Dong Yi has been enjoying high ratings (in the 20s range) and will prove to be a tough competitor for the newer dramas Giant and The Nation’s Orders (also known as Call of the Country). It keeps getting compared to Dae Jang Geum, especially since the director Lee Byung Hoon also did that series. But what makes this drama different is the fact that the king Suk Jong and the mistress Jang Hee Bin have been completely reinvented. For example, the king (played by Ji Jin Hee) is now a more charismatic king who engages with the servant ladies and disguises himself to see how the commoners really live. Jang Hee Bin (played by Lee So Yeon) was also re-visualized by making her more of a deeper, thoughtful ‘villain’ than the outright spiteful woman that Mishil from Queen Seon Deok was. That’s also a nice change from her former character in Angel’s Temptation and helps distance her from playing that kind of villain. And Park Ha Sun has been able to show a tougher side to the usually gentle Queen Inhyeon.
The following is an excerpt from the cast interviews. The stars present were Ji Jin Hee, Lee So Yeon, Han Hyo Joo, Bae Soo Bin (as Chun Soo), Park Ha Sun, Jung Jin Young (as Official Seo), Lee Kwang Soo (as Young Dal), and Lee Hee Do (as Hwang Joo Shik).
Q: In the beginning of the series, King Sook-jong’s secret travelings caused quite a stir.
Ji Jin-hee (Ji): To be honest, I never imagined that he would have such qualities. I thought, ‘He is just a king, how far could he go?’ But not only did he travel very far but he only went out at night because he wanted to see how commoners really live. That scene actually shows pretty briefly on the screen, but we have been going to all sorts of places and shooting five days a week for it. Luckily, I like it because there are a lot of funny scenes and I was able to break the viewer’s stereotype of playing a character who is a king.
Q: But he is still a king — don’t you feel that your character was too caricaturized?
Ji: I think that is a matter of perspective. Aren’t people saying that because the King Sook-jong in “Dong Yi” is more interesting and provocative compared to how he was portrayed in the previous dramas? Of course, I did worry a lot over how the viewers would respond. But the producer had the skill to break old stereotypes and we are getting a positive feedback, so we are having fun shooting the show.
Q: You play an incredibly jolly character and have relationships with many characters in the story. What is the atmosphere on the set like? Ji: Several days ago, I was at home waiting for the script to arrive and on standby for the shoot. But then when we were told the script was coming out tomorrow and we couldn’t shoot today, everyone on the set decided that we should all go out for drinks. They called me on their way to Seoul from Ilsan, and so I went out to drink rice wine with them. It was two in the morning and my wife asked me if I was going out to shoot. I told her I was going out for a drink and then she was worried about the not script being ready. But we actually had fun that night for the first time since we started working together. Everyone was there — Queen In-hyeon (actress Park Ha-seon), Ok-jeong (Lee So-yeon), Cha Chun-soo (actor Bae Soo-bin), Dong Yi (Han Hyo-joo) and Official Suh (actor Jung Jin-young). We became much closer drinking and talking about our concerns. I like things like that.
Q: On the set, who is the type to soften the atmosphere?
Ji: Jung Jin-young is incredibly jolly on the set. Even when he doesn’t have any scenes to shoot, he goes around and talks with people, like the props staff and wardrobe people. So there is nothing he doesn’t know about. He knows everything that happens on the set, like why the script isn’t ready yet.
Q: The atmosphere sounds great but it must be an exhausting job physically. At the press conference, people thought you would have it easier because you play a king.
Ji: The weather is colder that I thought it would be. (laugh) But I have it better than Cha Chun-soo because he is always running around on snow-covered fields and falling down on the snow. When you read the script, it is extremely scary. In the eighth episode where Chun-soo appears in the show again, the script reads something like ‘Chun-soo gets rescued from the water.’ Actor Bae Soo-bin was expecting that he would just be lying on a sandy beach but the writer tells him to jump in the water. Once he was up on a cliff for several hours because the script said that Chun-soo was “doing something on a cliff.” Anyway, I have it a whole lot easier than that guy.
Q: How is it having to constantly put on and take off your moustache for the show? I heard it irritates your skin a lot.
Ji: It’s been causing a lot of problems to my skin. I haven’t been able to sleep a lot either so the dark circles under my eyes are so bad that I have to wear heavy make-up. I’m in a sad situation. But very gratefully, a Japanese fan of mine sent me a remover I can use when I’m taking off my moustache. I usually almost faint when taking it off because I have to use petroleum but this doesn’t smell at all. It’s a jackpot product so I’m secretly using it for myself. (laugh)
Q: It’s undeniable that the ratings for your show plays a part to the atmosphere on set. They’re good but you could have expected ratings similar to “Jewel in the Palace.”
Ji: I don’t think we should be comparing with “Jewel in the Palace.” Will there ever be a drama like that ever again? I think the two are being compared because producer Lee and I are working on it but I believe that we’re in a different situation from then. There are a lot of fun dramas out these days. And our ratings aren’t as high as they were for “Jewel in the Palace,” but they’re still pretty high. (laugh) I’ve been having fun shooting the show and haven’t paid attention to the comparisons. There is an anticipation that comes from seeing Dong Yi who is a new character and Jang Hee-bin and Suk-jong who have been re-interpreted. I think the ratings would go up if we shot it to be interesting.
10: Doesn’t Chun-soo have the hardest time, even though the rest of the cast has a rough time too.
Bae Soo-bin (Bae): The most difficult scene for me was when I fell from the cliff. In the show the shot of me falling only lasted for 5 to 6 seconds but we had to re-shoot the cliff scene because we had to shoot me falling into the water and it was all done on the water set at the Magic Studio in Ilsan. Because the fog wouldn’t clear up for two days, we also had to climb up to shoot for an extra day because the cliff was at the peak of the mountain. So it took a good three days to film that scene. That is the most memorable moment.
10: The actresses must experience a lot of difficulties too such as not being able to remove their make-up. Their fatigue shows on the screen too.
Lee So-yeon (Lee): For me personally, this is the least busiest drama that I’ve done. But I normally don’t sleep a lot at night and I haven’t had to shoot overnight so it’s upsetting to see how my fatigue shows on screen.
Park Ha-sun (Park): I have been drinking pumpkin and ginger juice because my face gets bloated easily. That’s how it hasn’t bloated to the point of me becoming upset.
10: How do you spend most of your free time stranded on set here in Yongin?
Lee: It feels very comfortable on set and we spend our free time talking with one another. It’s the most fun when we spend time together.
Park: I usually sleep or memorize my lines. Right now I’m trying to become close with Lee Kwang-soo because ever since I’ve watched “High Kick 2,” I’ve wanted to become his friend.
Jung: To be honest, the shooting itself is the hardest part. Nothing is as fun as being on set. I like everything about being on set minus the shoots. (laugh)
10: Fourteen episodes of “Dong Yi” have been aired so far. What are your thoughts on the filming so far?
Lee: I was worried a lot at first. I think it’s because the public recognizes Jang Hee-bin as someone who has a very strong personality, but the Jang Hee-bin that I portray is different from that. I’m relieved that my acting has been received well by the viewers because I was worried that they might see it as a problem in my acting. I have much more to show the audience and I think a new type of Jang Hee-bin may emerge.
Jung: This drama is fun even in my own eyes. I think towards Dong Yi, I will always be someone who is soft and help her out as an assistant to a historian. So far, a lot of stories have been played out but I think they will become intense until they reach a peak.
Park: I was glad to have shown a differently interpreted Queen Inhyeon . It was refreshing to show a queen who is tenacious and can scold meanly because before, the audience was used to seeing the nice and tender queen. I almost cried when I received good responses. I will continue to show the humane qualities of Queen Inhyeon and also more of her toughness. In the end, I hope she dies a good death.
10: Does that mean Queen Inhyeon’s death is imminent?
Park: There is not much time left before she is dethroned. The producer explained beforehand that there will be a dramatic scene regarding the ‘upcoming dethronement.’
10: Lee So-yeon, what kind of death do you think best fits your character Jang Hee-bin?
Lee: An extremely cool death. The original Jang Hee-bin dies after having been a spiteful character but I think the Jang Hee-bin that I play will die a different kind of death.
10: Some say that Jang Hee-bin is similar to Mi-shil from “Queen Seon-dok.”
Lee: Jang Hee-bin is different from Mi-shil. They are different because Mi-shil is the kind of person who reveals everything on the outside through her expressions and speech, while I think Jang Hee-bin will become the type that calculates everything on the inside and then torments Queen Inhyeon.
Q: Producer Lee described Dong Yi as a Candy-like person, in the sense that she is always cheerful and plucky. What kind of character do you think she is?
Han: Someone who doesn’t calculate. She is so innocent that in a way, it could seem that she lacks in concept, so I’m trying my best to bring out the vibe about her that she puts in her best for every moment of her life.
Q: Lee Kwang-soo, this is your first time appearing in a historical drama. How has it been so far?
Lee Kwang-soo: In the beginning I felt a lot of pressure and worried over whether I would do a good job. But my seniors have taught me a lot and helped me to feel more at ease so I’m enjoying myself these days.
Lee Hee-do: I’ve been surprised a lot while [acting] with him. I’m rather the one that’s learning a lot from Kwang-soo these days. (laugh) He will take the lead at the most unexpected moments. Even in the scene that we shot just now, we were supposed to cry in each other’s arms but he even knocked me down. I was surprised.
Q: When we look at your acting, it seems as if you thrive on making ad-libs. How often do you use them?
Lee Hee-do: I use them a lot. Even the producer expects us to use them after we finish acting out our lines so he keeps the tape rolling. I’m on the edge for every scene we shoot these days though because the ad-libs are on Kwang-soo. And he’ll throw completely unexpected ad-libs, not the obvious.
Lee Kwang-soo: He knows he can do them but he gives me the chance to shoot mine.
It’s too bad Han Hyo Joo doesn’t speak up more – I would have liked to know more about her experience playing Dong Yi – but I guess that she’s had many other personal interviews so this is a turn for others to shine!