What it’s about
Hwang Tae Hee—a successful, take-no-prisoners businesswoman—ignores her mentor’s advice and gets married. But when that mentor turns against Tae Hee and decides to ruin her life, her hard-won happy ending disappears. With her job and marriage crumbling around her, Tae Hee meets an anchorless chaebol son who might feel even more lost and alone than she does.
I wan’t sure what to watch next, but I’m glad I picked this refreshing, breezy show. It has been a long time since I’ve watched a light romance with a strong workplace storyline, and this one is known for making Kdrama history: It presents a rare example of a second male lead who actually gets the girl in the end. I can already see why—the original lead seems smarmy and money-grubbing, not worthy of the fabulously capable, can-do Hwang Tae Hee.
Queen of Reversals feels completely different from the more recent Kdramas I’ve been watching lately, even though it’s only three years old. It’s blissfully traditional, with no time travel, no body swaps, and no heavy melodrama. It instead finds the perfect balance between compelling workplace challenges and romantic sparring. It’s also funny, with lots of character-based humor and delightfully absurd (but utterly plausible) slice-of-life moments.
Queen of Reversal’s cast of characters is wonderful, with sassy corporate assistants, loyal colleagues, bickering mother-in-laws, and rivals who are fully drawn characters, not just route bad guys. Best of all is its female lead: Hwang Tae Hee is a serious and confident grownup, not a naïve, pliable little girl like so many Kdrama heroines. It’s easy to see why the second lead got the girl this time. Her smarts turned him on, while the show’s original lead was threatened by her professional abilities.
Although there are a few glitches in its pacing (including a noble idiot arc toward the end that I could have done without), Queen of Reversal’s story never falls into the drama doldrums. There are always new and exciting things happening, and lots to look forward to around every corner. This would be an impressive feat for any show, but it’s almost unheard of for shows like Queen that receive midrun extensions. Even the addition of ten episodes couldn’t derail this narrative; like its heroine, this drama handled the unexpected with grace and style.
My biggest gripe about QOR is that it had to end. I would have happily stuck around for at least ten more episodes of its cozy sweetness.
• Episode 1. Someone recently commented on my old article about sexism in Kdramaland, mentioning that things like the wrist grab aren’t necessarily predicated on gender. That person is certainly right to point out that age is just as important as a deciding factor in how people treat each other—ajummas are never shy pushing around young men. But I still think that Kdramas tend to present men as the dominant figures in all relationships. And here’s an example: even though this show features a noona romance, the younger man just grabbed his girlfriend by the wrist and forced her to sit. He assumes the place of power in the relationship, even though she’s older. (Of course, mostly that’s because she’s intentionally reeling him in, but still.)
• Episode 2. I love my mom and all, but I’d love her even more if she’d stop by and leave tasty side dishes in my fridge.
• Episode 2. And with the introduction of shirtless, smirking Park Shi Hoo as a stylish chaebol son, this fun show gets fabulous.
• Episode 2. Queen of Reversals is reminiscent of both the verve-filled Dal Ja’s Spring and the dull-as-dishwater I Do, I Do. I’m hoping it will be more of the former and less of the latter, but it’s too soon to tell.
• Episode 3. Jobs are not like boyfriends, sweetheart. You should have a new one lined up before you leave the old one.
• Episode 4. Who did the female lead’s hair? Lady Di, circa 1984? I wonder if her dated fashion sense is meant to make her seem older, not just torment me with flashbacks to my childhood in the 1980s.
• Episode 4. This boss’s first comment about necessary restructuring was: “Let’s get rid of the married women with poor performance reviews.” If someone said that in America, I’m not even sure what would happen. George Washington would appear and kick their ass, probably. And then all the married women would get together to win a $70 million class-action suit against the company. Which is exactly what a business with that kind of attitude deserves.
• Episode 5. So there are two possibilities: either the “g” key on this subber’s keyboard wasn’t working, or everyone in this show talks like a ten year old. Listen and repeat, subber: Making, Taking, and Holding. Not Makin’, Takin’, and Holdin’.
• Episode 6. I’m really loving this drama. It’s about actual grownups, which is a refreshing change after all the time-traveling and/or flower-boy series I’ve been watching lately. Its exploration of a committed, adult relationship is both candid and realistic—there’s fighting and jealousy and envy, not to mention crushing responsibility to be shouldered by the family’s breadwinner. For Queen of Reversals, weddings aren’t Cinderella-style happy endings: they’re the beginning of something new, just like in real life. I can see how the screenwriters fell into the second-lead trap, though. They forgotten to include any hint of love or support in the show’s central relationship. Of course nobody wants this couple to be together when they don’t want to be together themselves.
• Episode 8. James really did go native during his stay in America—he’s eating breakfast cereal!
• Episode 8. The giant spider broach in this scene gets a 0 on the fashion-o-meter, but an 11 on the phobia-o-meter.
• Episode 8. If only you had Choi Han Gyul on your team, you would have sold every single one of those makeup sets. He would have made some great signs and used his charisma to encourage customers instead of just standing dumbly behind a bare table and expecting people to come to you. (Of course, he would have accidentally sold the premium product at a discounted rate. But still.)
• Episode 8. This is definitely vintage Park Shi Hoo—he’s a quirky brat, but not so quirky and bratty that I can’t stand the sight of him, unlike in Cheongdamdong Alice. I can’t figure out how he’ll end up with the female lead, though. She’s already married, and this drama seems too light for the moral ambiguities of a torrid, marriage-breaking affair.
• Episode 8. Is the lead couple’s daughter being raised by wolves in the next apartment or something? She gets less screen time in than the female lead’s cell phone.
• Episode 10. You keep calling the female lead “Bossy,” show, but I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Try “Dedicated.” Or “Exacting.” Maybe even “Strong.” That’s what you’d call a guy who acted like she does, anyway.
• Episode 10. If I didn’t know how this show was going to turn out, I’d have killer second lead syndrome right now: he realizes that she’s upset, so finds her a soundproofed office for a good cry, gives her his hankie, and then stands guard outside the door? That’s Amanda’s dream man territory right there. (It might mean I’m emotionally broken, but when I need to cry, I’d rather do it by myself.) The only problem in this relationship is that it’s unclear whether he needs a girlfriend or a mother.
• Episode 11. Dear Korea: Thanks to this heinously fuzzy-armed sweater, you have officially lost fur privileges. Forever. Sincerely, Amanda
• Episode 14. Warning: this episode includes consumption of live, wriggly octopus. I can’t even watch it, let alone eat it.
• Episode 16. This show’s female lead seems to have stolen her entire wardrobe from Jane Fonda’s trailer sometime shortly after filming wrapped on the movie 9 to 5 in 1980. Giant bows at the neck? Bangs feathered and shellacked to the side of her head? Flared, knee-length skirts and fussy little prints? She’s got them all, and then some.
• Episode 17. Although Kdrama seems to have grown out of its nasty male lead phase, it’s still unusual to find a relationship like the one in this show: Park Shi Hoo’s character gets all hot and bothered by the female lead’s capabilities. When she does something right, he beams. And when she kicks butt at a video game he gets all woozy and flustered with adoration. Of course, he has his moments of meanness, but I think he might still be the missing link between vicious Jun Pyo and supportive Enrique.
• Episode 18. This narrative arc’s quest for the next big diet product is problematic on any number of levels, but the most annoying one came to the forefront in this episode’s big boardroom scene. “Women, wouldn’t you love a pill that would make you feel full and burn calories at the same time?” asks the male lead. He follows this question with, “Men . . . wouldn’t you love to give this product to your wife?” What a double-standard that is—women must be skinny, and men must have skinny women. It’s especially ridiculous because men in Korean society clearly suffer pressure to be thin, just like Korean women do: All those scrawny, makeup-wearing flower boys are exhibit A. But just like in America, extra weight on a man is excusable and can be overcome by other attributes, while it’s an unforgivable sin on a woman. (P.S.: Sign me up for the clinical testing on those pills, will you?)
• Episode 18. I love that the guy who played Mr. Hong in Coffee Prince is in this drama, and that he’s practically playing Mr. Hong again: He’s yet another kindly old gentleman with valuable insight into the human heart (and dubious personal hygiene).
• Episode 19. If whatsherface ends up with the gallant cop, what will become of poor Junsu? I never really liked the actor who plays him, but he doesn’t deserve to be forever alone just because the casting department did a better job with the other characters.
• Episode 19. Here’s my exact response to a scene in this episode, as shown on tumblr. (Luckily, I don’t have to wait a week for satisfaction—this show completed its run in 2010.)
• Episode 22. I’ve always wondered why so many Kdrama actors speak lousy English, even when the language is emphasized in schools from a young age. I guess this episode may have given me a reason: grammar is studied more than spoken fluency. It’s actually sad how hard it is to learn a new language—I know people do it for fun, but they’re a rare subset of the world’s OCD population. The rest of us are just stuck with the three phrases it took us years of high school language class to master. Mine are in French: (1) Where’s the bathroom? (2) Thank You. and (3) Do you want to sleep with me tonight? (Thanks, Christina Aguilera!)
• Episode 21. My God, Park Shi Hoo. You’re kissing her in this scene, not giving her CPR. Scale it back, buddy. (Who ever thought a Kdrama kiss would inspire that reaction?)
• Episode 21. Nice lipstick, female lead. What’s the color called? Corpse?
• Episode 23. Unlike a lot of workplace shows, QOR does a great job of integrating character storylines with professional challenges. It’s not the same two people forever having the same stupid argument about office politics—it’s compelling characters working together on interesting tasks. So far the pace isn’t even suffering from the show’s 10-episode extension, which is a feat. I’m actually left wishing the screenwriter was more prolific, but she’s only written a few other (very long) shows.
• Episode 23. I’m up for this culinary tour of Korea whenever you’re available, Junsu. Call me!
• Episode 23. This drama really showcases Park Shi Hoo at his most scrumdiddleyumptious. His more recent starring roles haven’t done anything for me, but he’s aces as this disenfranchised, quasi-chaebol who’s pining over his employee. In fact, most of Queen’s secondary characters are even better than the leads—the snarky assistant, the dreamy cop, and the shy coworker feel interesting enough for much bigger roles.
• Episode 26. If only getting promoted to management positions automatically made dopes like the male lead into cool, collected leaders. My lifetime worth of experience with managers—including me—proves that this isn’t the case.
• Episode 26. I love the smeary, raccoon-eyed look of this show’s crying women. I’m no expert on makeup, but I can’t imagine that eyeliner that thick would hold up to weeping and/or tissue use.
• Episode 26. Even though you pretty much know how Kdrama romances will end, I think being truly spoiled for this show’s endgame couple is actually allowing me to enjoy watching it more. There’s no breathlessness about whether things will work out, so I can savor the little details, like the rotten-clementine-cum-love-token in this episode.
• Episode 28. Whenever a drama roommate conspicuously disappears on an unlikely vacation, it usually means that a hot night of love is in store for the lead. Will this show go there?!? I hope, I hope.
• Episode 28. The director was definitely hot for Park Shi Hoo at this point. The female lead just had a powerful speech that explained her motivations for the past few episodes, but we hardly ever saw her face during the scene. Instead, it was one long reaction shot focused on PSH. He earned all that screen time by etching his character’s emotions on his face: sadness and resoluteness and love.
• Episode 30. This episode made me cry until I got a case of the hiccups. (Just FYI.)
• Episode 30. That Park Shi Hoo must have a singing voice that sounds like a dying walrus—he avoided singing in not one but two noraebang scenes in the course of this drama.
•Episode 31. Korea mustn’t have legal protections for older workers—the female lead keeps talking about age-cutoffs for new employees that are preventing her from getting a job. It’s hard to imagine how this fits in with the Korean ethos of age-based hierarchy, but I guess respecting one’s elders is a double-edged sword on this front. When age matters so much in every relationship, it has to be awkward for an older person to have a lesser job than someone who’s their (chronological) junior. This also explains why people so rarely leave jobs in Kdramas. You’re fully wedded to your first job because as you age you become less employable elsewhere. In America it’s illegal to discriminate based on someone’s age, and it strikes me as stupid wherever you are. Older people have more experience and perspective and are often infinitely more valuable than someone in their twenties.
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The office relationships (and noona romance!) of Dal Ja’s Spring
Family’s Honor, my other favorite Park Shi Hoo drama