Mixing compelling drama with historyThe recently released historical thriller “Tears of Blood,” is proving to be a box office hit. In the film, the audiences witness various ancient methods of torture and execution ― one criminal is boiled alive and another is chopped into pieces. The film also introduces unfamiliar terms such as “Dochonggwan” and “Toposa” which are old terms related to “security” and “crimes” during the Joseon Dynasty. It was predicted that the film would to be too difficult for the audience to comprehend, with its complicated plot and use of “old Korean.” However, since its release last Wednesday, it has sold more than a million tickets in just five days.
These days, critical factors in determining a film’s popularity are the modern professional approach to scripting and filming and its plot. Even though the film is about a serial murderer on an island during the early 19th century, the way the story develops is not so different from that of a modern thriller.
“A new style which combines a historical drama and a thriller is getting good responses from audiences these days,” said Kim Dae-seung, director of the film.
“We tried to check all of the historical facts when shooting the film,” Mr. Kim said. “But the more essential part was to produce a tragedy caused by human greed in a very fine process.” The place and time of the story is not really important, he said.
Then how about “Cheongun” which is going be released in July? In one scene, Admiral Yi Sun Shin from the Joseon Dynasty is shown along with modern soldiers of South and North Korea, holding rifles. In this sci-fi-cum-fantasy film, the past and present meet through technology. In the climactic scene, Korean soldiers armed with modern weapons fight with Japanese pirate invaders from the North during the Joseon Dynasty.
“Tears of Blood” and “Cheongun” are similar in a sense that they are both historical dramas in new forms. Unlike other historical dramas in the past, which remained “classical,” such as “ChunHyang (1999)” and “Chihwaseon (2002),” the two films do not separate the past from the present.
With the new forms and ideas, historical dramas are evolving ― new genres are popping up, in terms of characters and style. They are no longer just old-fashioned entertainment made for middle-age viewers. Like “Hwangsanbeol” (2003), which presented rich dialects from different parts of the country, historical dramas have become more fun.
Admiral Yi Sun-shin in the film “Cheongun” is quite different from the television drama version of the character, “Yi Sun-shin, the Invincible,” because in “Cheongun,” he is portrayed as a weak human being who experiences failure. The film focuses on his youth and human sides, which are usually ignored by people today.
“Hyeongsa (The Duelist),” which is scheduled to be released in September, is unique since the main character is a female detective during the Joseon Dynasty. However, the dynasty as the time background is nothing but a small element. Characters and costumes are not really from the Joseon era. Lee Myeong-se, director of the film, said that the film will be a totally different historical drama.
“Wangui Namja (The King's man),” scheduled to start shooting late this month, is a satirical drama, which features a clown of the Joseon era. Lee Jun-ik, the director, who portrayed the pointlessness of the war through “Hwangsanbeol,” said, “I’m going to mock the power of society, through a clown, who inherits the blood of a king, and a king who inherits the blood of a clown.” Gam U-seong and Jeong Jin-yeong, the actors in the film are practicing all the tricks for the role.
“Historical dramas, which require a lot of time and a big budget, are going to be the new child of the country’s visual culture, reinterpreting the past and the present,” said Mr. Lee. “New forms of historical dramas are definitely good news for the Korean film industry.”
by Park Jeong-ho