Hyun Bin, left, Kim Soo-hyun, center, and Ha Ji-won, right, are some of the stars who will highlight new works set in the ancient kingdoms of Joseon and Goryeo. / Korea Times
By Do Je-hae
Period pieces known as "sageuk" have been the dominant force in film and on TV this year.
The three major broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS each started the year with airing new sageuk. In total they will have aired 13 period pieces by the end of 2013, which is more than any previous year in Korean broadcast history.
Star actors Hyun Bin and Lee Jeong-jae, and actress Ha Ji-won will make highly-anticipated comebacks in historical dramas in the coming months.
After Hyun Bin was released from military service in April, the first thing he did was to announce that he will star in a historical drama for the first time.
The 30-year-old had reached stardom through lead roles in romantic comedies such as the 2005 "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" and 2010 "Secret Garden." Since his debut, however, he has never performed in a period piece either in film or on TV. His first sageuk will be "The King's Wrath," which recently finalized its casting and will embark on filming later this month. It will be released in the spring of 2014.
Hyun will be playing the role of King Jeongjo (1752-1800), the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). The film deals with the fierce factional fighting of King Jeongjo's reign. As a boy he witnessed the tragic death of his father Crown Prince Sado, who was executed on the orders of his grandfather King Yeongjo.
"The life of King Jeongjo has previously inspired many films and TV dramas. The King's Wrath will show the tough and charismatic sides of the king that have been undermined in past works," Hyun said in a press release. "It is my hope that I will grow as an actor through the first sageuk of my career."
The casting of Hyun as King Jeongjo reflects one of the most visible saguek trends, where the age of actors portraying the kings is getting increasingly younger. In the past, seasoned actors over 40 had usually been considered for reigning monarchs. Hyun joins a series of actors in their 20s and 30s who are flaunting their versatile acting skills in their portrayals of Joseon kings, such as Yoo Ah-in, Kim Soo-hyun and Song Joong-ki.
Although Hyun belongs to the rare category of young actors who combine good looks and acting skills, it remains to be seen if he can be equally impressive in a period piece as he has been in his previous works.
Fans and critics will be looking to see if Hyun can repeat the unexpected sageuk success of Lee Byung-hun last year. Also acting in his first period work, Lee made headlines for his dual roles as Joseon's King Gwanghae and the humble acrobat Ha-sun in "Gwanghae: The Man Who Became King." The movie swept the 49th Grand Bell Awards, winning in 15 categories, including best film, director, screenplay and actor.
The King's Wrath is gaining press attention also because it is the screen debut of Lee Jae-kyu, director of hit MBC dramas "Da Mo" and "Beethoven Virus."
Another period film to watch for is "The Face Reader."
The upcoming film will be released in September and stars some of the biggest names in Korean cinema, including Lee Jeong-jae, Song Kang-ho and Kim Hye-soo.
The movie is set in earlier years of the Joseon Kingdom and centers around major political events involving the ruthless Prince Suyang (played by Lee), who later engineered a coup d'etat and killed his young nephew in claiming the throne to become the 7th ruler of Joseon, King Sejo.
A lot of the works from the heyday of sageuk in the 1990s and through the mid-2000s revolved around men and wars. But a growing number are focusing on the lives of female political or cultural heavyweights.
Ha Ji-won will make a comeback to period drama with "Hwatu," where she will play Empress Gi of the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392). One of the most sought-after actresses, Ha led the success of several period dramas such as the 2003 "Da Mo" and 2006 "Hwang Jini."
"Hwatu" will deal with the love life and politics of Empress Gi, who was known for her beauty and intellect. "It will show the love story of Gi that has never been shown on TV before," an MBC press release said.
Ha has begun filming the drama. It will start airing at the end of the year following "Goddess of Fire," another Joseon-era sageuk which currently fills MBC's Monday-Tuesday slot for nighttime drama.
"Hwatu" sets itself apart as a mega sageuk that will run for 60 episodes, which is much longer than many of the period pieces these days containing no more than 25 or 30 episodes. Renowned screen writer Jang Young-chul will write the script of "Hwatu." Jang wrote the screenplay of the 2006 TV series "Dae Jo Yeong," one of the most critically-acclaimed sageuk on Korean TV.
Kim Soo-hyun is reportedly reviewing the script of SBS "Man From Another Star" as he seeks to continue his hot streak after box-office hits "Covertly Grandly" and "Thieves." The setting of "Man From Another Star" alternates between Joseon and modern times. The 25-year-old heartthrob turned heads in his first TV sageuk appearance last year as a Joseon monarch in love in "Moon Embracing the Sun."
For history buffs, KBS is currently preparing to film "Jeong Do-jeon" set in the founding years of the Joseon Kingdom. Jeong Do-jeon (1342—1398) was one of the most powerful aristocrats and politicians of his time and a close supporter of King Taejo, the founder of Joseon.