The perils of historical accuracy
The set of “Yi San”
“Circle lenses in the Chosun era?”
Viewers’ sharp eyes are making sageuk drama producers sweat under the scrutiny.
Sageuk fans following MBC’s Yi San have voiced a complaint about a part of the drama’s set. That’s because Yi San, which is set in the Chosun era [from 1392 to 1910], is using the sets from the SBS drama Seo Dong Yo, which deals with the Baekje nation during the era of the Three Kingdoms [57 BCE to 668 A.D.]. Using the internet, viewers have compared the photographs of the palace sets appearing in Seo Dong Yo and Yi San, noting, “I might not have known otherwise, but I wonder if it negates certain aspects if a drama set in the Chosun era is using Baekje-era sets.”
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Notably, both dramas were directed by the same PD, Lee Byung Hoon, which fans have also pointed out. I think this one’s a tough call — because in producing a historical drama dealing with real-life events, one has a responsibility to be as faithful to the truth as possible. A certain amount of fictionalization is necessary, of course, but shouldn’t outright defy the truth. A time difference of an entire millenium IS quite a stretch for both productions to have shared their sets.
On the other hand, there’s the issue of practicality and money, and a viewer has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief — it never bothered me (much) that Alias, for instance, would shoot its Moscow and Iceland and Tokyo scenes all in Pasadena.
The ladies of “King and I”
But then, you have this, which is a different thing altogether:
Not long ago, the female actors in SBS’s sageuk drama King and I wore circle lenses, to strong viewer distaste. Viewers have made it known that they find these circle lenses, worn frequently by many female actresses these days to make the eyes [irises] look larger and rounder, to be out of place in a sageuk drama. When palace ladies and concubines recently were seen wearing circle lenses in their scenes, online message boards were full of criticism, saying: “As actors appearing in a historical drama, I’d want them to dress appropriately as professionals.” In response, producers of King and I expressed their intentions to pay more careful attention to those aspects.
Personally, I think money and production limits are mitigating factors, and I can overlook the first issue to an extent (it does depend on how egregious historical accuracies are. If they’re not very obvious, then cut the guys some slack). Circle lenses, on the other hand, are pure vanity, and even if an actress is in the business of peddling her beauty, there are limits. I can’t see how using them ADDS much to a drama’s value, or at least enough to offset the disdain and drop in viewer loyalty over the display, especially since sageuks are generally known to be very accurate regarding the clothing and appearances of the eras they portray.