The King And I
왕과 나
SBS (2007 - 2008) 63 Episodes
Historical (Sageuk) Grade: B+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
Includes *End Spoilers

Would you believe it took me three YEARS, off and on, to finally finish this historical drama, The King And I (2007 - 2008, no relation to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same name) just because it was a whopping 63 episodes? I kept putting it aside in spurts to watch other dramas because the length was so intimidating to me. I'm glad that more recently when the Koreans make historical dramas that they have shortened their duration quite markedly. So much better! No matter how well written a drama is, and this one is generally well-written, though often depicting too much violence overall, it just takes up too much of a modern person's time to sit and watch that many episodes of anything on television, especially an intense sageuk that's a world of difference from our modern Westernized cultures.

I was thankful to get the OOP DVDs from Netflix disc rentals way back in the day, so that it didn't cost me anything to rip the DVDs for posterity before sending them back. Now, as I write this, they have basically gotten rid of all their Korean drama DVD rental sets and are adding streaming titles instead. However, for certain titles I still prefer to buy DVD sets (before they go out of print and cost a fortune!) because I am unsure that they will always be around on streaming sites if I want to watch them again. The sudden demise of Dramafever in October 2018 proves that any one of these streaming sites can go under at any time. It's just getting more and more expensive to host K-dramas online because of their worldwide popularity, and I'm sure most of these streaming companies are tremendously in debt. (Last I read Netflix is 12 billion - not million - billion dollars in debt! How do they sleep at night???).

I never fully gave up on this title because I admire all the cast members from different dramas that I've watched over the years: Gu Hye Sun from Boys Over Flowers and Angel Eyes, Oh Man Suk from The Vineyard Man, Go Joo Won from Madame Antoine, veteran actors Jun Kwang-ryul from Remember and Goo Shin from Thank You, Ahn Kil Kang from Watcher, Han Jung Soo from Chuno, and many other familiar faces. I'll watch them in anything, they're all such amazing actors!

The Story:

The King and I fancifully explores the real life story of Kim Cheo Sun (Oh Man Suk), considered the best and most devoted Eunuch who ever lived during the Joseon Dynasty. Cheo Sun secretly and deeply loved his childhood friend So Hwa Yoon (Gu Hye Sun), the daughter of a nobleman, but he cannot confess his love openly because of their difference in social class (although she pretty much senses his love for her all along).

Faithful Eunuch Cheo Sun

Eventually, through political maneuvering, and despite the jealousies of the female royal class, when So Hwa becomes betrothed to King Seong Jong (Go Joo Won) as his new Queen, and renamed Queen Je Heon, Cheo Sun chooses to castrate himself, entering the palace as an official Eunuch, determined to watch over So Hwa, and protect her all her life.

Castration a little extreme, you might think, but it did remind me of another real life love story where a castration was involved: the true story of Abelard and Heloise (although that one was a forced castration). Cheo Sun is overseen in his duties by the chief Eunuch Jo Chi Kyum (Jeon Kwang Leol). He becomes the Queen's most loyal servant and helps her secretly through many palace intrigues. When she gives birth to a Prince he vows to protect both her and her son for life, no matter what the risk is to himself.

Sadly, So Hwa, now Queen Je Heon, becomes a pawn of the intense political maelstrom among various warring political factions in the palace, and she is eventually unfairly stripped of her title as Queen, and cast out of the palace in disgrace. Despite Cheo Sun's many selfless attempts to help her and safeguard her life, she is ultimately sentenced to death. Can you spell FRAMED?

I love Gu Hye Sun!

In a scene reminiscent of a similar scene in Jang Ok Jung, Living In Love (2013), Cheo Sun is ordered to hand the woman he has loved his entire life a bowlful of poison, and he is forced to see her die before his eyes. After her horrible death, he vows to look after her son, Prince Yeonsan (Jun Yoon Seok), fulfilling a promise he had made to her before her execution.

If you enjoy an intense historical drama, and are not afraid of viewing some violence along the way to the story's conclusion, then by all means check The King And I out to see if you'll want to stick around for its whopping 63 episodes! :) I enjoyed all the performances but especially those of our two leads Gu Hye Sun and the marvelous (I think unfairly under-appreciated) Oh Man Suk. If you love him in this drama make absolute sure that you don't miss him in The Vineyard Man; he was superlative in that as well.