By Han Sang-hee
It's been seven years since MBC's hit drama "Daejanggeum'' (Jewel in the Palace) captivated viewers around the world and made Korea one of the most popular countries in terms of drama content. MBC is hoping to do the same with its new period drama, ``Dong-yi,'' which airs tonight.
The spotlight is on the main character, Dong-yi, who will be played by ``Brilliant Legacy'' (SBS) heroine Han Hyo-joo. Will the 23-year-old Han be able to meet the challenges of playing a historical figure?
``Of course, I felt a lot of pressure. I was mostly worried at first. Dong-yi was a real person; she later became Sukbin Choi, one of King Sukjong's consorts. I have to portray her from her teenage years to her fifties, so I was worried, but I still wanted the part. I wanted to play this type of character sometime in my career and although I think it came a bit earlier than I expected, I happily accepted it,'' Han said during a press conference held at Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, last week.
The drama revolves around Dong-yi, a bright and courageous girl who was born as a house slave but was eventually sent to the palace as a court lady during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). After being framed by Jang Huibin, the notorious concubine of King Sukjong, she escapes the palace but returns as a palace maid. Her life takes a fortuitous turn when she is noticed by King Sukjong and finally becomes Royal Consort Sukbin Choi. The 50-episode series deals with Choi's motherhood and lifelong journey to protect her son, who later becomes King Yeongjo.
The news that Lee Byung-hun, the maker of ``Heo Jun'' (1999, MBC), ``Jewel in the Palace'' (2003) and ``Lee San, Wind of the Palace'' (2008, MBC), was back, made headlines even before casting started.
Praised as one of the most reliable and successful period drama by producers in the business, Lee chose the character Dong-yi for a reason.
``I've always been interested in King Yeongjo and the Joseon Kingdom period. Yeongjo was greatly influenced by his mother and I wanted to show this through the drama,'' he said.
The veteran producer always used a key feature in laying out his dramas: medicine in the drama ``Heo Jun,'' food in ``Jewel in the Palace'' and art in ``Lee San.'' This time, he has chosen music. ``Dong-yi'' will feature the music of the Joseon Kingdom period, based on music passed down by Jangakwon, the forerunner of today's National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts. The drama is expected to bring various types of court music, including ``A-ak,'' ``Hyang-ak'' and ``Dang-ak.'' Han had to learn how to play the ``haegeum,'' a two-stringed fiddle, for the role.
``Viewers no longer enjoy watching weak and innocent women. People want to watch bright and outgoing characters. Dong-yi is a woman who fought for the life and rights of the lower class. She was born from the lowest class, but later raised a great king,'' Lee explained.
Lee welcomed new faces such as Han for his new project, but the 65-year-old director has also brought back a familiar face.
Ji Jin-hee, who played an official and Daejanggeum's love interest in ``Jewel in the Palace,'' will return to the small screen as King Sukjong, who later saves Dong-yi from her misery and welcomes her to the palace as his concubine. It is Ji's first time portraying a king. He played an official in ``Jewel in the Palace.''
``I was treated differently after I became king. Everything was so different from my experience during `Jewel in the Palace.' Jang-geum was always the center of attention and nobody really cared about me,'' he said, laughing.
Despite his vast experience as a producer, Lee confessed that he is still nervous a couple of weeks before airing.
``I couldn't fall asleep. Actor Jung Jin-young said it perfectly -- I feel like Kim Yu-na right before her performance at the Winter Olympic Games,'' he said.
``As much as I want this work to be successful, I think I want to create a beautiful drama that will introduce traditional Korean culture to the world.''
``Dong-yi'' starts airing tonight at 9:55 p.m.