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Big-budget historical dramas popular

2006/07/10 Source

Seoul Broadcasting System's epic drama "Yeongaesomun" garnered over 20 percent of viewing rate Saturday with its first episode that depicted the historical battle between Goguryeo (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) and China's Tang Dynasty (618-907) at Ansi Castle.

This is the first of 100 episodes that will dramatize the latter period of Goguryeo, which was the first to be established and developed into the largest, of Korea's three ancient kingdoms.

The $40 million-budget drama is competing against another much-hyped TV drama "Jumong" also set in the same era. However, the drama declares that it is more thoroughly based on the historical facts, although there is not much of record on its hero, Yeongaesomun (played by veteran actor Yoo Dong-geun).

The drama will shed light on the heroic side of Yeongaesomun who has been painted more as a tyrant that seized power through a coup, than a general who waged seven battles successfully against the invaders of Tang Dynasty. On the other hand, "Jumong" is based more on imagination since it tells a story of founding myth of the kingdom. Jumong (played by Song Il-gook) was born between the heavenly emperor and the god of water, and was named so for his exceptional archery skills.

Introduced in May, the 60-episode drama (14th will air tonight) of Munhwa Broadcasting Company has seen its viewing rate soaring near to 40 percent, boosted by its legendary character and concoction of romance.

"Jumong" will be aired overseas starting in September, as it has been sold to five countries, including Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, at the Shanhai TV Festival last month.

"Yeongaesomun" and "Jumong" will face stiff competition for viewers when Korean Broadcasting System's "Dae Jo Yeong", also set in Goguyreo, will begin airing in early September. Featuring another veteran actor Choi Soo-jong as general Daejoyoung from Goguryeo, who founded Balhae Kingdom (698-926), the large-scale drama will also be aired on weekends.

After the demise of Goguryeo by Tang Dynasty, Daejoyoung founded Balhae whose territory spanned over the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, eastern Manchuria and the Russian Far East.

The last to join the Goguryeo fad is "Taewangsasingi" ("The Legend"), currently being made and scheduled to be unveiled in October. The 20-episode drama will chronicle the history of Goguryeo Kingdom from the beginning through its heyday, highlighting the reign of King Gwanggaeto.

The king, played by none other than Bae Yong-joon, the pioneer of Korean Wave, who will return to TV screen for the first time in six years, is credited to have expanded Goguryeo as far as Manchuria.

As for the identical setting in Goguryeo, some attribute it to the fact that drama writers have exhausted stories set in Joseon Dynasty, as most of the past historical dramas were based in the era.

However, it is hard to deny that the heated dispute over the history of Goguryeo between China and Korea has peaked interest in the era, leading to the making of these dramas.

The last time for a television drama set in Goguryeo to be produced was mid-1960s.

Writer Lee Hwan-kyung of "Yeongaesomun" openly stated that one of the reasons the drama was made was to counter China's claim over the history of Goguyreo.

Nonetheless, there are voices of concern that these dramas", which combine historical facts and figures with fictional plots, might result in biased understanding of history, especially when there is not much historical documents or records on Goguryeo.

The grand battle scene at Ansi Castle from "Yeongaesomun", enhanced by computer graphics and presented with kind subtitles on historical, military glossaries, was spectacular, but has stirred controversy among viewers. Many questioned why General Yang Man-chun was reduced to a supporting role for Yeongaesomun when the historical record said Yang headed the battle into a victory, shooting the emperor of Tang in his eyes with an arrow.

By Hwang You-mee

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