A cursory glance at all the hit K-dramas this year reveal a mix of genres. There have been thrillers, Sageuks (historical dramas), and even the return of the smash-hit medical drama series Dr Romantic for a third season.
Following a long wait for an out-and-out romantic comedy in K-Dramaland, the release of King The Land was met with much initial cheer. The show created considerable buzz from its casting stage owing to its leads, whom fans had been expectantly waiting to see in a show together- K-Pop idols and actors Lee Jun-ho and Lim Yoon-a.
King The Land (Korean)
Director: Im Hyun-wook
Cast: Lee Jun-ho, Im Yoon-ah, Son Byong-ho, Nam Gi-ae, Ahn Se-ha
Storyline: A heir of a luxury hotel conglomerate, who was thrown into an inheritance war, meets a a hotelier
True to expectations, Jun-ho and Yoon-a are extremely charming and have great screen presence that’s bolstered by their terrific chemistry. For a show that is banking on its leads to do all the heavy lifting, the pair comes out on top with flying colours. There’s however little else King The Land has to offer, and the writing feels like a letdown after the initial build-up.
We’re introduced to sincere and conscientious Cheon Sa-Rang (Yoona) who harbours big dreams of working at the glitzy King Hotel. She soon lands a job there, and along comes King group’s tsundere heir Gu Won (Junho), who parachutes into work on his first day. Their run-ins are far from romantic at the start- Sa-Rang mistakes Gu-Won for a creep, and Gu-Won can’t stand Sa-Rang’s cheery smile – something she has been trained to excel at.
King the Land is determined to pack in as many tropes as possible from the get-go, making it super convenient for sparks to fly real fast between our leads. Within the first few episodes, Sa-rang and Gu-Won are stranded at a seaside village, there’s an elaborate rescue Gu-Won pulls off using the King Group’s Chopper in a dense forest where Sa-rang is, and plenty of well-meaning elderly people milling around who are only too happy to help. Much like its predecessor, last year’s hit K-Drama Business Proposal, King The Land doesn’t avoid or even attempt to circumvent tropes; the show dives headfirst into ALL of it.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and as we’ve seen in the past, tropey and feel-good shows do well when they hit the mark. However, King The Land feels like a wasted opportunity in some parts, given how the writing doesn’t fully explore the potential that its premise has. While the romance is quick to take off, there’s little time spent fleshing out the show’s many subplots.
One of the central conflicts in King The Land is the frigid relationship Gu-Won has with his older step-sister Gu Hwa-ran (Kim Seon-young), as she’s determined to establish control over King Group and all of its subsidiaries. Gu-Won is also shown to be searching for his mother, who disappeared when he was a child. While all of this is a lot to unpack, the writing doesn’t attempt to dwell much on the inheritance war until the final few episodes where things are hurriedly wrapped up with unsatisfying redemption arcs.
Sa-rang and her friends all work for the King Group – while she is a concierge at the hotel, her friend Oh Pyeong-Hwa (Go Won-Hee) is a flight attendant, and Kang Da-Eul (Kim Ga-eun) heads a sales team at a luxury goods store. K-Dramas have always excelled at effectively exploring the setting, especially workplaces and professions, and here as well, we see the challenges the three women face in their respective workplaces – from incompetent bosses to colleagues who are judgemental and vile.
After the initial few episodes, King The Land carries forward pacing issues for quite a lot of its run time. Nearly two episodes dedicated to an Arab Prince staying at the hotel as a VIP Guest, which was heavily criticised for cultural misrepresentation and had even resulted in the makers issuing an apology could have fully well been avoided. The show also has a staggering number of PPLs( product placements) and sizable screen time dedicated to this – there’s everything ranging from coffee, perfumes, make-up, and even a trip to Thailand. There are large stretches where nothing ever seems to be happening, and the show is perfectly content on just trailing its focus on the leads who are comfortably in love with no major conflict in sight.
It is only after episode 12 that we actually get to see Gu-Won in his element, working on his plans for the hotel. We also then delve deeper into what Sa-rang feels about changing nature and the disappointments that her new job brings forth. As a couple, it is refreshing to see how mostly communicative and supportive of each other Sa-rang and Gu-won are. Through getting to know and falling for Sa-rang, we also see Gu-won become a better person- going from a grumpy closed-off Chaebol to someone who is deeply invested in the well-being of his employees.
While Yoon-a is sweet and extremely likeable in this straightforward role, Jun-ho truly is a delight onscreen. As Gu-Won, he brings forth equal amounts of swagger, cluelessness, and charm all at once. Standoffish yet warm-hearted Chaebols are aplenty in K-Dramaland, but Jun-ho manages to infuse freshness into his role.
Throughout its run, the show has enjoyed immense popularity and has become one of the most-watched shows on Netflix over the last few weeks. This isn’t surprising given how despite its shortcomings, the show manages to remain largely watchable thanks to its lead actors and the swoon-worthy romance. For all the sparks and swoons that Jun-ho and Yoon-a effortlessly conjure up, the show would have greatly benefited from tighter, more nuanced writing.
All episodes of King The Land are streaming on Netflix