Historical Distortion and the Limits of Artistic Imagination

김건희l승인2019.09.03l수정2019.09.03 20:14l372호 1면

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  The movie 'The King’s Letters' ended its screening in theaters in just two weeks due to a controversy surrounding its historical distortions. 'The King’s Letters' was a tentpole movie with all the right elements for success.  It starred top Korean actors, helping with its marketability and had all the right conditions for success, as it dealt with King Se-jong, whom is widely regarded as the greatest king of the Joseon Dynasty for his invention of Hangeul. But the filmmaker's imagination failed to persuade the audience of its value and instead caused controversy over its interpretation of history.

▲ The King's Letters.succeeded in drawing attention with a tent-pol movie. (Photo from Google)

  The artistic fiction utilized, regarding the creation of Hangeul by Shin Mi, a Buddhist monk, is the main point of contention surrounding the movie. History scholars regard the invention of Hangeul as either King Sejong's solo achievement or his work together with scholars at Jiphyeonjeon. Their interpretation focuses on the achievements of King Sejong, which are well-known amongst the current generation. The director of The King’s Letters, chose instead to represent one of several hypotheses surrounding the invention of Hangeul in the movie, but failed to gain public sympathy because it turned commonly accepted knowledge into fiction. While more than half of the stories recounted in the movie were informational facts, this was the only part that was disputed as fictional, causing viewers to see the film as misleading.

  There are many other works that have been written based on historical facts. For example in ‘Masquerade, 爾: King And The Clown’, the Flower Garden of the Wind and the Deep-Rooted Tree, etc. The Deep-Rooted Tree is an episode about King Sejong and the creation of Hangeul. So what was the key to success for these works? They fully grasped current issues, while at the same time reconstructed historical facts in a persuasive and believable manner. Historical videos cannot avoid background research errors, especially when fictional imaginations are combined with history. However, they should not distort the most widely accepted facts and risk stirring up public disapproval.

▲ The garden of the wind stimulated the public with fresh imagination. (Photo from Google)

  The imagination adapted to historical plots is normally a welcomed part of many period-based films and art has emerged as a major motif in these types of movies, novels and dramas. The imagination that allows us to experience other worlds outside the realm of our daily lives can give us new life. When dealing with periods in history, it is important to create a story that fills in the gaps of historical records with a creative, yet believable imagination. However, in the case of “The King’s Letter”, the element of imagination went too far. By distorting historical facts and reinterpreting history from a fresh perspective, the very worthy story failed to be appreciated by the public.


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