KajoPicks: 5 K-dramas set in Korea under Japanese rule to watch
In 1910, the Japanese empire formally annexed the Korean peninsula through the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910.
Until the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was under Japanese rule which was administered by the Governor-General of Korea based in Keijo (now Seoul).
While Korea saw a growth in industrialisation and an improvement in infrastructure during this time, the country also suffered from exploitation of its people and marginalisation of Korean history and culture.
This part of history also inspired many films and dramas with their storyline set in Korea under Japanese rule:
If you are looking to watch a bit of history and plenty of entertainment, here are five K-dramas set in Korea under Japanese rule to watch:
1.Bridal Mask (2012)
During the Japanese occupation of Korea, local Koreans who worked for the Japanese were deemed as traitors by their fellow countrymen.
This drama shows how much these traitors were hated.
Set in the 1930s, Lee Kang-to (Joo Won) is a Korean who works with the Japanese police to capture Gaksital (Bridal Mask).
Gaksital is a masked vigilante who fights for Korea’s independence using his skills in traditional martial arts, taekkyeon.
What Kang-to does not know at first is that his estranged brother Lee Kang-san (Shin Hyun-joon) is the man behind Gaksital.
After Kang-to accidentally kills Kang-san, Kang-to decides to succeed his brother as Gaksital.
The drama is based on a popular Korean manhwa by Huh Young-man.
2.Inspiring Generation (2014)
Here is another drama set in Korea during Japanese rule which is based on a manhwa.
The manhwa Age of Feeling by Bang Hak-gi was published by Sports Seoul from June 1985 to June 1988.
Shin Jung -tae (Kim Hyun-joong)’s father died when a Japanese soldier shot him during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.
Since then, he worked hard to become a street fighter in the back alleys of Shanghai.
Jung-tae later comes across a group of Korean freedom fighters who gather in Shanghai to fight for independence in their home country.
But why Shanghai? The Korean Provisional Government (KPG) or formally known as the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was a partially recognised Korean government in-exile based in Shanghai, China.
Inspiring Generation was one of the more expensive series produced that year with the budget USD14 million.
It was filmed in a studio which was purposely-built to look like 1930s Shanghai.
3.Different Dreams (2019)
On Mar 1, 1919, over 1,000 demonstrations were held across different cities in Korea.
Attended by thousands of civilians and students, the event marks one of the first public displays of Korean resistance during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
Unfortunately, the event had a bloody ending with about 7,500 people killed, 16,000 others wounded and up to 46,000 arrested.
The drama Different Dreams (2019) was aired to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the March 1st Movement.
It follows the story of a group of freedom fighters with different ideologies but coming together with the same goal – to achieve independence for Korea.
One of the main characters Kim Won-bong (Yoo Ji-tae) is based on the real-life Korean anarchist and independence activist.
The director of Different Dreams, Yoon Sang-ho told The Korea Times that he wanted the second Eyes of Dawn, a classic hit drama which was aired between October 1991 and February 1992.
He stated, “That drama was a masterpiece that depicted the pains of Korea’s modern history. When I was young, the heart-touching drama captivated me so much that I thought I would like to do a project set in that period too.”
4.Mr Sunshine (2018)
If you are writing a fictional story based on a real-life past event, you have to be careful to avoid historical inaccuracies.
Take it from scriptwriter Kim Eun-sook, whose work Mr Sunshine (2018) received criticism for inaccurate portrayals of historical facts and being ‘pro-Japanese’.
Unlike other dramas which set in Korea under Japanese rule, this series depicts events that took place right before the annexation in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
It focuses on the work of the Righteous Army, who are real-life informal civilian militias that have appeared several times across Korean history, especially when the national armies were in need of assistance.
Moreover, the series features historical figures such as the last king of Joseon Emperor Gojong, Japanese politician Ito Hirobumi, Japanese diplomat Hayashi Gonsuke, American ambassador Horace Newton Allen and more.
To date, Mr Sunshine is the sixth highest ratings for cable television series and was the Drama of the Year at the 6th Apan Star Awards in 2018.
5.The Hymn of Death (2018)
Another Korean period drama based on true events, this one circles around a group of Korean students who furthered their studies in Japan.
Yun Sim-deok was the first Korean to study at the Tokyo Music School who later known as Korean first professional soprano singer.
While in Japan, she fell in love a fellow Korean student Kim U-jin who was studying English literature.
They both started a love affair as U-jin had a wife back in Korea.
The series follows the tragic romance between Sim-deok and U-jin.
It stars Lee Jong-suk and Shin Hye-sun who previously worked together in School 2013 (2013).