‘Queenmaker’ Review: Can We Ever Tell Good Stories About Women And Power?


When we were eagerly waiting for the series “Queenmaker” to hit our screens, we remember thinking back to the election campaign of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the absolute class it had. In many ways, it became the benchmark for the standards of behavior and the kind of healthy competition to live up to. We don’t know why, but we have lately had a desire to see something akin to that on screen. And believe it or not, when we heard about a Korean political thriller to be aired on Netflix, we had some hopes that it might have an inkling of what we wanted. Korean shows and movies have a style of writing that uses metaphors to convey the nuance of the situations.

The possibility of combining the story of the struggle of women in politics in a largely patriarchal country, if not the world, could have been so exciting. But alas, the brief was missed because it fell into the trap of the “likeability” of women. Though Oh Kyung Sook was shown as a fierce fighter for justice, she was also shown as being utterly naive to politics. Towards the end, we only wanted her to win for the sake of the story and nothing else. Additionally, whoever forgot that politicians are people of great charisma has a lot to answer for. Other than Baek Jae Min, played by Ryu Soo Young, none had the magnetism of a strategist or politician. This was the other biggest drawback after the storyline itself.

Now that we have pointed it out, we are going to talk about why “Queenmaker” isn’t what it could have been. The foundation of power is not built the same way for men and women. That means that taking away the power from men is always going to be different than taking away the power from women. Let us remember those emails that destroyed a particular woman’s political ambitions while another man held office despite multiple sexual assault allegations over the years. Geographical context can be an argument, and one might say that Korea has a higher personal standard for politicians than other countries. This is our guess based on what little we know of the country. However, if we were to go by this assumption, then we must comment on its selective application in the series.

It is as if “Queenmaker” preferred to pretend that women in politics are afforded the same platform and journey as their male counterparts, which is far from the truth. In the real world, if Oh Kyung Sook decided to run for mayor, the appreciation that she had gained for her jump from the building would turn against her, and she would be called too emotional for politics. While we are on that note, we must say that her makeover was a downgrade. Oh Kyung Sook is shown as a strong person, but the writer seems to have forgotten that a queenmaker is an effective tool and the intelligence of the user matters just as much. It was a great blow to the series that there was not enough of the latter.

It’s pointless to come up with an excuse for that considering how sketchy even Hwang Do Hee’s intentions seemed to be. Let us say she couldn’t stand that she was responsible for causing the death of I Seol. But we never got an explanation as to why this was any different from what she had always done. She had destroyed tons of lives to protect the Eunsang family without a single blot on her conscience. Then why was I Seol the tipping point? The Eunsang’s Chairman refusing to take care of Do Hee’s father after firing her is not an excuse because Do Hee was sufficiently rich to do it herself. Her anger did not make enough sense to us.

Our opinion that “Queenmaker” is so mediocre is because the women are badly written. Their compassion is continuously shown as a weakness, even though we should have learned by now that this is not the case. We particularly notice it during the subplot of the embezzlement allegations. A man had to take a few decisive steps to sort out the issue for them. They continued this with Kyung Sook’s son’s arc, where it was the intervention of the said man that brought clarity to the situation. We are not averse to watching men and women work together, but in a show that is supposedly about powerful women, the introduction of the man was precisely during the times when the women’s love and compassion were shown to have pushed them into a corner, which is a laughable stereotype in this day and age.

Basically, Do Hee was smart but not smart enough. Her character needed to deliver a few masterstrokes, some extremely clever strategies, and an overall restraint that made her charming instead of expressionless. We saw very little of that, and even then, they were completely supported by the stereotype of the emotional woman. A woman doesn’t start hitting people and screeching at them every time she gets angry. Yet, this was the stereotype the writer used to separate the likable women from the unlikeable ones. A show that is supposed to break prejudices just reinforces them, and there couldn’t be anything more disappointing.

This is what makes us say that if the makers of the series found it difficult to understand the equation between women and power, why didn’t they just make a “Kingmaker” instead of a “Queenmaker”? The women with half-baked and stereotypical personalities would have made for some excellent men. Imagine a man with Oh Kyung Soo’s personality: a believer in justice, always optimistic, and someone with above-average compassion and a willingness to sacrifice ambitions for his family. That would have been so attractive since what is normal for women is extraordinary for men anyway. Do Hee could have remained a woman, but if she were a man, her anger at Eunsung would have made more sense. Women’s misogyny is a lot different from men’s, and if feminism is to get anywhere in the world, more people need to realize that. “Queenmaker” is a serious miss, and it adds nothing to anything, not to feminism, not too good stories about women, and not even to good stories themselves. But if you still insist on watching it, please do it at a speed of 1.5 times the original (which is the highest in Netflix settings), because that will make its mediocrity sufferable.

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Divya Malladi
Divya Malladi
Divya spends way more time on Netflix and regrets most of what she watches. Hence she has too many opinions that she tries to put to productive spin through her writings. Her New Year resolution is to know that her opinions are validated.

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