Do you know the drama series Lee San? Have you seen Dae Jang Geum? Most Koreans would probably say “yes.”
Byung Hoon Lee (LEE) has produced a lot of famous historical dramas such as Hu-jun, Sang-do, Dae Jang Geum, Lee San, Seo-dong-yo and many others. He is a famous TV drama director who is true to his title and one of the leading lights in the field of Korean historical dramas. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) met him and listened carefully about his works of art, drama and his life as a Production Director (PD).
SMT You have been working as a PD for about 40 years. What is the pleasure or attraction of being a PD?
LEE The attraction is seeking the new. Being a PD is working in field where one should constantly do new things. If one makes a similar thing, he will fail. For example, when I make a new drama, if it is similar to Hu-jun, it will end in failure. I made the doctor’s story—Hu-jun then I made a story about making money - Sang-do, food - Dae Jang Geum and recently, I made a king’s story—Lee San. The material story and programs have to be different from former works. To work and find the new is interesting but imposes a heavy burden. A PD never does the
same things, and life is not routine because I always meet new people and work in new environments.
However, mental anguish is followed by pleasure. “How can I create original work, how can I make the next work different from the previous, how do I make the composition of the picture novel, and who do I select as the main actor?”—all these questions are sources of anguish. When the viewer feels a drama is fresh and new, it succeeds.
SMT What is the PD’s role?
LEE I think the role of the PD is twofold; he or she is both a leader and an artist. As a leader, a PD leads a inimum of 100 people and as many as 1,000 people, both technical staff and actors. When even only one actor acts, at least 40 people are needed. A PD always has to be leader. This leader needs to be a parent who takes care of their actors
and staff, and a teacher who teaches acting to their actors. In addition, the PD is an artist. I should be a specialist in many fields. I should know about cameras, art, writing, and the most important thing: screen and image. Making a drama or program is creative work. The sound, lighting, screen, audio, script, composition, and special effects are all component that go into the cathode-ray tube, so it is a synthetic art. So to pursue the new, I research by reading lots of books, and watching movies and dramas from other countries.
SMT A TV drama is a work of art. The PD’s color always exists in the work. What is the value you pursue through creating dramas?
LEE First, a drama has to be fun without condition. A TV drama is just a form of entertainment. Nobody watches a drama to study. No matter how good the show may be, nobody will watch it if it is boring. Second, because a drama has strong persuasive power and a great influence, it should offer something of value. That is to say, values are an aid to life, and contain instruction and other benefits. For example, if a drama only shows fight scenes, people won’t gain any instruction despite a strong impression. It is acceptable to use violent scenes that give TV
viewers a thrill, but dramas don’t make people detest violence. In my drama, Lee San, King Jeongjo took great pains to improve the nation’s life and warfare. People who watched the drama thought that ‘a genuine leader has to do that.’ Everyone is a leader. A good leader must have leadership ability. Through history, through Lee San, people have come to think that a leader should develop a spirit of self-sacrifice. Accordingly, the drama should be able to contribute to society.
SMT You have made many historical dramas, which I think must impose a heavy burden on you. What is the ratio of fiction to truth in your historical dramas?
LEE The truth forms about 10-20 percent. The rest is fiction. However, I read 30-40 books whenever I do research for a drama, so that the truth can be seen perfectly. People can feel cheated if only 10-20 percent of a show is truth. But it is a very big portion. When I wrote ‘Lee San,’ I researched the King Jeongjo period's art, and read books about the assassination of King Jeongjo (The Eternal Empire) and Joseon dynasty records. The other 80-90 percent of the drama is fictional for the purposes of enjoyment. For example, when we make a lowly
woman into a royal concubine who gives birth to a prince, that love story has not been recorded in any books. However, there must have been love between the characters, so I create a plausible situation for enjoyment within historical coherence. History means restoring things which have not been restored. That requires records or real evidence. However, historians are unable to do that, while creative writers can.
SMT You mentioned in another interview that you want to make a historical drama which is beloved by
young people. Do you have a historical responsibility towards children and the new generation who watch your dramas?
LEE I have a responsibility, clearly. If you travel to a more advanced country, you may cower before that
country. On the other hand, if you travel to an underdeveloped country, you may become puffed up with pride. That is, we evaluate countries by means of historicity and economical efficiency. Because Korea was always despoiled in the past, we have a complex about our country not having much power. But we have pride in our culture and history. The U.S.A.’s history, for example, is very short. However, Korea is proud of millennia of history, so we have more pride than other countries as a cultural nation. Then those who know a lot of history know that Korea is a great country with a very long history. National pride depends on the logic of power, logic of economy and pride of culture and history. If Koreans feel pride in themselves and are fair-minded when abroad, although wealth or power cannot be helped, we will have cultural pride and express our history fearlessly. Cultural pride is just historicity. Our country’s children don’t really know that Korean history is very grand and has a lot
of global national heritage, so I try to show this in my dramas. For example, Suwon castle, as we showed in the drama Lee San, was designated as a National Treasure by the World Cultural Heritage. Young people who know about Suwon castle specifically can have more pride in Korea. It is so complicated to study history through books, but studying with TV dramas is refreshing. A historical drama is vivid education. We can contend our identity and have pride in it if we know our history.
SMT Please give some advice to university students, Sookmyungians.
LEE First of all, I want to tell you to do things you are fond of and enjoy. Learning at university becomes the basis in your life. so it is meaningful in itself. That’s why you don’t have to select a workrelated major if you are not interested in that major. When you go out into the world, do pleasant and not boring things. When you work in a field you love, you can become a specialist two or three times faster than people who major in that field. Prior
knowledge is not important but effort decides success. However, people only make an effort when they feel interest. Second, play and enjoy while you are a still a student. As the proverb says ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,’ so play! I feel that people who play to the fullest have broader insight. When you are a student, work hard, play hard and do many activities. If you want to be a PD, I give the advice to read a lot of books. Books are sources of imagination. Reading books is more helpful than watching movies; you should read because if you watch movies, it is possible that you will just imitate the great scenes, but when you read books, copying is impossible.