In recent years, with the release of dramas such as “100 Days My Prince,” “Arthdal Chronicles” and “Kingdom,” the sageuk (historical drama) has become increasingly popular. These dramas draw on events or tales from the vast history of Korea. Although they often use a little artistic license, the finished product is a beautifully presented account of what life was like all those years ago.
Of course, dramas that tell such stories require actors and actresses with the ability to portray a character effectively, in a way that allows the viewer to become totally immersed. Although there is no end of talent within the K-drama world, every now and again there will be a stand-out performance that really grips viewers and makes them remember the character for a long time.
As such, let’s check out seven actors and actresses that shone in a historical drama!
1) Cha Eun Woo – “Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung”
In what is possibly his best work to date, Cha Eun Woo took on the role of Yi Rim, the Prince Dowon, in the K-drama “Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung.” The young prince is secret romance novelist who is desperate to escape from the confines of palace life. Cha Eun Woo plays the part perfectly and shows various emotions from comic disbelief to unwavering determination to do the right thing. Yi Rim’s blossoming romance with historian Goo Hae Ryung allows him to show how sweet and caring his character is. It is the mature handling of this role that shows Eun Woo’s capability as an actor, a talent that belies his young age. This drama is an underrated gem which handles an interesting topic, so make sure to click here to read our full review of the series.
2) Kim Ji Soo – “Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth”
Based on a real historical figure, Queen Ji So was the mother of Jinheung of Silla and was the founder of the elite warrior group, Hwarang. The drama “Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth” documents some of her ten years as regent and actress Kim Ji Soo is phenomenal in the role. Queen Ji So believes she is doing the best for her son, and there are fleeting moments of tenderness that make you really feel for her. However, it is hard to like her since actress Kim is more than adept at portraying the greedy, manipulative part of her character that lies within.
3) Park Ji Hoon – “Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency”
Claiming he can turn any client into a true beauty, Go Young Soo is the fashionista of the Flower Crew in the fun K-drama “Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency.” He is handsome and overflowing with confidence, and Park Ji Hoon portrays this with ease. As the drama progresses, the dark and tragic past of Go Young Soo is revealed, and it is here that Ji Hoon really shows his talent as an actor, switching from the charismatic to fearful. Anybody who watches “Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency” will find it impossible to not fall in love with Go Young Soo. Ji Hoon even manages to squeeze his famous “save you in my heart” catchphrase into the script!
4) Lee Young Ae – “Saimdang: Memoir of Colours”
Lee Young Ae is well known for her roles in Sageuk dramas and her portrayal of Shin Saimdang in “Saimdang: Memoir of Colours” is no exception. Saimdang was the pen name of Shin In Seon, the famous Joseon artist and poet, whose portrait can now be seen on the 50,000 won note. The drama stays pretty true to history, apart from the introduction of the handsome love interest and a few other embellishments. Meanwhile, Lee Young Ae perfectly showcases Saimdang’s intelligence, determination, faithfulness, and motherly love, attributes that very much contributed to her legacy.
5) Kim Seon Ho – “100 Days My Prince”
In his first Sageuk role, Kim Seon Ho portrays the lovable second male lead Jung Jae Yoon in the K-drama “100 Days My Prince.” He is the village magistrate and later becomes the secret advisor to the Crown Prince. Kim Seon Ho really demonstrates the development of his character, from dealing with the various trails of the village to the the politics of the royal court. He is very convincing as a sufferer of prosopagnosia or ‘face blindness’ and the adorable look of confusion he so often wears almost makes you believe he himself really doesn’t recognize anyone.
6) Kim Yoo Jung – “Moonlight Drawn By Clouds”
Dubbed the “Sageuk Fairy” due to her frequent appearances in historical dramas, Kim Yoo Jung took on her first leading role in the hit series “Moonlight Drawn By Clouds.” Despite being just 17-years-old at the time, Kim Yoo Jung really captured the complex dilemma of her dual characters and showcased her ability to portray both confidence and street smarts as Sam Nom, alongside shyness and innocence as Hong Ra On.
7) Lee Dong Gun – “Queen for Seven Days”
The final entry in this list is another real figure from Korean history and is perhaps the most notorious. Eventually overthrown, King Yeonsangun reigned from 1496-1506 and is still considered by many to be the worst tyrant of the Joseon Dynasty. The responsibility of depicting such a significant historical figure is a huge undertaking and Lee Dong Gun does it spectacularly. He really embodies the temperamental, insecure, and often down-right cruel side of the King, a dictator whose reign has been prophesized to fail. However, there is also another, gentler side to Yeonsangun in the series, and it is in these moments of emotional vulnerability that it becomes hard for viewers to fully dislike him.
Although there are many wonderful actors and actresses who have truly excelled in their sageuk roles, these are just a few of the ones who have captured our attention for one reason or another! What other celebrities would you have added to this list? Make sure to let us know your own thoughts by tweeting to us @whatthekpop1!
Katie Moran is an avid fan of Korean History and Culture, from the music to the fashion and, of course, the food! A historian by trade, sageuk is her favorite genre, but she also enjoys rom-com or horror, particularly if they involve any of her favorite actors.
Media: As Credited
Featured Imaged (L-R): KBS, KBS, SBS