Tuesday, July 26, 2022

K-drama: The king and queen

I just finished rewatching The King: Eternal Monarch. I think I will watch it again, more closely, because I have so many questions and so much I want to look at more closely, but particularly the way the king and his queen carry themselves in the face of terrible danger. For one thing, they have their priorities straight. At one point Jeong Tae-eul says to her lover, Lee Gon, "If you hadn't had my ID card for 25 years, would you still have fallen in love with me? We're skipped so many things." 

They skipped things because they were facing such terrible evil the fight for survival had to take precedence.  At another point she is in the hospital and says to him, "Stay with me. Let's just NOT save the world." 

What makes this wartime story especially poignant is that very few people know and understand what is going on. The signs of catastrophe had hidden from them. Lee Gon has the privilege of seeing what's coming, and it is a terrible weight.

It is fascinating to watch character emerge in the face of all this. Lee Gon takes time, as much as he can, to court Jeong Tae-eul. He is not so involved in the savior role that he forgets to charm her. She is, somewhat jealously, asking if he dressed in his Navy uniform to cook for previous girlfriends. He skirts the question, but does put the uniform on to make breakfast for her. She arrives at the kitchen to see the staff gossiping in the hall. She asks what's going on and they explain. She peeks in, to be greeted by the sight of the king, his sleeves rolled up, his chest bristling with metals, smiling at her as he washes rice. She withdraws to giggle for a moment before entering.

He has to travel through time to see her and at one point he sees her younger self and says they will meet soon. Her older self counsels her younger self to be kind to him. When the meeting occurs, the younger self says to herself, "If you don't do this now, you'll probably regret it." She hugs him, which is completely unexpected but profoundly welcome. He longs for her is the deepest possible way.

Much as this is love story, it is a wartime love story and they each must go to battle. He goes to battle in a very literal sense, riding his white charger, with a sword at his side and grim determination on his face. This is a gorgeous depiction of male valor. 

She goes into battle with a badge and a black belt in Taekwondo and its five tenets of Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control, and Indomitable spirit. He asks her about choosing to be a police officer and she says, "Not everyone is brave, so I decided to learn to be brave." There is no hesitation or anxiety in her bearing. She has completely integrated going into the fight into her life. Yet her endearing sweetness makes her an enchanting model of female courage. 

Nalla Kim says that Korean philosophy is concerned with building character. The key to this task, in my view, is that it requires choosing the fight over the comfort. One has to, as they do, leave the hospital room, leave the pleasant romantic interlude, and go fight. In many stories, the conflict is between the cynic and fighter -- think Casablanca. In other stories, it's just hedonism, choosing self over other -- think Alfie. This king and queen are not in any conflict space. As they see their fate, they embrace it, they embrace each other, and they fight like crazy to save the world.  

It is a strange story because they are so clear and so centered in the right

When she asks if he would have loved her without having seen her ID card, he answers, "Yes, I would have understood." He doesn't say what he would have understood, but it's clear to the viewer: she is the true, strong warrior queen to partner meant to with him.

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