locks fall around her face in the sunlight, and he’s genuinely surprised by how pretty he (she) is…
Dam-yi is forced to rush off to hide. She finds a secluded glade where she can sort herself out and re-princify, but she soon realizes that someone else is also there. And that someone sees her in her feminine glory: a surprised-looking Ji-woon.
It’s a great start to what feels like it’s going to be an epic tale, and most of everything the drama did felt right and made sense. I will admit I was a little confused with the casting of the young Jung Ji-woon character, and had myself convinced that he wasn’t playing Ro-woon’s counterpart, but our second lead (later played by Nam Yoon-soo) which just made more sense in my head. However, this romantic childhood backstory usually exists for an OTP only, so I’ll have to take the hit on that one (what was I thinking!).
Also, I really wanted Dam-yi’s mother to survive so we could have more wonderful mother-daughter bonding moments, but I see why her demise was necessary to the storyline (and I have a feeling it might still be a future plot point — but that’s just conjecture).
On a final note, The King’s Affection was absolutely beautiful to watch from an aesthetic standpoint — from the glossy way it’s shot, to the beautiful colors and scenery. I particularly love how the palace ponds are always so deep and mystical (it might be my favorite sageuk trope of all time!).
With some really strong setup behind us, and a whole lot of story ahead, I’m looking forward to seeing more — particularly how Dam-yi, who seems to have adjusted to her princely role quite well, will cope when she must confront the man that will capture… the king’s affection.
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