Review – Mr. Queen

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…

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

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Review – Kingdom of the Winds

Review – Kingdom of the Winds

How epic is this cover image, am I right?  Well, don’t be fooled…. cause this drama doesn’t live up to its own glorious press.  I might have enjoyed it more if I had watched it when it originally came out – before bigger, better, more impressive historical sagas came out and destroyed all contenders.  Maybe this drama helped pave the road for the big budget beauties I so adore, but I still can’t hep but feel underwhelmed.

It’s basically about this prince whose life was ruined on the day he was born after a shamen said that the heavens cursed him – doomed to kill his parents, his siblings, his own children, and destroy his country.  Yup.  All that.  It was enough for his daddy, the King, to seriously consider stabbing his own infant son – but instead he sends him away and tells the nation he died.  Well, our young prince grows up.  Goes through a series of misadventures.  And basically proves he’s immortal – cause the man escapes death a billion times, it’s ridiculous.  He falls in love with this blank faced medic, who just happens to be a princess (conveniently allowed to leave the palace, wear commoners clothes, and be unattended by guards… wtf?  Since when does that happen?).  He’s got a dorky side kick.  He’s got a rival for his love interest.  He’s got a bunch of political schemes and hurdles to leap over before he can jump on his rightful throne.  The bad guys aren’t terribly malicious or cruel, the schemers don’t seem too troubled when their plans are constantly thwarted, the action never makes you wonder who will survive and whose heart and soul will break in the process.  And even with the tragic ending (was it though?), it still felt like a mediocre historical adventure through cliches and tired story lines.

This is our leading ladies’ expression about 90% of the show… blank, bewildered and beautiful… for someone so interesting, with her regal past and medical interests… she was so boring. But it’s not just her. They all were.

Where are the grand ambitions?  Where are the personal faults and self destructive tendencies of our heroes?  Where are the clash of wills, the grand romances, the small moments of humor and heart?  Well… scattered to the wind, apparently.

I had a lot of time to kill, so I watched it all.  Every stinking episode.  I confess I napped quite frequently and didn’t seem to miss a thing.  There are better sageuks.  Far better.

Overall Rating – 6.5/10.  An Echo Chamber of Worn Cliches.

Special shout out to Kim Sang-Ho – who played a devious, funny merchant.  I got him.  His character made sense – his ambitions, his life, his personality – there were no question marks around his motivations.

Review – The King Loves / The King in Love

Review – The King Loves / The King in Love

This drama was divine.  It took your basic love triangle and raised it up to levels of discomfort, pain and joy that I don’t recall ever experiencing in another drama.  Kings are always lonely, isolated people – by design – the people they can trust or count on are few and far between.  In this story, our King had one friend.  One.  So when they both fall in love with the same woman… cue the twenty hours of beautiful agony this show will provide.  I think what made this particular love triangle special was that our lady in the middle really loved both men.  She just happened to love one of them a little more…

Add to that some outstanding political intrigue – none of the boring filler that so often accompanies historical dramas – and brilliant side characters – and you’ve got yourself a historical drama that stands above others.  Let’s not forget how freakin’ sweet this show was!  So many sweet moments.  And tons of genuine humor, too.  There was a great mix of everything, honestly.  Gorgeous cinematography,  detailed costuming, and a complicated but tightly woven plotline that deeply satisfied.  Until the very end.  The very bitter end.  Cause… only one of these absolutely lovable men is getting the girl, after all.  And your heart is going to break for the other dude.  It wouldn’t have mattered which one.  That’s why this drama was amazing… it was a win-win and a lose-lose either way…

Overall Review – 9.5/10.  Love Is A Game That Demands Losers.

More musing on heartbreak, some spoilers, and character thoughts follow… let’s dive in.

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Review – Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Review – Sungkyunkwan Scandal

I recently rewatched Sungkyunkwan Scandal, for… what?  Maybe the sixth time?  It’s an adorable romantic comedy.  It is, in my opinion, the best historical romantic comedy.  Still standing strong since 2010.  It has it all.  The best of all the tropes.  All your favorite things.  All the things you hope to see in a romantic comedy.  All the tricks of the trade done just right.  And for some reason, it’s impossible for me to write a review about it.  Every time I try, I just end up wanting to watch it again.  Sometimes you just have a to watch it.  When everyone agrees that it’s awesome – how many reviews do you need to read, anyways?  Trust the crowd.  It’s true.  It’s really, really freaking good.

The cast is perfect.  The lead male is the most delightful stick in the mud nerd… and let’s face it, how often is the main character an uptight, mega nerd?  But it works!  It works because they paired him off with a equally smart lady disguised as a man, who has a sense of humor and a flair for drama.  It works because they balanced him off with polar opposite friends – a carefree, socialite who is interested in fashion and flirting (Yeorim!  Oh, how I love him!) and a misfit, rebel who is interested in fighting and social justice won through actions over words.  They’re all awesome.  I wanted to be bestie with all these besties.

Just watch it.  You won’t be sorry.  You’ll laugh and be entertained and smitten and charmed.  It’s unavoidable.  It’s so well written – the cast is large and memorable.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Nerds in Love.

Review – Queen for Seven Days

Review – Queen for Seven Days

Did you order some tears with your romantic salad?  This was a good show… that I’ve been watching unfold over the summer.  Not quite great, but definitely on par with most quality sageuks.  As you can tell from the name, it will not have a happy ending.  But until then, it does manage to be shockingly romantic – more so than any other sageuk I can think of.  Or least, more overtly romantic, in a modern contemporary way, as opposed to the subtle, slow burn romances we generally get in these historical shows.  Our lead couple was charming – in particular, her overt nature compared to his reserve.  Especially when they were older, her understanding of his introverted tendencies showed a level of maturity rarely seen in dramas – with her always knowing when she needed to go back to him first after an argument, or infer all the things he left unsaid.  And like Romeo & Juliet, their romance was all the more delicious as everyone was actively trying to tear it apart or come between them.  Nothing like opposition to make things exciting, eh?

I’ve seen a real shift lately in understanding the power of a strong psychotic character to make any drama more interesting.  The crazed king motif never gets old, frankly, and Lee Dong Gun’s performance as the seriously unstable, yet strangely sympathetic/pathetic ruler was outstanding.  Plus he had the best wardrobe of any royalty I have seen in a saguek to date – the man encouraged color and variety in his kingly robes, thank you.  Scheming adults, lovable sidekicks, secret identities, and a variety of palace drama and violence kept the pace in each episode.  This is a good drama to watch when you’re in the mood for a flagrantly emotional rollercoaster, as the emotional aspect of show is definitely its strength.  The plot is not overly complicated, nor are the characters, really.  At it’s heart, it’s an uber-romantic-romance (it’s not all tears, either, there are some very fluffy care-free episodes and cheeky romance moments before the melodrama sinks in).

There’s also a surprisingly modern soundtrack, yet it worked well with the show, which was sort of a hybrid anyway (there was definitely a lot of modern elements covertly woven in).

Overall Rating – 8.5/10 – If There Is A Prophesy Dooming Your Relationship… You Might Wanna Reconsider Your Choices.

Review – Six Flying Dragons

Review – Six Flying Dragons

This drama was outstanding.  It’s about the end of the Goryeo period and the beginning of the Joseon period – in particular, the revolution leading from one to another.  And it’s the best historical Korean Drama I have ever seen.  Ever.  After the second episode, I was pretty sure it was surpassing my favorites.  And after the epic 3-Prong Rescue Sequence from the Biguk Temple in Episode 6… I was hooked.  By the end of the loop to the opening scene in Ep 1 closing in Ep 10, I thought… wow… holy crap… that’s extremely good writing.  It’s by the same writing team that brought us Queen Seonduk and Tree with Deep Roots… this male/female team, Kim Young-Hyun and Park Sang-Yeon, know their stuff.  And they have been perfecting their craft.  Tightly woven plots in each episode, building on each other throughout yet changing enough to keep you enthralled, extremely complicated but fulfilling character development, action, historical significance, and even some romance.

Seriously.  BEST HISTORICAL DRAMA I HAVE EVER SEEN.  Just… mesmerizing.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  The View Is Only Better From the Moral High Ground If You Don’t Look Down.

More about characters – spoilers spoilers spoilers – thoughts and more…. please watch the show before treading into these waters, you don’t need to muddy up your experience by reading details first.

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Review – Queen In Hyun’s Man

Review – Queen In Hyun’s Man

Though the first two episodes of this drama are notoriously slow, this is one of the most interesting (and romantic) time traveling between Joseon Era & Modern Times shows out there.  Why?  Because the two main leads are so interesting (and romantic).  They feel fresh… even though it’s not a new show (it came out in 2012).  Ji Hyun-Woo plays the thoughtful scholar who snickers at jokes, explores the new world with a reserved wonder, quietly observes situations before taking action, and is totally hard for his modern companion and doesn’t hide it.

Ji Hyun-Woo and Yoo In-Na are crackling with chemistry.

Yoo In-Na plays our leading lady, an adorable ditzy actress who’s won over by her time traveler almost instantly… oh the way he talks, she mutters.  Their banter is so refreshingly real.  It feels like an actual couple, not some k-drama construct.  She’s lying through her teeth, flirting, trying to show off, and he’s teasing her, testing her.  They make this show.  There’s really no other reason to watch it.  The plot is decent, but it’s watching this 300 year time gap couple cuddle in the library that makes this show stand out.  It literally made me feel like a giddy school girl every time these two were together, starting about episode three and kicking into full gear by episode four.

You will be helplessly charmed.  It’s not cheesy or gimicky or cutesy.  These are two grown people falling in love, just… head over heels in love.  And it’s magnetic.  Check it out if you’re in the mood for lots of PDA and heart melting romance.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Dear God, Let Me Be Reincarnated As Yoo In-A In My Next Life.

Review – Legend of the Blue Sea

Review – Legend of the Blue Sea

A profoundly unspecial fantasy romance.  Oh, how I wanted to love this show!  But every little thing about it was so enormously contrived and flat.  The “romance” was just a nonstop series of cliches and ridiculousness.  Just like in the show Tomorrow With You, the writers and director seemed to think that putting two attractive people opposite each other is all it takes for everyone around the world to collectively sigh.  Well, this gal groaned.  Loudly.  And because I wanted to like it, it just made it worse.  It was like forcing yourself to enjoy a treat way past its expiration date… it was just dry and a bitter reminder of all the other dramas that have done this better in the past.  You know, the fresh ones.

Plotline, basic version:  A mermaid comes to land following her one true love… but if she doesn’t win his affection in return, she will die.

Overall Rating – 5/10.  A Can Of Anchovies When You Ordered Fresh Salmon.

More Grumbling and Ranting and Spoilers follow….

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Review – Love in the Moonlight / Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

Review – Love in the Moonlight

So, I finished Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, or Love in the Moonlight, not too long ago and have been wondering what, exactly, I had to say about it.  It was nothing special, to be perfectly honest.  This drama offered no new ground to the pantheon of K-Dramas, yet it still managed to be enjoyable, settling into well worn territory… like coming home and putting on your favorite t-shirt even though it’s faded and has holes in it and probably smells a little suspicious if you get too close.  Love in the Moonlight is your usual tropes thrown together in a historical romance with a light melodrama.  It’s the safe bet.  The meal you’ve ordered before and know you like.

I liked the first half best, that was more focused on the romance, than the second half, that was more focused on the politics.  The young actors were beautiful and charming, the seasoned actors were outstanding as always.  Costumes, sets, writing, all well done.  They added a lot of modern humor in, which made it fun and playful.  The lead female looked like an alien, albeit a pretty alien.  I’m not kidding.  She was straight from a Steven Spielberg movie – and yet it was cool, like her Western alien friend Amanda Seyfried.  The black-clad guard was clearly the poster child for perfected jaw sculpting… just startlingly handsome.  That wig was working for him, too.  Usually the wig doesn’t help improve the looks of our male historical characters, but Kwak Dong-Yeon lucked out.  He has NEVER looked better, and probably never will.  The rival to the Crown Prince was also handsome and generic and overall the entire production was very easy on the eyes.

But it was the Crown Prince that owned the show.  To be honest, I don’t know if I would have stuck around for the entire drama if it weren’t for Park Bo-Gum.   Is it the capped teeth that make his smirk so cute or what?  Park Bo-Gum took a rather tired plotline of a clueless dude falling in love with a girl in drag and made it adorable all over again – by being impossibly adorable.  Geesh, he was a cutie.

Overall Rating – 8/10 – Like A Fluffy Bunny, Pretty Worthless But Oh So Cute!

Review – Faith

Review – Faith

There are few historical dramas with an interesting female lead… whose interest goes beyond “I want to rule” or something generic like that.  But the lead female in Faith is by far the most interesting character in the show – and she’s interesting for lots of reasons.  The girl wants TONS of things – cause the world is full of possibilities and she’s crafty and resourceful and full of life and energy.  And she’s not the only one!  No, no, no, my fine friends, there are a multitude of interesting ladies in this show.  In fact, the ladies are JUST AS INTERESTING AS THE MEN!  Gasp!  Equal representation in a historical drama?  Be still my feminist heart.  This show has ladies with humor, personality, individuality, sexuality, and self interest.  Heck, there are even female guards in this show.  It’s awesome.

Faith is a show that knows its strengths and weaknesses and plays both correctly.   It doesn’t have great action, but it will distract you with a handsome lead.  Heck, they even let him get away with abandoning the top knot in favor of a fan favorite bangs.  There isn’t too much political tension, but there’s fun characters.  Loads of them.  Faith is a fish out of water via time travel story… as well as your basic “kings trying to keep their thrones while their court plots against them” story.  There are fantasy elements, people with special powers, magical portals to different times… but that’s about the extent of it.  It’s a bit long, a bit cheesy, a bit under dramatic for something that should be more dramatic, and definitely light on the action (for my taste – I prefer much more sword play!).  The romance is PG at best.  Yet it was still extremely enjoyable just for having so many refreshing elements and unique characters!  If only we could have such well written characters in other historical shows, eh?  To dream!

Overall Rating 7.5/10.  Lee Min Ho Looks Cool With A Sword Even If He Doesn’t Know How To Use It.

More Review and Spoilers and Discussion Follow…

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