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The King’s Woman: The most effed up drama I ever did see

Samseng Zhabor
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This is a drama I watched ages ago and I am not rewatching it ever again, so this issue is based on what I remember of it, which, tbh, is more than I would like. There will be spoilers in this issue; I’m not even going feel apologetic about it because the whole point of me writing this is to say that there is no reason for you to be watching this since I’ve already taken one for the team. You’re welcome.
Dilraba Dilmurat as Gongsun Li and Zhang Binbin as Ying Zheng
Dilraba Dilmurat as Gongsun Li and Zhang Binbin as Ying Zheng
The King’s Woman 《秦时丽人明月心》 is one of the period Chinese dramas I watched when I first started getting into Asian dramas. Released in 2017, it stars Dilraba Dilmurat and Zhang Binbin, so at least the cast is ludicrously gorgeous, which is possibly why I stuck with it for so long and only quit two episodes from the finale because I could take no more. (I can be very shallow when watching drama, okay?)
The King’s Woman tells the story of Gongsun Li (Dilraba Dilmurat), the granddaughter of a military commander of a small nation, and Ying Zheng (Zhang Binbin), the ambitious young emperor of Qin who would eventually become Qin Shi Huang. As kids, Gongsun Li and one of her seniors, Jing Ke (Liu Chang), rescues a young Ying Zheng from assassins. Caught up in the political machinations of adults, Ying Zheng has had a traumatic childhood as a hostage prince that seems to have alternated between being teased and looked down upon, and being hunted by people who want to kill him. He eventually makes it on to the throne anyway, but the troubled, frightened child has turned into a cold-blooded and ruthlessly determined man with mood swings and a desire to control everything. Early in the series, he has his mother’s young love children taken away from her and likely killed so there will be no half-siblings who might challenge him. Yeesh.
Gongsun Li and Ying Zheng’s paths cross again and he recognises her as the girl who saved him at a dark time in his life. He’s apparently loved her from that moment on, and now that they’ve met again, he decides that he wants her. She doesn’t recognise him, though; to her, he’s the emperor that whacked her little country. Basically, the enemy.
What to do about this pickle? Send flowers? An apologetic note his conquering ways? Reveal himself as the kid she saved? Any form of open and honest communication?
NO WAY! HE’S A TYRANT KING! Tyrant kings don’t do these normal, empathetic people things! He has a much better (read: fucked up) plan.
Gongsun Li and Jing Ke before she nobly disappears like an idiot.
Gongsun Li and Jing Ke before she nobly disappears like an idiot.
He poisons Jing Ke and makes a deal with Gongsun Li; he’ll give her the antidote, but only if she marries him after Jing Ke recovers. Desperate to save her senior, Gongsun Li does a Noble Idiot and takes the deal. Thinking they’re never going to meet again, she confesses her feelings to Jing Ke, he reciprocates, and they have one night together before she disappears on him.
Gongsun Li enters the palace as promised. But lo! It turns out she’s pregnant; a lesson to all the boys and girls that you can indeed get pregnant your first (and, at that point, only) time. Ying Zheng’s first instinct is to have the kid aborted, but some words are said (I don’t remember what her argument was) and he’s eventually persuaded to let her keep the baby, and even ends up acknowledging the child as his own. This is supposed to be seen as sweet or something; at least, it’s one of the things he does that she appreciates.
Over time, Gongsun Li comes to see “another side” to Ying Zheng, which is to say that, when he isn’t threatening to have people executed during his fits of rage, he sometimes does nice things for her. She realises that he’s had a hard time himself and carries his own trauma, but I guess there’s no such thing therapy in that period so she just feels sorry for him and thinks “he’s not so bad after all”. This is supposed to be seen as romantic, but, let’s be honest, she’s got Stockholm Syndrome.
She even chooses Ying Zheng over Jing Ke, which seriously sucks for the latter because he didn’t just lose his love; he lost his love to a ruthless psychopath whose mental breakdown after discovering a traumatic truth about his birth involves a massacre of civilians. This is the point where most of us would be like, “Erm, I think I’ve made the wrong choice of life partner”, but when Gongsun Li finds the almost catatonic Ying Zheng among all the people he’s single-handedly murdered, crying about how he’s a monster, she just hugs him. Jialat.
Between politics, war, and personal grievances — for most of the story he doesn’t realise all this shit began with a Noble Idiot deal, and believes Gongsun Li willingly married the enemy and even had a baby with him in short order — Jing Ke gets involved in a plot to assassinate Ying Zheng. (Historically, a man named Jing Ke, who served the Crown Prince Dan of Yan, did attempt an assassination on Ying Zheng, which obviously failed.) I didn’t watch the final two episodes of this drama so I didn’t get to see the assassination attempt bits myself, but I did go read up on reviews and comments, and know that it doesn’t end well for anybody. Which might be in line with historical records that show Ying Zheng never did have an empress, and that he was a paranoid, ruthless monarch, but is not so good if you’re supposed to buy into a romance.
If you watch lots of drama (as I do), you’ll come across plenty of problematic OTP stories, where behaviours and actions are sold as romantic when they’re actually creepy, inappropriate, or downright abusive. Sometimes, if it isn’t too terrible or icky, you manage to shut off your brain, close one eye, and enjoy a dose of Bad Feminist guilty pleasure. Not here. Dilraba Dilmurat and Zhang Binbin do the best they can with their roles, and do look quite cute as a couple now and then (as long as you don’t think and just enjoy eye candy), but The King’s Woman really takes the cake in the NopeTP stakes.
Don’t fall in love with mass murderers who will poison your lover and blackmail you. Consider yourselves warned, friends!
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Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor
Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor @kixes

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