They came, they saw and parachuted into everyone’s hearts.
King The Land, starring Lee Jun-ho from the K-Pop band 2PM and Girl’s Generation Yoona, soared to its highest ratings with its heartwarming finale. According to Nielsen Korea, the series finale of King the Land scored an average nationwide rating of 13.8 per cent in Korea, marking a new personal record for the drama.
It’s not entirely surprising as the show became a major point of discussion from the first episode itself. Lee Jun-ho plays the austere and rigid CEO Gu-won of a luxury hotel, trapped in an inheritance battle with his step-sister. His life is turned upside down after he encounters the perky and feisty Choi Sa-rang, a concierge in the hotel. Sparks fly, a roof explodes, and the two begin a romance, steering their love story through a few hitches, here and there. All’s well that ends well.
It was a relief for the K-drama aficionados to see something so lighthearted, yet, for the lack of a better word, treacly sweet. Lately, Korean dramas had somewhat taken on rather ‘realistic’ and gruesome tones, including last year’s Twenty Five-Twenty one, revenge drama The Glory and The Interest of Love. These stories could veer into rather unhappy territories, or attempt open, or bittersweet endings leaving fans with the thought: This is not why we watch K-dramas. Where were the CEOs who would rent out amusement parks for their lovers and buy them stuffed hedgehogs?
King The Land returned to set the record straight, and followed all the tropes and clichés of K-dramas, including inheritance fights, lost mothers, blooming romances in the midst of chaos, and an endearing second-lead couple. The chemistry between the leads kept the show sailing, making up for the lack of a storyline. A breezy, fun drama where there’s no excessive complication and unnecessary heartache, the show won over its viewers. It’s just what the doctor ordered.
This show was a joy for Jun-ho fans, particularly going by the Twitter discourse. The singer-actor checked off all the K-romantic hero tropes in the show on the list with much flair, including playing saviour like jumping from a helicopter, indulging in mushy eye contact and back-hugs, and in short, being the ideal hero.
However, prior to this role, Jun-ho had experimented with a variety of characters in different genres. He has tried all, a villain, a psychologically scarred man, a chef, and even starred in a period drama like The Red Sleeve. Moreover, he took his acting career to dizzying heights, while pursuing his own career as a K-Pop idol.
After playing supporting roles in the film Cold Eyes, Memories of the Sword, and Memory, Jun-ho took on an unusual lead role in Rain and Shine in 2017, that many K-drama actors wouldn’t have normally tried. In the intense and raw drama, he played a battered man, trying to move past the scars from a terrifying childhood accident. Lee Jun-ho played a man who finds himself slowly healing after meeting a woman, who had been through the same accident. Filled with emotional and heart-wrenching scenes, the series showed the acting range of Jun-ho, as he struggles to come to terms with his past and hold on to the woman he loves. “Don’t go. I am anxious that if you go, you won’t come back,” he says in a rather nervously desperate manner, before confessing his love to her.
By Wok of Love in 2018, Jun-ho flipped the switch again. He attempted something fresh and new as a star chef Seo Poong in the comedy. Here, he brought a delectable brand of humour to the show, with his quick wit and escapades. At the beginning of the show, Poong, a chef for creative food inventions, is all about confidence and seems unstoppable. Of course, nothing turns out the way he expects. Jun-ho brought Poong alive in all his complexities and complications, and played the role of a chef so convincingly that you might have actually believed that this was his main career. Yet, it was his absurd antics, especially when it came to trying to win over parents, that gave the show its flavour. Jun-ho fans realised that the actor could either make them sob like he did with Rain and Shine, or give them some rib-tickling comedy. His appeal as a mushy romantic lead skyrocketed in this show, particularly owing to his chemistry with Jung Ryeo Won, which even the most disgruntled hater hasn’t been able to deny.
Jun-ho has always tried something new and unusual in his career, just like his creative character from Wok of Love. It could be a chef, a lawyer trying to clear his father’s name in Confession, or an arrogant and traumatised king in The Red Sleeve. Like his fans have been saying on Twitter, he doesn’t let you know his next move.