by DrKay, June 15, 2024
205

Disclaimer: This review contains minor spoilers and is a highly subjective analysis. There are bound to be several points that we may have interpreted differently. This is not intended to hurt the readers' sentiments or mock or insult the cast and crew, even in the negative statements. Reader discretion is therefore advised.

Queen of Tears (QoT) was an ambitious project not just in terms of the 50 billion won budget but also to the cast and crew themselves. Kim Ji Won was returning after My Liberation Notes 2 years ago and Kim Soo Hyun last appeared in One Ordinary Day in 2021. Screenwriter and director duo were anticipating their second consecutive win after Vincenzo and Crash Landing On You (CLOY). It was as though they couldn’t wait to film and air the drama. Perhaps that is responsible for the mess QoT ended up as.


WRITING

Bad writing was the first strike to the plot that collapsed like that Babel Tower. There was a dissonance between the script and the screen that became clearer as the show progressed. Neither the writer nor the director seems to have gotten over the ghosts of their previous (successful) outings, each pulling the story in the direction that worked for them earlier – one in the city and the other in the country. The plot thus suffered from neglect, much like Hong Hae In. Oh! the irony.

Sometimes, things happened for no reason at all, or they happened behind the scenes and the audience was left to link the pieces together. Case in point, their divorce. Vincenzo Cassano makes an appearance after a creative introduction regarding his profile and there seems to be some conversation regarding the divorce. Later, in a separate scene, Hae In reminds Baek Hyun Woo that they’re divorced. Such a pivotal scene, full of conflicting emotions, is not given airtime and their story has been nothing short of a roller coaster! They had gone from 100 to nothing in record time and relegating their separation to background noise makes me wonder what the makers are looking down on – their love story or their divorce.


Another example is Hae In’s illness, a crucial plot point that was never portrayed as seriously as they made it sound. For all that it was life-threatening, it could have as well been a stubbed toe that needed surgery, and maybe Hyun Woo decided not to separate from her after all because she would need someone to push her wheelchair around. Plus, it was not even a real disease. Further, it was resolved in such a bad manner that it's impossible to say if they were confused or careless. 

Then there's my million-dollar question- why Hae In's family didn't accompany her for her treatment, fully knowing she may suffer from memory loss, especially after recovering from the betrayals of their former aides, even though they had the means to go to Germany. Then they stayed another month in Seoul while Hyun Woo was locked up. (The second half should really be rated in number of illogics per frame).


CHARACTERISATION

Characterisation is the next blow. None of the characters are properly written, not even Hyun Woo or Hae In. It is one strong character (BHW) surrounded by all the rest of the weaklings who are watching three characters play a game of musical chairs. Hyun Woo’s only trait is to be the good boy incarnate – soft, obedient, intelligent, and capable of controlling situations he never foresaw (regardless of being ousted by family or framed for murder). Nothing happens if he is not taking the story forward because the others are just sitting on rocks waiting for them to hatch.

Hae In suffered the most collateral damage. She represents a typical protagonist with a tragic past that turned them cold beyond which we don’t know her at all. The Hae In Hyun Woo knew and loved, prior to the big reveal about her background, and the person she was post marriage are starkly contrasting. But the reason for that difference is never explained. Yoon Eun Sung and Mo Sul Hee had a solid opportunity to become the best antagonists, but their arcs were sacrificed to squeeze the ending into the (close to two hours) timeline.

The flashbacks to their earlier days, which were abandoned after the first half concluded, were picked up in the final episode like an afterthought. Hae In and Hong Soo Cheol’s mommy issues are patched up clumsily and with a truck load of cringe. Some characters are unofficial cameos – like the estranged elder brother, Hyun Woo's nephew, and the guy who won the village elections. Hyun Woo's sister-in-law is a guest star too, for some mysterious reason, and his brother-in-law never even appears.

Among other incidents/characters that crop up randomly are the spies hired by HHI’s father who apparently followed them in Germany secretly (He somehow decided that they are better than the ones he placed on Hyun Woo’s tail who can locate those even in North Korea). In fact, their mission is so secretive that, had they not come out of hiding (one month later), the audience would never have suspected the father cared!

Not that their report mattered in the end – in yet another simulation of CLOY, they tracked Hae In’s and Eun Sung’s movements to conclude that Hae In, in fact, does not like Eun Sung. (I’m tempted to say the same thing that the investigator in CLOY said- "You need an analysis to see that? It’s as clear as day"). They serve no purpose and are not seen again, much like the other two agents who probably got caught searching in North Korea by someone other than Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok.

It's also mildly interesting how the real MVP of the drama is Grace. The baddies won as long as she was on their side and the tables turned after she (was forced to) jumped ship. Anyone else notice that the team she is in wins or was that just me?


SCREENPLAY

It's tricky to decide whether to call the screenplay clever or unimaginative. The first half begins well. The pacing is appropriately racy and intriguing. The events unfold steadily and there is an element of suspense. The little epilogues at the end seem to be an ode to CLOY, and in fact, add to the story. The stage is slowly being set for the half-way plot twist and that is when it goes downhill.

There is a sudden shift of scene to the town side as though it was mandatory. Instead of going deeper into why Hae In and Hyun Woo's marriage fell through, the scenes were concentrated on resolving their fight already. It was too premature and, without showing some parts of their story before and after their marriage, too out of context to have the desired impact. They actually failed to recreate the discord in the main couple that Soo Cheol and Da Hye had as the side couple.

The less spoken of the ending the better. After the brilliant rescue ops mission of CLOY, "Mission: Rescue Hae In by an injured Hyun Woo" was foolish at best and mindless at worst. The makers' disregard for anything medical (the irony is that a brain tumour was their plot device) is once again evident as Hyun Woo wades through heaps of snow with a rib fracture and punctured liver and then has a showdown with the bullet exactly like Ri Jeong Hyeok did but with far less finesse. There was enough time for the both of them to duck and dodge. If this was another repeated attempt to make us understand the depth of Hyun Woo’s affections, it was redundant. That part was pretty much sealed in the first half, with him realising his love for her was dormant not absent.

As the end neared, it seemed as though they were left with a bunch of scenes they filmed that missed their ideal spot in the screenplay but had to be aired somehow and thus became the last episode a kaleidoscope of leftover scraps.


ROMANCE

I must ask: did someone tell the makers that love involved only declarations like "Even if I was reborn a hundred times, I would still marry you every single time" and no actions? The second half of the drama is scanty of any affection (not even their tender hugs) and is big on talks alone. Even those get boring after the second time. Kisses can be forgotten entirely. And no, Hyun Woo going to lengths to ensure Hae In’s safety, praying for her good health and recovery don’t make the cut as “gestures of love” because they are expected of him. He loves her, he'll do all that and more. Give us a forehead kiss, a welcome back hug or a desperate hand holding?

Or longing stares?


Or heartfelt hugs?


Or soul-melting kisses?

Romance in QoT does not develop. We can't pinpoint where it begins, meanders, and ends because it is dealt with matter-of-factly: They loved - they married - they separated - they loved again. The little things that make the bond special or the actual difficulties after Hae In's previous health issue are nowhere to be found.


THEMES

None of the themes that Queen of Tears started out with ended up being useful or necessary. QoT looked like it was setting out on a venture never tried before by depicting the average life of a couple after the honeymoon phase wore off. There was a beautiful scene that I thought was excellent direction – Hyun Woo being unable to sleep in the same bed as Hae In, though they were married. It was the epitome of a disturbed marriage. However, this concept of life after marriage was never explored. It was just a means to an end, the tool to justify their divorce and then show why they deserved their happy ending.

There was also no need to have Hyun Woo live with his in-laws and prepare memorial food. It initially looked like a gender role reversal, given Hae In's famous dialogue- "I will never let you cry"- but had no impact on the future course of events. I think Hyun Woo would have risked his life even if he hadn't prepared that food. He's the good boy incarnate, after all. Some aspects of capitalism also came up along with the city v/s small town dynamic – the affections of the villagers contrasting the materialism of the big city. Until they were abandoned.

Using the “failed marriage” trope was a waste if it was going to last only one episode. The reasons for their distance or, as Hyun Woo put it, not “being on the same side with Hae In” are never clear. She ignored him, mistreated him and blamed him? Why? Why did Hyun Woo want a divorce? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? I would have much rather seen them fall in and out of love before and after the amnesia with Hae In trying to figure out the good and bad of everyone she knew. That would have justified the "thrilling" element in the drama description.


DIALOGUES

Dialogues are forced and repetitive. We know Hyun Woo loves Hae In, that he would do anything for her, that he would not leave her, that Hae In loves him back too, that she would rather die than forget him. It’s time for a new sentence that is not some philosophical sermon made in the face of impending death.

Even if it's something as simple as asking for peanuts.


That said, there were some really good lines that I liked too (though they were random fillers attempted to close the "failed marriage" plotline):

Had I known then what I know now, I would've asked you more often, how your day went, is there anything that's troubling you? I regret not asking you such questions.

If we had applied ointment on time, disinfected our wounds and replaced our bandages every time, would things have been different?

I realised that life may seem long, but happy memories are limited.

It's strange, isn't it? We get married because we're in love. So why does that love disappear?

(It's funny that this question is posed to us, when it looked like that was what the story was going to be about. Though it is understandable that they didn't find the answer. They never tried).


PRODUCTION & CAST

Technically, the drama is superior. The casting choices are laudable, and the cast give their best. Locations, clothing, and music are perfect. KSH’s song has a wonderful melody. Kim Jung Nan as Beom Ja is exemplary. KSH and KJW’s acting chops are flawless and make us forget the script was so bad. They’ve peaked several times as Hyun Woo and Hae In but the pinnacle for each must be the Hyun Woo and Eun Sung superimposition and Hae In finding out about the divorce. The chemistry between the leads is great in the first half. They give us some of the best acting and visuals we can ask for.

Kwak Dong Yeon impresses in a tailor-made role. He effortlessly becomes Soo Cheol, the pampered, coddled and sheltered youngest son who is stupid about everything worldly. Park Sung Hoon, Lee Joo Bin, Lee Mi Sook and Yoon Bo Mi stand out from the others. Jang Yoon Ju (Baek Mi Sun)’s parlour and some of the village scenes elicit laughs. 

Kim Young Min, Kim Joo Ryung and Moon Tae Yu are a delight to watch. Kim Gab Soo is the only one they underutilised. I wish he had a meatier role.


CONCLUSION

As much as they relied on CLOY, mirroring some of its scenes and settings and utilising similar tropes, its characterisation and narration were forgotten. CLOY worked because Yoon Se Ri and Ri Jeong Hyuk were adorable, Seo Dan and Gu Seung Jun were impossible, and the plot and the side characters were purposeful. Something that Queen of Tears notably lacks.

Overall, this is a drama that got ruined by lousy writing and an exasperating second half. I came to QoT for the story I thought it would give us. But the shadows of CLOY near fatally suffocate QoT. It deserved to be treated separately from the other drama and not as its subset. It’s the wasted potential (of QoT) that bugs me. I would not recommend the drama except for fans of the cast. They’ve truly shouldered this show from the beginning to the end.


Postscript

My condolences to Young Song’s mother, who disappeared after helping Young Song and Beom Ja meet, and the guy on Yoon Eun Sung’s team who didn’t just fly to the US but also flew out of the drama.

Note: All the pictures are my screenshots from the drama. Thanks to Tine for her support and editing!
Edited by: Tine (1st editor)

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