Koreans — and many overseas Korean drama fans — love sageuks (historical dramas). A typical Korean drama may cost as much as US$250,000 per episode, and historical dramas cost more than that. “The Gu Family Book” (2013) — a sageuk — cost US$500,000 per episode. Producer Kim Jong-hak spent as much as US$10 million on “Faith” (2012) — another sageuk, which was considered a commercial flop — resulting in the inability of Kim to pay crew salaries and other costs. Kim, who had produced successful dramas such as “Eyes of Dawn” and “Sandglass”, committed suicide after he was accused of embezzlement.

bibimgirl, a Korean drama fan, who describes some of the drams below, wrote: “I have been asked a lot as to what are some of the best Historical Korean Dramas (HKD). There are really so many! I decided to make a list....As I was putting it together, I couldn’t even narrow it down to 10 without feeling I was leaving out some really good HKD’s behind. [Source: bibimgirl, February 3, 2016]

“Dong Yi” (2010) is a highly regarded sageuk directed Sang-hyub Kim and Byoung-hoon Lee and stars Hyo-ju Han, Cheol-ho Choi, Jin-yeong Jeong, and Jin-hee Ji. A moving historical drama set in the Chosun Dynasty of old Korea, Dong Yi tells the story of a simple maid that rises high in the royal court as a consort and, ultimately, mother of the 21st king of Chosun. Filled with pageantry, romance, adventure and thrilling action, Dong Yi brings ancient Korea to life in this ratings favorite. [Source: kamyarazizi2023, IMDb, February 5, 2014]

“Lee San, Wind of the Palace (2007) stars Ji-min Han, Jong-su Lee and Seo-jin Lee Yi San dramatizes the life of Korea's King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty. Jeongjo is remembered in Korean history for his sympathy with the harsh conditions his people had to deal with, in spite of his own pampered upbringing as royalty. He instituted many reforms to improve their conditions. The DVD is 4 volumes long to cover the 77 episodes.

Gu Family Book (2013) cost US$500,000 per episode, making one of the most expensive Korean dramas ever made. I was directed by Shin Woo Chul and stars Sung-ha Jo, Hye-Young Jung, Hee-won Kim and Sung-jae Lee. According to Dramawiki: A melodrama epic about the great deal of trouble Choi Kang Chi, born as a half-human-half-mythical-creature (or human werefox half-breed), who goes through in order to become human and a story of Choi Kang Chi's journey of struggling in order to live more like a human than anyone else despite not being able to become human. Choi Kang Chi (Lee Seung Ki) is the son of Gu Wol Ryung (Choi Jin Hyuk), the guardian spirit (werefox) of Jiri Mountain, and Yoon Seo Hwa (Lee Yeon Hee/Yoon Se Ah), his human mother. He was raised by the Park family after having been picked up from the river. Due to customary restrictions of the era he is adopted by manager Choi instead, however Park Moo Sol takes on the role of being Kang Chi's main father figure. Kang Chi is an outspoken character who's full of curiosity. He realizes that he's a half-human-half-beast through a certain incident and starts living his second life. Dam Yeo Wool (Bae Suzy) is a master of martial arts and archery. Yeo Wool is an upright character who really values the Three Bonds and Five Relationships in Confucianism, and becomes an instructor at a martial arts center at a young age.

“Horse Doctor” (2012) stars Seung-woo Cho, Yo-won Lee, Chang-min Son and Seon Yu. A Medical drama about the life of a low-class veterinarian of that era who was a horse doctor then becoming a high official as a court physician in charge of the king's health in the late period of the Joseon Dynasty. (70 mins.)

Korean Dramas Set in the Koryo Dynasty

“Empress Ki” (2014): Native Title: Ki Hwanghu; 51 Episodes; Network: MBC; Set in the 1300s. According to bibimgirl: There was a real empress in China known as Empress Qi who was from Koryo. She was married to Toghon Temür, the Khan of the Yuan Dynasty (Mongols). This drama sparked a huge controversy because there was no such king as Wang Yoo of Koryo. He was a completely fictional character because the real king of Koryo at that time, King Chunghye was a psychopath and is considered to be one of the worst kings in Korean history. With that being said, Empress Ki, the drama, was SOOOO good! I LOVED IT!! [Source: bibimgirl, February 3, 2016]

“Faith” (2012, Korean Title: Shin Eui); 24 Episodes; Network: SBS; set in the 1300s. This is a fictional time travel love story between the real life historical Koryo warrior, Choi Young and a fictional female doctor from 2012. When the queen-to-be of medieval Korea is badly wounded, Captain Choi Young uses a wormhole to "heaven," which is actually 21st-century South Korea, to bring back the spoiled Dr. Yoo Eun-Soo who becomes a pawn in a game of human chess.. bibimgirl wrote: “I personally thought the time travel thing would be way over the top and take away from the story, but it didn’t. Minus the time travel to 2012, the story takes place in 1351, when the 31st King of Koryo, King Gongmin begins his reign.”

“Faith” was directed by Kim Jong-Hak and stars: Hee-seon Kim, Min-ho Lee, Se-young Park and Deok-Hwan Ryu. Producer Kim Jong-hak spent as much as US$10 million on Faith, which was considered a commercial flop, resulting in the inability of Kim to pay crew salaries and other costs. Kim, who had produced successful dramas such as “Eyes of Dawn” and “Sandglass”, committed suicide after he was accused of embezzlement.

“Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo” (2016); Native Title: dal-ae yeon-in – bobo kyung shim ryeo; 20 Episodes; Network: SBS: Time Period: 941: Although there were a lot of new sageuks during 2015 and 2016, this was the best drama I have seen in the past couple of years! This drama is about a modern Korean woman who is transported back to the early part of Koryo dynasty during the reign of King Taejo, the founder of Koryo. She finds herself thrown in the middle of power struggle between King Taejo’s many sons. While other time travel dramas take place mostly in the modern era, about 90 percent of this drama takes place during Koryo. One of the central characters of the drama is Wang So, the 4th Prince and future King Gwangjong of Koryo. You can read more about King Gwangjong on this site.

“Hwang Jin Yi” (2006) is set in the early to mid 1500s. It was broadcast by KBS2 and is comprised of 24 episodes. The drama is about the life of Joseon-era dancer, musician and poet, Hwang Jin Yi, who seeks perfection in her art relentlessly and the hardship facing women due to their lowly social status. It stars Mi-seon Jeon, Sung-ha Jo, Bo-yeon Kim and Tae-Joon Ryu. Bibimgirl wrote: For those wanting to learn more about this amazing woman, please visit my page on Hwang Jin Yi. If you love Korean traditional dresses, hanboks, this drama has one of the best displays of hanboks of any drama. [Source: bibimgirl, February 3, 2016]

South Korean TV Dramas Used to Portray the Korean Side on Koguryo Issue

Jon Herskovitz of Reuters wrote: “South Korea is fighting a battle with China over ancient history using one of the most powerful weapons in its arsenal — sappy TV dramas watched by hundreds of millions of viewers in Asia. “The Koguryo issue may be one of the smaller problems that China has but it is everything for Korea. Koguryo symbolizes the identity of Korea,” said Kim Woo-jun, a professor at the Institute of East and West Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. [Source: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, April 25, 2007]

“Three South Korean television dramas on the Koguryo kingdom released in the past six months were hits at home and abroad, with scenes of galloping horses, court intrigue and sword fights. But the television shows raised hackles in China and Hong Kong, where viewers supporting China’s claims to Koguryo crossed swords in cyberspace with those defending South Korea’s position. The dispute became so emotive that the user-generated Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia blocked readers from contributing to the section on Koguryo “until disputes have been resolved”.

“Debates over historical versus modern borders are argued all over the world. But they rarely fire up the passions of television viewers in the way that the argument over the Koguryo kingdom has in North Asia. Television producer Lee Joohwan’s historical drama “Jumong” was a big hit in South Korea where it was a ratings winner. But some Chinese viewers railed against the series on the Internet, branding it a Korean attempt to rewrite history. A Hong Kong broadcaster went so far as to change the names of the entities in the series to make the show more palatable to its Chinese-speaking viewers. “Despite the controversy, I don’t think the drama would have been popular if it hadn’t been interesting,” said Joohwan.

“But there is little chance that the dispute will end soon as South Korea prepares to fire a new salvo in the historical debate with the launch of a big budget blockbuster television drama. “Taewang Sasingi” is the story of what Koreans consider to be one of the greatest kings of Koguryo and will air in September starring Bae Yong-jun, a favorite for fans in many parts of Asia.”

Jewel in the Palace (Daejanggeum)

“Jewel in the Palace” (2003-2004, “Daejanggeum) — about a woman doctor named Chan Gum who rose to a position of considerable influence in the 17th century Korean royal court — was also very popular in Japan, China and the Middle East. Aired on MBC, South Korea’s second largest broadcaster, it starred South Korea actress Lee Young Ae in the title role. Jewel in the Palace, which aired on MBC from September 2003 to March 2004, set many new records. The viewer rate averaged 47 percent, and reached a high of 57.8 percent

Vivi wrote in Jewel In the Palace is arguably the first successful historical feminist drama, retelling Jang Geum's rice-to-riches story during the Chosun Dynasty 500 years ago. Jewel is the real story of Jang Geum, a young girl who is the first woman to become the King's supreme royal physician in a male-dominated society. Behind her child-like eyes lies an ambitious working girl with a 21st century mindset. See how Jang Geum goes from being a virtually abandoned child to becoming the King's doctor. This unforgettable drama of epic proportions tells the touching and tear-jerking story of a true underdog. [Source: Vivi,, October 22, 2015]

Koreans love sageuks (historical dramas), but if you're only going to remember one of them, it should be this one. Not only was it a smash hit in Korea, but it was also extremely popular across Asia, and it is often viewed as the gold standard for historical dramas. If you want to know why Lee Young Ae was able to take a 12-year hiatus from acting and still land one of the highest salaries for her upcoming series Saimdang: The Herstory, this drama is your answer.

Lee Young-Ae as Seo Jang-Geum
Ji Jin-Hee as Min Jeong-Ho
Hong Ri-Na as Choi Keum-Young
Lim Ho as King Jungjong
Yang Mi-Kyeong as Lady Han
Kyeon Mi-Ri as Lady Choi

Jewel in the Palace Story

Jang-geum (played by Lee Young-ae) is the daughter of Seo Cheon-su (played by Park Chan-hwan), a former judicial officer-turned butcher (the lowest social class) who lives in hiding after being expelled from the royal palace, and Madame Park (played by Kim Hye-seon), a former court lady working in the royal kitchen who narrowly escaped death following a murderous conspiracy planned by Court Lady Choi.

As a young child, Jang-geum loses both parents and enters the royal palace in the kitchen. In the royal kitchen, she spends a harsh childhood in continuous competition with Choi Geum-yeong (played by Hong Li-na). Under the protection and tutelage of Court Lady Han, Jang-geum makes every effort to become the best cook in the palace. Her endeavors enable her to become a recognized cook; but Lady Choi and her faction, jealous of the success of Lady Han and Jang-geum, plot a conspiracy, which leads to the death of Lady Han and Jang-geum’s expulsion from the royal palace.

Jang-geum is relegated to the position of maidservant for the local government office on Jeju Island. While in exile, Jang-geum learns medicine. Through native intelligence and patient efforts, she earns her reputation as a woman doctor on the island. After a time, she returns to the palace, where she is recognized by the king and becomes the royal physician, and also the first female physician in history to serve the king. The king falls in love with her, but she cannot return his love, as she is already in love with Min Jung-Ho, who has stood by her side during the most difficult times. * The concluding part omitted.

Cast of Jewel in the Palace Story

Seo Jang-geum (played by Lee Young-Are): As a beautiful and intelligent woman blessed with a positive attitude, Jang-geum is haunted by numerous difficulties. Yet, she overcomes them with an iron will. She enters the royal palace at the age of ten and puts her heart and soul into cooking, finally achieving recognition for her talents. However, she is entrapped in a conspiracy aimed at her mentor Lady Han, and she is expelled from the palace. She is forced to work as a maidservant for the local government in Jeju Island. There, she studies medicine and re-enters the palace, ultimately becoming the head physician and also the first woman physician in the history of Joseon to serve the king.

Min Jung-ho (played by Ji Jin-Hee) becomes closely bound to Jang-geum after his appointment as a Royal Guards officer. He is an outstanding scholar who not only passes the civil service examination, but also possesses great talent as a military officer, which leads to a position with the Royal Guards. He is a learned man with intelligence and good looks. Deeply touched by Jang-geum’s wisdom and passion for learning, he helps her in many ways. At the same time, he falls in love with her, but his love also puts him in deep trouble.

Choi Geum-young (played by Hong Li-na) enters the royal palace with Jang-Geum and becomes her long-time rival in the royal kitchen. She is the niece of Lady Choi, who holds the place of power in the royal kitchen. Arrogant and burning with ambition, Geum-young has loved Min Jung-ho ever since she was a little child, but her love is never returned. She considers Jang-geum her rival, and is always out to defeat her.

King Jungjong (played by Im Ho) is the 11th king of the Chosun Dynasty. A gentle man, but at the same time irresolute and indecisive, the king cherishes Jang-geum’s many talents and later falls in love with her.

Lady Han (Han Ae-jong) (played by Yang Mi-gyeong) is an outstanding cook and one of the teachers and mentors of the royal kitchen. Strict in her principles, yet warm-hearted, she cares for Jang-geum like a daughter. She dies in a conspiracy planned by Lady Choi.

Lady Choi (Choi Seong-geum) (played by Gyeon Mi-ri) is the younger sister of the wealthy Choi Pan-sul and the aunt of Geum-young. Arrogant and self-assured, she is a master of cooking with a frightening tenacity to succeed. Her desire for power leads her to plot the death of Madame Park, the mother of Jang-geum, and Lady Han. She also expels Jang-geum from the palace.

Shooting Locations of Jewel in the Palace

Seongeup-ri Ranch Area in Namjeju-gun (ATV Jeju Joy): Many of the scenes were filmed on an open range located in Seongeup-ri, Pyoseong-myeon, Namjeju-gun. Filmed here were scenes of Jang-geum carrying the dying Courtier Han on her back and later burying her. This is also where Jang-geum is taken by a military guard to a place of exile on the island. Other scenes shot here were Jang-geum going back to search for Lady Han’s grave, and erecting a tombstone. Visitors can still see the tombstone by registering for the Daejanggeum tour operated by ATV Jeju Joy. A thrilling experience awaits tour-goers, who will visit the filming locations in an all terrain four-wheeled vehicles.

Naganeupseong Folk Village: This location, a butcher’s village, appeared in episode 1, in which Jang-geum’s father Seo Cheon-su and other officials deliver poison (given to them by the king) to deposed Queen Yun. Images of the Royal Guards training grounds and Joseon-era marketplace scenes were also filmed here. Episode 39, in which a contagious disease ravages the village, and episode 40, in which Min Jung-ho visits a disease-ridden village to save Jang-geum, were also filmed here.

Seonunsa Temple: Well known for its beauty, Seonunsa Temple provided the location for episode 2. Filmed at Jinheunggul Cave near Seonunsa Temple, it shows Janggeum’s mother, Madame Park, alone in a cave absorbed in thought. The scene in which Jang-geum hides from a military search party, in a rock crevice was filmed at Dosoram Hermitage. The scene in episode 6 where Jang-geum climbs down the mountain carrying a golden pheasant was filmed near the temple. The scenes at the stone tomb of Madame Park in episodes 23, 27 and 28 were all shot nearby. Finally, in episode 48, Lady Choi asks for forgiveness at Madame Park’s tomb.

The Relics of the Historical Figures in Daejanggeum: 1) Seonjeongneung, Tomb of King Jungjong, the royal burial site of King Jungjong, who appears in Daejanggeum; 2) Taeneung, the royal tomb of Queen Munjeong, King Jungjong’s queen, in Daejanggeum.

Daejanggeum Restaurant in Seoul serves royal court cuisine and traditional Korean food. Address: 200-82, Jangchung-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul How to get there: Take Subway line 3 and get off at Dongguk Univ. Exit 5. The restaurant is behind Jangchung Stadium Price: Daejanggeum Seon Set Menu 59,000 won; Daejanggeum Mi Set Menu 49,000 won

Shooting Locations of Jewel in the Palace in the Seoul Area

To enhance the visual impact of the miniseries, Daejanggeum was filmed in numerous locations throughout the country, from Seoul to Jeju Island. Presented here are the major locations, which are not only popular tourist destinations, but relatively easy to get to.

Changdeokgung Palace has been designated by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site. It appeared in episode 1 depicting the procession of King Yeonsangun, episode 3 depicting the procession of King Jungjong, episode 51 where King Jungjong is prevented from entering the residence of his son Gyeongwondaegun, and episodes 51 and 52 in which King Jungjong walks and talks with Jang-geum.

The Korean Folk Village was the location of episode 54, in which Jang-geum gives birth to Min Jung-ho’s child, and Jang-geum, Min Jung-ho and the baby become a family. It is also the site of episode 51 in which Jang-geum takes care of smallpox patients in a village. Numerous other scenes were also shot here.

Hwaseong Haenggung Palace: Scenes of little Jang-geum undergoing training at the palace in episodes 3 and 4, the cooking competition in episode 8, the training of women doctors and Naeuiwon (medical facility in the palace) scenes in the latter episodes, and many others were filmed at Haenggung Palace.

Shooting Locations of Jewel in the Palace on Jeju Island

Jeju Folk Village: Many of the scenes in which Jang-geum learns medicine as a maidservant for the Jeju local government from episodes 27 to 32 were filmed at the Jeju Folk Village. Here, information with photos and descriptions of the scenes make it easier for visitors to find the locations. In particular, there is a large photo of Daejanggeum in front of the Jeju government office gate, where visitors like to take photographs.

Hyeopjae Beach: The scene in episode 28, in which Min Jung-ho looks out to sea as Jang-geum leaves by boat, and the scene in which Jang-geum runs towards her cottage residence were shot here. Hyeopjae Beach is famous for its jade-colored waters.

Oedolgae: In episodes 30 and 31, Jang-geum stands alone on a precipice looking out to the sea in firm resolution. A site offering a spectacular view, Oedolgae is one of the most visited tourist sites on Jeju Island.

Jeju Jinjigul Cave: In episode 54, Jang-geum finds a woman in labor inside the cave. She performs an operation that saves both the woman and her child. Jinjigul Cave is actually man-made. Aiming to use Jeju Island as an advance base to protect its mainland, the Japanese military excavated Jinjigul Cave in early 1945. An exhibition showing military equipment and everyday articles used by the Japanese military has recently been opened in the cave, and it is becoming a popular tourist attraction.

Korean Drama Generates Interest in Chosun-Era Cuisine

The Korea Herald reported: “When Korean Wave pioneer “Jewel in the Palace (Daejanggeum)” swept across Asia from 2004 to 2006, royal cuisine — spun out by the hands of the series’ heroine, Jang-geum, and the series’ kitchen court ladies — transfixed viewers with its sumptuous brilliance and intricate nature. Mouths watered. Palates tingled with the desire to savor the parade of dishes, so evocatively presented in lush, vibrant colors and textures. International viewers were awakened to a realm of hansik that went beyond the standard trinity: kimchi, Korean BBQ and bibimbap. [Source: Korea Herald, June 9, 2010]

“Interests were piqued. Restaurants called Daejanggeum sprung up throughout Asia, a sign that while actress Lee Young-ae’s Jang-geum had enraptured Asian audiences with her heartfelt story, it was the culinary creations of the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine president Han Bok-ryo that had excited their palates. But do not mistake Han for a run-of-the-mill food consultant. Considering her background in court cuisine, she is a major authority on Korean palatial food.

“Han’s relationship with royal cuisine runs deep. Han is the third holder of the title of the 38th Important Intangible Cultural Property (Royal Cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty). Her mother, the late Hwang Hye-seong (1920-2006), was the second holder of the title, who trained under the first holder of the title, the last Joseon Dynasty kitchen court lady, Han Hui-sun (1889-1972).

“Furthermore, since the government-designated title needs to be carried on, Han’s two younger sisters, Han Bok-sun and Han Bok-jin, are initiates for the title. In essence, this is a family affair, one that stretches over to her brother, Han Yong-kyu. After Han and her mother established the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine in 1971 and their first palatial food restaurant, Jihwaja, in 1991, her brother took over the task of running Jihwaja (there are currently two restaurants) and Goongyeon (a royal food restaurant started by Han Bok-ryo in 2005), allowing Han, who remains a consultant for all three establishments, to focus on her role as the institute’s president.

“At the age of 63, Han still teaches regularly, imparting her knowledge to those who are interested. Vivacious but visibly worn from her busy schedule, she embodies the fragile yet tenacious nature of a culinary legacy. “It became fate, in a sense, because I needed to carry on the institute, the work of passing this down,” she said.

Great Queen Seondeok

▪“The Great Queen Seondeok” (2009) was Directed by Geun-hong Kim and Hong Kyun Park and stars Woong-in Jeong, Jeong-hyeon Kim, Dam Ryu and Yo-won Lee. This drama dominated the ratings and continues to win fans in a story of action, humor, intrigue and romance set in the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla. Deokman is torn from her family at birth and reared in exile in the remote deserts of China. There she learns the wisdom and love she'll need on her long road back to Korea and the twin sister she lost. In a sweeping saga of humor and pathos, Deokman earns the loyalty of refugees, con men and the greatest Hwarang warriors of the age. Together they battle the enemies of her homeland-but can they defeat the enemies within? Ancient mysticism, political intrigue and thrilling action sequences combine in a human drama perfect for the whole family. Go Hyun-jung, Lee Yo-won and Eom Tae-ung lead an all-star cast in another powerful series from the director of Jumong and the writer of Dae Jang Geum.

“The Great Queen Seondeok” is a highly fictionalized interpretation of her life. While the story itself is largely made up, many of the people and leading characters were real. The drama depicts her as a beautiful and skillful queen who face many adversities to rise to her position and keep it. In the story, Deokman was born a twin but was sent to a place far away by her father, King Jinpyung in order to protect her from the royal court lady, Mishil who tries to snatch away the throne from the royal successor. Deokman was later brought back to the Silla palace, where she joined forces with her twin sister Princess Chunmyung to oppose Mishil. However, Mishil devised sinister plans to have the two Silla princesses exiled from the kingdom, and in a secretive battle, Princess Chunmyung was accidentally killed. But Princess Deokman shrewdly enlisted the help of General Kim Yusin and eliminated her archenemy Mishil.

“The Great Queen Seondeok” (native title: Seondeok Yeowang) is set in the early A.D. 600s. It was broadcast by MBC and has 62 episodes. bibimgirl wrote: “This is the drama that started it all for me! Read more about her in my Badass Mammas of The Three Kingdoms Period Page.” [Source: bibimgirl, February 3, 2016]

Real Life Queen Seon Deok

Queen Seondeok of Silla (ruled A.D. 632-647) is the first female ruler of Silla Kingdom and the second female sovereign in recorded East Asian history. Reigning during Three Kingdoms period, she was Silla's twenty-seventh ruler and is famed for encouraging a renaissance in thought, literature, and the arts in Silla. In the Samguksagi, she was described as "generous, benevolent, wise, and smart". [Source: Wikipedia]

Princess Deokman (Queen Seondeok) was the daughter of King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya of Silla. She is believed to be have had two sisters, Princess Cheonmyeong and Princess Seonhwa. It is not certain who was born first. It is widely believed that Princess Cheonmyeong was older than Princess Deokman. Because King Jinpyeong had no son whom he could pass the crown to, he began to consider his son-in-law, Kim Yongsu (husband of Princess Cheonmyeong) as his successor. Princess Deokman plead with her father to also be considered. It was not unprecedented for women to hold power in Silla (Queen Sado had served a regent for King Jinpyeong) but a female ruler sitting on the throne was still generally frowned upon.

Women in the Silla era had a certain degree of influence as advisors, dowager queens, and regents. Within ordinary families, women were often the heads of households since matrilineal lines of descent existed alongside patrilineal ones. The Confucian model, which placed women in a subordinate position within the family, was not to have a major impact in Korea until the mid Joseon period in the fifteenth century. During the Silla kingdom, women's status remained relatively high, but they were expected to do their duties and not try to do activities that were considered to be unwomanly.

Early in her life, Seondeok had displayed an unusually quick mind. Once the king received a box of peony seeds from the emperor of China, accompanied by a painting of what the flowers looked like. Looking at the picture, unmarried Seondeok remarked that while the flower was pretty it was too bad that it did not smell. "If it did, there would be butterflies and bees around the flower in the painting." Her observation about the peonies' lack of smell proved correct, a demonstration of her intelligence, and thus her ability to rule. After she was named as King Jinpyeong's successor, some officials — including Ichan Chilsuk and Achan Seokpum planned an uprising in order to stop her from being crowned in May 631, but the plan was discovered and Chilsuk and his entire family were beheaded as punishment in the market. Seokpum escaped to Paekche but missed his wife and returned disguised as a woodcutter. Upon his return he was arrested and later executed.

In January, 632, Seondeok, became the first queen of Silla. In 634, she became the sole ruler of Silla. She was the first of three female rulers of the kingdom, and was immediately succeeded by her cousin Jindeok, who ruled until 654. Among Queen Seondeok’s first orders of business was sending royal inspectors throughout the Silla kingdom to oversee the care and needs of the widows, widowers, orphans, poor and elderly and sending a tribute to the Tang Dynasty Emperor in of China however the Tang Emperor, Taizong, Tang refused to acknowledge Seondeok as a ruler because she was a woman. In the second year of Queen Seondeok's reign Cheomseongdae astronomical observatory was built to help the farmers and taxes on peasants and the middle class were reduced.

According to Samguk Sagi, in March, 636, the queen became ill and no amount of prayers and medicine worked. In March, 638, a large stone on the south side of the mountain moved on its own, and seven months later, Koguryo attacked the mountain valley. The next year, the sea water on the eastern part of the Silla kingdom turned red, which caused all of the fish living in it to die. These events made the people anxious, and some of them considered them as bad omens portending the Silla kingdom's downfall. In 642, Paekche attacked Silla and captured 40 fortresses in the western part of Silla. In 643, Paekche and Koguryo took Danghang Fortress, blocking an important sea route to the Tang dynasty Queen Seondeok was able to fend off a Tang request to install a male royal of Tang descent as king of Silla as form an alliance with the Tang to defeat Paekche and Koguryo. Queen Seondeok also presided over the construction of a nine-story pagoda, called Hwangnyongsa (meaning "Imperial Dragon Temple"), considered one of the tallest temples in East Asia at that time.


“Jumong” (2006) is set the time period: 108 BC – 19 BC. It was broadcast on MBC and has 82 episodes. Bibimgirl wrote: “This story is about Jumong and how he became the founder of Goguryeo (Koguryo) Dynasty in B.C.. Goguryeo was one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea which lasted for over 700 years. For those interested in Korean history, this drama comes first in chronological order of Korean history. This drama was a global sensation and a ratings blockbuster all over the world and universally on any “must watch” list. Read more on my Jumong page. [Source: bibimgirl, February 3, 2016]

Mare-sensei wrote in Jumong “was raised by King Geum Wa who took him and his mother in when his father, General Hae Mo Su was believed to have been killed in an ambush by the Han Dynasty. Then, there's a beautiful merchant's daughter named So Seo No who helped Jumong in realizing his dream to build a new country, and later became his second wife. [Source: Mare-sensei,, September 28, 2016]

Song Il Gook as Jumong
Han Hye Jin as So Seo No
Kim Seung Soo as Prince Dae So
Hu Joon Ho as Hae Mo Su
Oh Yun Soo as Lady Yoo Hwa

The real northern kingdom of Koguryo emerged by the A.D. first century from among the indigenous people along both banks of the Yalu River. The Han Chinese seized the area in 108 B.C., but from the beginning Chinese rulers confronted many uprisings against their rule. Starting from a point along the Hun River (a tributary of the Yalu), the rebels expanded their activities to the north, south, and southeast, increasingly menacing Chinese authority. By A.D. 53 Koguryo had coalesced into an independent centralized kingdom; the subsequent fall of the Han Dynasty and ensuing political divisions in China enabled Koguryo to consolidate and extend its power. Despite repeated attacks by Chinese and other opposition forces, by 391 the kingdom's rulers had achieved undisputed control of all of Manchuria east of the Liao River as well as of the northern and central regions of the Korean Peninsula. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Koguryo, according to tradition, was founded in 37 B.C. Its founding monarch, Chumong (Jumong), was an archer and horseman who is said to have had the ability to walk on water. Its greatest king, Kwanggaeto founded the present North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The kingdom produced distinguished scholars and Buddhist figures. Its royal tombs contain exquisitely painted murals that influenced similar tomb paintings in Japan and have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The modern name of Korea is ultimately derived from Koguryo. [Source: Richard Lloyd Perry, The Times, September 5, 2004]

“The Book of the Three Hans” (2006) is another epic based on the myth of Jumong. It is directed by Geun-hong Kim and Ju-hwan Lee and star: Il-guk Song, Hye-jin Han, Seung-su Kim, Kwang-ryul Jun

Moon That Embraces the Sun

“The Moon That Embraces the Sun” (2012, Korean title: Haereul Poomeun Dal) is set during the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910). Broadcast on MBC and comprised of 20 episodes, it is a completely fictional story about a secret love between Lee Hwon, the king of Joseon, and Wol, a female shaman. This drama became an international sensation and ratings blockbuster. It was directed by Kim Do Hun and stars Mi-seon Jeon, Mi-kyeong Yang, Eung-soo Kim, and Eun-pyo Jeong

According to Dramawiki: Wol was born as Heo Yeon Woo, the daughter of a noble family who won the love of the crown prince, Hwon. Her enemies, jealous of her family's position in court, schemed against her, wrestled away her rightful place as crown princess, and nearly took her life. Years later, an embittered Hwon meets Wol, now a female shaman with no recollection of her past.

Kim Soo Hyun as Lee Hwon
Han Ga In as Heo Yeon Woo / Wol
Jung Il Woo as Prince Yang Myung
Kim Min Seo as Yoon Bo Kyung

Tree with Deep Roots and The Princess Man

“Tree with Deep Roots” (2011) was directed by Tae-yoo Jang and stars Seok-Hwan An, Hie-bong Jo, Jin-woong Jo and Gi-Bang Kim, A series of murders occurred during the reign of King Sejong. As Kang Chae Yoon who is investigating these cases gets closer to the root of the truth, he finds himself embroiled in a massive conspiracy behind the serial killings which involves a group of geniuses who are willing to risk their lives for their cause/goals, and secret powers who will interfere with the course of his investigations.

“The Princess’ Man” (2011, Gongjooeui Namja) is set in the mid 1400s. Broadcast on KBS 2 and comprised of 24 episodes, it is a Joseon dynasty version of “Romeo and Juliet.” A tragic love story between the daughter of Prince Suyang and son of Kim Jong Seo. They fall in love instantly but later they find out that their parents are sworn enemies. [Source: bibimgirl, February 3, 2016]

Mare-sensei wrote in “We all love Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. But you're definitely going to love the Korean version even more. One of the most romantic period K-Drama, The Princess' Man is a tragic love story between the daughter of Prince Suyang and son of Kim Jong Seo. The son of Kim Jongseo, Seungyoo, is a handsome and wise man who carries a noble quality. Princess Seryeong, a daughter of King Sejo, aka prince Sooyang, is a cheerful, lively lady with a strong curiosity and bold personality. They fall in love instantly but later they find out that their parents are sworn enemies. Pretty similar to Montague and Capulet's family rivalries, yes? [Source: Mare-sensei,, September 28, 2016]

Moon Chae Won as Lee Se Ryung
Park Shi Hoo as Kim Seung Yoo
Song Jong Ho as Shin Myun
Hong Soo Hyun as Princess Kyung Hye
Lee Soon Jae as Kim Jong Seo
Kim Young Chul as Prince Suyang (later King Sejo)
Lee Min Woo as Jung Jong

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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