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Mr Queen: WHAT did I just watch?! 🤩

Samseng Zhabor
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I’ve been working on two other issues of this newsletter but everything else needs to be put on hold right now because I’ve spent the past weekend absolutely obsessed with a k drama. And when I mean obsessed, I mean I didn’t leave the house in two days and went almost everywhere with my iPad so I could binge-watch my way right through… I’ve basically been in this drama’s world for the past three days or so. And now it’s over but I have FEELINGS.
So I guess I’ll inflict them upon this newsletter’s subscribers.
Mr Queen
I added Mr Queen to my Viki watchlist some time back and then kind of forgot about it, until I decided on a whim to start it at the end of last week and then it took over my life.
The premise of this 2020 drama is a little out there. In modern-day South Korea, Jang Bong-hwan (Choi Jin-hyuk) is riding high as the youngest head chef in the Blue House. He’s talented, successful, conveniently hawt and a total ladies’ man. He’s also kind of an arrogant, self-centred arse.
Well, Mr Hot-Shit’s life hits a roadblock when he’s framed at work, leading to him not only getting fired, but being investigated for corruption. While trying to escape from cops, Jang Bong-hwan falls off his balcony and into a pool, hitting his head on the bottom.
When he wakes up, he discovers, to his horror, that he’s 200 years in the past… and in the body of Kim So-young (Shin Hye-sun), the newly selected queen to Cheoljong of Joseon (a real historical figure, although of course everything in this drama is made-up).
Cheoljong (Kim Jung-hyun, who you might know as Goo Seung-joon in Crash Landing On You) is on the throne, but in court the power is really held by the Grand Queen Dowager and her younger brother, both from the Andong Kim clan (again, a real clan, but fictionalised here). They put Cheoljong on the throne after the death of the heirless previous king, intending to use him as a puppet. On the surface, this seems to be the case as Cheoljong doesn’t seem very bright or strong-willed. But it’s drama-land we’re talking about, so of course there’s more than meets the eye where the male lead is concerned.
At first Jang Bong-hwan is only interested in getting out of Kim So-young’s body and going back where he belongs, but after some failed attempts, he begins to accept that he’s in it for the long-haul. Helped along by Kim So-young’s memories and skills, he navigates his way around the palace and also gets to know Cheoljong better. Cheoljong, initially weirded out by Jang Bong-hwan/Kim So-young’s (or, as fans would call it, So-bong) brash mannerisms and modern-day slang, grows to appreciate, trust, and even love this crude, bizarre queen. It’s just as well, because they both need all the support they can get to survive the cutthroat world that is Joseon court politics.
She cooks like a dream, too.
She cooks like a dream, too.
What. A. Ride.
I find that k dramas are generally pretty good at mixing genres and tones, switching from serious to suspense to comic relief fairly seamlessly. It’s one of the thing that I most enjoy about the k drama-watching experience.
Mr Queen is really good at this. It zips and pivots, pulling you from court intrigue to action scenes to romantic beats to moments of hilarity, using music and sound effects and the skill of its cast to pull it off. There are high stakes, but the show also doesn’t take itself too seriously. I lost track of the number of times I shrieked with laughter; the comic timing in this drama is on point.
I don’t understand Korean but thankfully the community translators on Viki added little notes explaining the puns and parodies that really added to the fun. And there’a a lot of wordplay; one of my favourite bits of the show was how So-bong’s speech was peppered with modern Korean slang and English words that they would break down and build up again as somewhat plausible idioms. There was one bit where the play on “McDonald’s” almost made me do a spit-take.
The story and the drama especially soared because of the two leads. I was too into the main romance storyline in Crash Landing On You (hehe) to have that much attention for Kim Jung-hyun but he was fantastic and fantastically hilarious in this. And Shin Hye-sun, who had a pivotal but ultimately not very meaty role in the first season of Stranger, should have been showered in awards for this — she was super funny and also did a great job at distinguishing between Kim So-young, Jang Bong-hwan, and even So-bong. Together, they have great chemistry and shared both highly comedic and highly touching scenes.
The character of So-bong is a delight. They (the show doesn’t go into pronouns but since Jang Bong-hwan identifies as a cisgender man and Kim So-young as a cisgender woman, I am going to go with this) have all the skills and training of a high-bred Joseon lady, plus the arrogance and unapologetic forwardness of a highly-successful douche from a modern patriarchal society. Unlike the repressed baby incubator everyone in court expects the queen to be, So-bong takes up so much space and I love it. Amid all the scheming of the palace, it’s so cathartic to have a character just decide to not take any shit and set about giving as good as they get. Shiok sia.
There’s a solid supporting cast, too, from the long-suffering court lady who has to chase the mannerless queen around the palace, to the king’s best friend who is always complaining about how much work he has to do, to the comic relief himbo who seems to drift around until the point he becomes very, very important. One particular standout for me was the queen’s cousin, who’s technically an antagonist who creates a lot of headache for our heroes, but turned out to be the character that made me cry.
Na In-woo as Kim Byeong-in, the scene stealer.
Na In-woo as Kim Byeong-in, the scene stealer.
I don’t want to go into too much and end up spoiling the show because I want more people I know to watch it (so I’ll have people to discuss it with!)
Character and story-wise, I did find the ending disappointing. (I thought about this quite a bit because, right after the show, I was determined to find it all amazing since I had so much fun watching it, but something just didn’t quite sit right in the end.) I also wish there was more exploration of gender identity and sexual orientation, which the premise creates opportunity for. It’s why Go Princess Go, the low-budget Chinese drama adaptation of the same Chinese web novel Mr Queen was adapted from, got heavily censored in China. Maybe the Korean producers didn’t really want to go there, which is a pity because they certainly went about 80% of the way!
All in all, I would recommend this show (I wouldn’t be writing this if I wasn’t, I guess) and the great yarn it offers. It’s got plots and schemes, a palace full of gossiping eunuchs and maids (or, as So-bong puts it, “human CCTVs”), heroes with great ideals, and — most delightful of all — a queen who will just stand in her room and yell, “FUUUUUCCCCCKKKK!!!”
Words to live by.
Words to live by.
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Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor
Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor @kixes

A random, whimsical newsletter on dramas, cats, and life. Written by a journalist in need of a break from the news.

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