December 13, 2007 08:04
This year, cultural products dealing with history have been hugely popular, and TV dramas, movies, musicals and novels based on historical themes and materials lead the pack in terms of production value and sales. The three terrestrial networks are airing historical dramas at prime time, which was once replete with variety shows and talk shows. King Jeongjo in particular enjoys huge popularity in various historical dramas.
The boom is nothing new. Since the mega-hit "Daejanggeum(Jewel in the Palace)", historical series have been enjoying continuous popularity. In the 1980s and 90s, historical novels such as "The Land," and the novels "Donguibogam" and "Taebak Mountain" were runaway bestsellers. One million copies of "500 Years of Chosun Dynasty" were sold in the late 1990s -- a rare success for a liberal arts book. Since then, novels with some kind of claim to a basis in historical fact have been selling well in the wake of "The Da Vinci Code."
But there is a big difference between the historical hits of the past and today's. For a start, there is no evident patriotism at play in today's historical works. Kim Hoon's "Namhan Sanseong" dealing with the second Manchu invasion of Korea in 1637 and Shin Kyung-sook's "Lijin" describing a woman's life in the late Chosun Dynasty put more emphasis on the individual's conflict and suffering than the ups and downs of history itself.
Recent historical works are strong on the detail of daily life rather than the broad sweep of history, struggle for power and ideological conflict. Based on an interesting story, they home in on culture and everyday life. The public's interest has moved on from the powerful to ordinary people, and from the center to the periphery.
In other words, history has become entertainment. Sometimes it evolves into fantasy, as in the case of "Taewangsasingi," starring Bae Yong-joon. People in their 20s who are accustomed to video games go wild for this combination of fantasy and history. Questions about historical accuracy or the lessons of history are meaningless to them.
Opinions differ why this is so. Some argue that writers look to history since there is no strong framework to translate the stories of the current generation into. Some say the trend is fueled by the translation of major history books including "The Annals of the Chosun Dynasty" from Chinese characters into Korean and making them available on the Internet.
Others say Koreans want to resort to the comfort of the known past in an era of uncertainties. No matter what the driving force is, the boom is expected to continue for the time being. The number of fans is growing, and no rival has so far sprung up.
By Cho Young-hee, a representative of Eco's Library Publishers
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