Despite its top notch cast, stellar script and near cinematic perfection, SBS' new Wednesday and Thursday night series "Painter of the Wind
" failed to win audiences over last week.
The period piece drew in nationwide viewer ratings of 10.6 percent (AGB Nielsen Media Research) following its first episode, which aired last Wednesday. Its low ratings placed it below rival dramas MBC's "Beethoven Virus
" and KBS' "The Land of the Wind", which scored nationwide ratings of 16.5 percent and 15.9 percent (AGB Nielsen Media Research) respectively.
The second episode of "Painter of the Wind
" fared only slightly better, with a mere 0.5 percent increase in ratings (AGB Nielsen Media Research).
But the drama's poor track record hardly does it justice. While ratings may reflect a viewer's preferences, they do not represent a series' level of quality. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of "Painter of the Wind
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, this drama -- which reinterprets and rewrites the lives of leading Joseon Dynasty painters Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok -- manages to fuse the artistic and human beauty of rival series "Beethoven Virus
" with the sweeping epic proportions of KBS' "Land of wind
Actor Park Shin-yang
and co-star Moon Geun-young
bring star power and acting prowess to the game, pulling off their leading roles as mentor and pupil, lovers and comrades, with stunning depth and complexity.
If "Painter of the Wind
" possesses an Achilles' heel, it is that it chooses to focus on art. For the average television viewer, the combination of art and history can come across as boring and long-winded.
"It is a difficult drama", admitted director Jang Tae-yoo
at a press conference held on Sept. 17. "It is challenging to make art interesting. I don't know how much of it will get communicated to audiences".
Judging from the first two episodes, Jang and his team have succeeded in breathing new life into a potentially stuffy genre. Soft and sweeping shots of aspiring court painters putting brush to paper and tipping back wine while ogling gisaeng (Korean geisha) paint an entirely new portrait of the Joseon Dynasty.
While the series retains the usual elements of intrigue and murder, politics and warfare take a back seat. Romance and the essence of the late Joseon Dynasty, of an era of reform and cultural renaissance, come to the forefront, imbibing the period piece with a strong sense of humanity and intimacy.
More importantly, the series takes on an approach reminiscent of lush period pieces like E. J-yong's "Untold Scandal
" (2003), by focusing on issues of sexuality and gender.
Posing the classically Shakespearian question: "What if the famed painter Shin Yun-bok had been a girl pretending to be a boy?" The drama -- like the original novel -- toys with themes of homosexuality and Forbidden Love
while highlighting the inequalities of a male-dominant society.
Actress Moon took up the challenge of playing girl-turned-boy Shin Yun-bok. And she does a surprisingly good job of portraying a confident and rebellious girl struggling to make it in a world ruled by men.
"I tried to copy my older male co-stars", said Moon, 21, at the press conference.
The precocious actress did more than just mimic her male colleagues. Within the first two episodes, she managed to convey the mischievous and anguished nature of her character, at times playing a sweet and innocent tomboy, at others a cocky and seductive painter.
Though there is no evidence to show that the real Shin was a woman, his talent at capturing the beauty of women and for creating exquisite intimate paintings remains undisputed.
Known by his pen name, Hyewon (b. 1758), he is remembered today as one of the "Three Wons" of Joseon-period painting.
The other two "Wons" include fellow genre painter Kim Hong-do a.k.a. Danwon (1745- c.1806) and 19th century painter Jang Seung-up (1843-1897) -- otherwise known as Owon.
While Kim enjoyed a relatively prominent career as an artist, fellow painter Shin -- who was expelled from the royal painting institute, Dohwaseo -- lived a more obscure life.
"Painter of the Wind
" takes historical liberties with the lives of Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok, depicting a full-blown romance between Kim, played by Park Shin-yang
, and Moon Geun-young
's character against the backdrop of 18th century Korea.
"Painter of the Wind
" airs on Wednesday and Thursday nights on SBS at 9:55 p.m.
By Jean Oh