Hwajung 화정(2015): Basic History you need to know to enjoy this #Kdrama


Hwajung 화정(2015): Basic History you need to know to enjoy this #Kdrama

 #ChaSeungWon #LeeYeonHee #KimJaeWon #Hwajung #화정 #Saguk #사극 #광해군


Hello. This is Prof. AkIA. This is my lecture about the Historical background in which the new 50 series Korean drama Hwajung (2015) is placed in.


The show!
Hwajung” (2015) is a 50 episode Korean Historical drama set during the 17th century Joseon Dynasty. The literal meaning of the title “Hwajung” can be translated into “Glamorous Politics”  in which the adjective is used sarcastically. You can just think of it in the same vein of “Game of thrones”.

It is a story about cutthroat court politics.



The leads of the show are Cha Seung-Won 차승원 who is returning to TV after last year’s “You're All Surrounded” ,  Lee Yeon-Hee 이연희 who is returning after some lack luster projects including 2013’s TV show “Miss Korea” and the movie “Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island”, and Kim Jae-Won of 2013’s TV show “Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident”.
 
Cha Seung-Won 차승원
Lee Yeon-Hee 이연희


The show is set during the reign of Prince Gwanghae who is one of the only 2 Joseon Kings who got dethroned.  

Abdication is the separate thing.

Recent TV shows such as “The King’s face” (2015),  “Gu Am Heo Joon” (2013), “The Jingbirok: A Memoir of Imjin War” and the movie “Masquerade” (2012) was set around this period. In “Hwajung” (2015), “Prince Gwanghae” is played by Cha Seung-Won. Considering the actor, “Prince Gwanghae” will more or less be portrayed in a negative light.

Cha Seung-Won does not do straight out noble or nice!

 *Jung Yi, The Goddess of Fire (2013) also starred Prince Gwanghae 

“The Jingbirok: A Memoir of Imjin War”

“Gu Am Heo Joon” (2013)

“The King’s face” (2015)
Jung Yi, The Goddess of Fire (2013)  

“Masquerade” (2012)

Prince Gwanghae & his Rise
Compared to more traditionally popular stories of Joseon royal politics, the figure of “Prince Gwanghae” has not been well discussed in popular media until pretty recently. Even among the 2 dethroned kings, “Prince Yeonsan”, other one, had gotten more press because he was seen as the Joseon “Nero”.

Excess makes for great stories!

“Prince Gwanghae” is played by Cha Seung-Won

In the case of “Prince Gwanghae”,  his tale was far less flashy although, in some ways,  is far more interesting.  In the last 2 decades or so, the reputation of “Prince Gwanghae” has been rehabilitated considerably as one of the historical “What if” scenarios. His reign is seen as the pivotal crossroads between early Joseon period and the decline of the late Joseon period.

What if “Prince Gwanghae” remained king, would Joseon not have decline?

“Prince Gwanghae” was born as the second son of King Seonjo who is viewed as one of the more pathetic and incompetent Kings of the Joseon Dynasty. You may catch him portrayed to the absurd in “The Jingbirok: A Memoir of Imjin War” (2015) as the petty king that let the Korean-Japan war happen. I would say that he is the King John of Joseon.

You know the King from Robin Hood Fame!

“Prince Gwanghae” had many things against him in regards to becoming a King. Not only was he not the eldest son, but him and his older brother were born of a royal concubine. In other words, he was a bastard in the eyes of the ruling class of Joseon. Ironically enough, the  Korean-Japan war was somewhat of the blessing for Prince Gwanghae as he was named “heir apparent” in the crisis over his brother who had a poor reputation.  
 
Father and Son
However, things were not smooth sailing for Prince Gwanghae even after this. During the war, he garnered much praise for his part in the war as the head of a front line government. However, this created a rivalry between him and his “petty” father. After the war, his father constantly undermined his position and threatened to name a new heir apparent.


“Princess Jeongmyeong” played by Lee Yeon-Hee


This is where “Princess Jeongmyeong” played by Lee Yeon-Hee comes into play. After the war, the king married a 19 year old and made her the official queen. This meant that Prince Gwanghae had a step mother who was 9 years younger than him. Among the many reasons for this marriage, one of the more obvious ones to everyone was that his father was trying to produce a new heir to replace him via this young queen of prime breeding age. And when Prince Gwanghae was 28 years old, “Princess Jeongmyeong” was born.

In regards to the show, this creates some problems as the age difference between the actors playing this role is only 18.

Since this new child was a girl, it was not a political hit to Prince Gwanghae. However, 3 years later, the queen gave birth to a prince who would become a noose around Prince Gwanghae’s neck.

In Joseon, you were likely to lose your head if you cannot become king after being named “Heir apparent”. To everyone, it was obvious who the King had in mind to succeed him. However, he died a few years after he got his legitimate son to the relief of Prince Gwanghae.

The fall of Prince Gwanghae
Prince Gwanghae became 15th king of Joseon in 1608 A.D. and ruled for about 15 years. On one side, his policies during his reign can be seen as being competent, progressive, and practical. This is one of the reasons why he is being reevaluated positively in modern times. It is not easy to find competent and practical Kings in the late Joseon period.

On the other side, he was disliked by the ruling classes because of both his policies and his lineage. And to a degree, this view was shared on the part of Prince Gwanghae also.  As a result, he became more isolated and had to rely on a few members of his inner circle. In addition, he kept on slowly purging out his enemies which eventually included his half-brother who his father wanted to replace him.  

In this period, Princess Jeongmyeong also was exiled and later was falsely reported to be dead. In 1623, Prince Gwanghae’s half-nephew with the support of the ruling classes initiated a successful coup and removed Prince Gwanghae to become the 16thKing .  Princess Jeongmyeong returned from hiding at this point.

Prince Gwanghae lived 19 more years in captivity after he was dethroned but all of his immediate family either died or were killed earlier on.  In the case of Princess Jeongmyeong, she lived the rest of her life far from politics until 1685 A.D.


How to view Prince Gwanghae?
Objectively, his reign can be viewed as a failure.

If you want to view him in a positive light, Prince Gwanghae can be seen as Roman Empire Hadrian who was competent but not well liked. If you want to view him in less flattering light, Prince Gwanghae can be seen as Roman Empire Domitian who was at the least competent but was dethroned because of the distain of the ruling classes.

Basic competence as ruler
A poor relationship with the ruling classes

These are common element here!

Prince Gwanghae became King during a very bad period in Joseon history and, because of his lineage, was in a serious disadvantage from the start. It did not help that, because of his experiences with the machinations of the ruling classes, there was no love lost between him and the ruling classes. And this gap could never be bridged.

And this is actually the reason he is being reevaluated from the ashes of history. He represents a new way that Joseon could have taken apart from the trajectory the ruling class had the dynasty on.

It would be interesting to see how the show would portray all this.

As a side note, considering that Princess Jeongmyeong was not that politically active, I wonder how she will be portrayed.

This was Prof. AKIA and this is the end of my lecture.


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