Five drama recommendations… with heroines ahead of their time
by DB Staff
The abundance of awesome leading ladies is one of the things that dramaland does well — they range from the meek to the melo, the Candy to the CEO, and the struggling secretary to the fierce independence fighter. But some of these ladies are strikingly ahead of their time in behavior, mindset, and attitude. Here are some of our favorites.
The King’s Affection (2021)
Some K-drama heroines defy societal and gender norms by striking out on their own and challenging the status quo. But with our heroine (Park Eun-bin) in The King’s Affection, that defiance is quite literal — as are the life and death stakes at hand. Mistaken for her twin brother and committed to (secretly) taking his place as crown prince, our heroine has to renounce her very identity — not to mention the man she loves — to keep the people she loves safe. I’m a sucker for dramatic sacrifices such as this, but beyond our heroine’s amazing character and determination, we also have a woman who was ready and willing to lead, fight, and govern like any other king — and proving in the process that a woman could do it just as magnificently.
Additionally, because of the role-reversal built into the drama’s premise, nearly all of the standard romance tropes we see in K-dramas were inverted here (a hero swooning into the “king’s” arms, anyone?) for a fresh and playful take on your standard sageuk. –@missvictrix
I’ll be the first to admit that Moonshine isn’t the greatest drama. I wouldn’t even rank it among the top five — or ten…or fifteen — sageuks, but it’s worth mentioning because the one thing it did undeniably well was feature a group of strong, entrepreneurial women that were way ahead of their time. Set in the Joseon era during a period of prohibition, our heroine Ro-seo (Hyeri) opens her own distillery and bootlegging business, and along the way she picks up additional lady business partners. Many of them, like the older mother figure Dae-mo (Jung Young-joo), were already managing their own businesses prior to meeting and teaming up with Ro-seo.
It’s a rarity for female characters in historical dramas to be portrayed as career women, making a living for themselves outside of more traditional means, such as by being gisaeng or laborer. Even rarer is for them to be the boss and manager over male characters, but Ro-seo does exactly that! Admittedly, one of the biggest pitfalls to Moonshine is the abundance of idiotic, incompent men who would do well to just succumb to natural selection and die when they fall of a cliff, so it’s not like our ladies have worthy openents. Even so, by the end of the drama, Ro-seo has outsmarted the government, taken over another man’s business, and put a whole team of men to work for her. You go, girl!
Mr. Queen (2020)
Maybe it’s a Shin Hye-sun thing, but one of my favorite drama heroines is the female lead in Mr. Queen. A male chef, Bong-hwan, is trapped in the body of a queen, So-yong, resulting in the riotous So-bong, our heroine. And as the self-acclaimed first woman in Joseon to not wear a bra, she can’t get any more ahead of her time than that!
So-bong gets into all sorts of hilarious antics in the palace, from stressing out her court ladies, to turning the royal kitchen upside down with her never-seen-before-in-Joseon dishes. And when it comes to more serious stuff like joining forces with the king to take down the bad guys, she’s also ahead of her game on that one. As a blended character, So-bong does a fine job balancing Bong-hwan’s wits and So-yong’s emotions, giving us a never-seen-before-in-dramaland heroine. And while So-bong is undeniably the star of the show, So-yong, herself, also gets her brief moments to shine.
Mr. Queen isn’t one of those dramas that starts out light but takes a serious turn after a few episodes. It manages to retain its humor to the end, thanks – in no small part – to So-bong and the many tricks up her sleeves. Lovers of comedy, cooking scenes and a spunky heroine are definitely in for a treat with this drama. –@unit
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung (2019)
Intelligent, brave, rebellious, and an excellent writer and historian, Gu Hae-ryung (Shin Se-kyung) is everything I want to be in a time when women were not allowed the freedom to openly be those things. Although she is born a noblewoman, her status comes with its own restrictions, and in order to gain independence and a semblance of autonomy, she becomes one of the Joseon’s first female historians. The path to becoming a historian is obstructed by sexism and patriarchal rules, but her willingness to voice her dissent and opinions makes her more courageous than many of her male counterparts
Her job isn’t all work and no play, though, and she finds herself getting romantically close to a prince during her time in the palace. On the surface, her love story seems like just another fairy tale, but in a rare case of gender role reversal, it’s her prince charming that plays the role of the romantic while she’s the more pragmatic one. And while this couple eventually gets their happy ending, it’s just as unconventional and ahead of its time as our historian and her prince. –@daebakgrits
Mr. Sunshine (2018)
Mr. Sunshine is set against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation period in Korea, and our heroine, Go Ae-shin (played by the lovely Kim Tae-ri in her first drama role) is the daughter of an aristocratic family by day, and a member of the Righteous Army by night. Ae-shin is not one to let her homeland be taken over so easily by the Japanese, so she dons a mask and picks up a gun to fight for her beloved country. Also joining in the fight – first, to reclaim the identity her father stole from her, and then for the country’s independence – is Kudo Hina (Kim Min-jung), hotel owner by day, and sword-wielding badass by night.
In a time when women were mostly expected to sit at home with folded arms and subdued voices, both women are not swayed by the dangers surrounding their freedom fighting movement. Instead, they are motivated by love for their country, and I find their willingness to put their lives on the line for this cause quite admirable. Beautiful cinematography, haunting OSTs and a love triangle (or was it a square? pentagon?) aside, Mr. Sunshine is a must watch if you love heroines who prove that there’s more to being a woman in dramaland than merely someone’s love interest. –@unit
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