What can possibly go wrong with the new blockbuster drama penned by a writer whose long track record includes pan-Asian smash hits Descendants of the Sun and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God?

The two dramas had viewership ratings of 38.8 and 20.5 per cent, respectively, with Guardian: The Lonely and Great God seen by a record cable-drama audience.

Creators of ‘Descendants of the Sun’ bring us ‘Mr. Sunshine’

Writer Kim Eun-sook and producer Lee Eung-bok’s much-anticipated third project Mr. Sunshine, which follows their 2016 hit Descendants and 2017’s Guardian – which starts on the US television subscription channel, Netflix in July – was unveiled in Seoul this week.

The overriding focus at the first press event for the drama on Tuesday was not over the question of if, but how it can become a certain hit for audiences around the world.

The 24-part drama, starring veteran South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun and rising star Kim Tae-ri, is set in Korea in the late 1800s and early 1900s before the nation was colonised by Japan.

It tells the story of the wartime romance between a Korean-born American marine, Eugene Choi and Ko Ae-shin, the daughter of a family that fights against Japan’s invasion of Joseon (1392-1910).

Mr. Sunshine was inspired by historical events concerning a US expedition to Korea in 1871, the first American military action on and around Ganghwa Island, which led to more than 200 Korean troops being killed.

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It forced the regent, Daewon-gun, to strengthen his policy of isolation until Korea established a trade treaty with Japan, after Japanese ships approached Ganghwa and threatened to fire on Seoul in 1876. Korean treaties with European countries and the United States soon followed.

Although that period had a maelstrom of sudden changes, not many dramas tell the stories of that time
Actor Lee Byung-hun, star of ‘Mr. Sunshine’

“Although that period had a maelstrom of sudden changes, not many dramas tell the stories of that time,” Lee, who plays Choi, said.

Lee plays Choi, a servant boy who boards a US navy ship after his parents are killed by his master and later returns to Korea as a captain in the US marines.

“My character is very interesting in that he is an American who harbours hard feelings toward his own country Joseon,” Lee said.

The forthcoming drama is a welcome small-screen return for Lee, who has spent the past nine years appearing mostly in feature films, including the Hollywood productions G.I. Joe,  Red 2 and The Magnificent Seven.

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Kim, who shot to fame appearing in Park Chan-wook’s film The Handmaiden, plays Choi’s love interest, Ko, the daughter of a noble family who becomes a patriotic assassin, gunning down those who sided with Japan and betrayed her country.

The drama marks her small-screen debut.

The Saturday-Sunday drama series, a production with an estimated 40 billion won budget US$36 million), will be broadcast on Netflix so that it can reach beyond Korea and appeal to a global audience.

“Though I have starred in Hollywood films, it is my first time to be in a Korean production that will be showcased around the world,” Lee said.

Many of the global viewers may watch the drama with limited knowledge of that historical time period, but drama is about the unfolding of human relationships in the end.
Lee Byung-hun

Asked about concerns over how international fans, unfamiliar with Korean history, would respond to the drama, Lee said: “Many of the global viewers may watch the drama with limited knowledge of that historical time period, but drama is about the unfolding of human relationships in the end.

“Foreign viewers will be able to understand the feelings and emotions through the characters and their relationships.”

Mr. Sunshine will premiere on Netflix on July 7.

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This article was originally written by Park Jin-hai for The Korea Times.