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I just finished watching MBC’s Hotel King, which aired from April, 2014 to July, 2014. The drama starred Lee Dong Wook as Cha Jae Wan AKA Jayden AKA Baek Hyun Woo. Lee Da Hae played Ah Mo Ne AKA Bok Soon. Im Seul Ong played Sun Woo Hyun, our hapless male second lead. And Wang Ji Hye played Song Chae Kyung, our hapless female second lead.
Lee Duk Hwa played Lee Jung Gu, our villain. And Kim Hae Sook played Baek Mi Nyeo, our villainness in the second act. She suddenly became innocent and pure in the third act because she turned out to be our hero’s long-lost mother. Finally, Jin Tae Hyun played Roman Lee AKA Ju Han. There were a whole host of other actors playing our full cast of characters. See the tags below for other names.
Hotel King was a love story between an heiress, who comes back to Korea to find her father’s killer and save his legacy, and a man bent on stealing that legacy out of a desperate need for revenge. During that quest for revenge our titular Hotel King falls in love with the heroine, and his new mission is to save that hotel and return the heiress to her rightful place as chairwoman of Ciel. And of course to see his archnemesis (his own father) go down.
Cha Jae Wan is the general manager of Ciel. He has spent the past year setting up some sort of grand event, on the eve of which the original chairman and our heroine’s father, Ah Sung Wan, dies. Cha Jae Wan is extremely pissed that his moment of triumph is marred by the chairman’s death. Upon hearing of her father’s death, Ah Mo Ne comes back to town, fleeing numerous enemies. She enters the hotel acting like a total brat. We come to see that her behavior is just that. An act. Hiding behind this ruse of a wanna be Paris Hilton, she investigates the reasons behind her father’s death, believing it to be a murder and not a suicide based on the paranoid phone call she got from her father before his death.
Mo Ne has several run ins with Cha Jae Wan, as her bratty behavior and investigation embarrasses not only Ciel, but also Jae Wan, who has his eye on the chairman’s position. Before he can maneuver himself into that seat, Mo Ne swoops in and becomes the new temporary chairwoman. She also finds out that her father was driven to the heights of paranoia by someone in the hotel. Initially, she believes it to be Cha Jae Wan.
Lest we think our supposed hero is a true sociopath, we are given his back story. Cha Jae Wan grew up on the streets in the USA (New York?), where he was sent as a child to be adopted out. At this point his name was Jayden. He was one of the lowly members of a gang. One day he shot his boss to protect his little brother, Ju Han, another orphan he took under his wing on the streets. Thinking he had killed his boss, he was grateful when he was saved by Lee Jung Gu. Lee Jung Gu arranged it so that the world believed that Jayden was dead. Lee Jung Gu sponsors him, but takes the opportunity to mentally and physically torture the child, Jayden, until his personality is subsumed by the stoic and calculating Cha Jae Wan’s. Cha Jae Wan has been told his entire life that he was Chairman Ah’s son; he was the son that Ah Sung Wan had abandoned to die in the streets, while he coddled and spoiled his daughter, Ah Mo Ne. He was the son that had come into existence when Ah Sung Wan raped his mother.
When Mo Ne and Jae Wan come into contact, he understandably holds contempt for the woman that has grown up in the lap of luxury, but is a poor excuse of a human being. She is a daughter who couldn’t even come to her father’s funeral. It is only as he gets to know her, does he begin to care for her. He initially thinks of her as the irritating sister she is supposed to be. But Mo Ne’s emotions for him grow as his kindnesses to her grow, and she falls in love with him. Jae Wan is horrified to realize that she loves him as a woman loves a man. He tries to be cold to her, wanting to only help her become a good chairwoman of the hotel and to protect her from Lee Jung Gu. It is only when she puts her life in danger to protect him, does he realize that his emotions have grown, as well. He has fallen in love with his own sister! Before the audience can get too uncomfortable with this scenario, our hero finds out that he is NOT Mo Ne’s brother, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Jae Wan kisses Mo Ne, letting her know that he has fallen in love with her, as well. The two go off for some downtime, and Jae Wan tries to deal with his discovery that Lee Jung Gu has lied to him all his life so that Jung Gu can get the hotel for himself. Before Jae Wan can act out too much, Lee Jung Gu reins him back in by threatening Mo Ne. Jae Wan comes back to Jung Gu’s side, but swears to bring him down. At some point, before he orchestrates Jung Gu’s downfall, he finds out that he actually is Lee Jung Gu’s son. Witnessing Jung Gu be loving to his own family while being horrible to Jae Wan only strengthens Jae Wan’s resolve to destroy Jung Gu.
Mo Ne is understandably upset when Jae Wan returns to Jung Gu’s side. Especially when she knows what a sadistic and abusive bastard he has been to Jae Wan all his life. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Mo Ne chooses to trust to Jae Wan. She witnesses Jae Wan acting to bring down Jung Gu and steps in to protect him from the man when necessary. It is only when she realizes that Jung Gu is actually Jae Wan’s father, does she tell him to leave. Her love for him and her need to protect him has now caused her to free a man who had a hand in her father’s death. She cannot live with that truth. Jae Wan agrees to leaving, knowing that he no longer has a place to return to in her arms.
Before Jae Wan can leave, Baek Mi Nyeo, formerly some sort of director in the hotel, swoops in and takes the position of chairwoman away from Mo Ne. She steals Mo Ne’s shares with the help of her son, Roman Lee. She ruthlessly kicks Mo Ne out of the hotel and her home. She also reminds Jae Wan that he was on his way out, so to hurry and tie up the last few loose threads and leave.
Mo Ne is heartbroken to realize that she has let her father down and lost his only legacy. Mo Ne then leaves and Jae Wan goes after her. She asks him to leave her alone now that he knows that she is alive. She tells him to stay away from her. Jae Wan returns to the hotel. Mo Ne quickly follows, realizing that she is not ready to give up so soon. She returns to the hotel as Bok Soon, the intrepid maid. She is able to guilt the chairwoman into keeping her on as a maid in front of some business contacts. She learns humility. She also sees Ciel closely, coming to love Ciel and its people, as well. Jae Wan is able to stay on when Roman Lee (Ju Han in a past lifetime) realizes that Jae Wan is actually Jayden, his older “brother”.
We also learn some truths about Chairwoman Baek Mi Nyeo. This is just what I was able to piece together, since the writer doesn’t do a great job telling us the story. She was once in a “love” triangle with Sung Wan and Jung Gu. This triangle presents a cautionary tale for all those Korean drama triangles out there, with a distrustful first lead and a second lead who doesn’t know that no means no. Ah Sung Wan and Lee Jung Gu grew up as friends, although Jung Gu was the servant’s son. Jung Gu was reviled by Sung Wan’s family and vowed to take revenge by stealing everything that was Sung Wan’s. Sung Wan fell in love with Mi Nyeo (who I believe was named Mi Yeon at the time). Jung Gu raped Mi Nyeo, who then got pregnant. Mi Nyeo fled or was made to leave, not telling Sung Wan the truth. After giving birth, she came back to tell Sung Wan about Jung Gu’s actions, but Sung Wan rejected her, choosing to believe Jung Gu’s version. He had Mi Nyeo arrested and she spent years in prison. Once she got out, Jung Gu was there to chase her in his car. He caused an accident and Mi Nyeo was burned in the subsequent explosion. She spent years recovering from the third degree burns. When she was able to get out and become powerful enough to get her son back, she immediately went to the USA. Upon being told that her son had died, she adopted Ju Han instead, renaming him Roman Lee. She came back to Ciel, swearing vengeance on both of the men that had completely destroyed her life and killed her son.
We then have some exciting times (not) of Mo Ne and Jae Wan protecting the hotel, while Mi Nyeo goes all out trying to destroy the hotel. At this point, Ju Han/Roman has realized that Jae Wan is Jayden, and Jayden was Mi Nyeo’s son. He decides not to tell Mi Nyeo or Jae Wan because he wants to keep his mommy. He says nothing even when Mi Nyeo attempts to have Jae Wan run down in the hotel parking lot. He asks Jae Wan to do nothing against Mi Nyeo, promising Jae Wan that he will take off with Mi Nyeo. He also says nothing when Jung Gu discovers the truth and blackmails him. Jung Gu uses that truth to deliberately hurt Mi Nyeo, crowing about Jae Wan being his son in the hotel lobby. When Mi Nyeo suspects the truth, Roman shows her a picture of a fake mother. And Jung Gu also makes sure to show Jae Wan his mother’s “grave”.
The truth eventually comes out, but not before Jae Wan has Mi Nyeo arrested to protect Mo Ne’s hotel. Jae Wan discovers the truth and tries to stop the prosecution, but is powerless to do so. Mo Ne then steps in and asks Jae Wan’s ex-girlfriend to arrange Mi Nyeo’s release. Once Mi Nyeo is released, she returns to the hotel and begins attacking Jae Wan once more. By this point, Jae Wan knows his real name is Hyun Woo, he has seen a picture of his mother and knows that his mother really loved him. He does not want Mi Nyeo to know that she almost killed her own son, so he hides the truth to protect her. But when Mi Nyeo starts strangling Jae Wan in front of Ju Han, Ju Han blurts out the truth.
Mi Nyeo is horrified. She cries and wales a bit, rolling around in the grass. She then hugs Jae Wan, calling him son. Afterwards, she decides to kill both herself and Jung Gu, so that her son will live without the burden of having such horrible parents. Her attempts fail. Jung Gu succeeds in getting Mi Nyeo to sign over her property. And both Mi Nyeo and Jae Wan are hurt. Jae Wan awakens afterward, but Mi Nyeo comes back with the mind of a 5 year old. Ju Han, Mo Ne and Jae Wan take care of his mother and are pretty happy. Jae Wan even asks Mo Ne to marry him, but things go dark once more.
Jung Gu videotapes Jae Wan confessing that he deliberately endangered Ah Sung Wan’s life so that he could play the hero to save him. With that, the truth then comes out that Jae Wan thought for about 20 years that Mo Ne was his sister. Mo Ne is understandably freaked out when she realizes his pain and initial rejection were due to this belief. She forgives him and assures him that she loves him. Jung Gu then starts stealing Mi Nyeo’s shares, but Jae Wan swoops in to save the day. Using proof left behind by a long dead doctor, he is able to show the police that Jung Gu actually killed Sung Wan by feeding him medications that made him go crazy. Just so that we are left with no doubt, Jung Gu also pushed Sung Wan out of the window that fateful night so long ago.
Jung Gu discovers that his wife had divorced him, his daughter has changed her name to distance herself from him, and his faithful retainer has stolen all his money. Hearing the cops outside of his door, he races away and is able to evade arrest. He is able to kidnap Mi Nyeo and hold her hostage. Jae Wan comes racing in to save his parents and is able to get Mi Nyeo off of the bridge. He then urges Jung Gu to turn himself in, telling him that he would not save Jung Gu this time. Jung Gu nods sure, sure and jumps, and Jae Wan is just in time to grab his hand. Jung Gu says thank you for trying to save him and lets go of Jae Wan’s hand, falling to his death. This was a beautiful scene that left me strangely touched. You wouldn’t think the death of an annoying character, who is doing this for the second time, would be so touching.
[One Year Later]
Jae Wan has spent the last year moping about his crazy parents, and Mo Ne has spent the year waiting for him. She shows up to meet him, but Jae Wan asks her to break up. Mo Ne finally agrees, realizing that she can’t force him to be with her. Once she returns the ring, Jae Wan realizes that he did not want her to let him go. He indirectly asks for another chance. She happily agrees. They get married on a cliff. All alone. No priest or guests. It got a bit confusing here. There were multiple edits, and we had two or maybe three weddings going on (one for the Ciel hotel guest, and two for our main couple, one in front of guests and one for themselves privately?) and two wedding dresses for Mo Ne. I wasn’t quite sure what was meant to happen.
Another time jump later, they are the parents of two young children (between 4 to 7?). Baek Mi Nyeo is back to normal. All the staff are still there. Some still dating. Another pregnant. Our second leads are still around, helping our main couple. And our titular Hotel King is still the General Manager and our heroine is the beloved chairwoman.
Hotel King took 32 episodes to tell a story that could’ve been told with a smaller number of episodes. With a larger number of episodes we had endless repeats of the same conflicts between father and son, the hotel being in danger and let’s not forget the chairman’s revolving position. I think with Korean dramas we have this danger of more episodes equaling more unnecessary conflict. The drama itself seemed overly melodramatic. It was as if the writer sat down and challenged him or herself on how much pain she/he could heap on a character. Poor Jae Wan went through a crappy childhood and life, his crazy, abusive sponsor turned out to be his bio-dad, the woman trying to kill him was his own mother. The poor man had to send his own parents to prison. His father and/or mother may have been responsible for killing his love’s father. And he fell in love with the woman he thought was his sister! The story became too over the top, and I think the writer just kept on pushing herself/himself because the damn drama was soooo long. A shorter length might have resulted in a tighter narrative, one would hope.
Additionally, the conflicts centering around this one hotel were ridiculous. Whenever I’m watching people fight over wealth and possessions, as rich people seem to do in Korean dramas, it becomes old really fast. I don’t understand the need to possess something so much that you would hurt others to obtain it. So, I totally did not enjoy Lee Jung Gu’s character. Nor did I enjoy Baek Mi Nyeo’s character. Because, even if she wanted the hotel for revenge, she still did all sorts of crazy things to get the hotel. Ju Han/Roman for the most part was there to help her get the hotel, and that made his character unsatisfactory. Additionally, our main characters themselves were after the hotel. They may have had better reasons, one could argue, but they were still after the darn hotel. I totally agreed with Mi Nyeo who said that Mo Ne could easily leave. When I can’t identify with the central conflict and I cannot see that someone is right to continue in their pursuit of the item, I couldn’t care less about how the characters in the drama are spending their time and energy. Which then makes the whole exercise of watching that drama pointless. So, one has to wonder why I continued watching? See below for my reasons.
We also had irrational decisions that I could not agree with. I tend to give writers (be it in dramas or novels) the benefit of the doubt and try to believe in everything they create for their world. But I cannot completely leave common sense behind. My brain tends to stay on. When I saw Ju Han’s decision to keep the truth from Mi Nyeo, I understood it. Because he was afraid that he would lose his mother and it was a knee-jerk reaction at the time. I couldn’t understand it when he kept silent even when Jung Gu started to blackmail him or his mother tried to run her own son down. After having time to think about it, and still make the same decision to hide the truth? His actions became irrational. Same goes for Mo Ne’s decision to hide the truth from Jae Wan. And same goes for Jae Wan’s decision to hide the truth from his own mother! Seriously?! Was there a contest on how dumb the characters could act? Additionally, Mi Nyeo’s decision to off herself and Lee Jung Gu wasn’t the most rational. Was she really thinking that it would be okay for her son to lose the mother he has just discovered in such a horrific fashion? Finally, why did they allow Lee Jung Gu to hang around and create problems?
Finally, the triangles. The dreaded triangles that a Korean drama can’t seem to live without. We had the crazy parental generation triangle, where the second lead went too far and actually raped the object of his affection. The first lead wasn’t much of a prize either. And the heroine went crazy from the abuse heaped on her. Which I think was a good lesson on how most second leads are really skating that thin line between gentleman and stalker/potential attacker. I just wish the writer had used some of that self-awareness in writing the other triangles in the drama. The fact that I could write the entire summary above with barely a mention of Song Chae Kyung or Sun Woo Hyun shows how meaningless they were to the main narrative. Jae Wan dated Chae Kyung in college. She dumped him. She explained to Mo Ne (?) that they had both had tragedy in their past and being around each other reminded them of that tragedy. A very valid reason to end a relationship. Yet, she marries a rich man, becomes a widow and then comes back to cling to Jae Wan for no reason at all! If they had just adjusted her character to a friend who cared and was helping out of that caring, I would have understood her more. She would have moments of being friendly to Mo Ne, and then would go back to demanding that Mo Ne give her Jae Wan. After the time jump, she seems to have moved on and is actively assisting the main couple in uniting, but the writer kept the poor woman around for 31 episodes, hoping to get a chance at Jae Wan! Additionally, poor Sun Woo Hyun fell in love with Mo Ne in episode 3 and was still around watching her live her happily married life with no further personal movement for himself in the end. Don’t these second leads deserve happiness? If you want me to care about a character that has been labeled the second lead, then show them moving on! Because otherwise I just get pissed that no one besides the main couple gets their happily ever after. Guess what? Unrequited love is definitely not sexy!
Lee Dong Wook and Lee Da Hae reunited in a drama after 9 years. And their chemistry is still alive! Call me shallow, but this was one of the reasons that I decided to continue with this drama. The ease with which the two act together and how comfortable they are with each other shined through in their characters. They both did a great job with the acting and the characters they were given. I definitely don’t regret watching this drama because I got to see them together.
I also really loved Cha Jae Wan’s character.These kinds of characters get to me. Someone so cool and urbane in public, but who has an inner core of darkness and a tragic past. Someone who is extremely intelligent and clever. Someone who can protect those that need protecting. Someone who is able to change once he realizes his error. Jae Wan was all those things. I also liked the conflict of him falling in love with his own sister. Not because I’m into incest, but because I always find it so beautiful when a man falls in love despite himself. You can never have a bigger taboo than falling in love with a sibling, which just goes to show how inevitable that love was. It’s the same reason I loved Coffee Prince. Of course Jae Wan went a little off track when he decided to hide his existence from his mother and had a bout of noble idiocy in the end when he dumped Mo Ne, but otherwise I was truly happy that a character like Jae Wan got his happily ever after. He deserved it. And I knew that he would protect that happiness with all of his being.
And I also liked how Lee Dong Wook portrayed him. Lee Dong Wook did a beautiful job in portraying how stoic, hurt, beat down and angry Jae Wan was. His small smirks when he beat Jung Gu, his sad smile at losing Mo Ne, or portraying the peace he feels in her arms was beautiful. And as Jae Wan found love and family, Lee Dong Wook’s acting lightened to portray that happiness. Lee Dong Wook tended to cry a bit much in certain scenes (for example when he found out about his mother or his father), but over all his acting was good. He was even able to convey his sad emotions in the voice overs he had to do in certain scenes.
I liked how well written the death of Lee Jung Gu was. Despite the fact that this character was initially evil and then annoying, I cared about his death. We got to see a hint of what had twisted this man into this evil being. And we got to see how self-aware he was at the end of all he had lost, and how he had come to appreciate that Jae Wan was still there and trying to save him. And his death was his only present to his son, for all the evil that he had done. Or at least, I hope those were the reasons and not another way to screw with his son.
The interactions between the staff was worth watching, as well. We don’t get to forget that this is a big hotel and all the other staff on site have their own personal dramas going on. We get to see two couples fall in love. We get to see another betray his team to become a general manager of his own hotel (he fails). We get to see another unrequited love. And in the end, we get to see epilogues for them, as well.
Overall, I would give this drama a 6.5/10 because of the “good” listed above. It is worth one watch, at least.