War drama Legend of the Patriots premieres this weekend
Admittedly Road No. 1 and Into the Fire have garnered most of the attention among Korean War projects, but KBS also has a drama premiering this weekend, Legend of the Patriots. (Its Korean title, Jeon Woo, translates literally to Comrades.) It’s actually a remake of a hugely successful series that aired from 1975 through 1978, which was then re-produced in 1983-84.
I’ve been hearing bits about the 20-episode Legend of the Patriots for a while but it has slid under my radar, but now that I take a look I find myself favorably inclined. The production team is a little iffy but the general plot appeals to me more than Road No. 1. (I admit that I find Road‘s story a little contrived — it’s got that typical melodrama excess going, carrying itself as the ultimate love warring with the ultimate friendship in the ultimate war story of all time. That makes me ask: O rly?)
Patriots, however, appears to take a larger scope — there are lead characters, to be sure (sageuk king Choi Su-jong and the underrated, imo, Lee Tae-ran), but the story seems to encompass more people and broader conflicts. (I say seems because all I’ve got to go on are previews and clips.)
I don’t mean to put down Road No. 1, because that drama has a lot going for it too, but for some reason it hadn’t captured my fancy narratively and I felt like I really ought to be more interested in it. (I’m not very excited, although the cast is a big draw.) Now that I’ve seen a contrasting point of view, however, I think I know better why — Road No. 1 heaps the tragedy upon you with its circumstances. (She thinks he’s dead, gets engaged to someone else, he comes back, her two men go to war together.) Patriots seems to (and again, I’m only going on previews here) treat the war itself as plenty tragic enough. They don’t frame the war around a great-love-of-all-time at the center.
Here’s what I mean. The first trailer starts out with the simple titles: “They wanted to live. They had to kill each other.”
KBS’s description of the drama is in line with that message:
“It is a misunderstanding to think that a soldier dashing toward the enemy line is filled with loyalty. All he can think at the moment is the order to run surrounded by blasting gunshots. Many of them attempt to flee the base at night and many of them are caught and shot to death. Soldiers will injure themselves to be excluded from battle. They shiver in fear and lose their senses. Then there’s the extreme hunger and the desperate survival of the refugees.
There is no socialism, capitalism, dreams, visions, fame or morality on the battlefield. There is only the human instinct for survival, the instinct that I must kill others for myself to live. The battleground is a black hole that sucks in all decent, humane beliefs.
“Legend [of the Patriots]” aims to elevate the highest value of peace by exposing the horrific reality of war.
That message, however, has sparked some early criticism from a group of netizens who feel that the drama is pushing ideology that is anachronistic to the time period of the drama. Personally, I think that’s one of the key points about art forms — you can’t (and shouldn’t be expected to) create them in a vacuum, or as a facsimile of real life. Art reflects more about the time in which it was created than the time about which it was created, doesn’t it? But I suppose I’m on the side of the ideology this time because I can’t see the downside to promoting a message of unity and peace as a part of a nation’s remembrance of a great war that divided it into two.
The main character is played by veteran actor Choi Su-jong (Dae Jo Young, Emperor of the Sea), who plays a Squad Commander. (Official position: Unit 13, 1st Battalion, Platoon 2, Squad 1.) His character description: “I want to live as a soldier should. That’s all.” Based on that quote, I’m getting a reluctant hero vibe from him, which I can dig. He’s a stickler for the rules, but he is devoted to protecting the lives of his subordinates. He served in the national guard and is a war veteran, but never speaks about his past.
Kim Roi-ha (Story of a Man‘s cowardly director) plays the Commander of Squadron 2, a strict leader who insists upon discipline from his men and is cool-headed enough to know that with his duty comes the possibility of making sacrifices.
Their subordinates include
Superior officers are played by Lee Deok-hwa, a familiar face and veteran drama actor (Giant, Iron Empress, Dae Jo Young). Lee Joo-seok (Seoul Warrior Story) plays a platoon leader.
And then, you have those on the Northern side, led by Lee Tae-ran (My Precious You, Infamous Chil Sisters), who plays a lieutenant. She was interested in the independence movement when Korea was under Japanese imperialist rule, and learned about socialism. When U.S. forces entered the Korean peninsula, she gave up everything and fled to the North and joined the armed forces, rising to officer status. She’s cool and competent, but starts to feel doubts gradually.
On the battlefield, she happens upon Choi Su-jong’s character, and that stirs something from their pasts.
Meanwhile, Lee In-hye (Iron Empress, Insoon Is Pretty) is part of a guerrilla unit. Her father-in-law is a village elder, and after her husband was shot dead by the North Korean army, she begins to work independently as a guerrilla. From time to time, she helps the soldiers for the South. She shows a tough exterior, though she mourns her dead husband.
The drama has a production budget of 8 billion won, or $6.6 million. (That’s a sizable budget, but compare that with Road‘s 13 billion won, or $10.7 million. Per episode, Road spent double what Patriots did, although both budgets are on the high end compared to an average trendy.)
There are two directors and two writers listed. The PDS are Kim Sang-hui (You’re My Destiny and Sharp #2 and #3) and Song Hyun-wook (Hot Blood and Glory of Youth). The writers are Lee Eun-sang (Hometown of Legends: Gumiho) and Kim Pil-jin.
Legend of the Patriots replaces Merchant Kim Man-deok and premieres Saturday, June 19 on KBS1.
Here are a couple more trailers: