In Appreciation of Han Gong Joo in ‘Angry Mom’

Red Queen

Red Queen

In kdramas, we’re often introduced to characters who seem completely flat or altogether too real. This is more noticeable when it comes to the 2nd leads and their personalities are flattened to the point of being almost a caricature of a human. In Angry Mom, a 16 episode drama currently airing on MBC, we have Han Gong Joo who seems to hold all of these features at the same time. (Watch Angry Mom with English subtitles.)

Go Soo Hee gives Gong Joo depth as a comedic sidekick and gravitas as a caring human being looking out for her friend. Ms. Go has an uncanny knack for this as seen in her role as Kim Jang Mi in Sunny.

Angry Mom is a story about Jo Kang Ja who finds out her daughter is being bullied at her prestigious high school. After finding her daughter collapsed on the street, bruised and bloodied, Kang Ja decides to enroll in the school herself to take on the bullies. To get the correct paperwork in order, she visits her old friend Han Gong Joo who runs an adult nightclub. At this point, we learn than Kang Ja isn’t the average kdrama mom. This is a mom with a criminal past. A lady who was considered ‘iljin‘ in her teen years, a term, I’ll define loosely as a ‘thug’.

Butterfly Princess

Butterfly Princess

Gong Joo was part of Kang Ja’s crew in the past and in the intervening years, amassed all the street cred and trappings that she dreamt of as a child. Gong Joo. Just her name is a light joke. In Korean, ‘Gong Joo‘ means ‘princess’ and our Gong Joo definitely lives up to her name. After all, as Jo Kang Ja said, being a princess is what she’s always wanted.

The first time we meet Gong Joo, we only see her back as she yells at the line of men standing in front of her. The camera moves up to show she’s getting a pedicure by 2 of her henchmen while another is acting as a footstool. When we first see her face, we see the tiny tiara atop of her head and Kang Ja walking in shouting her name.

At this point, there is nothing to prepare you for the endless costume changes that we’ll see with this character. There are often themes to her outfits and her 2 loyal henchmen are dressed to match, each with their own tiara. We see a dizzying array of Disney characters, patterns and accessories for each outfit. When she wears a hat, there is almost always a mesh veil attached. When Gong Joo doesn’t wear a hat, she’s wearing her tiny tiara. There were even a few cases where she wore a tiara on her hat.

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What I appreciate most is that her outfits aren’t entirely on a whim. When Gong Joo and Kang Ja are hatching a terrible plan, the outfits often foreshadow something that will happen with Kang Ja. When Gong Joo is in respectability-mode, she has a certain look to her outfits. They are something you’d expect to see on the wife of a politician. She even has princess outfits for sneaking around!

The series is down to the last 4 episodes and I can’t wait to see what outfits they’ll have Gong Joo show us next. Even if the costumes fall flat, I’m just glad these first 12 episodes have given us such wonderful smiles.