“Queen of Reversals” Review

Overworked adults don’t have time to think about love.

Queen of Reversals poster
The corporation where they work is so evil–I mean, lean and efficient–that the plot takes care of itself.

Queen of Reversals had me hooked for the full 31 episodes, and it flew by faster than some 16-episode K-dramas. Reversals is the theme for sure: this series has more than its fair share of painful moments, and the plots weaves itself into knots—and yes, does complete U-turns.

But I don’t watch K-drama for the plot, I watch it for the characters, and the characters here are outstanding. Everyone in the central “love quadrangle” has a compelling story, and the narrative actually gets stronger as it builds over time. The weakest main character, Yojin, matures from formulaic schemer to sympathetic heroine. And as for Taehi, Junsu and Yongsik, their love triangle was suspenseful until the very end. I found it impossible to decide between “Team Junsu” or “Team Yongsik”—both heroes combine endearing qualities with human faults. Big bonus points to the actor Jung Joon-Ho, who played Junsu, for keeping our sympathies with Junsu even when circumstances force him to humiliate himself. But Park Shi-hoo also has flair—Yongsik transforms from an arrogant perpetrator of humiliations to a really decent guy by the end. And Kim Nam-joo is good as Taehi, though I’d be thrilled about her casting anyway, because she’s 7 years older than Park Shi-hoo. You go, girl!

The corporation where the characters work (off and on) feels almost like a character in its own right. Thanks to the long hours these characters spend at work, their love relationships matter less sometimes than their relationship with the corporation. And this is a post-recession workplace. The “corporate restructuring” arc is painfully familiar, as is the damage lay-offs do to the characters’ family relationships. QoR never stops poking holes in cliches like, “If we’re in love, we don’t need anything except each other,” even while the corporate scheming gives each character a chance to show loyalty and caring. The final “shareholders meeting arc” pulls together the loose ends from the whole series and gives every character a chance to show their true colors.

The excellent secondary characters contribute to the feeling that not a minute is wasted. Mr. Mok gets a particularly compelling arc—and since he’s played by erstwhile Korean rock star Kim Chang-wan (who also played Mr. Hong in Coffee Prince), he gets to sing and strum a guitar at key moments. As for the series’ villains, I couldn’t take my eyes off Ms. Han and Yongchul—and couldn’t stop wondering about their past. The good characters even make me forgive the series for that one really annoying song in the soundtrack (I hope it doesn’t get on your nerves).

Take note that this series builds, and grows stronger over time. The first couple episodes are good enough, but have an emotional flatness that could make you wonder if you should keep watching. Hang on: the stakes get higher in episode 3. If you prefer your K-dramas to be “character-driven” rather than “high concept,” as Hollywood would say (more Coffee Prince, less My Name is Kim Samsoon), and if you want a series about adults with adult concerns, this is it.