Time traveling scholars prove popular in new web drama
Three scholars who were preparing to take the Gwageo test in 1720, a national exam to select civil servants in ancient kingdoms of Korea including the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), time travel to 2020 in a newly released web drama “300 Year-old Class of 2020.”
The drama, released through the YouTube channel of the state-run Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (CHA) as well as Naver TV, was made by the CHA to promote the nine seowon, or academic institutes of the Joseon era. Last year, these nine institutes were designated as Unesco’s World Heritage sites.
The time traveling scholars in the show have been struggling to pass the exam for years while trying to live the lives of seonbi, a Korean word for an aristocrat, under the teachings of the Confucius at Byeongsan Seowon in North Gyeongsang’s Andong, one of the nine seowon.
While they do so, they get access to a book called "Gyeongja Yurangi," which takes the scholars, as well as the daughter of the seowon’s manager, to 2020.
They try to find their way back to the past with the help of the seowon manager's daughter but end up becoming enamored with the technology and culture of modern-day Korea. They also face many difficulties by trying to focus on their social status as seonbi in the year 2020 when the custom is no longer widely appreciated.
Despite any presumption that the drama will heavily explain the history of seowon and be too academic, it focuses more on the stories of these youngsters during their struggle to go back home. The seowon are naturally shown in the background as that’s where these scholars live their daily lives.
The web drama first aired on Dec. 21 and has a total of 6 episodes which each last about 15 minutes. The final episode is set to air this month.
“As we filmed in the late summer this year, it felt like we are travelling all across the country,” said Kong Jae-hyun, Lee Se-jin and Noh Sang-hyun, the actors who played the three scholars. They spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo through an online interview after the third episode was aired. All the scenes featuring seowon were shot on location and not at studios. The actors said because of this they were able to better understand the beauty of the historic sites.
“I started to become more interested in preserved cultural assets that are not widely visited like Bulguk Temple or Sukguram Grotto,” said Kong.
The main site the show was filmed at was Byeongsan Seowon, but Sosu Seowon in North Gyeongsang’s Yeongju; Oksan Seowon in North Gyeongsang’s Gyeongjul; Dosan Seowon in North Gyeongsang’s Andong; Namgye Seowon in South Gyeongsang’s Hamyang; Museong Seowon in North Jeolla’s Jeongeup; Pilam Seowon in South Jeolla’s Jangseong; and Donam Seowon in South Chungcheong’s Nonsan were also featured.
“As shown in the drama, the landscape you see from Mandaeru [at Byeongsan Seowon], is so cozy and beautiful,” said Kong. “As the seowon is preserved almost to its original look, I really felt like I was living in the past.”
Another benefit for the CHA acting as producer is that it will hold all the rights to the content for future promotions.
The very first episode was viewed some 3,600 times in the first week, and there were many requests for English subtitles to be added. A researcher with CHA said the breathtaking scenery around the seowon in harmony with nature has captured much attention from those who want to vicariously experience the landmarks amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the response remains positive, the CHA says its will consider making another series.
The drama is available through http://www.youtube.com/user/chluvu or http://koreaseowon.com as well as Naver TV and Kakao TV.
BY KANG HYE-RAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]