North and South in “King 2Hearts”

I’m watching King 2Hearts now and every episode never fails to crack me up. In my K-drama viewing history, I’ve only watched two dramas that delve into North-South relations thus far: Korean Peninsula (Hanbando) and King 2Hearts. I like both since they give me a glimpse into North-South relations, the former being serious and the latter being lighter and funnier. But I must say I like King 2Hearts more, simply because it’s funny and it’s easier to watch.

king 2hearts

For those who haven’t seen this yet, King 2Hearts is set under an imagined Korean constitutional monarchy. It’s a sort of love story between North Korean female sergeant Kim Hang-ah (Ha Ji-won ) and self-aborbed South Korean Prince Lee Jae-ha (Lee Seung-gi ).

For authenticity, actress Ha Ji-won reportedly learned the North Korean accent, particularly the Pyongyang elite’s accent, from a defector who had a bit of the same background in the character she plays. The other actors who played North Korean parts also reportedly studied this.

king 2hearts

Photo from this site.

I didn’t really understand the significance of this piece of information until I did a bit of googling to learn more. The turning point came in Episode 7, when Kim Hang-ah entered the palace and started learning the South Korean royal family’s ways.

Come dinner time, Kim Hang-ah tried to make a pleasant dinner conversation and paid her soon-to-be mother-in-law (the High Queen) a compliment. She said the High Queen was “outgoing and optimistic” in her North Korean language. In the Queen’s South Korean language, however, the same word that Hang-ah said meant that (uh-oh) the Queen had a “stingy heart.” Same word, different meanings. This got me curious why.

king 2hearts

Photo from this site.

It turns out that more than 6 decades of separation of the two Koreas has divided the North and the South not only in terms of borders but in language differences, too. South Korean use of the Korean language has evolved, as it has become peppered with English words (or Konglish) as well as variations in how some Korean words are used. So conversations with North Koreans tend to make the people in the conversation confused, amused or slighted.

For me, watching the scene was funny. But I imagine that it might not be so for real life Koreans. For example, words like squid in North Korea means octopus in the South, while mije may mean “Made in the USA” in South, and “American imperialist” in the North. English words that South Koreans use like wife, size, date, shopping, drive, camera may mean nothing to those in the North.

Another scene that tickled my funny bone was when Hang-ah was given a sort of bank account, and she seemed to be more comfortable keeping money under a mattress.

money in mattress

Photo from this site.

This, too, I learned, poses a real life challenge to North Koreans who defected to the South. Activities like banking, using the washing machine, driving a car, using computers, putting on makeup (for women), riding the bus or buying things at the market takes some time getting used to.

However, these activities are easier to take in compared to learning the way South Koreans use the language, which takes more time. According to some articles I’ve read online, what causes confusion and misunderstanding is not just the vocabulary but the topics as well, which tend to be unfamiliar to either side.

Now that I’ve had more background on how people from the North and the South tend to interact (Thanks, Google!), I’d like to think that I’ve gained a bit more understanding of what the drama depicts, as well as the real life situation it came from. I’m glad that there are dramas like King 2Hearts, which is heavy on laughs as it is on meanings.





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