After much delays and anticipation, Seoul Broadcasting System’s (SBS) latest blockbuster Korean drama, “Saimdang: Soulmates Across Time” (aka “Saimdang: Light’s Diary”, 사임당: 빛의 일기), made its premiere on Oh!K.
Based on the the life of Joseon-era artist Shin Saimdang, who is the first woman to appear on a South Korean banknote (50,000 won), the fusion sageuk (historical/period) K-Drama stars an all-star cast of Lee Young Ae, Song Seung Heon, Choi Jong Hwan, Oh Yoon Ah, and Choi Cheol Ho. Expectations are through the roof as this marks Lee Young Ae’s first small screen appearance since “Dae Jang Geum” in 2003.
The 30-episode drama follows a Korean art history lecturer named Seo Ji Yoon (played by Lee Young Ae) who discovers the diary of historical figure Shin Saimdang (also played by Lee Young Ae), a genius poet-artist from the Joseon-era. She then tries to unravel the secrets behind a mysterious portrait drawn by Lee Gyeom (played by Song Seung Heon).
In order to prep you for the K-Drama, here are some fun facts about “Saimdang”:
1. Who exactly is Shin Saimdang?
Born in Gangneung, Shin Saimdang was raised in a household full of daughters (she had 4 younger sisters) and as her father was a government official, she managed to receive an education that was not common for women during the Joseon-era. As an artist and painter, her artworks boast lively and delicate colours. Some of her favourite themes include landscapes, flowers, butterflies, grapes, and fish. But she is more than just an influential artist and calligrapher; she is also a dedicated mother to 7 children and South Korea’s maternal icon. Dubbed the “original working mother” or “wise mother”, she was the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yi I.
“A working mom and an artist, raising 7 children… trying to realise her art and take charge of running the household. I imagined there would be a lot of emotions brimming underneath,” said scriptwriter Park Eun Ryeong (of “Saving Mrs. Go Bong Shil” fame).
2. Lee Young Ae pays tribute to her 2005 hit movie, “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”
Before Lee Young Ae tied the knot with her Korean-American husband, the actress starred in “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” (친절한 금자씨), a thriller helmed by prolific director, Park Chan Wook (of “OldBoy” fame). In the well-received movie, she played Geum Ja, a woman who seeks revenge after serving time in jail for a murder she didn’t commit.
As a tribute to her iconic character, she can be seen wearing a retro dress and big sunglasses in the latest stills for “Saimdang”. A staff from the drama explained, “Lee Young Ae will be going from one extreme to another as she acts as both the noble Shin Saimdang and the charming Seo Ji Yoon. Please look forward to it.”
3. Song Seung Heon on filming with his idol, Lee Young Ae
Song Seung Heon, who has been acting in television shows since 1996 (that’s 21 years!), revealed that he, like all Korean men, is a mega fanboy of his co-star, Lee Young Ae, since her “Dae Jang Geum” days. And because of that, he made many NGs (No Good) takes during their first shoot together.
“I believe we were shooting our first scene together. I was so nervous, I kept messing up. I couldn’t say my lines properly. I kept asking myself, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ It felt like I returned to my rookie days as an actor. My heart was beating so fast. It’s become a memory filled with many on-set mistakes,” he explained.
4. It marks young actors Park Hye Soo and Yang Se Jong’s first sageuk drama
Up and coming actors Park Hye Soo and Yang Se Jong will be playing the younger versions of Shin Saimdang and Lee Gyeom respectively. While Park Hye Soo, who is best known for her participation in “K-Pop Star 4” (2014), made her acting debut in 2015 through “Young-Pal” (용팔이), Yang Se Jong’s first television role Do In Bum in last year’s hit K-Drama, “Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim” (낭만닥터 김사부).
This marks both stars’ first historical drama and their parts are very important to the development of the 2 leads’ love story. “The scenes that show Saimdang and Lee Gyeom’s childhood are very important. That’s when they go through a crucial event that changes their lives, and it’s also the beginning of a lifelong relationship between the 2. Park Hye Soo and Yang Se Jong portrayed the scenes very well in a unique, yet stable way. Please look forward to it,” explained the drama’s production team.
5. It took about a year to film the drama
“Saimdang” is 100% pre-produced by Creative Leaders Group Eight, who is known for producing other mega hits like “Boys Over Flowers” (꽃보다 남자) and “Princess Hours” (궁). The drama was filmed for almost a year and because of that, it managed to capture all 4 seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter – which is uncommon in K-Dramas. In a sense, this element is similar to “Dae Jang Geum”, which spans across 54 episodes. On top of that, the drama was filmed at many picturesque sites around South Korea such as Hwallaejeong Hall (lotus pond) in Gangneung, Gangchon Rail Park in Chuncheon, and Mulle-gil (waterway of Bukhangang River) in Gangwon-do.
“We did our best to film this drama and I hope that viewers will not miss out on any of the episodes. In the first episode, there is a picturesque scene filmed in Firenze, Italy. This will allow viewers to see the harmony between East and West. There are elements of fantasy that transcend time between past and present which I think is quite interesting,” Lee Young Ae explained.
6. Director Yoon Sang Ho hopes that the drama will score as well as “Descendants of the Sun”
During a press conference, director Yoon Sang Ho (of “Bride of the Century” fame) expressed high expectations for “Saimdang” and his hope for it to become as popular and successful as “Descendants of the Sun”, a pre-produced drama that stars Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo.
He said, “Many people had doubts about ‘Descendants of the Sun’ before it became a big hit. Personally, I think it’s really well-made, and I’m envious of the drama for being a positive precedent for pre-produced dramas. It’s good news for us though. I’d like our drama to do as well as ‘Descendants of the Sun’ did, and hopefully pre-produced dramas will not disappear from the Korean drama industry.”
7. It is one of the most expensive K-Dramas ever made and sold
“Saimdang” costs USD18.5 million (approx. RM82.1 million) to produce, surpassing “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo”, which was produced with USD13 million (approx. RM57.7 million). According to the Korean Herald, its Chinese rights were sold to Emperor Entertainment, a Hong Kong-based company, for USD267,000 per episode. That’s a total of USD8 million!
And that’s not all – distribution rights have also been sold to at least 6 countries including US-based Netflix (at USD20,000 per episode), Japan (USD90,000 per episode), Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. It was also reported that sales of merchandise and products placed in the show would estimate up to USD29.7 million.
“Saimdang” airs at the same time as Korea, every Wednesday and Thursday at 9pm, first and exclusively on Oh!K (Astro Ch 394).
For more information, hit up Oh!K’s website.