Why viewers get hooked on Queen of Tears

Kim Soo Hyun and Kim Ji Won kindle the romance of the year in cliffhangers—and comedic moments

Queen of Tears
Queen of Tears official poster


When Queen of Tears (QoT, its acronym) aired its final episode in Netflix on April 28, it set a new record for the highest viewership ratings of any drama in tvN history. According to Nielsen Korea, QoT, viewed by 6.39 million, scored an average rating of 24.8 percent, eclipsing the 21.6  percent rating of the Crash Landing on You finale in February 2020.  It also became the third highest rated drama on cable TV after JTBC’s World of the Married with 28.4 percent, and Reborn Rich at 26.9 percent, dislodging  JTBC’s Sky Castle (23.7 percent).

For the seventh consecutive week, QoT remained at no.1 on Good Data Corporation’s weekly list of TV dramas that generated the most buzz. It also dominated the list of buzzworthy drama cast members with Kim Soo Hyun at no. 1, followed by Kim Ji Won at no. 2, Park Sung Hoon at no. 6, Kwak Dong Yeon at no. 8, and Lee Mi Sook at no. 10.

Like a fairytale that uses all the tropes familiar to K-drama lovers, Queen of Tears tells the story of the  crisis and miraculous rekindling of love between Hong Hae In (Kim Ji Won), third-generation chaebol heiress of the Queens Group, and Baek Hyun Woo (Kim Soo Hyun), the son of rural farmers from Yongduri, and their three years of marriage.

The biggest draw of Queen of Tears is the pairing of Kim Soo Yoon and Kim Ji Won. Their incredible chemistry is the spark that lights up the screen, and each time they are together, viewers are riveted. Even in those instances when they are emotionally distant, their affection for one another remains so obvious.  Thanks to Kim Soo Hyun (KSH) and Kim Ji Won (KJW), the romance of Hong Hae In and Baek Hyun Woo will be remembered as one of the best in recent times.

The incredible chemistry between Kim Soo Yoon and Kim Ji Won is the spark that lights up the screen, and each time they are together, viewers are riveted

KSH, who has a solid list of dramas to his name, proves once more his incredible acting range. His crying scenes are a masterclass in acting, and he can just as easily switch to comedy. KJW is just at adept at delivering emotionally raw scenes and changing her demeanor in a second as her emotions shift.

The rest of the cast deliver highly nuanced performances as well. Kwak Dong Yeon portrays Hong Soo Cheol, his clueless naiveté perfectly making his darker moments even more poignant. Park Sung Hoon’s intensity and menacing vibe give the drama a chilling effect; viewers hate him.

Unique supporting characters add a light touch and color. Thrice-divorced aunt Hong Boem Ja (Kim Jung Nan) and her pursuit of Yeong Song (Kim Young Min), the timid bachelor from the countryside serving tea and madeleins, add that much needed comic touch.

Writer Park Ji Eun (Crash Landing on You, My Love From the Star, The Producers, and Legend of the Blue Sea) wove a narrative of betrayal, manipulation, and hidden agendas. The drama is character-driven, and the episodic storytelling appeals  to younger audiences used to short-form content. Each character, from the troubled lovers Baek  Hyun Woo and Hong Hae In, to the obsessed villain Yoon Eun Sang, is given a chance to shine and develop, allowing audiences to love or hate them.

Hyun Woo has a law degree from Seoul National University. He is the most successful native of his hometown and is the pride of Yongduri. After her studies abroad, Hae In works undercover as an intern in the company. Hyun Woo notices her kicking the copy machine, helps her out, and tells her he worries that she might get fired because she is scolded every day. He tells her he likes her.  Hae In is intrigued, and they get into a relationship. Hyun Woo is shocked when he finds out who her family is; he promptly resigns and ghosts Hae In. Next, she descends on  Yongduri in one of the Queens Group’s choppers. What follows is dubbed by media as the “wedding of the century.”

But three years later, their marriage has soured. The disparate worlds of Hyun Woo and Hae In have taken a toll on their marriage. Hae In is the aggressive, ruthless, and cold CEO of Queens department store, Hyun Woo is the director of the legal department.  The couple makes their home in  Queensville, where three generations of the Hong family live separate lives. Coming from a close-knit family and growing up in the warm atmosphere in Yongduri where his parents own an orchard and a supermarket, Hyun Woo becomes miserable. He is a brilliant lawyer whose in-laws expect him to clean up the mess they get themselves in, but he isn’t treated as an equal in the family. Communication between him and his wife has also failed; they sleep in separate rooms, but they have to maintain the façade of a happily married couple for the media.

Hyun Woo decides to file for  divorce, but before he can tell Hae In about it, she informs him that she has been diagnosed with a rare cancer, and is given only three months to live. She makes him promise not to tell anyone in her dysfunctional family, lest she gets kicked out of the house and her assets taken over.

Initially, Hyun Woo believes that he doesn’t have to divorce Hae In, but looks after her nonetheless so she will change her will and make him her beneficiary. But as her illness progresses—she has dizzy spells and hallucinations—Hyun Woo realizes that he still loves her, and decides to care for her and protect her.

Separately, Hae In and Hyun Woo search the Internet for a cure. Hyun Woo finds a research institute in Germany that can perform a non-invasive surgery on Hae In. However, there is a catch; she will lose her memory. The couple travel to Germany where they spent their honeymoon.

As Hae In’s illness progresses—she has dizzy spells and hallucinations—Hyun Woo realizes that he still loves her, and decides to care for her and protect her

The tragic storyline of Queen of Tears is balanced with small comedic moments. In episode 1, Hyun Woo declares to his lawyer-friend that he is cute when he is drunk, while the two bodyguards assigned to him sit nearby and mimic his every move. In episode 10, in the room they share in the house of Hyun Woo’s parents,  Hae In almost strips Hyun Woo to treat his bruises after his encounter with thugs, before the pair have a deep and serious conversation about their situation. The emotional undercurrent is always present in these situations, but the jokes from Hyun Woo lighten the scene.

There is a wrinkle in the newly ignited love between the couple when Hae In learns that Hyun Woo has been planning to serve her with divorce papers. Into the picture comes Yoon Eun Soong (Park Sung Hoon), her childhood friend who is obsessed with her and plots to insert himself back into her life.

Hae In goes through with the procedure and does not fully recover her memory.  Hyun Woo cares for her and they fall in love with each other all over again.  Hyun Woo has put his life on the line for Hae In twice, the first time when he is run over by a deranged Eun Soong. The second time, after Eun Soong kidnaps Hae In, Hyun Woo rescues her, Eun Soong chases them through the snowy woods at night armed with a shotgun. He aims for Hae In, but Hyun Woo takes the bullet. Eun Sung is gunned down by the police.

Uknown to the Hong  family, Eun Soong is the son of Moh Seul Hee (Lee Mi Suk), the mistress of Chairman Hong Mandae (Kim Kap Soo), Hae In’s grandfather. She banishes the young boy who grows up abroad, adopted by Korean parents, while she plots to exact revenge on the family through the decades, to take over the Queens conglomerate.  She poisons the chairman after he grants her power of attorney, and ruthlessly moves to take over the company, kicking the entire family out of their vast compound. They end up staying with Hyun Woo’s family in Yongduri.

Seul Hee gets her comeuppance when Hyun Woo presents evidence in court of a recording he had of Seul Hee poisoning the chairman. This recording is given to him by the butler of the Hong family who has been on the side of Seul Hee, but switches sides.

The directors Kim Hee Won and Jang Yang Woo have given the drama a fairytale-like setting that adds magic and appeal to their story. There is the scene in the aquarium where Hae In first proposed to Hyun Woo, the appearance  of the first snow to signify when Hyun Woo asks the technical team of Queens department store to turn on the snow machine, before their trip to Germany. In a poignant scene, Hae In opens her eyes after her surgery and sees the first snow, and in a painful juxtaposition, Hyun Woo is seeing the first now from prison where he is detained, after Eun Soong frames him for murder.

The scenes of Hyung Woo and Hae In in Germany add that extra romantic touch to the couple’s narrative. The field of lavender at the end of the drama also gives viewers that happy ending that is bittersweet, but a most fitting end to their love story.

Queen of Tears jumps 50 years into the future, as an elderly Hyun Woo visits Hae In’s grave in Potsdam, Germany. The headstone tells us she died in 2074. Then in the next frame, Hyun Woo and Hae In, once again their  young and beautiful selves, meet one last time in the lavender fields in Germany, joining hands in the afterlife. The epilogue also shows pictures of the family with Hae In and Hyun Woo visiting Sans Souci with their daughter.

About author


After saying goodbye to daily deadlines in 2009, WINNIE DOROTHEO VELASQUEZ worked from home editing manuscripts and writing on subjects close to her heart. She discovered the world of K-Drama in the early 2000s. Today, she cooks, does some gardening, and is training Cookie, da mutt-with-the-mostest.

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