By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, June 26 (Yonhap) -- The formidable writer-director duo Kim Eun-sook and Lee Eung-bok have teamed up again, hopefully to deliver yet another blockbuster hit following two hugely successful television series -- "Descendants of the Sun" on KBS 2TV and "Guardian: The Lonely and Great God" on tvN.
The two dramas ended with 38.8 and 20.5 percent in viewership ratings, respectively, with the latter reaching an all-time high for cable TV programs.
Featuring A-list actor Lee Byung-hun and rising actor Kim Tae-ri, the new series "Mr. Sunshine" is a delicate mix of dramatized history and tantalizing romance.
The epic drama, set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, follows Choi Yoo-jin, played by Lee, who is born to a servant family and witnesses his own parents killed by the master.
The historical time period is what sets "Mr. Sunshine" apart from other period dramas, the director Lee said during a press conference in southern Seoul on Tuesday.
Attesting to huge interest and high anticipation, a few hundred reporters from in and out of the country attended the event.
"There are many dramas set in the 1930s when the Japanese occupation of Korea was in full swing. But there weren't many dramas -- or historical documents for that matter -- about the early 1900s when people struggled to protect the country from an impending invasion by Japan," he said. Japan occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945.
"We want to talk about the people of that period ... Most nations have their own story about modernization and invasions by outside forces. So the story has universal appeal," he said when asked about if overseas audiences, who can watch it on Netflix simultaneously, could connect with the Korean period drama.
The boy Choi flees home following the death of his parents and sneaks into a U.S. navy ship to arrive in the U.S. Clenching his teeth, he does his best to make it in the foreign land. Some decades later, he returns to Korea as Captain Eugene Choi of the U.S. Marine Corps, who works for America's, not Korea's, national interests.
Still simmering with anger against his motherland, which he believes miserably failed him and his parents, he faces an unexpected twist in his career -- and his life for that matter -- when he meets Ko Ae-shin, played by Kim, a daughter of a nobleman who died while fighting for the country. Like his father, Ko arms herself and guards against Japan's invasion of Joseon, Korea's last dynasty (1392-1910).
Actor Lee makes his first appearance on the small screen in nine years. For the last decade, he mostly focused on films in Korea as well as in Hollywood.
"I started my acting career on TV. I've been heavily working on movies, but I was always open to doing a good drama. I had no reason not to jump in on the series made by Kim Eun-sook and Lee Eung-bok," the actor said.
"As the director said, we don't have many dramas or films set in that period. Moreover, the character is very interesting in that he is an American who harbors hard feelings toward his own country Joseon."
On the simultaneous airing of the drama on tvN and Netflix, he said he was very "excited" to see responses from overseas viewers who won't know much about Korean history.
Although the detailed production cost hasn't been unveiled, it is estimated to have cost some 40 billion won (US$35.8 million), one of the highest budgeted series in Korean TV history.
Wrapping up the press conference, the director said he will do his best to make the drama as best as he can to be worthy of countless unsung heroes' sacrifices as well as the drama's huge spending.
The 24-episode drama will premiere at 9 p.m. on July 7 on tvN.
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