This post provides a little background-context for Tree With Deep Roots, which is a novel by Lee Jung Myung adapted into a sageuk (S. Korean historical drama) of 24 episodes. The name comes from a poem… and the roots pertain to the ministers… ——–>>> (This post is yet unfinished. But since I have already done much on it then I’ve decided to let it out. I do not know when I can have the chance to finish it. I ask for your kindness and understanding. Thank you.)
The things I say here do not do justice to the story, specifically the drama. I do not have much analysis here because it has already been a year since I saw it. I have forgotten the details. But what will always remain with me is the way the King Lee Do here fought off self-aggrandizement. He is ever wary of power but he knows how to make good with the privilege he has as the nation’s ruler. Perhaps when I pick up this post again, to edit, then I would be able to speak with more substance. For now, please excuse the mess 😛 . But please enjoy the photo galleries I have made. I am especially happy that it is for the sageuk Tree With Deep Roots‘ King Sejong the Great, or informally King Lee Do, that I have first made them. Also, I am delighted to find out that South Korea names a new “city” after him.
King Sejong the Great (May 15, 1397 – April 8, 1450, reigned 1418–1450, fourth king of Joseon), of the personal name Lee Do, or Yi Do, is the subject of the story. This drama revolves around his efforts to create the first official native Korean script, called Han-gul or Han-geul. The most characteristic trait of King Lee Do portrayed here is that he refuses to succumb to the use of might. The drama depicts the academic and logistic struggles of the king and his companions to eventually bring out into the common people the easily memorized Korean alphabet (compared to the official Chinese script that only those of the so-called upper class know how to read and write).
As his title states, King Sejong the Great is a highly honored person even today. Here was how his birth anniversary was celebrated in 2012:
This year 2014 marks the inauguration of an autonomous city named after him:
From the article where the map above is found it reads:
“The Government Complex Sejong is the new home for 4,888 civil servants from ten central government organizations: the ministries of culture, sports and tourism; trade, industry and energy; health and welfare; employment and labor; and, patriots and veterans affairs. The 17-day move takes place from December 13 to 29. With this phase of moving, the total number of civil servants in the new government complex has reached about 10,000 and covers 31 organizations. So far, ten out of the total 17 central government organizations have moved to the Government Complex-Sejong, with state-funded research institutes having started the move in 2011. The shift to the new administrative city now being almost complete, the government’s new era at the Government Complex-Sejong is in full effect. “
There also is a Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, http://www.sejongpac.or.kr/eng/main/main.asp . It holds Asia’s largest pipe organ.
There is a movement for promoting the Korean language, undertaken by the King Sejong Institute.
An image-search on King Sejong the Great yields results that include a monument to him, a royal portrait done in the authentic style, and a poster of another drama based on his life. The king is usually shown wearing his robe, called the dragon robe, of a specific red hue. Even his official portrait has to have this specificity, a fact I learned from Painter of the Wind, which is another historical drama based on the lives of two of the best painters in the kingdom during Yi San’s reign (Yisan = Lee San) 🙂
Tree With Deep Roots, both the novel and the drama, incorporate much fiction. They are not factual authorities. This post deals with the drama and is from a perspective after almost a year of having watched it. This perspective is of a particular Asian who has not read the novel, does not know the languages and scripts of China and Korea, has not studied Confucianism, Buddhism, and Korea itself, and who has not been there, yet. Please excuse the deficiencies and the obvious delight over this particular film production.
Part I. The king’s personal struggle against the ugliness of violence starts when as a child he accidentally discovers that his father is a ruthless ruler. He did so after having read an essay in a scholars’ exam. The examinee is the young son, not much older than him, of the person representing the main opposition to his father’s rule. He then meets this young scholar and does a verbal sparring with him. The naive Lee Do seemed to have been defeated in this encounter, leading him to be in the company of this boy, actually the future Bonwon (Main Root), as they witness one of the ways that Lee Do’s father employ in order to maintain his power. In this instance the violence is against the future Bonwon’s person and family itself.
The picture galleries zoom in when clicked on.
Part II. Lee Do ascends to the throne as a young man, at an age when he does not yet have the adult men’s facial hair, the one that easily marks eunuchs, who do not have such. His father the former king, King Lee Bang-won (King Taejong), still holds power in every sense of the word. As such, Lee Do is king only in garb and name. His days are spent by himself, thinking and studying, away from the company that his father keeps. His encounters with his father is always tense because his father disapproves of his naivete.
His favorite activity whenever he experiences fear due to his father is sudoku. In his massive personal/private study hall he has a giant 33 x 33 board on the floor, one that he has been trying to solve for some time now. As Muhyul enters the hall we see him passing by solved sudoku in increasing sizes, the biggest one visible is at the further right of the king who has his back turned to everyone as he figures out the puzzle on paper. All his attendants are palace maids. They are the movers of the blocks and the calculators, using the abacus. Later is father comes in and mocks the puzzle on hand, calling it the Devil Defensive Formation due to how it can engage the one who tries to solve it as if possessed by a demon. His father destroyed a 3 x 3 formation to show him his own solution to that pattern. It is to put only the value 1 at the center. Somehow this idea, along with another one that comes in later, enabled him to solve the 33 x 33.
His father constantly hopes and entices him through subtle psychological wars to engage in the wielding of power the way he does it. Lee Do refuses him until his death bed, even when his father keeps on insisting that his reigning of this power, keeping it in check with his will, will eventually “rot” inside him and “poison” him. This struggle against the wielding of power, against the wanton use of might, stays with Lee Do until his adult years.
A major psychological war between them took place on the night of the slaughter of prisoners, who are mostly household slaves of the young king Lee Do’s father-in-law (i.e., they are of the queen’s household), due to political machinations. This is in episode 2. Lee Do for the first time unknowingly shows his father that he is wise enough to figure out where to tap power from. This was a very engaging scene involving extreme emotions: disdain, fear, resignation, anger, pain, panic, and overall tension that could draw blood any moment. Lee Do’s winning move was found in his personal bodyguard, Muhyul (Moohyul). Lee Do thought that he had lost in this battle but in fact because of his lightning decision to engage Muhyul his father is now beginning to see him with new eyes. The direct point of contention, the root of the argument, was that Lee Bang-won wanted to kill an escaped slave’s son, a young boy, whom Lee Do has protected by hiding him in a shed nearby. Lee Do simply refuses to give up this boy (who will grow up to be the adult Kang Chae-yoon, portrayed by Mr. Jang Hyuk), and at that time a seemingly petty exercise on his part as the protector of the common people but nevertheless he’s determined to see it through against his father’s all-might.
Here next is an evolution in pictures of how Lee Do changed from a nervous adolescent into one who now carries a veiled threat to his father’s power, but in a dissimilar manner. As Lee Do steps into the soldiers’ target training area the powerful part of the longish soundtrack My Way plays. His father himself gives the order to shoot. The soldiers obey their commander despite their nervousness. The activity is an extreme insult to the young king, one which in ordinary circumstances would call for instant death. Lee Do knows, despite his understandable fear, that due to political reasons his father would not have the arrows be aimed at him, as well as he knows of the dexterity of the soldiers to not have any accidentally hit him. The greater fear that he has to face is therefore the one of him finally stepping out of the shadows and have it spelled out to his father that finally he knows what to do, and that he intends to do it. He offset his father in this encounter when he answered resolutely that from now on he would do things his own way. This final encounter between them came about when his father presented him with a no-win puzzle, with his life at stake. He was able to solve it by radically thinking outside of the box, literally and figuratively (there’s another picture gallery on this, after the one below). He interpreted Lee Bang-won’s puzzle in an unexpected manner, one that Lee Bang-won himself gave the clue to. Thus, his latent insightfulness was unveiled before his father’s eyes. He and his father downplay this potential, that is him, until the former king dies. Although Lee Bang-won never won in any of their ideas-parrying sessions, still Lee Do fulfills his promise of “humility”. He went on to build his Jip-hyun-jun, a hall for studying among fellow scholars, since he has resolved to wait it out and prepare the field for the time when his father is no more, when he at last becomes his own person as the people’s king.
That crucial encounter with his father was the result of him finally having solved the 33 x 33 sudoku puzzle. He has figured out a way to enable him to solve any sudoku game, of any size. Instead of just concentrating on the enclosed square space he expanded the area, making a bigger square that encloses the original one. With all the figures in place now, corresponding blocks are then inserted into appropriate places, back into the original square-area. Voila. All columns, rows, and diagonals add up to the same figure.
Part III. King Lee Do’s reign is a triumph against the seduction of power. He is shown as a superb scholar with radical perspectives. As such he has to work things out away from the acidity of the kingdom’s conservative mainstream scholars. He is introspective, careful, systematic, patient, persevering. These few faces of the young and the adult King Lee Do speak of this personality. Adulthood has brought him self-confidence and openness in his interpersonal relationships. But his pensiveness and naivete remained with him. As time goes by the passion with which he pursues things for his people is of similar, if not slightly less, intensity to the one he subjects his own self to, in self-criticism, throughout the years that he, stage after stage, works out his plans. This group of pictures may be redundant for this post but still I include them because I admire this character, Lee Do, in this drama. He’s the reason why I gave up things today just to be able to do put this all up. It is also because of him that I was able to try making a picture gallery, here in this post for the first time. If not for him I wouldn’t have found out about the two great actors featured here, Mr. Han Suk-kyu as the adult king and Mr. Song Joong-ki as the young king, plus the others who also made the story adaptation great. [This particular picture gallery does not zoom in when clicked on, but a slideshow of them follows beneath.]
[12 April 2014 addition]
It is timely that I am now in Episode 18 of re-watching the drama. Without taking note of the specifics, the points being made clear now are of the promulgation of the king’s letters. The antagonists think of it as a life-and-death situation. They oppose the enabling of the commoners’ literacy because this would take power away from the aristocrats. This, they say, will cause the kingdom to collapse. King Lee Do thinks otherwise. He mobilizes his allies, both overt and covert, against an enemy the capability of which matches his.
I anticipate that by the time I get through this episode, and most likely the next as well, I would have arrived at the heart of all the arguments. Most likely I would recall why I got attached to Lee Do’s story this strong, why I thought that he’s radical as well as credible, not just a revered icon but a real human, and why I fell for him 🙂 I have a feeling that these two episodes need a separate longish post as well 😛
Here now are those whom I call as composing King Lee Do’s Machinery, and a tiny glimpse of the “antis”. The whole story works with intersections among the characters. What I have here, for now, is the simplest of delineations. The other characters who are as crucial to the entire movement I will have to leave off until the next part:
This part is about the king, Ddolbok and Soyi, plus the king’s self-deliberation scenes with his younger self. ___________ : [I pressed enter here before uploading the pictures]
This part shows the relationships between the main protagonists and antagonists. ———- ?
This part shows the cast _________ :
This part shows related discoveries ____________ :
The main trigger as to why I was encouraged to make this longish post was a modelling picture of Song Joong Ki that I saw. When I noticed that he, too, had make-up on I was reminded of how make-up is basic to show business/entertainment, both then and now. Not even Song Joong Ki is spared of it despite his clear skin. I was just at first looking at that picture of his, marveling at the make-up he has on, and suddenly had to recall to myself when and how did I notice that he is not just a face but a talented artist, too. So I thought that instead of just commenting at his looks why not talk about the drama where I first admired the way he projected a character, that of young King Lee Do side by side with a respected veteran, Mr. Han Suk-kyu. So here are just a few other faces of Mr. Song Joong-ki, including that one where I noticed the make-up on him. My top favorites here are, of course, the ones where he just poses as himself, the common citizen who is known by the name Song Joong-ki in the glamour world. [The original owners have the credit to these pictures).
By the way, it’s not only the male celebrities who patronize make-up in South Korea, and in other countries as well. In South Korea the qualification for employment, which involves fierce competition, is assumed to be taking into consideration the way a person fixes his face (i.e., equally with men & women). Somehow it’s a manifestation of the drive to excellence. But you know how the business world is… push push push … treating assets, living and inanimate, all alike …