Monday, 11 May 2009

“Yi San,” a TV drama based on Joseon Dynasty’s 22nd King Jeongjo

“Yi San,” a TV drama based on Joseon Dynasty’s 22nd King Jeongjo

Lately Korean dramas appear to have taken inspirations from kings of ancient Korean kingdoms. The leader of the pack is Daejoyeong, which is a traditional historic drama about the founding king of Balhae, successor of Goguryeo Kingdom. Next came the much-heralded Taewangsashingi (태왕사신기) or Four Guardian Gods of the King starring Bae Yong-joon of the “Winter Sonata” fame, is a fantasy drama based on Goguryeo’s most ambitious king Gwanggaeto. Then came “King and I,” which is about the purely fictional love triangle among King Seongjong, his queen, and a eunuch. The latest entry is Yi San, a traditional drama about the trials and achievements of Joseon Dynasty’s 22nd ruler King Jeongjo.

King Jeongjo is considered one of the greatest kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Together with King Yeongjo, his grandfather, King Jeongjo brought about the so-called Renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty, during which institutions were stabilized, culture promoted, and the nation enriched. King Jeongjo’s political achievements included strengthening the roles of Gyujanggak, the royal archive, reforming the national exam system and agricultural field management system, and allowing common people to appeal directly to the king.

Despite his political and cultural legacies, his personal life was fraught with sorrow and danger. His father, Crown Prince Sado, died of starvation after he was accused of treason and ordered by King Yeongjo to be locked in a small grain chest. Walking the thin wire between the demanding King Yeongjo and the critical court vassals, King Jeongjo trained himself in martial arts and medicine to survive several attempts on his life. Historians disclaim such rumors of assassination attempts, but speculations persist about King Jeongjo having been poisoned by his stepmother Queen Jeongsun (정순) or her loyal followers.

The latest drama is focuses on all the difficulties faced by King Jeongjo throughout his life. He is helped by his childhood friends, Song-yeon and Dae-soo, and his faithful officials. Song-yeon eventually becomes his concubine and bears the king’s first son Crown Prince Munhyo (문효). On the opposite side of the king were his stepmother Queen Mother Jeongsun, his aunt Princess Hwawan (화완) and her adopted son Jeong Hoo-gyeom (정후겸), and even his mother’s uncle Hong In-han (홍인한). The fact that his political enemies were his closest relatives shows how precarious his reign had been.

“Yi San” is directed by Lee Byung-hoon (이병훈), who also headed hugely popular historic dramas like “Jewel in the Palace” and “Hur Joon.” His latest endeavor is very similar to his previous works in that the drama again features several performers from his previous dramas and the narrative structure mainly involves how King Jeongjo survives a series of pitfalls plotted by his enemies. If his former works are any indication, Director Lee’s “Yi San” is well on its way to becoming another landmark drama.

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