(Sageuk parody from High Kick Through the Roof,
and yup, that’s Jung Il Woo in the first pic!)
Sageuk (사극) n. Historical drama or play.
Growing up, I was not a fan of sageuk and thought of it as only for the “grown-ups”. The word “sageuk” conjured up images of court officials kneeling with their head bent down in front of the king and using archaic words that constantly needed defining on-screen.
Sageuk dramas from the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, like MBC’s 500 Years of Joseon Dynasty (조선왕조 오백년) and KBS’s Han Myong Hoe (한명회), appealed to mostly male viewers as they centered around the royal family and the court officials as they engaged in a political battle of the wits during the Joseon dynasty. It was practically guaranteed that every episode had at least ten lines of “전하, 성은이 망극하옵니다” (“Your Majesty, Your grace is immeasurable”) and another ten of “통촉하여 주시옵소서” (“I beg Your Majesty to take heed”). The actors spoke in that deep “stomach” voice characteristic of the traditional sageuk speech and laughed that hearty sageuk laughter.
I can’t pinpoint to exactly when it happened, but a noticeable change started occurring in the second half of the 1990s. KBS started hitting record ratings with their sageuk dramas one after another, and the scale of the shows became bigger and grander. Many of the sageuk dramas shifted their stories from the Joseon dynasty to the earlier history during the period of the Three Kingdoms and that leading up to it, and naturally, the conflicts switched from within the walls of the royal court to gruesome outdoor battles.
Even in the sageuk dramas that took place during the Joseon dynasty, the shift changed from stories of politicians to that of ordinary folks (doctors, merchants, etc.) who came to achieve great things.
The quiet introduction of Damo in 2003 was groundbreaking for three reasons. One, it was the first ever attempt at a fusion sageuk genre in Korea (and there were many more to follow it, including Hong Gil Dong, Conspiracy in the Court, and Tamra the Island). Two, it was the first time where a “sageuk” attracted so many younger female viewers, the demographic that the traditional sageuk dramas had always failed to win over in the past. And finally, Damo gave the radical idea that a sageuk doesn’t always have to be so “sageuk-like” after all. For example, characters started adopting a much more modern speech style, and contemporary pop (and even rock music in the case of Sungkyunkwan Scandal) was brought into the drama soundtrack.
What do I think about these changes over the years?
Although some mourn the loss of traditional sageuk dramas and argue that the newer sageuk dramas are just a bastardized version of the old, I do appreciate that there are many more diverse sageuk options available these days. The idea that sageuk dramas are only for the older male audience no longer holds true. However, I came to realize that I sometimes miss the old school sageuk dramas too, and wish they’d bring them back every once in a while. Dramas with languages like “성은이 망극하옵니다” (“Your grace is immeasurable”) and “통촉하여 주시옵소서” (“I beg Your Majesty to take heed”) have their own appeal.
Why this long spiel on sageuk dramas over the years? There are many sageuk dramas lined up for/in discussion for the second half of 2011 and early 2012, and as I prepared this short preview of the upcoming sageuk dramas, a montage of the past sageuk dramas just flashed right before my eyes as I thought about how we got to where we are now. And where exactly are we now? Well, take a look…
Bride Mask/각시탈 (KBS)
Projected start date: Late 2011 or early 2012
PD: KBS in-house
Synopsis: A drama adaption of the hit manhwa by Huh Young Man, whose other works, including Gourmet, Tazza, Mr. Q, Beat, and Asphalt Man, have also been adapted into film and/or drama. Bride Mask is about a man who disguises himself by wearing the traditional Korean bride mask and fights against the Japanese during the Japanese occupation era of Korea. Was also made into an animated film in 1986.
Current status: KBS confirmed that they’ll be producing it.
Is currently in the pre-planning stages.
Source: Star News
Projected start date: TBA
PD: Kim Jong Hak (Legend, White Night 3.98,
Sandglass, Eyes of Dawn)
Cast: Kim Hee Sun, Lee Philip, Kim Seung Soo, Kim Byung Gi,
Park Sang Won, Choi Min Soo, Lee Min Young
Synopsis: A big budget, 3-D fusion fantasy sageuk about medical doctors during the Goryeo dynasty era.
Current status: Working to get a timeslot/broadcasting station. Planning to start filming in late May. There’s a high possibility that it will be entirely pre-produced.
Source: IS Plus
Projected start date: 2011 (scheduled to follow Miss Ripley)
PD: Kim Geun Hong (Yi San, Jumong)
Scriptwriter: Jung Hyung Soo (Yacha, Dream, Jumong, Damo)
Synopsis: About the life of General Gyebaek of Baekje.
Current status: Pre-planning and casting stages.
Source: Star News
Honorable Baek Dong-soo/야뇌 백동수 (SBS)
Projected start date: July 2011 (scheduled to follow Lie to Me)
PD: Lee Hyun Jik (OB&GYN, Lobbyist, That Woman, Punch) &
possibly Lee Myung Woo (Ja Myung Go, Bad Couple)
Cast: Choi Min Soo, Jeon Gwang Ryul, Lee Won Jong,
Nam Ji Hyun, Yoon Ji Min
Synopsis: Drama adaptation of a manhwa by the same name. A fusion action sageuk under the fictional premise that Crown Prince Sado (King Jeongjo’s father) actually had a powerful secret force behind him.
Current status: Trying to cast for the role of the title character,
although Kim Bum’s name was tossed around at one point.
Edit: Name was changed from Honorable Baek Dong-soo
to Warrior Baek Dong-soo. (Apr. 26, 2011)
King Gwanggaeto the Great/광개토대왕 (KBS)
Projected start date: June 2011 (scheduled to
follow King Geunchogo)
PD: Kim Jong Sun (Dae Jo Young, Taejo Wang Geon,
King and Queen, Dawn)
Scriptwriters: Jo Myung Joo (Three Dads One Mom, The Vineyard Man)
& Jang Ki Chang (The Immortal Lee Soon Shin)
Cast: Lee Tae Gon (Golden Fish), Jang Shin Young (I Am Legend), Kim Jung Hwa (Job Well Done), Lee In Hye (Comrades), Jo Ahn (Three Sisters), Kim Seung Soo (I Am Legend), Kim Jung Hyun (Giant)
Synopsis: An epic-scale sageuk drama on the
life of King Gwanggaeto of Goguryeo.
Current status: Currently filming.
Source: Sports Chosun
The Princess’s Man/공주의 남자 (KBS)
Projected start date: July 2011 (scheduled to
follow Romance Town)
PD: Kim Jung Min (Drama Special: Family Secrets, Loving You a Thousand Times, Hometown Legends, Cannot Hate You,
Scriptwriter: Jo Jung Joo (Partner)
Synopsis: A Joseon-era Romeo and Juliet love story between King Sejo’s daughter and Kim Jong Seo’s son. (King Sejo kills Kim Jong Seo in a coup to take power from Kim Jong Seo and his faction before taking the throne for himself.)
Current status: Pre-planning and casting.
Source: Sports Korea
Tree With Deep Roots/뿌리깊은 나무 (SBS)
Projected start date: September 28, 2011
PD: Jang Tae Woo (Painter of the Wind, War of Money,
101st Proposal, Bad Housewife)
Scriptwriters: Kim Young Hyun (Queen Seon Deok, H.I.T.,
Ballad of Seo Dong, Dae Jang Geum, Advocate)
& Park Sang Yeon (Queen Seon Deok, H.I.T.)
Cast: Han Suk Kyu, Jang Hyuk
Synopsis: Based on a bestseller novel by Lee Jung Myung, it was adapted into a drama by the same name in 1983 as an installment of the 500 Years of Joseon Dynasty series. A fusion mystery sageuk surrounding the murder of a group of scholars during the seven days leading up to the announcement of the Korean alphabet during the reign of King Sejong the Great.
Current status: Casting.