“Queenmaker” and “Wave Makers,” two East Asian shows that were released within the span of a month, share a similar set-up, of an election campaign to put a woman in power. While “Queenmaker” spans a month, the latter takes place over ten months. We remember how excited we were for “Queenmaker” before it was released. We thought it was going to be a show the likes of which we had never seen before. We couldn’t have been more wrong. It was as mediocre as it could get, and we will never forgive their lack of understanding of the difference between actual misogyny and the depiction of it. Maybe it was the disappointment of that, because of which we had no expectations from “Wave Makers.” We approached it as part of a job to be done but were left thinking that it was content like this that made us take up this job in the first place.
Mild Spoilers Alert
“Wave Makers” is not the same as “Queenmaker.” The latter was a revenge saga that was based on the titular character and the queen in question, Hwang Do Hee and Oh Seung Sook. The former is about the intertwining personal and professional challenges of the people working behind the scenes. It was also a look into what it takes, other than just the mudslinging, as shown in Queenmaker, to win over a country with diverse social and political views. And “Wave Makers” was a lot more in touch with reality when it came to the demands placed on women when they aimed for a seat of power. Think about it: Lin Yue Chen was considered to be at a disadvantage because she never married or had children, whereas her opponent, another woman, was capitalizing on family values by showing her vice-presidential nominee’s family credentials. However, the women who were married were not exactly shown to be at an advantage either, which hits so close to home that we want to cry. There is Chen Chia Cheng’s wife, who is struggling with the household due to being the second priority of her husband.
Towards the end of the series “Wave Makers,” Chia Cheng says that it is his job that gives him a sense of achievement, and he is in love with it. But his wife cannot claim the love as freely as he does. She has to take care of the child and the house, along with her job. She might love her profession, but she is not free to pursue it with the abandon that Chia Cheng is. Imagine her if she were running for president or councilor: she would be crucified in the court of public opinion for being “neglectful,” or her husband would be questioned as to who “wears the pants in the family.” For men, families take care of them, whereas for women, they are supposed to take care of the families, and this disparity in standard cannot be ignored. Looking at the other married women in the series, there is the wife of Chang Tse, who quit her job to support her husband in his ambitions.
Let us say he did not turn out to be a cheater, but the sacrifice of her dreams would have made her miserable regardless, an expectation only imposed on women. We never got to see this critical nuance explored in “Queenmaker.” In Wave Makers, we saw how Wen Fang’s mother took on the bulk of the emotional labor for the family by trying to smooth things between her husband and her daughter. In “Queenmaker,” we saw that Oh Seung Sook’s husband was extremely supportive of everything she did, but we still never saw if he was putting in the emotional work for their son. Would the son have been as angry at his father if he was the more successful one? “Queenmaker” left this topic in ambiguity instead of clearly addressing it the way Wave Makers did.
Then there was the case of the sexual harassment allegations against the rival candidates in both shows. We are not sure whether to point this out as a drawback of “Queenmaker,” but “Wave Makers'” exploration of society’s perception of the perfect victim was a far more powerful take on the matter, one that did not rely on just emotion but actually explored the treacherously manipulative dynamics of these situations.
We also cannot ignore the difference between Weng Wen Fang and Oh Seung Sook. Wen Fang was a future leader in comparison to Seung Sook, who was already one. We had complained endlessly that none of the leaders were charming, except the villain, in the Korean show. But the Taiwanese one got it spot-on. Additionally, we had just not been able to digest how “Queenmaker” had tried to sell the idea that Seung Sook was a good mayor because she looked at the intricacies of a picture over a broader view. Meanwhile, Wave Makers shows how much more empowering it is when power is sought for the right reasons and with the right awareness of the sacrifices and compromises it requires. This is a major nuance that made all the difference in the quality of the shows. Not to mention that Wen Fang actually had the steely determination and the articulation required to present herself instead of the “aegyo” theatrics that we saw Oh Seung Sook resorting to. The tearing away of the corset, which is metaphorically empowering, needed a far better execution.
The point is that whoever wrote “Wave Makers” did it with a working knowledge of advertising, campaigning, politics, and gender sensitivity. In short, they deserve a raise, whereas the other needs to do some more research. This is the show that literally came out of nowhere and swept us off our feet, something we had desperately wanted “Queenmaker” to do. We still haven’t seen the story that we want to, that of the challenges a woman has to face when she aims for the highest seat of power in a country. Maybe if there is a season 2 of “Wave Makers,” we will see Wen Fang, a queer woman, take the bull by its horns in her campaign for the councilor, the senator, or even better, the president. That would be a sight for sore eyes, and we would pay money to watch it. As for “Queenmaker” Season 2, we did not care about the first season, so the second one will have to really step up to interest us. Maybe they can hire Wave Makers’ writers. Then they will have a good show.