This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the worldwide hit MBC series "Jewel in the Palace," which at one point reached a viewer rating of 57.8 percent.
The story about a cook at the Chosun court who overcomes hardships to become the king's first female physician captivated viewers in some 90 countries and marked the golden age of the Korean Wave.
To mark the anniversary, the show's star Lee Young-ae, gave the Chosun Ilbo an exclusive interview on Monday.
"'Jewel in the Palace' was a great honor for me," says the 42-year-old actress. "I think it was loved so much because every element was perfect, and it carried a universal message of hope."
What was the most memorable moment when shooting the epic drama?
"It was really cold and I didn't get much sleep. It was so difficult to memorize all the lines under these circumstances. What was good though was that we probably went everywhere in this country. I still have vivid memories of the people welcoming us everywhere we went."
Was she disappointed to be replaced by a stand-in in cooking scenes?
"I even got a certificate from the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, before shooting started. I did the cooking scenes by myself in the early stages, but after I was rushed to emergency when I cut myself, we had to use a stand-in. But I learned a lot about making Korean food, so I sometimes cook royal cuisine like Sinseollo (a dish of meat and vegetables) at home. I got really good training in cutting and using knives thanks to the drama."
Thanks to the show, Lee got to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate and Burmese opposition leader, when she visited Korea early this year. "She said she enjoyed the show very much. I could feel the popularity of the drama whenever I went abroad. Even now, when I go for a walk with my husband to Itaewon, foreign tourists recognize me. Now that I'm married and a mother, I've become more laid-back and I'm sorry that I wasn't nicer to foreign fans when I was at the peak of my career."
Lee has been absent from the big screen since her last film "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" in 2005.
"I had almost no private life in my 20s and 30s because I was so focused on my work, so I got married late (in 2008). I've been busy being married and becoming a mother, and I really wanted to spend time with my family. I couldn't do anything else really, because I was so happy looking at my 30-month-old twins."
Her family moved to a country house in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, about a year ago. "I'm very happy to be living as an ordinary mom in Yangpyeong. I am growing lettuce and feed my children seasonal food. I will have to think hard about their education when they're older, but for now I just want them to have fun in nature."
Recently, Lee was named as "peace ambassador" in charge of publicizing the environmental value and peacemaking potential of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
"After I became a mother, I realized how precious peace is. I wouldn't ask for anything else if children can live healthily in a peaceful country. So with that responsibility in mind, I willingly accepted it."
She is currently working on a food documentary for TV scheduled to be aired in January next year. When will she be back full-time?
"I'd be happy to get in front of camera any time if a good film or TV project comes up. I thought perhaps it would be fun making an indie film about my life in the countryside."