Lee Young Ae aims to show boldness behind the good, wise wife

Angela Jung, Jan. 25, 2017, 9:28 a.m.

Returning to television drama after 14 years, Lee Young-ae said she wants to portray a passionate, modern rendition of a historical figure in her latest role. “Saimdang, Light’s Diary,” which launches Thursday at 10 p.m. on SBS, alternates between the present and the Joseon era. Lee plays both Seo Ji-yoon, an art history student living in modern-day Seoul, and Shin Saimdang, a famed poet, artist and scholar of the Joseon era.

“I thought it would be interesting if I could show the dynamic and passionate aspects of (Shin),” she told reporters at a press conference featuring the show’s cast Tuesday at Lotte Hotel Seoul. 

More than a decade has passed since Lee appeared in the hit historical series “Daejangeum” ? previously known as “Jewel in the Palace” -- in which she played a royal cook who rises in the court and further trains to be a physician.

“I have since become a mother,” said Lee. “It has been a long time since I stood in front of the camera. I am also a working mom now. I feel my acting has more expression and depth compared to when I was single.”

In Korea, the artist Shin is a symbol of the good, wise mother and wife, even depicted on the Korean 50,000-won bill. 

“But I wanted to escape from the image of her smiling serenely on the bill,” said Lee. “She had many roles. She had to take care of home life, paint and also earn a living.”

Born to a progressive father who fostered her talents, records show that Shin had relative freedom to pursue her art compared to her female contemporaries. 

Even so, Lee said she imagined there must have been a fire within Shin that the historians overlooked, crediting the show’s writer Park Eun-ryeong for her progressive interpretation of the historical figure.

“I felt there had to be a bolder side to her.”

In some ways, the character overlaps with Lee’s character in “Daejangeum,” in which she also played a talented woman ahead of her time, she said.

“Saimdang, Light’s Diary” features an entirely fictional character, Lee Kyeom, played by Song Seung-heon, who remains devoted to Shin throughout her life even after her marriage to another man. 

“(‘Saimdang’) is not a historical documentary,” said the show’s writer Park. “It doesn’t strive to adhere strictly to historical facts. I read a lot of records, but where the pieces were missing, I filled them in with my imagination. I hope viewers will keep that in mind.”

“Saimdang,” directed by Yoon Sang-ho and co-produced by Group Eight and Emperor Entertainment Group Korea, airs Wednesdays and Thursdays on SBS. The show is available to viewers outside of Korea on streaming sites DramaFever and Viki.

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