I love time traveling Korean dramas. And I’m also a sucker for the “enemies to lovers” trope. So I figured there was a fair chance I would enjoy this drama. But Mr. Queen surpassed all my expectations by providing a new twist on the old “boy disguised as a girl/girl disguised as a boy” routine. A modern man ends up transplanted into the boy of a woman from the past – not just any woman, of course, but the queen.
This show has a lot of people to thank for its success, but at the heart of it I would say the two leads ruled supreme. The chemistry and the comedic prowess of our king and mister queen carried the vast majority of the weight on their shoulders. Shin Hye-Sun completely nailed the posture, facial expressions, and often over-bearing and oafish behaviors of an attractive modern male. Kim Jung-Hyun blew me away with his sincere performance of a flabbergasted, frustrated monarch. Without his grounding anchor of calm nuance to balance our actresses flamboyant shenanigans, I don’t think the comedy would have landed. The two actors also had incredible chemistry and sold me on hating each other, begrudgingly accepting each other, and ultimately falling madly in love with each other. I confess, I didn’t expect to be so enamored with this couple, but as the show progressed I was spellbound by their story.
The writers, of course, should also be praised. Historical dramas can be tricky business, and managing to create episodes that will entertain the average viewer while also maintaining some sibilance of historical accuracy is no small task. Finding fun ways to incorporate the “modern” interests of the viewers, the “modern” behavior of the time traveler, and still staying true to the rules and regulations of the era is a challenge. This show embraced the current global love of cooking shows, using the challenge of cooking modern dishes with historical tools. I myself do not enjoy reality television, but I admit I was charmed by these kitchen scenes.
The twist of having a modern man in a woman’s body was explored in intriguing ways. While most of your basics were covered – such as discovering your physical body is weaker, the “gay” comedy, the behavioral comedy of gender roles and expectations – there were some elements that were hysterically ignored. I mean, I thought it was funny that they did not have even one scene in which the dude figures out how his downstairs business functions for gratification. Seriously? And though our queen gets menstrual cramps, they completely gloss over the experience of a man finding out what its like to have a period. I dunno, maybe I’m just knit-picking on this, but I have always found it hysterical that women masturbating and having their periods is so taboo.
I was impressed on how many subtle criticisms or critiques of gender and social norms they snuck in – both about the historical era and the modern one. If you’re looking for commentary about gender roles, various sexualities, and even transgender allusions, you can find them. But if you’re not interested in such things, you can blithely ignore all that commentary and just laugh over the standard poop jokes. Honestly, it’s a path to discourse that has proven successful. Scatter the seeds around (even if only a few take root subconsciously) so you can take a larger step into more “controversial” narratives next time.
Another creative choice was focusing on the close friendship and comradery of a female group instead of a male group. In the majority of historical shows, it is the close friendships of men that are generally the focus of side plots. Guards, scholars, politicians, rebels, commoners and royalty. Whether they are friends or rivals, opposite ends of a love triangle or standing side by side for a goal, it’s usually the dudes who get the most interesting side stories, even when a female is the focus of the show. Think of… well, any historical Korean drama. If there are other girls, they are generally rivals, enemies, or not heavily involved with the other ladies in the show. Mr. Queen gave us the endearing relationships of the Royal Court Ladies. It was so refreshing to watch these women come together and form strong attachments to each other, despite age and status differences. Though the king also had his entourage, I think it’s safe to say the focus for this show was on the queens court.
Historical comedies are generally a mixed bag. Finding one that can balance the conflict of the plotline and the romance, while also keeping its audience engaged and occasionally giggling for hours at a time is a struggle. My favorite historical comedy is still Sungkyunkwan Scandal, but I admit this drama ranks highly with other contenders, such as Moonlight Drawn by Clouds or Queen In Hyun’s Man. Was I invested in the political plotline? Uhm, no. Not even a little bit. But I was invested in the main characters, so I’d call it a win.
Overall Rating – 9/10. Discovering Your Bisexuality Through Time Travel and Body Swapping.
A few additional thoughts about Mr. Queen’s sexuality and the final episode below…
I have thoughts.
I mean… the ending was great and also left me confused and a bit put out of sorts.
The modern man had fallen in love with the king. And the king was in love with the modern man. Now, I get that the real queen was also inside the body, but dormant. I understand her emotions and influence had a role in bringing the two together. But it was the dude’s personality, the dude’s words and actions, that won the king’s heart.
The king fell in love with the modern man in the body of a woman…
Or, to phrase it in another way, the king fell in love with someone inside the queen’s body that was not the queen. And that person is gone.
So… is it a happy ending?
Is it a happy ending if you are left with the shell of the person you fell in love with? The tiny fragment that largely hung out deep in the subconscious? The majority of the person you loved has disappeared entirely. And they are never coming back.
That’s melodrama tragedy, in my opinion.
Even more tragic, it is implied the king knows this. By having his royal portrait painted as the inside joke shared between them, he is signaling to his love through time. Trying to reach out across two hundred years. That implies he knows that the person he loved is separate from the queen, in the future. And again… that’s really… sad.
This is not to say that the king couldn’t have fallen in love with the real queen. Or that their relationship, which surely built up afterwards, is not also beautiful. But it’s not the relationship we saw develop over 20 episodes.
I mean… one of our characters ends up alone. Ripped from all the people he has just grown close to, the people he has fallen in love with. And the show just shrugs its shoulders at this, like “Eh, whatever, he’ll be fine.” Which is not to say that I think he won’t be… but it’s also a strange ending.
I dunno. I don’t know what to think about it. I’ve been scratching my head over the complicated emotions and implications of this ending for a few days now and I still don’t know. Would it have been better if he’d just stayed in the queen’s body? Would it have been better if he merged with the queen’s consciousness? Would it have been been better if we’d had a scene of dialogue between the queen and the modern man, in which they share some learned truths and promise to do their best in their own lives from now on? Would it have been better if our modern man sees someone who looks just like the king in the modern world at the end… and their eyes meet… and the screen fades to black with implications?
To be honest, this ambiguous ending is probably the safest and best bet. It leaves it to our imaginations and the many roads it will lead us down.