KOREAN HISTORY THROUGH DRAMAS

Hello and welcome!!!!!!

At this point, I have watched enough dramas from different eras in the Korean history. I will be trying to mention a few dramas based on the time they were set in and significant factors about that era that was displayed in the drama. Most of these dramas are probably ones that you have never heard of before but I am happy to introduce them to you. I won’t be going too deep into each drama but I will try to include a brief synopsis for each drama in hopes that you will check them out.

Honestly I have a lot of people who are new to traditional Korean dramas (Sageuks) tell me how confusing it is to watch two Korean dramas and have no idea of the history behind it. I had the same confusion when I started watching Korean dramas because I immediately jumped into watching dramas from the Goguryeo Era.

As I am not a history guru, I will be trying my best. I will be sticking to dramas that I have actually watched that I find interesting for the specific time period, if you think there are some dramas that should be included but isn’t, that is why. Let’s get into it.

The Three Kingdoms of Korea

Baekje, Silla and Goguryeo were the main kingdoms of Korea and they were roughly between 57 BC to 668 AD. Although this seem to be the most remembered and referenced kingdoms in a lot of dramas, there were other smaller states like Okjeo and Buyeo which were mentioned in Jumong.

Jumong: In this drama we follow the life of Jumong the founder of the Goguryeo dynasty. This is still one of my favorite Korean drama of all time

The Kingdom of the Winds: This is set in early Goguryeo and it serves as a loose sequel to Jumong. We follow the life of King Yuri (2nd king of Goguryeo) and prince Mu-hyul (3rd king of Goguryeo).

Queen Seondeok: This is one of the most prominent drama set in the kingdom of Silla. It follows the life of Queen Seondeok who became the first female king in Silla as a result of the bone-rank system of Silla, only Sacred-bone could be a king in Silla.

Hwarang: As a result of the location of Silla in the peninsula they were exposed to a lot of influence from all over the world and you would notice that in this drama. This follows a group of male warrior scholars called Flower Knights, who learnt arts and martial arts and were supposedly beautiful. I really like this drama.

Gye-Baek: The kingdom of Baekje is actually one of the least represented era in the Korean dramas and this drama is actually the only one I have watched from that era. Here we follow general Gye-Baek as he protects the state of Baekje from Silla’s invasion.

As I have not watched any drama set in the Unified Silla or Balhae, I will be leaving that out of this list

Goryeo Dynasty

Goryeo dynasty stretched from 918 AD to 1392 AD and a lot of Korean dramas were set in this time period. After the failure of Unified Silla, Goryeo unified the three kingdoms and it was during this time that we see the rise of civil service exams.

Empress Ki: This is one of my favorite drama set during this time period. Although the most part of this drama didn’t take place in Goryeo, we follow the life of a young low class woman who was sent as a tribute to Yuan Empire and how she later became the Empress. Very fascinating story telling and the drama is long enough that the story really builds up.

Faith: Unlike others on this list, this is a clash drama where we have a taste of Goryeo and the present Korea. Set during the King Gongmin of Goryeo after his marriage to a Yuan princess who was attacked on their way back to Goryeo. His royal guards goes 700 years into the future to bring back a plastic surgeon from Seoul. Its been a long time since I watched this drama but I really enjoyed.

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: A clash drama, we follow the life of a young heart broken lady who woke up in the body of Hae soo who is caught in a love triangle with two princes, one being Prince Wang so who became the 4th king of Goryeo.

The next two dramas took place during the transition period from Goryeo to Joseon and we see the strive and blood shed that laid the foundation for the new country.

My Country: The New Age: Here we follow two friends who become enemies as they try to protect the ones they love they way they can using any means necessary.

Six Flying Dragon: I watched this pretty recently and I realized that there are a lot of things in dramas set in the Joseon era that I just accepted without fully understanding. Watching this drama really opened my eyes to a lot of things. For example in this drama we get to see the thrive that resulted in the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty and the people that contributed to the foundations. (This drama like the one above, spans the end of the Goryeo era and the start of the Joseon era)

Joseon Dynasty

I can not list all the dramas set in this time period as it is one of the most famous eras with strong foundations, customs and belief and it gave way to the Korea that we know today. Although a lot of Korean literature, science and much more have its roots in this era, the most important invention as to be the Korean Alphabet, Hangul by Sejong the Great. If I might say so, is the easiest language to learn. Joseon Dynasty stretched from 1392 to 1892 when it was replaced by the Korean empire.

Deep Rooted Tree: Set during the time of Sejong the great (the 4th king of Joseon), we follow a royal guard who was investigating a series of death. This drama serves as a loose sequel to six flying dragons as we see a lot of references from the earlier drama.

Dong Yi: Here we follow the love story between King Sukjong (the 19th king of Joseon) and Choi Suk Bin who later became Noble consort of the king. This drama is a favorite for a lot of people as it has a blend of real and fictional characters and there was a extensive representation of the prosperity in that era.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal: During the time when females were not allowed to take civil service exams and study at the highest institution during the Joseon era, a lady from a poor noble family pretends to be her brother and takes the exam. This drama is just funny.

Dae Jang Geum: This list would be incomplete without this drama. We follow the life of a young apprentice cook Jang-geum who rose to the position of the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. This was particularly impressive as this was a time when women had no specific influence in society. In this drama we learn a lot about Korean cuisine and the health benefits they hold. (Eat your Vegetables!)

A few other dramas set in this era include:

Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

Moon that Embraces the Sun

Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People

Iljimae

Queen for Seven Days

Ruler: Master of the Mask

Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung

Japanese Occupation

Dramas under this category are also called period dramas even though they might not give off the usual Sageuk vibes. There is the introduction of western dressing, more foreigners, electricity, typewriters, steamships, streetcars and much more.

Mr. Sunshine: This is a widely popular drama set during this time period. This drama is set in Hanseong which is the former name of Seoul (Late Joseon era) and it follows patriotic citizens has they fight for freedom and liberty. We follow a young boy who escapes to America during the 1871 Korean expedition (or popularly known as Shinmiyangyo) who has just returned to Joseon. He crosses path with a female freedom fighter and they fall in love.

Bridal Mask: Set in Seoul during the 1930s Japanese colonial rule, we follow a Korean who works for the Japanese police but two times as the bridal masks who fights for the the independence of Korea. (I really loved this drama)

Age of Feeling: Also known as Inspiring generation, although I personally didn’t enjoy this drama but I feel that it showcased a lot of things about this era and how it was impacted by the past and location. We follow the relationship between three friends as they travel between Korea, China and Japan.

Korean War

Unfortunately I have not watched any drama set during this time, although I have watched a number of war movies that shed light to real life events and I will list them below

The Long Way Home: This is an action comedic film about the friendship between a South Korean and North Korean solider during the Korean war. This was just so hilarious.

Northern Limit Line: This is based on the second battle of Yeonpyeong that took place in 2002 during the world cup. It is one of the most heart wrenching films I have ever watched and I honestly cried half the time I was watching it.

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Thanks for reading

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