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‘Forbidden Dream,’ tale of relationship between legendary king and inventor

Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon era, was a man of science -- as popularly demonstrated by his depiction in the “Civilization” video game series.

Jang Yeong-sil was an engineer and inventor, who made his mark in history with countless inventions during Sejong’s reign that showed the technological advancement of his country.

Upcoming historical drama “Forbidden Dream” highlights the relationship between the two geniuses of the 15th century in a creative reimagining of what might have happened beyond the records. 

Choi Min-sik (left) and Han Suk-kyu speak during a press conference for “Forbidden Dream” in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Choi Min-sik (left) and Han Suk-kyu speak during a press conference for “Forbidden Dream” in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

“Sejong’s huge accomplishment was creating Hangeul (the Korean writing system), but he was also a man who founded the basis of the astronomy (in Joseon) with Jang,” said director Hur Jin-ho during a press conference for the film on Wednesday. “At the time, astronomy was under the power of Chinese emperor, and study of it could be punished. ... These two geniuses did this.”

Jang’s study of the skies -- applications of which included determining the exact time of the peninsula opposed to that of China -- was vital to Joseon’s agriculture, which was the country’s key industry. Jang is credited with several key inventions or discoveries, such as Joseon’s own celestial globe, the water clock, sundial and rain gauge, which was also important to farming.

The genius scientist disappears from the records after he was punished and expelled from the palace when a “gama” -- a wooden carriage in which royalty was carried -- he made for Sejong broke and injured the king.

“There is no record of Jang after his punishment. Sejong never just abandoned his subjects, which made me curious about Jang’s disappearance,” the director said. “The movie starts with what happened between the two who shared the same dream.”

Playing Jang is Choi Min-sik, a top actor best known for his role in 2003 film “Oldboy.”

“The relationship between the two (Jang and Sejong) has always caught my attention, because no book, no one had told me about that. ... Along with my curiosity came my desire to come up with various depictions (of Jang),” Choi said.

His co-star is Han Suk-kyu, with whom he shared the big screen two decades ago in “Shiri,” a film about espionage between the two Koreas.

“Choi and I also shared the same dream of acting 20 years ago. I’ve been waiting to work with him, but it took such a long time,” Han said on his reunion with Choi. “I think (Sejong) and Jang were men of enormous imagination. I wondered how he (Sejong) would’ve felt upon meeting someone who was just like him, and I imagined such a relationship would be like one between (Choi) and me.”

This marks the second time Han is playing one of the most beloved monarchs in Korean history, reprising the role he played in 2011 TV series “Deep Rooted Tree.”

“Forbidden Dream” opens in theaters next month.

By Yoon Min-sik