The topic of this article is to analyze gender constructions in the K-drama Mr. Queen. (Spoiler alert).
Mr. Queen is a historical rom-com (comedy romance) K-drama, it tells us about Queen Kim So Yong and King Cheol Jong. It was released on December 12, 2020, and ended on February 14, 2021. However, this drama has an unexpected twist with an unexpected character… Jang Bong Hwan, the top chef of the Blue House gets hurt in an accident and ends up in Queen So-Yong’s body. Can you imagine a queen with the soul of a 21st-century man in the middle of the Joseon period? Chaos, right?
The drama initiates chaotically nevertheless as the trama starts settling in, everything starts to fall into place so that the Queen and the King do not lose control of absolutely anything. However, chef Bong Hwan faces many challenges, the biggest one, being a woman. Regardless of the stage in which the series is set, it is important to note that Bong Hwan suffers a tremendous shock from having to follow rules that he did not even know existed, for example, that it is improper for women to run or exercise in certain ways because those are unfit manners for a lady.
Of course, along with this retrospective vision, being a queen gives a very different picture. But to behave like a queen was the bare minimum anyone would expect of a lady. Meaning that women had to endure and do a lot to not lose their social position. Gender constructs over time have indicated to us that women should not fight, that pink and bright colors are typical of the genre, that running and even laughing very loudly is not appropriate for a “decent lady.”
If we focus our attention on gender constructs and gender inequality, these become evident when Jang Bong Hwan is limited to coexist within the queen’s body. He has to struggle with these gender constructions but also manages to understand that to survive and save the Queen’s life, he must sacrifice part of his masculine essence. And here’s the curious thing, although Jang Bong Hwan does not understand the constructions towards the feminine gender, manages to empathize with how these constructs make him feel. He is finally at the other side´s end and along with the chapters he lets the Queen enjoy certain liberties which later continues to enjoy thanks to Jang Bong Hwan.
Jang Bong Hwan realizes that the female gender, especially the Queen, is not allowed to run, cannot perform strong sports, or read certain literary genres. Not only her but all the women through the chapters go through similar situations. Is proper lady-like activities something real? Or have they been imposed for a visual/ideological social benefit?
This K-drama plot does not focus on sociological issues because it is a historical drama with a very interesting and intelligent twist, I dare say. But I think it’s also important to emphasize how gender inequalities are presented. I consider it essential that these gender constructions are also questioned by Jang Bong Hwan because that makes us criticize them and ask us how far we have gone to keep them and pass them from generation to generation.
The construction of the genre presented at this time has tremendous political baggage, especially in the upper classes and the clans closest to the royal lineage. But, that does not leave out the fact that ladies were educated for certain purposes or simply to meet socio-cultural needs.
Now, let´s look the other way around. Why is the masculine gender always characterized by being manly?
Where does man’s construction come from? Can you imagine the weight that a King, in the Joseon dynasty, had to uphold by being the manliest of all in the entire kingdom? Mr. Queen also approaches this perspective. Within the drama, we are introduced to two very different personalities, those of the royal couple. The construction of both characters was loaded with strong dut fulfilling. Although Jang Bong Hwan lived only in the Queen’s body, we can contemplate such contrast more directly; the drama also goes through the difficulties that King Cheol Jong had to deal with. Like being braver, being more manly. Being stronger, no matter how cunning he was, he had to be the strongest of all.
Although the K-drama focuses in the conflict of chief Jang Bong Hwan and Queen Kim So-Yon, the series also delivers different dilemmas about masculine constructions.
Mr. Queen became one of my favorite historical and rom-com K-dramas. The well-worked scheme is extremely intelligent and bold. The main plot is not gender constructions and I acknowledge that it is an important quality to be able to analyze powerful audiovisual resources such as dramas.
Written by: Esly Monjaraz
Edited by: Angie Salavarria