KDRAMALOVE KOREAN DRAMA REVIEWS

QUEEN OF AMBITION
ì??ì?? (2013) SBS 24 Episodes
Melodrama, Grade: A / A



Review by Alison, USA
Addendum by Jill, USA

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2013a€?s Queen of Ambition (also known as King of Ambition) is an intense, addictive yet ultimately exhausting revenge drama featuring one of Koreaa€?s most charismatic actors (and one of my personal favorites)
Kwon Sang Woo (Stairway to Heaven, Sad Love Story, Bad Love, Cinderella Man and countless others). However, the accolades here must go to its leading lady, Soo Ae, an actress I did not warm up to at first, but who eventually won me over with her sheer audacity.
If you like dramas centered on revenge, Queen of Ambition is for you. For 24 tense, action-filled episodes, the two leads are locked in a fierce game of cat and mouse, each trying to destroy the other, though they initially began as sweethearts. Joo Da Hae (Soo Ae) sets her sights on success and power. Ha Ryu (Kwon Sang Woo) is obsessed with bringing her to her knees for betraying him. As much as I enjoyed this drama a€“ and I did, immensely a€” the  actions of both of them leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. Yet at the same time, I could not stop watching and gobbled up the series eagerly.
The drama begins with a deadly confrontation between Soo Aea€?s character Da Hae, who is established as being Koreaa€?s First Lady, and a prosecutor, played by Kwon Sang Woo. A shot rings out, and Da Hae collapses in his arms. Then we flash back to their beginnings.

It turns out that a€“ surprise! surprise! a€“ these two actually first knew each other as children when they were in - where else in a K-drama? -- the same orphanage. Ha Ryu remained at the orphanage, but Da Haea€?s stay was temporary, as her mother and new stepfather came to take her away. Da Hae gives Ha Ryu one half of a pair of dice (the white one) to join his black one, saying that now they will always be together. He keeps the dice, but rejects her farewell gesture by running away, in tears.
Years later,best replica watches Ha Ryu comes to the aid of a young woman whose mother has just died. He recognizes Da Hae right away (despite not having seen her since they were children) and is delighted, because he has always loved her. Since she is alone and destitute, he is determined to take care of her, paying for her college education (by working as a male a€?entertainera€? or stripper!) along with his best friend Taek-bae. Soon Ha Ryu and Da Hae are living together, happily in love, with Ha Ryu referring to her as his a€?angel.a€?
But something happens to challenge their life together. Her stepbrother, a shady character who is nonetheless devoted to her, warns her that her stepfather may come looking for her. She is terrified, and we see her past memories of being abused by that stepfather. However, despite her efforts to evade him, he does track her down. She kills him (not exactly in self defense, but certainly in self preservation). Ha Ryu discovers her with the knife in her hand, and he insists on covering up the crime by burying the body. Eventually that cover up will come back to haunt them.

 
Ha Ryu and Da Hae continue to live together in a a€?common lawa€? marriage (she stalls on actually signing marriage papers with him) and have an adorable daughter Eun Byul (played at different ages by two equally adorable young actresses). They are both loving parents but Da Hae has a lot more ambitious goals than to be a wife and mother. She goes on an interview at the conglomerate owned by the wealthy Baek family. Despite losing a shoe on the way (getting off the subway, New Yorkers like me can identify with the shoving crowd she encounters there) and having to appear barefoot, she gets the job, working for the Baek heiress, Do Kyong (Kim Syung Ryung). She also catches the eye of the young heir to the Baek fortune, Do Hoon (Jung Yun Ho). He was on the subway with her and managed to rescue her shoe. Later he is surprised and delighted to see she is working at his familya€?s company. Since she has a long commute from her hometown, Ha Ryu agrees she should have an apartment closer to her work. Coincidentally, Do Hoon has an apartment in the same building and the two soon begin secretly dating. Ha Ryu, proud of her success, is oblivious that she is drifting away from him and their life together, as she hopes to move on to bigger and better things.
When Do Hoona€?s sister Do Kyong, who holds a management position at the company, realizes that her new hire is seeing him socially, she summarily dismisses her. The sister is terribly protective of Do Hoon, and we eventually find out why. Da Hae is devastated to lose her dream job, and confronts Do Kyong, who treats her like dirt, accusing her of being a gold-digger. Da Hae finds out that Do Hoon is being sent to America to study at the University of Pennsylvania, and convinces Ha Ryu to help her go study in the US, too, supposedly to position herself one day for a better job than the one she has just lost.

Although he had stopped working as a male entertainer, Ha Ryu humbles himself and goes back to that onerous work because it is the best place to make a lot of money. He finances her studies once again, having no idea of her relationship with Do Hoon. In America, Da Hae reunites with Do Hoon and by the time she returns to Korea a€“ two years later! a€“ they are on the path to being engaged.

It takes a while for Ha Ryu to catch on, but once he realizes she has duped him and will leave him and their child behind, he is enraged. He now wants them both to reveal their cover up of the death of her stepfather and take their punishment. He cannot bear the idea that he has lost her and she is not coming back home. Da Hae, who by now has resumed working at Baek Group due to her relationship with Do Hoon, will have none of that.

Unfortunately, the stepfathera€?s body is ultimately discovered anyway, Ha Ryu is linked to the crime, and he alone is sentenced to jail for a few years (for illegally disposing of a corpse, as it cannot be proven that he actually committed the murder). Da Hae promises him that she will at least take care of their little girl. Meanwhile, Do Kyong blackmails her into breaking her engagement with Do Hoon and insists she leave the country. Before that can happen, a major tragedy occurs, and Da Haea€?s plans change once again.
So do Ha Ryua€?s, as that tragic event causes him to vow lifelong revenge on his ex-lover.
I dona€?t want to give too much away,breitling replica watches but another plot point is central to the story a€“ Ha Ryu has a twin brother, Cha Jae-woong (also played by Kwon Sang Woo), an attorney with a doting but ailing widowed father. The father has only recently revealed to him that this brother exists, abandoned years ago in an orphanage. He wants Jae-woong to locate his brother, and he has been trying to do so,  with the assistance of his loyal and lovely girlfriend Seok Soo-jung (Go Joon Hee). Their efforts have come up empty, but a twist of fate brings Jae to the prison where Ha Ryu is still an inmate. The brothers are reunited, but not for long. Thanks to mistaken identity, Jae-woong meets a violent end, and the grieving Ha Ryu decides to take his place. 
Now released from jail, Jae-woong aka Ha Ryu can now focus his energies solely on making Da Hae pay for the crimes for which he holds her responsible. She has since succeeded in marrying Do Hoon, and now she has it all a€“ loving, devoted husband, beautiful clothes, lots of money, and a powerful position at his familya€?s company. However, she continues to defend herself against the efforts of Do-kyong to get her permanently discredited and out of her brothera€?s life. She keeps trying to find the truth about Da Haea€?s past, and it becomes difficult for Da Hae to keep her secrets buried a€” especially when she encounters Jae-woong, whom she instantly suspects and then quickly realizes is really Ha Ryu.



Thus the stage is set for an intriguing "What will Da He do next?" series of events. Although we know that eventually she will ascend to Koreaa€?s presidential a€?Blue Housea€?  it is not revealed until the final several episodes how that is to occur. It is fascinating to watch the battle that ensues between this fierce anti-heroine and the man she betrayed, as she rises and falls and rises yet again. She is one resourceful and resilient woman.
I had a great time watching Queen of Ambition, though after a while, I became exhausted by the never-ending quest for revenge. Ha Ryua€?s own actions have consequences that are morally questionable and potentially devastating. I found myself wishing he could a€?get a lifea€? and find something more productive to do than try to ruin Da Hae. Part of his strategy involves courting Do Hoona€?s sister, and while she really falls for him, he is ultimately using her as an ally against Dae Hae as well as a way to taunt her (she would surely dread having him as a brother-in-law). The Baek family is truly dysfunctional and though the patriarch and his daughter seem to consider Da Hae beneath their contempt, they are not exactly admirable either, in words or deed. The family aunt Jimi (Cha Hwa-yeon who played Jo In Sung's mother in It's Okay, That's Love) is another piece of work, secretly holding a grudge against her brother for killing her husband, and hoping to use Da Hae to ruin him. So I found it difficult to condemn Da Hae as the dramaa€?s only villain or to root for the rich bullies to get their way.
All the performances are first rate. Kwon Sang Woo is an actor who projects both masculinity and sensitivity. He is totally convincing. Even in his brief screen time portraying the doomed attorney brother Jae-woong, he manages to create a separate personality, shy and a bit closed off, in contrast to the passionate Ha Ryu. I have admired and loved this actor ever since I saw him in the excellent Sad Love Story, and he is fantastic here as always.

As I mentioned, I did not like Soo Ae as an actress at first. She is not conventionally pretty, without the ethereal loveliness of most Korean leading ladies, and I found her low voice and manner off-putting. But I think Soo Ae is just more of the Joan Crawford or Bette Davis type, not easy to like her. However, as the drama kept unfolding, she won me over completely because she really delivers on this role. You are not supposed to like her yet you cannot help but respect her. She is cunning, fearless, highly intelligent and resourceful. It is easy to understand why she left Ha Ryu behind a€“ she had outgrown him, he was no match for her intellectually and she wanted more from life than what he could offer her. When Do Hoon offers her his love and a place in a prominent family, she takes it, and overall their marriage would probably have been a successful one if not for the intervention of Ha Ryu and Do Kyong. 
Of course it also would have helped if she did not have so much to hide, and if she only would have told the truth rather than insist on lying. In some ways, Da Hae is someone for whom things just seldom work out right; she carries a cloud of bad luck over her head, and knows it. At any rate, Soo Ae does an excellent job playing this ruthless lady. So much so that I am rather ashamed to say I found myself rooting for her to triumph rather than be destroyed.

There are so many other performances worth noting as well. Yoon Ho Jung, who plays Do Hoon, has a limited acting resume. He is better known by his stage name "U-Know" (funny!) or as simply Yun-ho, and is primarily a singer-songwriter as well as the leader of a pop group called TVXQ. For my money, he could trade all that in for a full time acting career any day. He is perfect as Do Hoon, who is one of the dramaa€?s only truly sympathetic, likeable, and pure at heart characters. As Do Hoon, his love for Da Hae is unconditional and unwavering. Even when Ha Ryu tries to clue him in on her past, he is having none of it, refusing to believe anything negative about his wife. He knows she has had her troubles (though he does not know how much or what kind) and is determined to protect her and make her happy. Yun Ho Jung expertly portrays a young man of charm, character and decency, probably the only member of his family with integrity and good intentions. I adored him and actually cried when things in his world began to fall apart.

As the family patriarch, Chang-hak Baek (Lee Deok-hwa), could corner the market on playing this type of role, the wealthy, tyrannical father (also in 2013, he was a similar type of father in Secret). He is tough and scary, but the actor also shows traces of his humanity, and by the end of the series, you have some compassion and respect for him. Sung Ryung Kim (who has been in Heirs, Padam Padam and Youa€?re Beautiful among numerous other dramas) plays his daughter Do Kyong, and she is a perfect ice princess, closed off, imperious, and yet slightly vulnerable. We never find out her entire back-story here, but the actress makes you want to know more.  Sung Ji-roo, a doughy, engaging character actor, and Kwon Hyun-sang, earnest and cute, are Ha Ryua€?s loyal friends, Do Sam (a con man who meets Ha Ryu in prison and has had his own sorrows) and Taek Bae, who worked with Ha Ryu as a male entertainer, respectively. They are both enormous likeable, as is the gentle older actor playing Ha Ryua€?s father, In-beom Go. Il-hwa Lee (Heartstrings) imbues Miss Hong, a sort of a€?adoptive mothera€? to Ha Ryu, from when she worked at the orphanage where he was raised, is forceful and appealing. Jae-yoon Lee (from Cruel City) is Da Haea€?s stepbrother who will do anything for her; the actor is handsome, appealing, with just a hint of menace. 
However, my favorite among the supporting players was Joon-hee Ko (from the film Architecture 101) as Cha Jae-woonga€?s girlfriend Soo yun, who is at first fooled by Ha Ryua€?s impersonation but catches on pretty quickly and then decides to help him avenge his brothera€?s death. First of all her character is a real charmer, pretty as a picture, loyal, loving and incredibly decent. The actress emanates all of these qualities and more; she just glows. In the drama, it turns out she is the daughter of a man who wants to be president. He is revealed to be something less than principled, and I could not imagine how he would have produced such a fine human being as his daughter. Soo-yung and Do Hoon were my two favorite characters in this drama. In my opinion, their portrayers should star in a drama of their own (they dona€?t even share a scene in Queen of Ambition).
Overall, this is one of the most addictive dramas I have ever watched, and I am a K-drama addict. Though it is dark and unrelenting in its revenge theme, I did not find it depressing, since it is highly melodramatic and over the top, not unlike American series about the rich and powerful like Dallas, Dynasty or Falcon Crest (if you remember any of those from the 80's). Da Hae is a great character that I for one thought was brilliant -- but I believe that different viewers will probably have different reactions to her actions. The backdrop of cutthroat business, greed, bribery and blackmail is a bit disheartening, but the material is fascinating and there is never a dull moment. If nothing else, I think youa€?ll be left with the impression that revenge is not all ita€?s cracked up to be. Queen of Ambition is excellent escapist fare and highly recommended.

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Short review by Jill



I got around to watching Queen of Ambition a year or so after Alison, and have my own thoughts on it. For one, I think this 2013 drama is a great one to watch concurrently or back to back with a newer popular melodrama also starring Soo Ae called Mask.(2015). Both shows are Class 1 and 2 exhibits on the dangers of becoming emotionally or physically involved with sociopaths. It is estimated that 1 in 25 people are mentally ill sociopaths: they are incapable of true love or compassion or remorse, which are all sacrificial traits, and not selfish in nature. In Mask another actor is the sociopath and Soo Ae basically plays a good girl caught up in his web, and in Queen of Ambition Soo Ae plays the sociopath and Kwon Sang Woo the good guy is caught up in her web. Both shows could have video clips shown from them to college students in Psychology 101 classes, to teach them the characteristics of a sociopath and why it's vitally important to run from them like the plague and have nothing to do with them. They are not redeemable, they will never change, and there is no cure. I loved Soo Ae's performances in both shows, but her character in Queen of Ambition sparked my total disgust and ire, especially how she could abandon and ignore her own baby for literally years. I had no compassion for her whatsoever and wanted only to see Kwon Sang Woo's character escape from her influence. Anyone who would get in her way would be destroyed. She's nothing but a con artist and there is no genuine human traits to her, she lies constantly and believes her own lies. She had a rough beginning but many others do too and don't become sociopaths or abandon their families. If someone has outgrown a person and wants to move on they should do it in an above board way through absolute honesty and compassion and sensitivity toward the person they are going to abandon. Of course the very reason why they are sociopathic cheats in the first place is because they lack the ability to be any of these altruistic qualities.



This show is also a good one if you've had the misfortune to watch Kwon Sang Woo in Temptation, a total bomb K-drama where his character turned me off to watching anything with this actor in it for over a year. Queen of Ambition helped to redeem him in my eyes quite a bit because his character was 100% sympathetic to me, and by the end of the drama HE was the far more intelligent and savvy person, having learned his lessons the hard way, and she was the dupe, so smug in her own conceits she thought she never would be caught. He played her for the fool and I loved it. :)





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