Following its highly successful weekend premiere, tvN’s newest historical comedy drama Mr. Queen goes straight under fire for alleged tolerance to racism, distortion of Korean history, and mockery of real-life royal figures.
Mr. Queen tells the story of Jang Bong-hwan (Choi Jin-hyuk, Zombie Detective), a modern man whose spirit magically finds its way to the body of Joseon era’s Queen Kim So-yong (Queen Cheorin) (Shin Hye-sun, Angel’s Last Mission: Love). Having been recently married to King Cheoljong (Kim Jung-hyun, Crash Landing on You), Queen So-yong suddenly begins acting like a wild person in front of His Majesty, thereby setting the entire kingdom on a complete frenzy.
The 20-episode series is directed by Yoon Sung-sik of Babel (2019) and is co-penned by screenwriters Park Gye-ok and Choi Ah-il. The first two episodes dropped on December 12 and 13 and achieved a nationwide average audience share of 8.030 percent and 8.800 percent, respectively. In spite of this, the creators of the drama have received various criticisms on different aspects of the project and are now taking measures to address them appropriately.
Prior to its first broadcast, Mr. Queen became the subject of an online debate after some netizens accused author Xian Chen, who wrote the source material “Go Princess Go,” as being racist towards Koreans who lived in the past. The Chinese writer is said to have used offensive slang to mock them in his other novel.
In the official statement from the production team of Mr. Queen, the issue was tackled and clarified in paragraphs that read, “Mr. Queen is a project that was planned out after acquiring the rights for a television remake of the Chinese web drama Go Princess Go (2015). What was purchased from the production company in China was the remake rights for the web drama, not the original novel [by Xian Chen]. In addition, when the contract was signed, we were not aware that derogatory language was used against Koreans in “Princess Amity,” a previous work by the same author who wrote the source material for Go Princess Go web series.”
They added, “Even after spending a substantial period on planning and production preparation, we have only just heard of this unfortunate fact through the online community. With that, we humbly apologize to the viewers for not knowing this in advance. We plan on doing our best to separate the contents of our drama from those contained in the novel so that you will not feel uncomfortable while watching it.”
Another controversy has sprung forth from a supposed comical line in the drama’s second episode, in which a character called The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty as merely jirashi (Korean term for a newsletter that contains unverified private information, such as rumors or speculations). Viewers seem to have felt wronged after watching the certain scene as the annals are considered reliable Korean historical documents and are even listed among the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s “Memory of the World” registry.
In this regard, the team said, “Also, we completely acknowledge that the line referring to The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty was improper, so we opted to edit out that particular narrative.”
As for issues pertaining to the negative and distorted representation of real historical figures and events, the team explained, “Because Mr. Queen is under the fusion, historical comedy genre, we borrowed the real names of actual historical figures and settings, but the fictional storyline is entirely based on a creative concept born out of the question ‘What would happen if a modern soul enters the body of a historical figure and causes a string of embarrassing situations?'”
On the other hand, it has been observed that a few details on the drama’s character-relationship page were modified to correct any misleading information that may get tied to the actual historical characters. In addition, the fictitious bio on King Cheol-jong’s Instagram account, which was created to promote the series in a funny and refreshing way, is now deleted.
By the end of their statement, the production team respectfully owned to their lapses, saying, “Once again, we express our sincere apologies for causing you discomfort as it is very far from our intention of giving people a good laugh. We will pay closer attention to our production process and give our best efforts in creating a great drama.”
Meanwhile, netizens from the K-drama community also gave opinions that are in contrast to the ones mentioned earlier. Some said that the funny scenes should not be taken too seriously as Mr. Queen is only a fictional drama. Others asked, “How else will the creators execute a fusion, historical comedy series if not by inserting funny elements to real-life people and events that existed in the past?” One even went as far as declaring that people’s over-sensitivity will only result in the taking down of hilarious and well-thought-of scenes, hence potentially ruining the drama altogether.
Mr. Queen airs every Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 p.m. KST.