21

Five drama recommendations… with heroines ahead of their time

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

 


Moonshine (2021)

 
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!
@daebakgrits

 


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

 
RELATED POSTS

Tags: , , , , ,

21

Required fields are marked *

Hmmmm. Women ahead of their time. A number of them might not leading ladies.
I agree with the historical women you have listed there. In addition...

1. Jung Nan Jung(Park Joo-mi) in Flower in Prison. I'll just say she was an impressive person. So impressive her name is etched in history despite not being royalty.

2. Won In-jae(Kang Hanna) in Start Up. Her business acumen beat me throughout the run of the drama.

3. The swordswomen in Iron Empress. In the world of men dominating the warfront, never take these women for granted cause it will spell definite doom if not death, especially a woman like Du-yan(a minor character).

4. I don't think my list is complete without adding in Mishil(Go Hyunjung) in Queen Seondeok. Talk about serving three consecutive kings in either mistress/pseudo-queen consort category whilst keeping your husband. Or having a husband and lover sitting opposite the side of a table. That aside, her entire being posing a threat to the royal family...even though women in Shilla had enough backing at their time, this woman proved to be beyond them all by milking every dividend that came her way as a woman of Shilla.

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Kim Min-jung is at her best when she is being a bada**. I loved her in Mr. Sunshine and Devil Judge.

7
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Ahead of her time seems to indicate a female character in a sage setting. While I appreciate the sage sisters, I love ones who chart a modern path.
Park Eun bin in Hot Stove League. She loves a sport but can get down with the money ball.
Bae Doon ah in Forest of Secrets who works within a corrupt system with as much honesty and compassion as she can afford.
I am watching a sunset and can't remember all the FLs and SFLs who have made Kdramas worth the watch. Just met Veronica Park this afternoon. How I wish we had more of her in this Kdrama patriarchy.
Things have to change. With laughter and compassion we can make it happen.

6
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Park Eun Bin is made to play women ahead of their time.

1
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yesss her character in Hello, My Twenties too. A young girl who isn't bashful to openly talk about sex.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Definitely Deok Im in The Red Sleeve who knew the freedom of being a single women in Ancient Joseon where almost every women was trying to get a good marriage.

It didn't help that her suitor, aka her future husband left his heartfelt confession here & there , most female fans in the audience became impatient with her character and would like to volunteer to take her place if they could.

11
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

This

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Even before she becomes a fierce avenger, Conspiracy in the Court's Lee Na-young has an exceptionally frank and enlightened way of dealing with the world. And there is nothing coy or cowering about her attitude towards the opposite sex either. I wonder what the actress who plays Lee Na-young, Kim Ha-eun, is up to these days?

I've only glanced at the excellent Nokdu Flower, but Han Ye-ri's character Song Ja-in seems a lot more spirited than many contemporary heroines.

3
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Han Ye ri's character in Nokdu Flower is one of the exceptionally great things about that show.

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I can't stand anachronistic heroines because it does a huge disservice to the women who actually did stand out in times gone by, and it makes their courage less significant. Rookie Historian is in that category for me. Anachronistic and unrealistic. Wishful thinking.
Having said that,
Yoo Jeong in Bloody Heart seemed exactly like a powerful woman who would be consistent with her time. What a great queen she'd make.
Also
Ki Su-kyeong from Bossam: Steal the Fate was of her time and also both elegant and strong. Her character was both fierce and refined.

In contemporary settings, Kang Ah-reum, in Spies Like Us, was wonderful. She was smart and feminine: a perfect sleuth, a pretty woman, and a funny sexy romantic lead. One of the best.

5
4
reply

Required fields are marked *

I agree completely. Ahead of their time seems to specifically mean historical characters. And I often find them anachronistic and unrealistic, exactly like you said.

4
reply

Required fields are marked *

How could I forget Kang Ah-ruem🤦. She is not a Candy, can fight quite well, and her thinking is at par with the MLs.

While I agree with Yoo Jung, I didn't think Yoo Jung could make the list since we have many Dowagers and Queens act more than baby vessels in her time, even when we consider both past and future who weren't her contemporaries.

2
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

I would say Kang Ah Reum was smarter than her male leads and not a stereotypical badass woman.
I'm quite ecstatic to find two people who liked Bloody Heart and The spies who loved me like I do because both these shows were very underrated.
Plus I think YJ surely counts if we also consider the Bamboo Grove Village that she built.

2
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Yaay @wapzy

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

But basically Shin hye-sun in Mr. Queen is a man in woman body?

Jewel in The palace: Dae Jang-geum. 😄

5
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

In the case of Mr. Sunshine, it is very possible that a heroine of this type existed in reality. In countries under foreign occupation, women often become part of resistance/guerrilla movements. In my country, Poland, one of our national heroes, Emilia Plater, fought in in the 1831 uprising against Russia as the commander of one of the units. In general, in my country, due to its history, women have always had a large share in the fight for regaining freedom (19th century, early 20th century, times of World War II), and took part in political life.

7
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

To relate a bit more to the contemporary issues, I would like to mention Koo Se-ra from Into the Ring. She decides to engage in politics, despite being young and working class and really fights for this despite the political arena not being her natural habitat. She's a real inspiration to me.

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Faith (our FL was literally ahead of her time lol, the princess was great too)
My Husband Got A Family
Six Flying Dragons
Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryeong
My Princess
Fight For My Way
One the Woman
Doberman
Shopping Wang Louie
The Devil Judge (she was way ahead of her time, that's way she was the villainess. I still think the talk she gave those school girls was the best)

In most of these shows not only the FL is awesome but the other women too. 🤔

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

IMMEDIATELY think of Seong Deok Im in the Red Sleeve. Best FL I've seen in a historical drama yet.

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Lee Yu-Ri’s character in My Father is Strange

I feel like her character was fighting against her family values, needing to assert her independence and individuality but also treading that fine line between tradition and freedom so as to not disturb the peace too much

I related to her struggle quite a lot, I may live in a country that is deemed more ‘progressive’ but I’m still part of a family and sometimes that’s more scary to fight against than the typical sexist/ignorant remark

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Empress Ki. She was the smartest person in the whole show and achieved everything she wanted even though it came bittersweet. The emperor ruled everyone and she ruled the emperor. Not even the villains could keep up with her tactics

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *