‘Arthdal Chronicles’ is a big-budget fantasy epic: Set in ancient Korean history, humans and other races strive for power
In the lead-up to its start, the series has been described as the Korean “Game of Thrones.” Its star-studded cast is set to transform into mythical heroes who struggle for power, protect their tribes and try their hand at state building for the first time in the ancient land of Arth.
With an estimated 3 billion won ($2.53 million) budget per episode, the producers have invested a lot into making sure their new drama is a hit. A large chunk of filming took place in Brunei’s lush forests, setting the scene in simpler times before civilization began. Massive production costs are believed to have been spent on computer graphics to create the fantastical elements.
The cast includes some of the most in-demand actors in Korea today. Song Joong-ki, star of “Descendants of the Sun” (2016) and “A Werewolf Boy” (2012), plays Eunseom, a protagonist with superhuman strength who’s ready to fight for his Wahan tribe. Veteran actor Jang Dong-gun, star of “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (2004), takes on the role of Eunseom’s nemesis Tagon, a charismatic yet dangerous warrior whose troops brutally attack the Wahan. Kim Ji-won, who also starred in “Descendants of the Sun,” plays Tanya, Eunseom’s love interest and prophet, while Kim Ok-vin, from “Thirst” (2009), plays the beautiful and power-hungry Taealha, whose political ambitions lead her to join forces with Tagon.
According to tvN, “Arthdal Chronicles” will be the first ever K-drama to be set in antiquity. The series takes place during the Bronze Age and is loosely based on the story of Dangun, the legendary king who is said to be the founder of the first Korean kingdom of Gojoseon (2333 B.C.-108 B.C.).
Screenwriters Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon are not new to period dramas, having previously worked together on the Joseon-era (1392-1910) drama “Deep Rooted Tree” (2011) and “Queen Seondeok” (2009). Director Kim Won-seok also co-produced the historical romance drama “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” (2010).
“After I finished with ‘Deep Rooted Tree,’ a lot of lectures and books on anthropology like ‘Sapiens’ came out. I was fascinated with the rite of passage of one primitive tribe,” Kim said during a press briefing ahead of the drama’s premier on Tuesday. “So many animals have subspecies, but only the Homo sapiens sapiens have survived among humans. Have the other subspecies been gotten rid of? Is that right? The drama will talk about accepting diversity.”
In fact, friction between the different humanoid subspecies is at the crux of the drama. Eunseom, the son of a human and a “Noeantal,” battle against Tagon, a human who took part in a large-scale massacre of Noeantals. Although “Arthdal Chronicles” is supposed to be a fantasy drama, producers said they tried to maintain some historical accuracy by sticking to the types of weaponry, tools and other details that were around at the time.
As the drama spins a universal tale about the rise of mankind and civilization, producers and actors expressed hopes that “Arthdal Chronicles” will appeal to viewers around the world, not just in Korea.
“After Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ win at Cannes, I read articles from foreign newspapers that said the story could have taken place anywhere, despite it being a Korean film,” said Song Joong-ki. “I think foreign viewers will be able to empathize with us as well.”
Getting used to a whole new universe and its different systems and cultures might be overwhelming at first, the actors admitted, but they said viewers just need to give it a chance.
“There might be confusion due to the different vocabulary we use, but I think the audience will start getting into the series after watching the second episode,” said Jang Dong-gun.
“Arthdal Chronicles” is set to air 18 episodes. Although there are currently no plans for a second season, producers said the possibility has not been ruled out and it depends on the audience reception.
Perhaps due to its high profile, “Arthdal Chronicles” has already faced controversy. Last month, the Hanbit Media Labor Rights Center and the broadcasting staff at Hope Solidarity Labor Union reported Studio Dragon, tvN’s sister company and CJ ENM’s drama production arm, to the Seoul Employment and Labor Administration for violating labor laws. According to accusations, the show’s production team was forced to work non-stop in Brunei for over 150 hours a week and producers tried to cover up an accident that left an employee with a broken arm, forcing staff into “murderous” conditions that “seriously threatened their bodies and health.” When a question about the accusations came up in the press conference, the emcee immediately shot it down.
“Arthdal Chronicles” will air every Saturday and Sunday at 9 p.m. from June 1 on tvN. The show will also air globally on Netflix.
BY KIM EUN-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]