Legendary television director dies

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Legendary television director dies

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Director Kim Jae-hyung talks with the actress Kang Soo-yeon, who was the heroine of the historical drama “Ladies of the Palace” (2001). [JoongAng Ilbo]


Kim Jae-hyung, the man who made popular historical drama series such as “Tears of a Dragon” (KBS, 1997), “Ladies of the Palace” (SBS, 2001) and “The King and I” (SBS, 2007), died on Sunday at the age of 75.

Kim was known as the “Creator” because he was the first director to bring a variety of drama series to television, including children’s dramas (“Young-hee’s Diary,” 1961), historical dramas (“Far Away Territory,” 1962), criminal investigation dramas (“Officer’s Notes,” 1966 and historical mysteries (“Yeonhwa,” 1973).

Originally from Eumseong, North Chungcheong, Kim graduated from Dongguk University in Seoul with a degree in Korean language and literature and started his directing career at KBS in 1961. During his nearly 40 years in the business, he directed more than 250 television dramas.

Kim was a man of many firsts. Starting with “Samogok,” his first historical drama, he went on to create a series of dramas about famous 16th-century Korean women. He was also the first to produce a drama about ordinary people, “Moon Village” (KBS, 1980), which earned ratings of 50 percent.

In his younger years, Kim was interested in both radio and filmmaking. But he said that a quote by Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan persuaded him to become a television director. McLuhan said that just like atomic energy, if television is used in the right way, then it will contribute great positives to the public, but if it is used the wrong way it could become similar to a nuclear bomb, destroying civilization. Kim said his goal in life was to change society through television.

“Historical drama isn’t just entertainment. The writer and the actors have to work together to portray the truth accurately, while creating a new perspective of the event for the audience,” said Kim.

The highlight of Kim’s directing career came with the success of “Tears of a Dragon” and “Ladies of the Palace.” Both dramas had ratings between 40 to 50 percent and both had broad appeal that crossed gender lines. Some media outlets at the time reported that the dramas even had the men of the house glued to their television sets every week.

Kim’s lifelong motto was “Directors never retire” and he proved that when he made “Tears of a Dragon” after declaring his intention to retire. Ten years later, while directing “The King and I,” he struggled with health issues and had to put his megaphone down.

But the irrepressible director couldn’t be kept away from the business for long. Last year, he made a surprise comeback by directing a production of the play “Kimchee” at a theater in Gwangju.

Kim won numerous awards throughout his career, including the Korea Broadcasting Grand Prize. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons. His oldest son, Kim Chang-man, is a filmmaker and his youngest son Kim Du-man directs television commercials.


By Lee Kyung-hee [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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