Thursday, October 17, 2019

DRAMA in a LAND far, far away

Jun 05. 2019
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SET IN A mythical pre-historic land, the new South Korean series “Arthdal Chronicles”, now showing on Netflix, has success written all over it. It comes courtesy of the pens of renowned screenwriters Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon whose work on the “Dae Jang Guem” series, among others, had Thais glued to the screens. 

Directed by Kim Won-seok, the new series also features an all-star cast including Jae Dong-gun, Song Joong-ki, Kim Ji-won and Kim Ok-vin. 

                             Soong Jung-Ki

The story takes place in a mythical land called Arth and see the inhabitants of the ancient city of Arthdal and its surrounding regions, which includes Lark (pronounced ie-ark), vie for power as they build a new society. The Arthdal Tribal Alliance is headed by the Saenyeok Tribe led by Sanung (Kim Eui-sung). Sanung’s son Tagon (Jang Dong-gun) is the leader of the allied force and leads the army to fight against the Neanthal – a tribe with extraordinary physical power. The Neanthal clan is viewed as a monster while the Arthdal Alliance is more sophisticated and civilised, practising agriculture and open to adopting new ideas. But as the Arthdal alliance develops, its need for natural resources and power increases and the fighters raid other tribal lands to expand their power base and increase their productivity.

                                      Kim Jee-won

Eunseom (Song Jung-ki) is an Igutu (a mix of Saram and Neanthal) whose mother took him from Arthdal land on the Great Black Cliff to live in Lark with the Wahan Tribe, which Tanya (Kim Jee-won) will eventually lead. For now though, he is considered as an outsider. 

But with all their sophistication, the people of the Arthdal alliance are unable to dream and consider those who can, like the Neanthal and Igutu, as evil. Tagon leads his army to raid the Wahan and other tribes in Lark area but while Eunseon may appear innocent, his protective instincts are quite strong that he does not hesitate to be aggressive when attacks are imminent. And of course love comes into play through Tanya and Taealha, the latter the most beautiful lady in Arthdal and with the strongest desire for power. 

Director Kim Won-seok took time out from post-production last week to attend a press conference at the Imperial Palace Seoul, saying: “We do not expect compliments just because we worked hard, but the cast and crew believe Korea should have a drama like this. Please evaluate it after watching at least the first two episodes.”

                           Director Kim Won-seok

“In the historical dramas I have done in the past, the audience could predict what would happen because they knew the king and the era we were talking about. This series is mythical and therefore unpredictable so please just watch the first two episodes. I am sure that by the end of episode 2 you will learn more about the universe of ‘Arthdal Chronicles’,” added Park Sang-yeon, one of the two screenwriters.

Initially titled “Asadal Chronicles” – Asadal being the capital of Gojoseon, the ancient kingdom on the Korean Peninsula founded by Dungun – the writers decided to set their story on an imaginary continent called Arth because they wanted to create an association between the name and the earth. Their research revealed that the Korean world “Dal” originally meant the earth, a field, or plains. 

The idea for the series was conceived in 2012 after the huge success of “Deep Rooted Tree”, also written by Kim Young Hyun and Park Sang Yeon, which chronicled King Sejong and his invention of the Korean alphabet –Hanguel. 

“In 2012, I wrote a proposal about this project to the network. They were surprised by the content and tried to stop me from taking it further,” Kim Young-hyon explains. 

She and Park Sang Yeon later joined up with Kim Won-suk and “Arthdal” was officially born. 

“We wondered, ‘did humans always dream?’ We built this world around the notion that perhaps humans haven’t always had the ability to dream and they discovered it somewhere along the way in history,” Kim says

“We found it interesting how only homo sapiens survived while the Neanderthal didn’t. We thought about why that was and decided to incorporate conversations about diversity and its acceptance in this drama,” she adds. 

“Arthdal Chronicles” is Song Joong Ki’s first drama in three years since the major 2016 hit “Descendants of the Sun”. 

“It’d be a lie if I said I felt no pressure. My thanks are due to my senior co-star Jang Dong-gun who helped reduce that pressure. He and I were close before we filmed the drama. We saw each other nearly every day for four months while working out. [His] reliability gently seeped in. I felt secure just by his presence on set.”

Song adds that although the story is set in the past, he didn’t approach it as he would an historical drama and change his voice and way of speaking. Instead he mostly adopts the same acting style including the gestures he would use in a modern series.

Actor Jang admits that when he first heard about the project, the only aspect with which he was familiar was the name “Asadal”. 

“When we started working, it was difficult as unlike historical dramas where we have references to work with, here there’s nothing.

“We’ve never experienced this era and of course it’s imaginary anyway so it requires a lot of hard work. However the two writers created a very detailed screenplay, even providing us with a map of the region so that we are able to understand our location and how we should act,” added Jang, who gained 8 kg to bulk up for the role. 

“The director and the writers are recognised for their work and the fact they are working on a new idea made me to look at myself. I guess it was a risk that people would criticise me for my acting skills but the project was definitely worth it,” Song says.

The fights between the tribes along with the production design and costumes are bound to draw parallels among viewers with HBO’s epic “Game of Thrones” and “The Lord of the Rings” but writer Park insists that “Arthdal” shouldn’t be compared to those great stories. 

“’Arthdal’ is set in a pre-historic era. We are doing something different and we have done our best to create our own thing so hopefully audiences will see the series from a different perspective.” 

Several recent Korean dramas have brought such new ideas into their stories as parallel worlds, zombies and AR technology. Actor Jang puts this down to Koreans being keen to embrace new things but warns that they get bored quickly too. “So I guess creators need to keep searching for new things and with Arthdal, we have that.” 

“Korean films and dramas are loved because of their diverse contents. I am truly proud that our show is set in a very new and refreshing kind of a setting and I firmly believe that this is the strength of this series,” he says.

And while the writers originally planned three seasons of the “Arthdal Chronicles”, Kim says that for now she is focusing on Season 1. “If it’s successful then we can start discussions on future seasons,” she says, adding, “but nothing is confirmed for now.”

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