“The Throne” (2015) is a Korean movie (#Kmovie) about Tragedy of Crown Prince Sado / 사도세자” starring Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ah-In.

This is the second installment of the Featurette series for the Korean movie “The Throne” (2015).

Hello. This is Prof. AKIA and I am trying to lead up to my review of “The Throne” (2015) with related articles. The first one laid out the foundation of what I am trying to do. I tried to explain the dominance of “Royal” tales in Korean fictional output.

This Featurette will go over the Top 3 Pop-Culturally Influential Royal Tales.

Yes, I know that they are many other famous royal tales specific to the Joseon Dynasty.

Joseon Dynasty
조선 왕조

I think there are about 7 or so Top well known ones.

However, many of those stories are stuck in the time period they are set in. For examples…

(A) The founding tale of the Joseon Dynasty by …

Yi Seong-gye or Taejo
이성계 또는 태조

…is a well-known interesting and complicated story. Many Korean dramas such as “Shin Don” (2005) and “Jeong Do-jeon” (2014) are based on or include this story. It is a story of a rise from humble beginning. It is a story of a death of one dynasty and the birth of another. It is a story of the fundamental shift of the ruling class in a region. There are some meaty stuff here to play with. Think of it as the story of how Carolingian dynasty came into being.

(B) The story of the great king Sejong is also quite interesting. He is the one credited for creating the Korean language and heading the first and only true golden age of Joseon after all.

Sejong  & Korean
세종     & 한글

It is well known and the tale has also been portrayed in shows such as “Tree With Deep Roots” (2011). This is not surprising as he is the most popular king in every survey taken over the last few decades here in Korea.

However, these stories do not had much direct impact on non-historical piece Korean stories of today. There are no modern versions of the Joseon Dynasty founding tale. There are no modern versions of the king Sejong story.

Why is this?

You have to ask the following question to answer the one above:

Separate from their historical context and pandering to the insecurities of Koreans, what do those stories mean to Koreans of the present?

Most Koreans would come up empty. In regards to these stories, Koreans have only put efforts into imposing modernity on them. I mean reinterpreting them to suit the purposed of the present. Thus, historical stories end up as propaganda projects. Not much has been done in the opposite direction to graph these stories on the present.

They have not been digested and absorbed into the wider Korean popular cultural output though the process of adaptation and influences. As a result, they lack universality. However, there are exceptions which I like to call the TOP 3 Culturally Influential Royal Tales have. While steeped in their historical contexts, these stories touch on the raw core of the human family experience that they can translate on personal level without much effort unlike the others that need a William Shakespeare to drill deep tot the core of the story.

TOP 3 Culturally Influential Royal Tales

So, the TOP 3….

I’ll not go into too much detail about each tale here even for the “Tragedy of Crown prince” tale. That is for the next article. The following is not ranked by sequence. It is more sequential.

# 1!
(A) “War of the Princes” tale (1398 AD, 1400 AD)
This tale could be seen as the Korean “War of the roses” but one that didn’t drag on for years. So, not that much like the English “War of the roses” after all but you get the picture. It was story about a civil war within the royal family that pitted the brother against brother… well half-brothers but that still counts…over the succession and the distribution of power.

This tales is set in the early years of the Joseon dynasty. For its founder, the founding of the Joseon dynasty ended up being a personal tragedy. He ascended to the throne in 1392AD and was de facto removed from power in 1398 by his 5th son or Taejong in a civil war led by the princes. During the two bouts of armed conflict, many of his sons ended up either dead or exiled.

In modern Korean fiction, this “War of the Princes” sibling relationship has become a staple of Korean fiction especially in Korean dramas.  While you see this more in stories about the well off, it is not uncommon to see this tale being recreated in more moderate settings in Korean fiction also. I would say 70% of the overall fictional sibling relationships end up recreating the “War of the Princes.” This increases to more like 95% when we are telling stories about the rich and famous. In fact, “War of the Princes” is a popular political term for infighting in Korea.
# 2!
(B) “Lady Jang or Hui-bin Jang” tale (1688 AD~1694 AD)

In this tale of sex, betrayal, and a whole lot of death, the female characters tend to get placed in the forefront. However, this is really the tale of King Sukjong who I call the “Henry VIII” of Korea. While the details of the story gets complicated, we can just say that the king's obvious affections towards specific women in the court led to political factions forming around the ladies. Thus, a lot of political turmoil and death ensued.

This story is portrayed in Korean drama over the years such as “Dong Yi” (2010) and  “Jang Ok-jung, Living by Love” (2012). Even fantasy romances such as “Queen In-hyun's Man” (2012) used this story as a backdrop. In terms of its larger influence, this story became the framework for most married relationships within a certain "well to do" class of people in Korean fiction. There is always the devoted wife and the conniving mistress quarreling over the affections of the man.

  # 3!
(C) “Tragedy of Crown Prince Sado” tale (1735AD~1762 AD)

There are many tales of conflicts between father and son within a royal family around the world. This is because it is easy for father and sons to become rivals instead of being partners in rule.

Only one can really reign at the same time.

So, it should not be a surprise that there was a lot of blood split within that relationship although many try to avoid coming to the “permanent” conclusion as much as possible. Exile or imprisonment were preferable. However, in many cases, the easy route were not available or were not taken.  For examples, in antiquity, both Constantine the Great and Herod the Great executed their sons.

Is Filicide a prerequisite to be called “The Great”?

The Tragedy of Crown Prince Sado” is a similar case. This “Prince Sado” was the grandson of the “Henry VIII” of Korea mentioned previously. While I would not get into detail about the story here, the skinny is that the King, his father, imprisoned the prince in a wooden grain storage container or 뒤주 to suffer and die a slow death.

Just think that he was stuffed in a fridge with holes in it and just left out there in the sun.

At the age of 27, the prince either died from dehydration or from the heat as the container he was left outside in the blistering summer heat. After 8 days being in the container, his dead body was taken out of the container he was in. The prince’s son ended up succeeding his grandfather to become one of the more successful kings of Joseon and there were not many of them in the 500 year history of the dynasty.

This tales has been portrayed in many Korean movies and dramas. “The thorn” or 사도 (2015)  is just this year’s rendition of this story. In terms of its wider influences, this tale is basically the framework for most father-son relationships in Korean fiction. All of these relationships are a variation on the demanding father and the suffering son dynamic forming the backbone of the Tragedy of Crown Prince Sado.”

Leaving comments

This was Prof. AKIA with the second “The Throne” (2015) Featurette called “Top 3 Pop-Culturally Influential Royal Tales.” I will be going over the actual events and relationship dynamics forming the movie in detail with the next featurette. 

“The Throne” (2015) Featurette #1[ Link]

“The Throne” (2015) Featurette #3[ Link]


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