Strategies that once seemed foolproof have taken a beating with "The King: Eternal Monarch" as the drama concluded its sixteen episode run with surprisingly week ratings of 8.1%. Many assumptions about South Korean dramas, from the interest of local audiences in fantasy settings to their willingness to endure obvious product placement and even to their affinity for certain popular stars are now much more ambiguous than they were before the drama aired.
The drama's fantasy setting is one obvious culprit. While "Goblin" from 2016 earned stupendous ratings off of its deliberately mystical and epic worldbuilding, "The King: Eternal Monarch" could not achieve the same level of endearment with its own audiences. But the problems were more nuanced than that, as in addition to being a fantasy drama "The King: Eternal Monarch" was also a particular brand of melodrama which appears to have fallen out of fashion.
Screenwriter Kim Eun-sook has long been seen as a master of such storytelling, and her reputation as a hitmaker is a big part of why modest ratings held by "The King: Eternal Monarch" were such a surprise. Ultimately the fantastical fairy tale situations Kim Eun-sook comes up with are simply a poor fit for the current market, where audiences have shown a marked interest in relatively realistic problems they can more easily relate to.
The sheer unsubtle commercialism of the product placement in "The King: Eternal Monarch" has also given the drama a crass reputation, attracting attention in all the wrong ways. "The King: Eternal Monarch" is hardly unique in using product placement. It also played a significant role in "Hospital Playlist". However, in that more down-to-earth drama the product placement was used more subtly, and seldom directly referenced in the dialog as clumsily as "The King: Eternal Monarch" did.
In spite of the drama's overall poor performance neither Lee Min-ho nor Kim Go-eun have suffered much criticism for their work, with the main issue raised being their dialog rather than acting. This suggests that personal actor brand image is not that closely tied to drama popularity- or at least, that it takes more than a single bad one for actors to lose their fandoms. In any case, Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun are likely to consider their next projects very carefully.
Written by William Schwartz
"The King: Eternal Monarch" is directed by Baek Sang-hoon, Jung Ji-hyun, written by Kim Eun-sook, and features Lee Min-ho, Kim Go-eun, Woo Do-hwan, Kim Kyung-nam-II, Jung Eun-chae, Lee Jung-jin. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2020/04/17~2020/06/12, Fri, Sat 22:00 on SBS.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's News] "The King: Eternal Monarch" Finds Itself Out of Step With Current Trends"
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