K-Drama Review: ‘Mr. Queen’: It’s Fun. So the Controversy Is All the More Disappointing

Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

A 21st-century man’s spirit entered the body of a 19th-century woman? Mr. Queen, a comedy drama that adequately combines the soul swapping and time slip, has been on a roll, even surpassing 12% viewership. What’s the charm of this drama that it has caught the people’s attention despite the controversy over history distortion that arose in the beginning?

Credit: tvN

Mr. Queen, the Korean remake of the Chinese web drama Go Princess Go, depicts the disturbance that takes place after Jang Bong Hwan, a playboy full of bluff in the 21st century, entered the body of Queen Kim So Yong (Queen Cheolin) in the 19th century. Compared to other romance fantasy historical dramas, it has actively incorporated the real history into the plot. The drama is set in King Cheoljong’s reign, and the two main characters, Kim Cheoljong and Queen Cheolin, are real people from history. The most incompetent king in the history of Joseon and a queen who is barely known even though she is from the Andong Kim clan – these two characters who wouldn’t normally be the main characters of a historical drama are placed at the center of the play.

Jang Bong Hwan, who has a modern mindset and attitude, lives on his own pride and is quite obsessed with his masculinity. It’s natural for commotion to surface when he is put into the body of a queen who should be the symbol of the law and a model for everyone in the late Joseon Dynasty. At the beginning of the drama, So Yong, with 100% Bong Hwan soul, causes turmoil as she breaks the taboo of the palace with completely changed behaviors, giving a big laugh. Another point that makes you burst into laughter is Bong Hwan’s master-level flattery using his cooking skills, which is good enough to be the chef of the Blue House, as he butters up the person with the highest power within the palace, and the misunderstandings caused from the strange interpretations of his modern languages.

Clearly, there will be no exaggeration in saying that all these scenes are in other words a “one woman show” by Shin Hye Sun, who plays SoBong (So Yong & Bong Hwan). Her words and actions that are more manly than most guys, her slick thoughts and her bluff even after going into a woman’s body evoke laughter every time. Sometimes, you will find yourself in awe at the actress’s flawless performance when the real So Yong appears in flashbacks from time to time. Her chemistry with Kim Jung Hyun (Cheoljong) is impressive, but she has also created amusing scenes every episode with Cha Jung Hwa (Court Lady Choi) and Chae Seo Eun (Hong Yeon).

Credit: tvN

Starting from episode 8, Mr. Queen shifted its focus to romance and the drama. Bong Hwan is confused by So Yong’s memory and her feelings for the king, and desperately struggles to maintain his sexual identity. The king admits that the queen is not his enemy and finds himself gradually falling in love with her. The story of the main characters falling in love at some point even though they don’t trust each other is quite typical, but the fact that one of them has a woman’s body but a man’s soul gives laughter. And yes, there are Hwa Jin who loves the king, Kim Byung In who loves the queen, and the untold past between the pair, but these things won’t really serve as a bigger barrier than the power struggle surrounding them.

But there is a clear letdown. At the beginning of the drama, there was a huge gap between the political drama between the king and the Kim clan and the one man comedy show by SoBong. The shift in the mood from comedy to suspense almost felt like the court ladies neolttwigi (Korean see-saw). Recently, as Bong Hwan has given up on returning to the future and accepted his fate little by little, comedy has somewhat soothed out, and the proportion of the king’s conflict against the Andong Kim clan has increased along with the love square, so the harmony of the three genres now seems appropriate.

Therefore, the controversy over the history distortion is all the more disappointing. The original author’s anti-Korean attitude, Grand Queen Sunwon’s problematic character setting, and the terrible naming that reminded people of recent events such as “Oktajeong” all have stirred up a great deal of controversies. I do understand the director’s intention to “mashup” the original work’s overall storytelling with a part of Korean history, but it seems like he didn’t fully expect the upheaval about using the real names from history. If various parts of history were put together and if Jang Bong Hwan had more wits to his 21st-century wisdom, we would have understood the overall context without having SoBong recite the actual kings of Joseon. Bad PR (public relations) is still a PR, but it’s regrettable that the production crew didn’t think hard enough even though they could have found a way to avoid the controversy.

Credit: tvN

Mr. Queen, which recently aired the episode 12, will now show King Cheoljong hardening his will to go up against the Ansong Kim clan after surviving the life-threatening incident, So Yong/Bong Hwan realizing his real identity and feelings for Cheoljong, and the two becoming the real partner for life. So now, I’m already looking forward to the ending. Will it scrub the history that we know and end with a reign of peace? Or will it follow the ending from the original work and correct the wrong history?

Verdict: A case in point where bold imagination sparked both fun and controversy (7/10)

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