Partying It Up in the Palace: King 2 Hearts Korean Drama Review

I'm gradually working my way through all of the shows I should have watched back in 2012. After Nice Guy, I went back to something (at least initially) more lighthearted with King 2 Hearts. It seems like this series was somewhat polarizing.   People either loved it, or they kind of hated it.  My answer?  I agree!  With (almost) everyone!  With mad diplomacy skills like these, I deserve to be in the UN, right?  Because I could do a better job than most of the diplomats in this show, that's for sure.

Loved It

The casting for this series was pretty spot-on.  I was kind of ambivalent about Lee Seung Gi after My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, and hearing that he was supposed to pay a king in this series wasn't a very strong selling point for me.  I'm happy to admit that I shouldn't have been such a Judgy McJudgerson.  Unlike many drama leads (and what I expected from this character as well), Prince Lee Jae Ha isn't cold and cruel.  He's immature and a little thoughtless, but he's also fun and friendly.  Lee Seung Gi was the perfect pick to bring lightheartedness to the front end of the series.

Ha Ji Won was a natural choice for the character of Kim Hang Ah, a North Korean assassin who finds herself engaged to the South Korean prince.  If you liked Ha Ji Won in Secret Garden, you'll love her here.  If you hated Ha Ji Won in Secret Garden, you might actually like her here.

As far as smart, strong female leads go, Kim Hang Ah is a solid contender for the top of the list.  Let's start with the fact that she's an assassin.  As in, she knows how to kill people.  As a profession.  Every time I started to forget that she was awesome because they dolled her up and locked her in the palace for a few episodes, she would save everyone's lives just to remind us that she wasn't just some docile, pretty face.

When we made that list of smart, strong female leads, I remember having a discussion about how most dramas require the man to save even the strongest women from time to time just to put them in their place.  Not so with King 2 Hearts!  Kim Hang Ah easily did the lion's share of the saving, and Lee Jae Ha knew it.

Oh, you want to kidnap Hang Ah and use her as helpless damsel bait?
That's a cute plan.
You assign a few soldiers to babysit Hang Ah?
Did you miss the part where she killed people for a living?

You want Hang Ah to stay safely at home during an international crisis?
No, thanks.

I have to admit that while I liked the casting separately, the two didn't have the best chemistry I've ever seen in a drama. On the positive side, at least Lee Seung Gi has improved his kissing since MGIaG, though Ha Ji Won seems to have gotten worse since Secret Garden.

The chemistry might have been a little off at times, but I liked the overall relationship development in the series.  I appreciate those little scenes where we see these two having fun together or supporting each other through tough times.  You could see that this relationship eventually went beyond attraction and moved into deep friendship. 

Even though I liked the leads for the aforementioned reasons, they weren't even the stars of the show for me.  All of the other people living in the palace were just as interesting to watch.  There was the queen mother, who might just be the most well-rounded matriarch in drama-dom, and then there was her daughter, who reminded me that Lee Yoon Ji really deserves to be the star of her own drama someday.

And then there was this guy:

At first, I was kind of meh about his character.  I figured he was just a boring pretty boy who would come in handy to create some jealousy.

I cannot overstate how fantastic Jo Jung Suk was as Eun Shi Kyung.  His character wasn't the flashiest one in the show, but it had a quiet depth that can't be ignored.  If You're the Best, Lee Soon Shin weren't eleventy zillion episodes long, I would be tempted to watch it just for him.  But seriously, ain't nobody got time for that!

The last thing that I really enjoyed about this drama was the political background.  Out of all of the imaginary South Korean monarchy dramas I've seen (and I've seen several), this was the first to consider what it would really mean to become the king of a small nation in our modern world. It was an interesting look at international concerns from a non-U.S. perspective.

Hated It

Okay, so with so much going for it, what could possibly go wrong?  Most of it boils down to John Mayer, the villainous magician/leader of the worldwide military-industrial complex. (I really, really wanted to tell a "Your Body Is a Wonderland" joke here, but I couldn't think of one, and then the moment was gone.  Curse you, John Mayer!) I get that the drama writers wanted to go for something new and fresh in their villain, but this just didn't work for me.  Most of his scenes just left me scratching my head and wondering how long it would take for him to finish his boring speech so that I could watch some more romance.  Blah blah I am king blah blah.  Seriously, man! Can't you make your evil plans in a more concise manner? 

Also, if you're going to be an eccentric billionaire magician, I expect some high-caliber tricks, not "Pick a card! Any card!"  You could tell that everyone was just clapping out of politeness.  Either that, or fear of his chocolate-eating sidekick. 

Releasing doves?  Really?  What is this--a 7-year-old's birthday party circa 1987?

This isn't really a huge complaint, but after watching some pretty painful American accents (Mr. Secretary of Defense, I'm looking at you!), I hereby volunteer to speak English in any future Korean dramas where they need American people.  You hear that, drama writers?  I volunteer! I can't help you with those awkward bilingual conversations where everyone magically understands everyone else, though.  I'm not a miracle worker, people!

(Spoilers) I felt like the last few episodes dragged onnnnnnnnnn and onnnnnnnn and onnnnnnnn. Considering that John Mayer confessed all of his crimes every five seconds (including in front of UN officers), I don't understand why it was so hard to put him in prison.  If I accept the show's claim that his power was keeping him safe (which is possible), then I'm pretty sure a wedding wouldn't have been enough to keep him in pinstripes (because apparently the ICJ  believes in dressing criminals like 1950s cartoon prisoners).  Maybe this was a case of using all of the good villain-thwarting ideas too early and having nothing left once they got into the episode extensions.


Overall, I think the good outweighed the bad for King 2 Hearts.  Sometimes it was a crazy mishmash of tone, and they probably could have cut a bunch of stuff towards the end, but when a show makes me laugh out loud AND sob like a little baby, I feel like I can recommend it.

Note: After a recent layout switch, we're seeing comments posted before April 7, 2017 missing on a few posts. We're working on a solution, and in the meantime, any new comments you leave will work!


  1. I like this drama a lot. Just because of the actors it worth watching. At some moments it was even scary, specially when John Mayer killed the King and his sister was paralyzed. Considering situation between two Korea's their behavior is normal. Regarding John Mayer - you know Korean Drama can't survive without 나쁜놈 lol. I was watching this drama several times and like very much OST.

  2. I wasn't a huge fan of this show. The inexplicably named John Mayer felt like an attempt to ape Heath Ledger as the Joker, which made me like it even less.

    If you haven't seen it yet, What's Up? is a great place to go for more Jo Jung Suk. (And it will introduce you to the wonder of Im Joo Hwan, if you don't already know him. Rawr.)

    1. There were so many things wrong with John Mayer's character, starting with wearing turtlenecks + suspenders. I can't take a villain seriously when he is dressed like a mime.

      Putting What's Up? on my to-watch list now. I don't know Im Joo Hwan beyond being the random brother in Boys over Flowers (which I'm not counting), but now I'm intrigued.

  3. I totally agree with the part about terrible American accents! After watching IRIS, where all the Americans were actually Russian, and a few other painful scenes from other dramas, I swore I'd go to Korea to be in a drama just to have a real American character (a opposed to a Western European look alike)!

    1. I bet that's how Russians feel when they watch Americans speaking with painful Russian accents in all of our action movies! Either way, I'm happy to be an extra!


  4. Ugh, can't believe someone could be "...kind of ambivalent about Lee Seung Gi after My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho." Aiisshhh! :) I haven't seen as many K-dramas as most fans have, but so far Gumiho is probably my favorite. I was actually kind of worried about being slightly disappointed with Lee Seung Gi in Shining Inheritance after liking him so much in Gumiho, but that ended up not being a problem.

    Great site you and Coco have here, Vivi!

    1. Thanks! We're glad you like it!

      I loved My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, but Shin Min Ah stole the show for me. Have you seen King 2 Hearts yet? If you loved Lee Seung Gi in Gumiho, this one is a similar character, but even better (in my opinion)!

  5. Shin Min Ah was adorable. I'll never be able to get out of my head (thankfully) her many exclamations, whether impassioned or intimate, of "Dae Woong-ah!" I think that was my second K-drama ever after Playful Kiss. That's when I started getting the sneaking feeling I was in the black hole of K-drama fandom.

    Haven't seen K2H. Hadn't even seen it among the Netflix recommendations, but I'll try to dig it up.

  6. King 2 Hearts ? Loved it! For one thing, it brought a fresh, original take to the drama that hadn't been done before. Lee Seung gi played his role to the hilt and Ha Ji Won wasn't bad either. It had a great supporting cast (the Korean actors, anyway) and it was easy for me to ignore the accents because the script was so good. This drama ranks up there as one of the best Kdrama's I've ever watched.

  7. I love this drama so much! It is now #3 on my all time favorite list. It began my Lee Seung Gi obsession. He is the most charming with that smile of his, and I think he did a great job in this show. Love Ha Ji Won too. The chemistry wasn't the best I've ever seen but it was plenty good enough. It was a beautiful love story. I could have done without the John Mayer part--too over the top but they needed a villain I guess. His presence wasn't enough to turn me off to the show. I so wanted the princess and her soldier to get their happy ending--loved this couple. That was my one disappointment with the drama but at least they had that final scene of their visit in spirit to take a little of the sting away. Overall, love, love, love!

  8. I loved this drama for many reasons but the main reason is because I was in South Korea when it aired and watched the first 4 episodes real time. Not subtitled so I rewatched them when I got back home but it turns out I understood what was going on even with subtitles! Also, Kim Jung Un had just preceded his father as dictator of North Korea and was already making threats. It really tied the drama and reality together for a time. I love Lee Seung Gi and Ha Ji Won and thought they were wonderful but, you are right, all the others characters made it so worthwhile!

  9. Your review is pretty much spot on. (I will have to disagree about the chemistry between the leads. I thought it was fantastic, but that's neither here nor there.)

    King 2 Hearts is the first drama I watched that had a plotline, outside of the romance, that I actually found interesting. The dynamics between North and South and what it would be like to be King of a modern day South Korea were absolutely fascinating. Not to mention this drama has the best opening scene ever; the royal family sitting in front of the television watching as the Berlin wall comes crashing down. I remember being completely entranced by that scene. I literally had goosebumps. It not only sets the tone for the entire drama, but also really puts things into perspective. There may not be a large, concrete wall separating the two countries, but there is a divide between them, none the less.

    As for the villain:
    1. I never liked his name, though I could never put my finger on why. Now I know. Because it's the same name as the American pop singer. So that's kind of weird.

    2. He was completely unhinged but not in a way that was interesting at all. I found him boring and unoriginal. And decidedly lacking in the magic department.

    3. He was surrounded by terrible 'English' actors who never got any better! I eventually got to the point where I had to just say to myself, 'Tori, they're never going to get any better. You can either sit around moaning about it or you can just laugh at how terrible they are.' I chose laughter. It ended up being the right decision.

    If they had really wanted to create an interesting villain, they should have gone the 'less is more' route. His character, and his overall scheme to pretty much control the world ('Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?' 'The same thing we do every night Pinky. Try to take over the world.'), would have been so much more sinister and intriguing if we hadn't actually seen what was going on. It should have been left more behind the scenes until towards the end when the writers could have done a couple big reveals. They could have really played up the magic bit that way as well. Instead of showing us John Mayer's annoying face every other scene, he could have been sending vague (or not so vague) threats via interesting magic tricks.


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