In my book, an awesome series is not always equal to a solid one, by definition. When I say awesome, it usually means the drama is highly entertaining it threw my socks off, but doesn't necessarily have superior scripts/writings and directing, or even acting in some cases, though good acting is pretty much a prerequisite to awesomeness that can help let the poor writing/directing slide somewhere to the back of my mind, or sometimes, it's the other way round. Such instances would be dramas like Secret Garden, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Dream High, The King 2Hearts, to name a few.
When I say solid, I usually refer to dramas that make me think of taut writing, clever directing and editing, among other things. Examples would be The Perfect Neighbors, When Spring Comes, Fantasy Couple, Hong Gil Dong, Fashion 70's, In-Soon is Pretty etc. Again, that would be based on my own opinions, which I can't say are truly objective, since I have very little knowledge academically when it comes to all these things. What I have is just viewer's perspective, and perhaps years and years of experience watching drama series. You can say that my opinions are quite relative.
I suppose solidly awesome series are hard to come by. Surprisingly though there are quite a number that fall under that category for me, which include sagueks like Damo, Emperor of the Sea, Dae Jang Geum, Queen Seon Deok, and a few modern series like, Baby-Faced Beauty, Can You Hear My Heart and What's Up?. And now, I am happy to add another into this category - a combination of sageuk and modern, the recently concluded series Queen In Hyun's Man (read introductory post here).
QIM came when the kdrama world is buzzing with time-traveling ideas. So much so that I half-expected any new dramas to come and flirt with that logic. Time traveling is not a new subject. I believe there was a time when time-traveling concept was so novel it appeared in every other movie/book. Then it died down and only appeared once in a while. Now, here we are again, playing with the idea of time-travelling, in the hands of kdrama producers, which give us the likes of Rooftop Prince, QIM, Dr. Jin, Faith. The first three has aired/airing and it seems like QIM has come to be my #1 favorite.
What's good about QIM is that the plot is carefully and cleverly written, and every thoughts spoken out loud hold meanings and carry weights that clue us in to the events that are being unfold. And funny enough, even though time-traveling concept is in itself illogical, the writers manage to work within that illogical framework and make all the drama sense, if not actual sense. And that's why I think it's brilliant.
The tool for time traveling is a yellow talisman written by a monk, after he saw a woman (Yoon Wol) sincerely prayed for the safety of her master (Kim Boong Do) day in day out. At first, I didn't quite like the idea. A mere talisman can actually do that? I was bumped. Maybe because I was heavily influenced by the science of time-travel in many Hollywood movies that made time-travel seemed plausible. But as the plot moved along and revealed how the talisman worked, I was like, 'So be it!'. Better this, than just suddenly fall into a time-portal which just happens to be there. At least in here our scholarly hero is determined to figure out the mechanism of his time-travel, unlike his counterparts who are busily ladened with other things that they don't have time to ponder on it, focusing more on why they are transported rather than how they are transported. The main reason probably because the time-traveling itself is a major plot device in QIM, rather than a mere situational structure of the story.
The talisman works only when he is faced with life-threatening situation in his Joseon time. And to travel back, he only needs to recite the words on the talisman. So risky to travel forward in time, so easy the other way round. Our hero cheats death so many times, even purposefully sometimes, that is, he actually slices his own throat to create that life threatening situation which enables him to transport to modern day Korea. Viewers are alluded with that suicidal act when he travels back and forth from ancient time to modern time so many times during his confrontation with Minister Min. Only in the 15th episode we are given the confirmation, when we see him nervously tries the same method to test whether the magic of the talisman still works even after the death of Yoon Wol and the talisman has turned charcoal black. I do find his suicide acts appalling, but at least except for that one time, he actually knows slicing himself won't do him no harm. I suppose it's not really suicide then so I will let that slide.
The major theme of this drama, besides the time-travel is the memories. It is highlighted from the very first episode, when Yoo In Na's character Hee Jin narrates to viewers of their first meeting, on the set of her new drama (within the drama) and Boong-Do asks her if he's dreaming or already dead. When the talisman is accidentally cut into half during one of Boong-Do's confrontation with his enemies, the two of them experience some sort of memory alteration. Bong-Do completely forgets everything that happens in the past weeks after his near-death in the library, while Hee Jin remembers them all. However, none of the people in the future who have met Boong Do recalls ever knowing his existence, and Hee Jin herself recalls some things else, things that she doesn't remember doing it, but they are there, like getting back together with her old boyfriend the actor, and exchanging cute moments with him. Apparently life in the current time has been reset, with her memories of him intact, but in that dream-like sense, yet so realistic she is emotionally affected.
From this point we know that the talisman is not merely a tool for him to time travel, but can effect their memories as well, which set us up to the finale where Boong-Do, realizing the finality of their separation (the written charm has completely gone and the talisman has turned into a piece of black clothing), decides to completely destroy the talisman for Hee Jin's sake. He doesn't want her to suffer from their memories, but at the same time he himself wants to hold to them as a guiding light in an aimless life. He realizes from the beginning that the using of the talisman for sure will create a chain of causes and effects, but what he belatedly realizes is the real cause and the real effect. The cause is him saving his life, the effect is losing everything else like his name, his values, his future and, and even the people he cares about, including Hee Jin. In Joseon time, he is actually a dead person, killed during an interrogation for his supposed scandal with the Queen. His final thought as he burns the talisman is of paying off his dues by burning the connection with Hee Jin. He leaves himself a letter, expressing his deep sorrow and longing, hoping that if she ever reads it in the far future, she will not recognize to whom the letter is addressed to and spare her the pain he's taking with him.
Towards the end, we realize that all along, another more powerful talisman is created - their memories. After the burning of the blackened talisman, all hope seems lost for our OTP to be together. In a reverse situation, Hee Jin is the one who has no recollection of Boong-Do, while he still remembers. It is one year later and she is asked for a favor by her drama director to help a friend who's preparing a documentary on obscured historical figures. The particular episode he's doing is on a person known as Queen In Hyun's man. Some new documents, along with the letter have recently surfaced and he thinks would be enough material to work with. It breaks my heart to see her repeating his name without any recognition.
Boong-Do travels the country mindlessly, running away as to not be recognized for he's officially a dead man, but eventually gets caught. He's tired inside out, and easily gives in after a little fight. It seems like he has given up. He's put in jail, and a guard throws in his belongings that we see him carries around. He opens the cover to reveal his modern day items, including a mobile phone. He sits quietly recalling his time in modern days with Hee Jin. He also recalls his promise to the king about no longer showing himself in Joseon, after being announced dead in order to prove his innocence and brings Minister Min to justice. Then he takes out the necktie and finds another purpose for it besides the one Hee Jin taught him. He's committing suicide by hanging! As if that would be in line with his promise with the King! And I suppose, a dead criminal's body will be thrown away immediately and the King's secret is safe with him, because not many people recognize his face anyway unless you are of the upper class and those people are unlikely to come down and check on a dead's criminal body. Maybe.
This is a suicide act of him that I hate because he purposefully does it with death in mind. But of course, our clever writers make it such that this stupid move serves a purpose. In the usual circumstance if the talisman were still intact, he would be transported immediately to the future, but in this case, we can only expect him to be dead. But unknowingly, he has created a near-death situation at the perfect timing. It just so happens that in the modern day, Hee Jin has this uneasy feelings she cannot shake off. It's the same thing that happened when Boong-Do was about to be executed to death during the interrogation. The emotional connection she feels whenever Boong-Do is in impending danger is so strong she sobs uncontrollably. Only this time, with no memories of Boong-Do, she cannot comprehend the sorrow or relate it to anything and only cries in frustration. But their memories are so strong because they are carved not just in their minds, but also in their hearts. Just as Boong-Do was able to recall her back when the talisman was cut, the memories start to flood in and she cries harder as she remembers.
As Boong-Do is in his final seconds, breathing his last breaths, with the necktie choking him as he hangs from it, Hee-Jin presses his numbers on her mobile phone. The true talisman - the memories - is back, and Boong-Do is dying, and BAM! the phone becomes the connector. Boong-Do, upon seeing this miracle struggles to free himself and reach for the phone. As he presses to accept the call, he is transported to modern day, trampled by the rain and slowly regaining his bearings, then laughes out loud as he registers his surroundings.
And that is how we have our happy ending! Yay!
There are some scenes that I particularly like, one would be his interrogation scene. It is suspenseful and nerve-wrecking. The revelation of his plotting prior to the interrogation is told in flashbacks while the whole procedure is ongoing (which left me holding my breath, knowing that the talisman that is with him is fake and the arrows are coming!). Despite knowing that he has everything planned out and as much as I want to trust our hero, it still seems like an extreme plan, and it might all go to waste. Alas, he survives and back to the future to be treated by modern day technology.
Another two of my favorites, although both are sad scenes, are their two forced separations. I like them because they are unexpected. The first time around, I do expect some kind of trouble for our couple after the seemingly happy ever after by end of episode 14. Two more episode to go after all. But him vanishes into thin air with not much warning does come as a shock. The second time is when he comes back to the future after Yoon Wol's death and the talisman has darkened. The charm still works but as he's meeting Hee Jin, he suddenly vanishes right in front of her eyes, and as he looks down at the talisman, the words, while barely readable before, are no longer so as the talisman has turned completely black. I suppose this is because the monk who wrote the charms has also passed away (which is revealed when Boong-Do reaches a temple in hope of seeing the monk a month later). Just as he was called back when Yoon Wol's about to die, this time I suppose it's the same mechanism. Both are WTF moments for me but a clever writing nonetheless. It makes sense, the connection between the three people (Boong Do, Yoon Wol, monk) with the talisman.
Another great scene is the juxtaposition of Joseon time and modern time at the palace in Episode 16. Hee Jin is narrating with the palace as the background for the documentary, while Boong-do is brought back to the palace ground after being caught. The whole thing is beautifully done - same place, close to each other, but of different dimension separated by time. The color also alternates between vibrant and subdued to indicate the very thin veil of time in space that seems to give way and yet remains a separator. While Boong-Do looks reminiscent of his time in the palace, Hee Jin can actually sense his presence, despite not comprehending what it is and nervously turns around looking all confuse. Tears fall from her eyes seemingly for no reason. That's what she's good at. Connecting with him even when they are apart, and we know now how that saves his life.
And obviously, I adore all their scenes together. That's pretty much a given, right? Chemistry is superb. Kim Boong-Do is such a gentleman and a genius to boot (the genius really shows, rather than being a mere character description, unlike some other heroes of genius title, if you know what I mean) and Hee Jin is so playful and fun. Often times I do wonder if they will ever get frustrated with each other, especially Boong-Do, because it seems like they can never strike an intellectual conversation together. But I suppose most guys don't really care much about super intelligent head on their girls' shoulders, do they? And Hee Jin is so cute and bubbly it's hard for a guy not to fall for that. And Boong-Do, despite all his scholarly and calm demeanor, is just a man who can't help but falling in love with a kind-hearted and charming woman like Hee Jin. And he personally thinks that Hee Jin is far from stupid, just lacks knowledge, is all. And if the scholarly Boong-Do thinks that's fine, then all is well. He's smart enough for the both of them to survive. And she can provides all the fun factor.
All in all, Queen In Hyun's man is an awesomely solid series for 2012, and I'll probably be watching this again soon.
On a side note, I read about Ji Hyun Woo's public love confession to Yoo In Na (daebak!). Such cute couple, real or reel. And his impending enlistment (booooo...).