Grief is a hard thing. Hard to experience. Hard to convey. Hard to empathize with if you’re not already emotionally invested. Hard to talk about in ways that aren’t banal and obvious. Which is why I’m thankful for Korean dramas.
My wife and I have been on a bit of a kdrama kick lately. Honestly, it’s the only television I’ll take the time watch these days. I’d been surprised by how involving and multifarious these shows could be. It’s as if these writers and programmers distilled the concept of good television and found a device with which to disperse it in delectable quantities that would simultaneously satisfy and leave viewers wanting more. Essentially, and I’m far from the first to remark on this, kdrama is television crack. I’m not surprised anymore, but I do still marvel at how delicious and utterly addicting these shows can be.
While I was home sick a fair amount last week and while confined to bed, I went ahead (probably to my wife’s disappointment) and started a new show. I finished all sixteen episodes in five days. I’ll be watching it again starting tonight and this time with my wife. It was that good. It’s actually one of my favourite shows ever. (That may or may not be its immediacy talking.)
Queen In Hyun’s Man is one more of a handful of time travel dramas that have washed over Korean airwaves in the past twelve months. (I haven’t seen them all but I can’t imagine them getting much better than this.) The story is fairly straightforward. The lead, Hee Jin, is a C-list actress who, through the scheming of her A-list diva ex-boyfriend, lands the peach role of Queen In Hyeon in a historical drama in which her ex plays the king. Slidewhile, Boong Do, a nobleman sworn to protect the real, historical Queen In Hyeon gets transported 318 years into the future where he meets the actress and they fall in love. With complications. Which is not much of a spoiler as the show is billed as a romance with the tagline: “Meeting through a gap in time, their one and only love story.”
Like the best kdramas, Queen In Hyun’s Man is gripping, compulsive television. Also like the best, it offers plenty of thoughtfulness and plays out the human condition in a variety of ways. Primarily, Queen In Hyun’s Man is concerned with love, grief, and sacrifice—which is a bit funny for a show that is largely fun and mischievous.
One of the first things we notice in the mechanism for Boong Do’s time-hopping is that while he simply needs to utter some magic words in order to return to 1694’s Joseon era Korea, he actually has to die in order to jump to the 21st century. Or come close enough to dying at any rate. He travels forward only when pierced with swords or with arrows or is otherwise in mortal danger of perishing. That means that in order to meet with Hee Jin, he has to sacrifice himself, always wondering whether or not his time-traveling talisman will work or not. It’s not so much a sacrifice when others seek to kill him and unknowingly cause him to vanish, but when he starts doing it on his own (and with a certain hopeful resignation), the viewer really begins to understand his dedication to Hee Jin.
Above any of this however, what Queen In Hyun’s Man gets right is its depictions of bereftness, of loneliness. There are times in the show when playfulness, humour, and the spark of mischief are locked away so that we can see the complete sense of loss experienced in the death of another. These moments are the lifeblood of the show and sell the romances far better than any of the meet-cutes or heartfelt confessions. These are characters who matter to each other—and to the viewer. Whatever one thinks of the rapidity with which they come to care for each other wholeheartedly, there can be no doubting the strength of their love. It’s carved into their faces.
Queen In Hyun’s Man may not perfectly express grief (really, who can truly know grief but the individual who is suffering?), but it gets it right enough that I can think of few better examples in film or television (David Duchovny’s, perhaps, in Return to Me). And whatever the case, the show sells its heartbreak well by tempering it with an abundance of humour and lighter moments—as well as crafting a deeply satisfying conclusion.
I highly recommend Queen In Hyun’s Man. Especially for couples. Especially for those who want to feel something. And especially for those who like a good television story filled with love and intrigue and antics and murder and hope and devastation and joy. Give it a shot: I’m near certain you won’t be disappointed.
Queen In Hyun’s Man is currently available for viewing at viki.com and through the Viki app.