For any Korean language students who are also interested in Korean historical drama, (sageuk), reading director Lee Byung Hoon’s 2010 book 꿈의 왕국을 세우라 Build a Kingdom of Dreams is a great way to kill two birds with one stone: improve reading and vocabulary whilst learning more about the world of Korean drama.
Lee Byung Hoon (not to be confused with the famous actor Lee Byung Hun) is the director of several blockbuster hits including Heojun (MBC 2000), Sangdo (MBC 2002), Dae Jang Geum (MBC 2004), Dong Yi (MBC 2010), and Horse Doctor (MBC 2013). He became a household name in Korea after the hugely successful MBC drama Heojun in 2000 when ratings reached over 60%. It is still one of the most successful dramas of all time in Korea. (it’s still my favourite drama too and I really recommend it )
In his book, the director talks about his career and how he got into the TV drama industry. He goes through his approach to directing dramas from choosing a writer to working with cast, filming and editing. As well as the dreaded challenge of tackling viewer ratings! Although there is some difficult vocabulary and expressions, the book is written in a conversational and natural way (according to Mr Kim) with sentences that are fairly short and easy to understand. It’s certainly doable for anyone with a fairly decent intermediate reading ability. For me it was a fascinating read and didn’t feel like ‘study’ at all. I’ve now read it twice!
READING BOOKS VS TEXTBOOKS
When studying a foreign language I think there can be a danger of purely sticking to textbooks. I was worried that tackling a regular book might be too much and send me into the depths of despair. So I was safely working through various textbooks for Korean language students such as the ones published by Yonsei University. These are great for learning grammar and vocabulary too and they come in different levels of difficulty so are manageable for students. But reading a textbook feels like study. And the choice of topics and content can be swayed by what grammar or vocabulary is being taught.
Another problem is that there’s still not a huge range of Korean study materials for reading available in the shops. I think reading newspapers is a great way to study so I have been trying to read an article a day in the Korean newspaper. But this can be a bit overwhelming because it seems endless – read one article out of the whole newspaper today and then there’ll be a whole new newspaper waiting for you tomorrow! It’s impossible to finish. And there’s a mind boggling array of topics too all with their own sets of vocabulary to deal with, not to mention different writing styles.
So there are several advantages to choosing a book to study. First of all, reading this book made my daily study routine very simple. I didn’t have to look for an article to read. I just picked up from were I left off the day before. Secondly, since the theme of the book is making drama, lots of drama-related vocabulary is repeated throughout the book, so I reviewed the vocabulary naturally without having to make flashcards. Thirdly, studying didn’t feel like a chore as I really wanted to know what the director had to say about his work. I’m also very familiar with his work and have seen most of his dramas so it was easy to follow. And finally I could get a huge sense of achievement. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as finishing a book in a foreign language. ( I did punch the air on the final page. I’m not going to lie 😉
OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK
The book is divided into 4 parts which are broken down into smaller subchapters. And with each subchapter only two or three pages long, each one is manageable to read in one sitting. The chapters are also filled with photographs of actors as well as scenes from various dramas so the pages don’t look too packed and daunting. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to read about in each section.
In part 1 he writes about the difficulties of casting for lead roles and the differences between casting for historical drama and modern drama. He also mentions how he came to work with leading actors such as Lee Young Ae in Jewel in the Palace (Dae Jang Geum, MBC 2003) and Hwang Soo Jung in Heo Jun (MBC 2000).
Part 2 covers working with different actors and their various personalities and strengths. For example Jun Kwang Ryul who played Heojun stayed in character when some elderly ladies came to the set to ‘get an appointment with the doctor’, Lee Young Ae who played Dae Jang Geum in Jewel in the Palace was always professional, was never late and never complained, and Lee Seo Jin who played King Jeongjo in Yi San was quite mischievous on set making the others laugh.
In part 3 he explains the changes that he made to sageuk to make it more popular. Sageuk was only really watched by the older generation until he revamped the genre with Heojun in 2000. As a director he has to oversee the whole of the making of the drama and so he mentions working with all the other people involved, including the writers, editors, cameramen, props staff etc.
In part 4 he writes about his background and how he came into directing. And also his plans for the future. The book finishes with some interviews with stars he has worked with including Lee Young Ae (Jewel in the Palace) Jun Kwang Ryul (Heojun) Han Ji Min (Yi San), and Lee Soon Jae and Im Hyon Shik (who have appeared in several of Lee Byung Hoon’s dramas).
This is the kind of book that I will read several times, because each time I can get more out of it – reading aloud for fluency practice or skimming through to review vocabulary and find sample sentences.
To remember vocabulary I use a topic based system. So I started making a vocabulary page of media-related vocabulary. One thing that stands out for me about vocabulary in TV and media is the amount of English loan words that are used. Here are just a few: 장르, 퓨전, 에피소드, 시놉시스, 시나리오, 캐스팅, 컴백하다, 프로그램, 스토리, 큐사인. I could go on. There are loads. But I’m not complaining because it makes my life a lot easier. 😉
I try to arrange vocabulary in smaller groups too. One way to group words together is by words which have a common Chinese character.
For example several different words which contain the character 연 (演 meaning drama / performance) appear throughout the book. For example 연주 (演奏 performance), 연출 (演出 direct), 연출자 (演出者 director), 조연출 (助演出 assistant director), 출연 (出演 appear in a drama – 찬조 출연 a guest appearance), 주연 (主演 lead role)
Another common character is 역 (役) meaning part or role. So there are lots of words that use this character related to different acting roles : 배역 (配役 part/role), 아역 (兒役 child actor), 조역 (助役 supporting role), 단역 (端役 minor part), 대역 (代役 a stand-in / understudy), 적역 (適役 a well-cast part). So I think by grouping these words together it’s easier to remember them.
Horse doctor was filmed in 2013 after this book was published
HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED
Reading this book has given me confidence to read more Korean books. And my reading has improved. I realised this when I went back to reading the newspaper and found that it felt easier. Certainly the articles on media where easier to read and I didn’t have to look up as much vocabulary.
I have also started watching dramas in a different way. For example Lee Byung Hoon pointed out that he wants to present the female leads in the most attractive way possible. And he says that he achieves this by using flowers or mountain scenes in the background of the frames. So I look out for this and it adds to my drama watching experience!
Also, some questions that I had about the dramas have been answered. For example I wondered why it was decided that in the drama Yi San, the female character Song Yeon would be an assistant in the royal painting department. He explains that he wanted to test the water to see how the viewers responded to painting as a theme in drama. Would they be interested? He wanted to know this because he was considering making a drama about the famous Joseon painters Shin Yun Bok and Kim Hong Do. He didn’t get the chance to make this drama though as the topic was used in a drama made by SBS – Painter of the Wind (SBS 2008).
MORE POSTS ON LEE BYUNG HOON
This week I’ll put up some more posts about the content of the book. I don’t think it has been translated into English, so a lot of the information was new to me at least. I’ll put some posts up on his approach to directing, as well as some of his thoughts and anecdotes from various dramas including Heo Jun, Jewel in the Palace, and Lee San.
I bought this book from one of the Kyobo book shops in Seoul. They didn’t have it in the shop so I had to order it. The book is also available in paperback or e-book form from Kyobo online bookshop.