King 2 Hearts (2012) is a suspenseful and addictive modern day political and romantic epic that assumes the monarchy is still in place as a political force in South Korea, and a North Korea without a "Dear Leader" but still espousing communism. This fantasy North Korea has politicians who wish to reach out to the South to try and get along. O...k....
I basically marathoned this drama in two days because I simply could not turn it off, the cliffhangers were that great! The musical score was exquisite! I think this is actor-singer Seung Gi Lee's best performance by far. Ha Ji Won (Secret Garden) shows off her amazingly strong physical skills once again for the camera like she did in other dramas; it's her acknowledged forte in the industry. For instance, in one incredible scene she is lifted up by wires on top of a spinning carousel and runs on top of it, jumping down to save the Prince held at gunpoint. It reminded me of the crazy carousel spinning wildly in Hitchcock's film classic Strangers On A Train. The supporting cast were all perfection in their roles, and I saw a lot of veteran character actors I recognized from other works. I fell in love with the second male lead, Jung Suk Jo, whose poignant and reserved soldier-bodyguard character touched my heart by staying true to the disabled Princess he secretly loved. Sigh. That kind of devotion you will rarely find in people today. I once heard a statistic quoted on the Oprah Winfrey Show by a psychiatrist that 63% of American men will divorce their wives if they get sick or disabled, versus 23% of wives who will divorce their husbands if they get sick or disabled. No wonder I prefer the fantasy world of Korean dramas to the real men of today!
The Story: Action begins in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Royal Family in Korea are watching the news events unfold on television. The King has two young sons at this time, Jae Kang Lee the older, who is a teen, and Jae Ha Lee, the younger, who is of elementary school age. Their parents decide to have them both sent to a military school together and when they arrive the older son is immediately attacked by other students, with the younger son charging in to help his older brother fight off the bullies. A silent boy who stands on the sidelines suddenly rushes up to them and stabs the younger prince on the arm with a ball point pen. He screams in pain. When the adults arrive they break up the fight and shuffle the boys out of the room; later after an argument between the two brothers, the older locks the younger in a classroom by himself. Suddenly Jae Ha sees someone write in English on the frosty window pane, "I AM KING". When the young prince peers through the window to see who wrote those words he sees the stony face of the quiet student who had stabbed him with the pen. Thus begins an eerie relationship between the two of them that will have ramifications for years to come.
Then we skip ahead twenty-three years. The older prince Jae Kang (Sung Min Lee in a beautiful performance) has become the King, and the younger prince Jae Ha (Seung Gi Lee) has just finished serving his two year military requirement, and is happily expecting to start his life as a fun-loving playboy prince who can chase the girls, drink and party to his heart's content. However, his older brother the King has different plans for the immature young man! He tricks him into signing an agreement that he will become part of a soldier team for South Korea in a planned international war games contest called the WOC (World Officers Championship). Back into the military he has to go to prepare - with the North Koreans - to represent one nation of Korea instead of two separate nations in the games. This has been his brother's dream for a long time, and Jae Ha basically has no choice but to join the team, unless he wants to give up his place in the line of succession.
Royal brothers who love each other deeply, King Jae Kang and Prince Jae Ha
Meanwhile, in North Korea, the team is being chosen for the world contest. It includes a woman officer who is skilled in martial arts named Hang Ah Kim (Ha Ji Won). She will be the team leader and her teammates are Kang Suk Ri (Man Shik Jung), a middle aged married man who likes to exercise with bayonets, and a younger officer named Kwon Young Bae (Choi Kwan) who is an expert sniper. Later in the story he will be able to save Jae Ha's life when he falls victim to an assassination attempt. The North's team members are taken by bus to the South to meet their Southern teammates, which ends up giving us a funny moment as a tribute to Ha Ji Won's most famous K-drama, Secret Garden. She sees a big billboard with Hyun Bin's face on it and she oohs and ahs at it, so much so that it bothers the older team member Suk Ri who mutters, "You just like him for his body!" LOL. Then it's Suk Ri's turn to start melting when he sees a billboard of the scantily clad girls from the group Girls' Generation. "Women are allowed to wear such little clothing?" LOL again!
Jae Ha as team leader quickly meets his two other officer teammates from the South, Officer Shi Kyung Eun (wonderfully versatile actor Jung Suk Jo) who is the only son of the King's Adviser and Secretary, Kyu Tae Eun (veteran actor Soon Jae Lee from countless dramas), and Officer Dong Ha Yeom (Hyun Sang Kwon). At first he and Shi Kyung do not hit it off, but gradually they become friends.
North meets South at an awkward banquet dinner in the palace. Jae Ha immediately insults the North Korean female officer Hang Ah by not shaking her hand and saying "I thought they were sending us a woman, I guess I was wrong", whereby she in turn insults him by telling him she knows he has a mole on his butt, and later assaults him - in the lady's rest room of all places. "I was told to kill Jae Ha Lee as soon as I saw him." She's just ribbing him, but still it takes guts to say that to a royal Prince of the country you are visiting!
The first meeting between South Korea Prince Jae Ha Lee and North Korean female officer Hang Ah Kim is filled with tension
-- how will they ever work together on one team?
To add insult to injury, the higher ups force Jae Ha to room with Hang Ah during training! There's a funny scene when she tries to argue with her superior officer that she doesn't want to bunk up with a man, least of all a Royal prince, and the officer insists she must because this has been planned for months, and the scene is shot using a warped camera angle so that it looks like they are arguing in a tunnel.
No matter how often Jae Ha tries to insult Hang Ah she bears it all and eventually he becomes intrigued by this hard and difficult woman. He even gets jealous when he sees her having a snowball fight with his fellow officer Shi Kyung. Then an assassination attempt on both of them throws them closer together when they are told that the treadmills they are exercising on have bombs which will go off if they stop running. The bomb diffusing team move in to dismantle the bombs, but meanwhile Jae Ha and Hang Ah have to keep running for hours without stopping until the threat is over. When the training is over the North Koreans return to their homeland but there's no denying that the attraction Jae Ha and Hang Ah feel for each other is real.
Jae Ha's brother the King informs him that he has been on the phone with Hang Ah's father, a top diplomat in North Korea, named Kim Nam-il (Lee Do Kyung) about the possibility of an arranged marriage between the two of them. Jae Ha is angry and flustered; he wants to please his older brother whom he loves deeply, but no way does Jae Ha want to build a personal life with a North Korean, no matter how attracted he was to her. Hang Ah on her end agrees to a marriage meeting and is sent back to South Korea. Jae Ha tries to get revenge by pretending he loves her, even trying to soften her up by playing Gounod's Ave Maria on the piano and showing her that it was inspired by Bach's Prelude in C. Hang Ah is touched and really starts falling for him for real but then Jae Ha pulls the rug out from under her the next day, cruelly telling her it was all part of his seduction campaign to lead her on and then drop her. Outraged, she wants to return to North Korea yet again but can the kindly pacifist King Jae Kang help her change her mind?
All this time we are treated to many surreal scenes centered around a lunatic named Bong Gu Kim (American name John Mayer, played devilishly well by actor Je Moon Yoon) who is the head of a huge and filthy rich military industrial complex and secret society called simply M. He just has to pick up a phone and alter history. It seems that politicians in most countries owe him big time. His favorite piece of music is Wagner's Ride of Valkyries because he heard it was the favorite piece of Adolf Hitler, and he plays it constantly. He even murders his own bedridden father to this tune, and taps with a pen on each beat as his father is poisoned through his IV. Of course the audience knows that this is the same individual who wrote on the frosty window pane, "I AM KING". He has various henchmen - and a totally psycho hit woman who dresses like a Goth from America - to do his ugly work for him while he sits in palatial luxury. However his real intention remains to become King once he destroys the two brothers in South Korea.
M succeeds in having King Jae Kang murdered along with his wife and makes it look like a suicide. They were at their vacation home and were gassed while enjoying a glass of wine together. He also orders the insane American Goth woman to kill their daughter, the Princess Jae Shin (Yoon Ji Lee in a beautiful performance) but she ends up living and paralyzed from the waist down, and has memory blockages about that hideous day when her brother the King was murdered.
Jae Shin had been secretly in love with officer Shi Kyung Eun for awhile, and he is made her bodyguard after the attack on the Royal family. He falls more deeply in love with her than ever and gives her a pet parrot to cheer her up. (How I wanted that adorable birdie! It was so colorful and cute!). She has the bird with her all the time as she moves around the palace in her wheelchair. During her convalescence she becomes very close to Jae Ha's intended Hang Ah and they become friends. Jae Shin's struggles to recover from her attempted murder by M provides us with some of the most emotional scenes in King 2 Hearts.
Meanwhile the WOC war games are on internationally and the South-North Korean team has to fight against .... the Americans! Who will win?
Shi Kyung and Jae Shin's deep love for one another is truly beautiful
Now it is finally time for Prince Jae Ha, who is now King Jae Ha, to grow up. No longer does he have his brother to cushion his life so he can get away with being irresponsible in life, love, and political reality. He becomes determined to honor his brother's memory by holding on to the pacifist values his brother espoused. He agrees to become engaged to Hang Ah, and he starts to put two and two together that his brother was murdered, not a suicide. He learns about "John Mayer" and M, and even has a private meeting with him and realizes the man is completely insane and dangerous and that as a figurehead King he is limited in what he can do to destroy this guy and his giant organization. However, he is determined to give it his best shot.
"John Mayer" orders his henchmen to destroy the Royal Family
King Jae Ha has many struggles ahead of him and several more attempts on his life. He is also being secretly betrayed by officer Shi Kyung's father Kyu Tae (Soon Jae Lee from Beethoven Virus), his closest adviser, because the man is being blackmailed by John Mayer. Jae Ha begins to count on Hang Ah more and more and the two become very devoted; however M is out to destroy this union as well, because it doesn't help M's finances to have a South and North Korea united. As part of the military industrial complex it's to M's advantage to keep the threat of war between the two nations possible. At another critical point, Hang Ah and Jae Ha's mother the Queen (played so sweetly by veteran actress Yeo Jung Yoon) are kidnapped by M's henchmen and have to be brave and smart to escape their clutches.
Veteran actors Soon Jae Lee and Yeo Jung Yoo add MAJESTY to any Korean drama they make!
Will Jae Ha be able to destroy M and John Mayer, or will the evil murderous bastard win and achieve his lifetime goal to become King? (Oh boy, did I REALLY want to see that horrible villain get what was coming to him after destroying so many lives!).
There are so many incredible scenes in the second half of this drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This drama should almost come with a warning: "Danger! You will lose all track of time and reality while watching this show!" There are moments of intrigue, tragedy, romance, fantasy, humor, even mysticism in this unique Korean drama. I think this is a totally under-rated drama and I've personally encouraged others to watch it in my K-drama circle and every single one of them have loved it too.
Actors Seung Gi Lee and Ha Ji Won pose for a candid
during a break in shooting the amazing carousel scene
I truly loved King 2 Hearts. It was the 120th K-drama I watched (as I update this page I am up to 306!), and it holds a special place in my heart as one of the most exciting K-dramas I've ever watched. It has everything in its story to please viewers, male or female, young or old. The intensity of its storyline will amaze you. I highly recommend this Korean drama to even the fussiest of K-drama viewers. The cast, cinematography, writing, production values are all winners. You will never once be bored!