밤을 걷는 선비 (The Scholar Who Walks the Night)

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20 Episodes
A Contents K Production
Timeslot: Wednesday and Thursday Evening, 08:30 PM
Genre: Fusion Sageuk
Format: 1080i Dolby Digital 2.0 – 65 Minutes
Runs from: 2015/Jul/08~Sep/10

WITH 이준기 (Lee Joon-Gi) as Kim Seong-Yeol; 이유비 (Lee Yoo-Bi) as Jo Yang-Seon; 심창민 (Shim Chang-Min) as Lee Yoon; 이수혁 (Lee Su-Hyeok) as Gwi; 김소은 (Kim So-Eun) as Choi Hye-Ryeong; 이현우 (Lee Hyun-Woo) as Prince Jeonghyeon; 양익준 (Yang Ik-Joon) as Hae-Seo; 장희진 (Jang Hee-Jin) as Su-Hyang; 이순재 (Lee Soon-Jae) as Hyeonjo; 정규수 (Jung Gyu-Soo) as Jo Saeng; 오윤홍 (Oh Yoon-Hong) as Kkot-Bun; 최태환 (Choi Tae-Hwan) as Ho-Jin;

CREW Production Director 이성준 (Lee Seong-Joon) Main Writer 장현주 (Jang Hyun-Joo) Executive Producer 황창우 (Hwang Chang-Woo) 김진이 (Kim Jin-Yi) Planning 한희 (Han Hee) Producer 김재하 (Kim Jae-Ha) Director of Photography 김선일 (Kim Seon-Il) 김형근 (Kim Hyung-Geun) Lighting 문현태 (Moon Hyun-Tae) 문성진 (Moon Sung-Jin) Editor 김태영 (Kim Tae-Young) Art Director 한지선 (Han Ji-Seon) Music 오준성 (Oh Joon-Seong) Action Choreography 홍상석 (Hong Sang-Seok) 박진수 (Park Jin-Soo) Assistant Writer 이민희 (Lee Min-Hee) 정은증 (Jung Eun-Jeung) Assistant Producer 진창규 (Jin Chang-Gyu) 성치욱 (Sung Chi-Wook) 허세민 (Heo Se-Min) 정지영 (Jung Ji-Young)
Based Upon Jo Joo-Hee and Han Seung-Yi's 밤을 걷는 선비 (The Scholars Who Walks the Night)

RATINGS
AGB Nielsen Nationwide
HIGHEST: 8.5% (08/05 - E09)
LOWEST: 6.2% (09/09 - E19)
AVERAGE: 7.44%

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

FIRST LOOK

It's interesting how Korean audiences respond to artistic influences (a more conciliatory term than “cultural appropriation”) coming from sources that are generally deemed extraneous to the Korean context.

This often happens in the realm of sci-fi, which has generally never worked in Korea despite the best of efforts, or something quintessentially “alien” (in every sense of the word) like the vampire canon. Deceptively bolstered by the success of the Twilight saga and the decent (but in retrospect hardly significant) success enjoyed by the short-lived 뱀파이어 검사 (Vampire Prosecutor) franchise, Yeouido has attempted to tap into this potential new source material with alarming frequency as of late, reaping meager rewards. Both 블러드 (Blood) and 오렌지 마말레이드 (Orange Marmalade) scored abysmal ratings in timeslots that were either perceived as damaged goods – KBS2's Monday/Tuesday slot, which hasn't seen averages of 10% and over since 2013's 굿닥터 (Good Doctor) – and variety territory, which makes it difficult to single out convincing reasons that would explain why vampires are a hard sell within a general context that points at a huge loss of relevance for the entire drama industry.

But I think that it's an argument that holds water: however little mainstream acceptance Korean dramas can still muster, it generally comes in the shape of older demographics, which have the tendency to be a lot more conservative with their choices (something that explains how they can lap up makjang based on slightly outdated class consciousness with such nonchalance). In that context, the vampire canon can only feel like an aberration, something from foreign lore that is being forcibly adapted to Korean sensibilities. Remember that these same demographics have been exposed to the 전설의 고향 (Hometown of Legends) saga ever since the late 1970s, so the genre-blending of sageuk with horror and melodrama tropes is not exactly new for them. It's just that the symbols and gimmicks used to represent this narrative mold will not appeal to the predominant demographics that control the remote on TV: add a “foreign” factor to traditional lore and the youngster might be interested, but the ajumma will think twice before approaching this weird mix of Korean and foreign sensibilities. They're just not interested in anything that breaks from status quo, because for most of them "TV drama" is nothing more than background noise or a source of vacuous escapism.

A rather winding way of explaining why a Lee Joon-Gi-headlined sageuk adapted from a “hot” webtoon would only score 6-7%, if you will. But I challenge you to be surprised by this, because let's not kid ourselves: webtoons and TV drama audiences rarely overlap, and attempting to bring younger demographics back to TV shores through adaptations has proven to be fruitless on most occasions. It is, however, a decent way to create one-source-multi-use ventures for the companies involved, something which doesn't offer any solution to the aforementioned downward spiral of relevance, but might get them quick money with little effort right now. Admittedly, this show doesn't only have to worry about the vampire canon making its premise rather stale, it's the entire fusion sageuk paradigm that needs to be changed. Take off the vampire angle, and this will eerily feel like a pastiche of 성균관 스캔들 (Sungkyunkwan Scandal) and 아랑사또전 (The Tale of Arang), complete with quirky heroine dressing up as a man and pretty boy OTP counterpart – Lee's acting skills and tremendous effort notwithstanding.

With that being said, there is a charming classical simplicity to the show's premise, especially when it comes to the main antagonist Gwi – and the idea of him having conspired with Lee Seong-Gye to overthrow the Goryeo Dynasty is an idea that could have some legs, if this show ever wanted to venture into political intrigue. Most of the epilogue in the first episode is dealt with such focus and poise that it makes Seong-Yeol's central dilemma all the more resonant: simple concepts delivered without ever degenerating into the usual tongue-in-cheek, I'm-too-damn-cool-to-show-sincere-emotions trendy drama shtick create pathos that can linger on without the need for forced histrionics, but it's a concept that's often ignored in an effort to make the story more accessible. Let capable thesps like Lee and Kim So-Eun (who's always been a natural when donning sageuk garbs) handle these dynamics, and manage to find a venue where a desperately limited but strangely intriguing prospect like Lee Su-Hyeok can strut his stuff without feeling overbearingly out of place, and suddenly you've got a solid drama in the making.

The problems, obviously, start when the show virtually pushes the reset button, time-warps its way 120 years in the (fictional) future, and gives us the same old narrative checkpoints we've come to expect from fusion sageuk: quirky heroine sneakingly hiding her femininity, a beautiful but elusive love interest slowly peeking into her “double life,” garden-variety political intrigue and a villain that removed from his initial narrative context (that defined his lust for Joseon blood) feels like nothing more than an ad-hoc “final boss” straight out of a videogame. It's as if you needed to conform to the expectations of the viewers in fear of being seen as a little too different for comfort, in turn turning off anyone who perhaps expected something a little different, for a change. Self-immolation, in a way.

There is a decent technical package here (particularly cinematography and music, which at times has a Philip Glass-like flair, although it would be astute to make it a little subtler and enveloping rather than assertive as it is now), and there is no doubt that Lee can carry a show like this on his shoulders – although Lee Yoo-Bi and particularly Shim Chang-Min seem ill-suited for the task. Also, while desperately derivative and with nothing new to say, so far the narrative is serviceable, without glaring tonal shifts or excessively throwaway ancillary characters put in even more ancillary situations. It's just that it's not good enough. To wake up the system you need to shock it. You need to throw something desperately cool, fresh, and especially confident at it. You need another 한성별곡-正 (Conspiracy in the Court) or especially a 기찰비록 (Joseon X-Files). Something that, to make a long story short, tells both the vast majority of people who have abandoned this industry's output altogether and those who still reluctantly support it that things are changing. And that they'll never be the same.

A vampire falling in love with a quirky heroine dressing up as a man? Sorry. Close, but no cigars.

ACTING GRADES

75 이준기 (Lee Joon-Gi)
70 김소은 (Kim So-Eun)
64 이수혁 (Lee Su-Hyeok)
61 이유비 (Lee Yoo-Bi)
61 이순재 (Lee Soon-Jae)
60 장희진 (Jang Hee-Jin)
60 정규수 (Jung Gyu-Soo)
60 오윤홍 (Oh Yoon-Hong)
60 최태환 (Choi Tae-Hwan)
58 양익준 (Yang Ik-Joon)
57 이현우 (Lee Hyun-Woo)
54 심창민 (Shim Chang-Min)

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