Saturday, June 23, 2018

“A Taxi Driver” (2017) and “26 Years” (2012): K-movies about Gwangju Uprising, synopses with no spoilers

Notes: (1) Jump to synopsis of “A Taxi Driver” or “26 Years”; (2) Main characters in “A Taxi Driver” — German reporter Jurgen Hinzpeter and the Korean taxi driver — are real-life characters, although some events and details of the movie were fictionalized; (3) Jump to lessons in photography from “A Taxi Driver” and “26 Years”

Documentary: May 18th Kwangju Democratic Uprising

Remembering the Late Jürgen Hinzpeter, Reporter of May 18

Kim Kwangseok Unsent Letter

Backgrounders about “Gwangju Uprising”

From Wikipedia: The Gwangju Uprising, alternatively called May 18 Democratic Uprising by UNESCO, and also known as May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, was a popular uprising in the city of Gwangju, South Korea, from May 18 to 27, 1980. Estimates suggest up to 606 people may have died. During this period, Gwangju citizens took up arms (by robbing local armories and police stations) when local Chonnam University students – who were demonstrating against the martial law government – were fired upon, killed, raped and beaten by government troops. The uprising ended on May 27, 1980. The event is sometimes called 5·18 (May 18), in reference to the date the movement began.

During Chun Doo-hwan’s presidency, the authorities defined the incident as a rebellion instigated by Communist sympathizers and rioters. By 1997, a national cemetery and day of commemoration (May 18), along with acts to “compensate, and restore honor” to victims, were established.

In 2011, 1980 Archives for the May 18th Democratic Uprising against Military Regime located in Gwangju city hall were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

For more information, read:

Real-life heroes of “A Taxi Driver” pass away without having reunited

In South Korea, an Unsung Hero of History Gets His Due (New York Times, August 2017)

Family of Former South Korean Dictator to Pay His Fines (New York Times, September 2013)

1980: The Kwangju uprising (PDF)

Korean History: Jürgen Hinzpeter’s 1980 Documentary Film on Gwangju Massacre and 2012 S. Korean Movie “26 Years”

“A Taxi Driver” (2017)

From Wikipedia: A Taxi Driver is a 2017 South Korean historical action drama film directed by Jang Hoon, with Song Kang-ho starring in the title role, alongside Thomas Kretschmann. The film centers on a taxi driver from Seoul, who unintentionally becomes involved in the events of the Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980.

The film was released on August 2, 2017, in South Korea. It was selected as the South Korean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated. The film was a commercial success, and was also the second highest grossing film of 2017.

The film topped the South Korean box office for three consecutive weekends. By August 28, the film had attracted 11.4 million viewers. According to the film’s distributor Showbox, the total attendance of the film surpassed the 12 million mark as of September 9, becoming the tenth most-watched local film of all time in South Korea.

How I wrote this summary of “A Taxi Driver” with no spoilers

1. I divided this summary into nine parts. For each part, I narrated the major actions without revealing the plot’s twist and turns.

2. Part 4 is the midway point of the movie (58:38 mark); at this point, you will have gotten to know the two major characters (Kim and Peter) and the two important minor characters (Jae-sik and Hwang Tae-sool). You can read Part 1 to Part 4 to understand what the movie is all about and then watch the movie.
Plot summary:

Part 1 (from start up to 23:36)

1980 ...

Kim Man-seob is the driver of a private taxi in Seoul; amidst the ongoing rallies on the streets by college students against martial law, he struggles financially as he raises his young daughter by himself.

In Japan, a group of journalists discuss the declaration of martial law in Korea and the reported violent crackdown on protesters by the military. Jurgen Hinzpeter (“Peter”), a German reporter, decides to go to Korea to find out what’s really happening there.

Pressured by his landlord to settle his unpaid rent, Kim manipulates his way into being hired by Peter to take him to Gwangju and then back to Seoul before the curfew.

Part 2 (from 23:37 to 35:58)

Despite obstacles, Kim and Peter manage to get into Gwangju. On the deserted streets, they meet a group of college students who are on their way to a protest rally. Peter befriends the students, who assign Jae-sik (the only one among them who can speak English) to be his guide and translator.

Sensing that there’s danger by staying in Gwangju, Kim decides to abandon Peter; he turn his taxi around and heads back to Seoul.

Part 3 (from 35:59 to 47:18)

As Kim and the old woman search the hospital, he meets Peter and two of the students; they accuse him of running off with Peter’s film bag. Worse, he gets into a fight with several taxi drivers from Gwangju.

Part 4 (from 47:19 to 58:38)

From a rooftop, Peter and a Korean photojournalist named Choi record the scenes of violence and mayhem on the streets below as soldiers charge and beat up the protesters. Despite Kim’s pleas, Peter and Jae-sik come down from the rooftop and run into the streets. With teargas filling the air and soldiers running amuck, Peter films the bloody chaos, but a plainclothes security officer spots him.

Part 5 (from 58:39 up to 1:12:40)

Kim and Peter are unable to go back to Seoul. Together with Jae-sik, they spend the night with the family of Hwang Tae-sool, one of the Gwangju taxi drivers.

Meanwhile, Choi, the photojournalist, and a few of his fellow reporters barricade the entrance of their newspaper’s printing press and begin printing the next day’s edition with pictures of the deadly dispersal of the protesters.

Part 6 (from 1:12:41 to 1:22:01)

Kim, Peter, and Jae-sik join the people who are gathering on the street in front of the burning TV station. But as the soldiers arrive, the plainclothes security officers spot Peter.

As Kim, Peter, and Jae-sik run away, they find themselves inside an abandoned building. But Kim and Peter get cornered in an upper floor, while Jae-sik gets caught. The security officer threatens to kill Jae-sik if Peter does not surrender his camera and films.

Part 7 (from 1:22:02 to 1:34:42)

Kim and Peter escape and run back to the house of Hwang Tae-sool, the Gwangju taxi driver. As Peter later stares at his films, Kim begins reminiscing in Korean about his stay in Saudi Arabia and about his family.

The next day, Kim decides to abandon Peter and go back to Seoul. But the soldiers are already searching for his taxi.

Part 8 (from 1:34:43 to 1:50:32)

Bothered by his conscience and by the lies in the media reports about Gwangju, Kim decides to return to Gwangju. At the hospital, he finds Peter and the Gwangju taxi driver weeping. He shakes Peter out of his stupor and tells him to film everything that’s happening in the hospital.

Later, Kim and Peter venture out into the street where the soldiers have shot numerous protesters; the soldiers also shoot anyone who tries to help evacuate the wounded. Unable to contain their anger, Kim and the Gwangju taxi drivers decide to help the wounded protesters.

Part 9 (from 1:50:33 to end)

With the plainclothes security officers hot on their trail, Kim and Peter escape from Gwangju by using the back roads on the mountains. But they’re stopped at a checkpoint, and the corporal in charge finds Kim’s original Seoul license plates.

Kim rams through the checkpoint, but the plainclothes security officers catch up with them on the highway.

“26 Years”

From Wikipedia: “26 Years” is a 2012 South Korean film based on the popular 2006 manhwa serialized online by manhwaga Kang Full. It is the fictional story of five ordinary people (a sports shooter, a gangster, a policeman, a businessman, and head of a private security firm) who band together in order to assassinate the man responsible for the massacre of innocent civilians in Gwangju in May 1980.

The film debuted at the top of the box office, selling 1,108,714 tickets in only a single week on release. It reached 2.5 million admissions in mid-December 2012, resulting in a total of nearly 3 million in January 2013.

Plot summary:

26 years after the Gwangju Uprising ...

Kim Gap-se is the chairman of a thriving conglomerate. With his son Kim Joo-ahn, he organizes a hit squad to assassinate the former Korean president who’s the mastermind behind the massacre of the protesters in Gwangju.

The hit squad consists of persons who had relatives who were killed in the massacre: Shim Mi-jin (a member of the Olympic shooting team), Kwak Jin-bae (a Gwangju gangster), and Kwon Jung-hyuk (a rookie policeman).

The former Korean president is heavily-guarded while traveling, and his house is like a fortress that’s protected by several layers of security. Kim Gap-se and Kim Joo-ahn thus make plans to bribe someone close to the former Korean president.

While preparing for the assassination, Jin-bae finds out Kim Gap-se’s real connection to the Gwangju Uprising. Disgusted by the conflicts among the hit squad, Mi-jin walks out, with Jung-hyuk following her.

Jung-hyuk’s superior officer becomes suspicious of his activities and orders someone to keep a close watch on him.

On the day of the planned assassination, Mi-jin posts herself in a place that overlooks the house of the former Korean president. While Jin-bae leads his fellow gangsters, Kim Gap-se and Kim Joo-ahn use their inside contact to enter the house.

But Jung-hyuk’s superior officer finally learns of the planned assassination. Together with a busload of policemen, he rushes to the house of the former Korean president.

Lessons in photography from “A Taxi Driver” and “26 Years”

“A Taxi Driver”

Aerial perspective
Background blur, focal center of attention
Compressed perspective, lines of direction
Conveying depth through overlappong forms
Establishing shot
Foreground and background blur
Foreground and background blur
Foreground and background blur
High angle shot
Linear perspective
Linear perspective
Low angle shot, leading lines
Natural frames
Visual balance

“26 years”

Background blur, shallow depth of field
Backlighting, rim lighting
Cool colors
Dutch angle, high angle shot
Extreme close-up
Foreground and background blur
Golden hours, establishing shot
High angle shot
Chiaroscuro (interplay of light and shadow)
Lens flare
Low angle shot, Dutch angle
Low angle shot, keystoning
Low angle shot, keystoning
Low key lighting, off-center emphasis
Natural frames
Natural frame
Foreground frame, lines of direction
Establishing shot, patterns
Rule of thirds
Shadows and reflections
High angle shot, shadows
Shallow depth of field, extreme close-up
Shallow depth of field
Golden hours, lens flare, silhouette
Low angle shot, silhouette, Dutch angle
Low angle shot, silhouette, Dutch angle
Visual balance

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

“The Iron Empress” aka “Empress Chun Chu” Eps. 1-78 (synopsis with no spoilers)

“Empress Cheonchu” also known as “The Iron Empress” is a 2009 South Korean period television series based on the title character, an actual historical figure and her lifelong struggle to protect the country her ancestors built. The granddaughter of Goryeo Dynasty founder Taejo Wanggeon, the empress ruled as the regent for her son Mokjong, the dynasty’s seventh ruler. Determined to realize her ambitious goals for the kingdom of Goryeo, she dons armor, battles against foreign invaders, and tramples her lover, her son and brother in her rise to power. (Wikpedia)
Jump to synopsis of Episodes 1-4; 5-7; 8-10; 11-15; 16-18; 19-20; 21-24; 25-27; 28-34; 35-38; 39-41; 42-43; 44-45; 46-47; 48-50; 51-56; 57-58; 59-61; 62-63; 64-69; 70-78 (Finale); Historical backgrounders and other information; Lessons in photography from “The Iron Empress”

How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers

1. I assumed that you will be reading these summaries and watching the videos chronologically.

2. I narrated the main actions in each episode or series of episodes, without revealing the plot’s twists and turns. (I used this same structure in my recaps of “Jumong,” “Empress Ki,” and “Yi San.”)

Eps. 1-4

The Khitan Empire launches a series of attacks against Goryeo. Among those who lead in Goryeo’s defense is Empress Chun Chu (the former Princess Hwang Bo Su). But in one battle, she and her right-hand man, Kim Chiyang, are cornered by the Khitans.

Flashback, 14 years earlier ...

In Seogyeong (Goryeo’s northern capital), the grand Buddhist ceremony is being held, with the royal court and the profligate Emperor Gyeongjung in attendance. Among those who pay their respects to Emperor Gyeongjung are the Grand Dowager Empress and her grandchildren — Prince Hwangjuwon (aka Wang Chi, the clan’s ambitious and last male heir), Princess Hwang Bo Seol (the youngest sister), and Princess Hwang Bo Su (a vivacious, young woman who loves archery and who has received a vision of a great quest in life from King Taejo, the founder of the Goryeo Empire).

Also paying his respect is Prince Gyeongjuwon. Years earlier, some ministers approached him about their plan to enthrone him by deposing Emperor Gyeongjung, but he refused and has pursued a life that’s devoted to the arts.

During the ceremony, Balhaen refugees start to riot when merchants take their children away and sell them off to Song merchants. Led by Gang Jo (an expert with the spear), the refugees run amuck on the wharf and in the marketplace.

During the contest, Princess Hwang Bo Su pities Hyangbi, a young Balhaen girl who’s about to be sold off as a slave. But later on, she finds herself among the Balhaen rioters. Meanwhile, her sister Princess Hwang Bo Seol is rescued from the rioters by Gang Gamcham, best friend of Prince Gyeongjuwon.

The ministers from the Shilla faction of the royal court use the riot as their opportunity to completely eliminate the Grand Dowager Empress and her clan. Later, with the increasing political intrigues among the ministers and to save her clan, the Grand Dowager Empress begs Princess Hwang Bo Su to marry Emperor Gyeongjung.

Eps. 5-7

After he marries both Princess Hwang Bo Su and Princess Hwang Bo Seol, Emperor Gyeongjung prohibits the Grand Dowager Empress from entering the palace. He then unleashes his cruelty on the new empresses.

In Myeongbok Palace, Gang Jo continues to train the soldiers from Hwangju. Meanwhile, Gang Gamcham warns Minister Seo Hui (the highest-ranking court official) about the danger that the Khitan Empire poses to Goryeo; he also proposes a plan for the Balhaen refugees that will benefit both them and Goryeo.

On his mentor’s advice, Prince Hwangjuwon (Wang Chi) meets with the Shilla faction’s leader and presents his vision of Goryeo as a nation that’s governed under Confucianism. But the faction’s leader questions his sincerity and determination because the Grand Dowager Empress is a devout Buddhist.

In order to protect his throne and Goryeo’s royal bloodline, Emperor Gyeongjung calls to the palace Prince Gyeongjuwon and Prince Hwangjuwon (Wang Chi). Later, he also brings back from exile Choi Ji Wong (the astrological adviser of Goryeo’s first four kings) and gives him complete power over the royal court.

Alarmed by these developments, the Shilla-faction ministers decide to strike back against Emperor Gyeongjong.

Eps. 8-10

Emperor Seongjong orders her sister, former Empress Hunae (aka Hwang Bo Su), to leave the palace and stay at her new residence, Sungdeok Palace. To Hunae’s shock, he also says that she must leave her son, Wang Song, in the palace.

The Grand Dowager Empress becomes angry when she finds out that Emperor Seongjong forced Hunae out of the palace and that he took in a new royal consort. But despite her protest, Emperor Seongjong refuses to let go of Hunae’s son; he also abolishes the grand Buddhist festival.

Two years later ...

Emperor Seongjong begins implementing sweeping reforms based on Confucianism; he also decides to make Goryeo a vassal state under the Song Dynasty, downgrading his title from “Emperor” to “King.”

When the Song Dynasty envoys are kidnapped, King Seongjong sends his royal guards to besiege Hwangju to force their release. But Gang Jo mobilizes the soldiers to defend Hwangju, the Grand Empress Dowager, and Hunae (aka “Lady Sungdeok”).

Nine years later ...

Hunae has become the popular and respected ruler of Myeongbok Palace in Hwangju. Together with Gang Jo and their soldiers, she defends the Balhaen refugees and the people of the northern lands from the Jurchens.

Hunae’s son Wang Song has grown up believing that she has abandoned him and thus treats Lady Yunheung as his real mother.

Despite fierce opposition from the ministers, King Seongjong plans to install Wang Song as a royal prince. When Hunae finds out about it, she decides to go to the capital. But there, Wang Song treats her coldly, and King Seongjong warns her to stop fighting the Jurchens.

While the royal court is busy preparing for the installation of Wang Song as a royal prince, Jurchens attack Myeongbok Palace and take several hostages, including Seol (former Empress Hunjeong). Hunae leaves the palace to rush back to Hwangju, and together with Gang Gamcham, she leads her men deep into Jurchen territory to rescue the hostages.

Eps. 11-15

Through an elaborate plan, Kim Chiyang and his Jurchen tribe deceive Hunae into accepting him and his two subordinates into Hwangju’s ranks. Later, he tells Hunae that he wants to start a trading business with the Jurchens and the Khitans.

King Seongjong bargains with Hunae — he will allow her to see Wang Song (Prince Gaeryeong) anytime if she agrees to leave Hwangju and begin living quietly in Sungdeok Palace. While thinking about the king’s offer, Hunae visits Queen Mundeok, who implores her to take her daughter Sun to live in Hwangju.

Back in Hwangju, Hunae warns her sister Seol (former Empress Hunjeong) and Prince Gyeongjuwon against their feelings for each other.

After King Seongjong decides to visit the northern lands, Minister Kim Wonsoong and Minister Choi Sum (the leader of the Silla faction) agree that the visit presents a perfect opportunity for their plans. They prepare to kill both Hunae and Prince Gaeryeong at the temple with assassins disguised as Jurchens.

Hunae escapes from the attack, and, together with Gang Jo, she takes the unconscious Prince Gaeryeong with her to Hwangju.

Thinking that Lady Yunheung is behind the attack, Hunae refuses to send Prince Gaeryeong back to the capital. The Shillan ministers thus decide to backstab her; Minister Kim Wonsoong and Minister Choi Sum hurry off to Seogyeong to report everything to King Seongjong.

Kim Chiyang and his subordinates (Sa Gamun and Sa Illa) become alarmed when they learn that Hunae is thinking of leaving Hwangju to live quietly in Sungdeok Palace. Without Kim Chiyang’s permission, Sa Gamun conspires with four men to assassinate King Seongjong.

Sa Gamun’s men incite the crowd to storm the palace in Seogyeong. When Hunae and Prince Gaeryeong arrive, the crowd recognizes her and begins chanting her name. While King Seongjong argues with Hunae and orders Prince Gaeryeong to come to him, a fire breaks out nearby. As confusion reigns, Sa Gamun shoots King Seonjong with a poisoned arrow.

Eps. 16-18

King Seongjong cuts off his ties with Hunae and prohibits her from traveling outside of Hwangju. Later, he tells the ministers that he will appoint Lady Yunheung as the new queen. But the Shilla ministers object and insist that he must take in another royal consort.

As he continues to investigate Kim Chiyang’s background, Gang Jo finds a connection between Kim Chiyang and Minister Choi Sum, the leader of the Shillan ministers. But when Chiyang finds out about it, he sends Sa Illa to kill Gang Jo’s informant.

Gang Gamcham finds out that Minister Kim Woonsong masterminded the attack against Hunae and Prince Gaeryeong. But he warns Hunae against revealing it prematurely to King Seongjong; to gather more evidence, they order Kim Chiyang to kidnap Foreman Jo who’s leading a trade caravan to the Khitan Empire.

After some bargaining among themselves, the ministers unanimously petition King Seongjong to drive away the Jurchens from the northern lands.

Foreman Jo escapes from Hwangju and straight away goes to Minister Kim Woonsong’s house.

After Minister Choi Sum visits him, Prince Gyeongjuwon hastily leaves his house, together with his wife Seol. Hunae hides them in Myeongbok Palace, but months later, Minister Kim Woonsong finds out it. He reports to King Seongjong that Hunae and Minister Choi Sum are plotting treason against him by using Prince Gyeongjuwon.

Eps. 19-20

Based on Minister Kim Woonsong’s malicious report, King Seongjong orders the surveillance of everyone and everything in Myeongbok Palace. Meanwhile, when the conflict between Gang Jo and Kim Chiyang becomes worse, Hunae intervenes. But Gang Jo tells Hyangbi to get more information from the temple, and later, he himself visits Minister Choi Sum.

When King Seongjong finds out that Hunae and Prince Gaeryeong have been sending letters to each other, he orders Gang Gamchang arrested. Later, he receives the report that Prince Gyeongjuwon is meeting with the Shillan ministers in Minister Choi Sum’s house.

The royal guards arrest Prince Gyeongjuwon, Minister Choi Sum, and the other Shillan ministers. Hunae and Seol rush to the capital, and outside the palace walls, they plead for Gang Gamcham and Prince Gyeongjuwon. In a private audience later on, Seol reminds King Seongjong that she sacrificed herself so that he could become the king. But King Seongjong screams at her that she’s an adulteress.

King Seongjong assigns Minister Kim Woonsong to interrogate Prince Gyeongjuwon, Gang Gamchang, Minister Choi Sum, and the other Shillan ministers.

Eps. 21-24

Seol dies giving birth to a baby boy. During the wake, King Seonjong visits Sungdeok Palace, but Hunae refuses to let him see Seol.

Back in the palace, Queen Munhwa (the former Lady Yunheung) comforts King Seongjong and tells him to show the baby boy (named Prince Daeryang) the love that he failed to show to Seol when she was alive. But this leads to a more bitter conflict between King Seongjong and Hunae.

A year later ...

From his place of exile, Prince Gyeongjuwon pleads with King Seongjong for mercy.

Through Minister Seo Hui, Hunae informs the royal court of the impending invasion by the Khitan army. But the Shillan ministers convince King Seongjong that Hunae cannot be trusted.

Together with Gang Jo and Kim Chiyang, Hunae assembles a hundred men to launch surprise attacks on the Khitan army in order to give enough time for Goryeo to prepare its defenses. Their first mission is to disrupt the Khitan army as it crosses the Yalu River.

But Hunae and her men mistakenly set up an ambush on the western route that the Khitan Empire used in their previous invasions. Meanwhile, a Goryeo officer disobeys Minister Seo Hui’s order and leads the advance guards into attacking the main Khitan army.

Minister Seo Hui, Gang Gamchang, and their army are caught in open ground by the much-larger Khitan army. From a distance, Hunae and her remaining men try to figure out how they can help.

In Seogyeong (the northern capital), King Seongjong and the ministers panic and send an envoy to seek terms of peace with the Khitan army. When the envoy hurries back to report that the Khitan army has more than 800,000 soldiers, Hunae rushes to Seogyeong and confronts King Seongjong; she says that he’s a coward who has failed to obey the edicts of King Taejo, Goryeo’s founder.

Enraged, King Seongjong throws Hunae into jail.

Eps. 25-27

While fear and despair prevail over the royal court, Gang Gamcham becomes worried about the movements of the Khitan army. He thus leads part of the Goryeo army into defending Yunju Fort.

Hunae, Gang Jo, and their citizen army reach Anyoongjin Fort. But the fort commander doesn’t want to have anything to do with them; he assigns Hunae and her men down to the riverside barricades. Among the soldiers in the barricades is Colonel Dae Dosu, whose father was the last crown prince of Balhae.

In anger over the royal court’s helplessness and willingness to surrender the northern lands to the Khitans, Hunae vows to overthrow King Seongjong. Kim Chiyang encourages her, but Gang Jo warns them that it’s treason. Alone with Hunae later on, Kim Chiyang begins to woo her.

While defending Yunju Fort against the Khitans, Gang Gamcham is betrayed by the village chief. Later on, Hunae and her men are overwhelmed by the Khitans at the riverside barricades. When they retreat into Anyoongjin Fort, the fort commander panics and orders everyone to surrender.

Sa Illa rides into the main Goryeo army camp to report about the Khitan army’s plan to capture Anyoongjin Fort. But the Goryeo commander thinks that she’s a Khitan spy and orders her to be executed.

Hunae, Kim Chiyang, and Gang Jo lead the soldiers from Anyoongjin Fort in pursuing after the retreating Khitans. But Hunae and Kim Chiyang get too far ahead of the other pursuers and become trapped on a cliff.

While Gang Jo, Hyangbi, and their men search desperately day and night for Hunae and Kim Chiyang, Minister Seo Hui and the grand commander of the Khitan army meet to discuss how to end the war.

Eps. 28-34

The massive search ends after a month, without any clue on what happened to Hunae. Despite being offered by King Seongjong a government position for his role in defeating the Khitans, Gang Jo blames himself for what happened to Hunae and sinks into drunken despair. Meanwhile, the Shillan ministers and Minister Kim Wonsoong become envious of Minister Seo Hui and Gang Gamcham’s rise to power; they plan to seek help from the Song Dynasty to restore their own power.

Hunae and Kim Chiyang have been captured by the Khitans and dragged off to Liaodong province. They’re presented before the Grand Dowager Empress Xiao of the Khitan Empire, who tries both flattery and threats to get Hunae’s cooperation in making Goryeo a vassal state under the Khitan Empire.

In prison, after an escape attempt, Kim Chiyang tells Hunae that he loves her. But despite his pleas to stop antagonizing the Khitans, Hunae refuses to cooperate.

Kim Chiyang remembers his childhood — how he, as the remaining heir of the Shillan throne, escaped from assassins sent by Minister Choi Sum and how he ended up in the care and protection of the Jurchens.

Grand Dowager Empress Xiao’s entourage and their Goryeo prisoners begin the 250-mile journey towards the Khitan capital. Meanwhile, encouraged by Sa Illa that Hunae and Kim Chiyang could have been captured by the Khitans, Gang Jo asks Gang Gamchan to help him, Hyangbi, Sa Illa, and Sa Gamun become part of the Goryeo diplomatic mission to the Khitan Empire.

The diplomatic mission later reaches Liaodong Province, but they’re told that Hunae was killed while trying to escape. When the news of Hunae’s death reaches Goryeo, the Shillan ministers rejoice, but King Seongjong vows revenge against the Khitan Empire.

Kim Chiyang tries to convince Grand Dowager Empress Xiao that turmoil will rock Goryeo if she allows Hunae to return there. But Hunae and the other Goryeo prisoners of war are sent to the iron mine. The mine is run by a cruel officer (an expert in Balhaen spear techniques), and Hunae will be the only woman there.

The diplomatic mission finally reaches the Khitan capital. When Gang Jo and Sa Illa find out that Hunae and Kim Chiyang are alive, they quickly tell Gang Gamcham and the head of the diplomatic mission about it. Gang Gamcham warns them, however, not to jeopardize the mission because it could lead to another war between Goryeo and Khitan.

But Gang Jo tells Sa Illa that he will kidnap Grand Dowager Empress Xiao and exchange her for Hunae. As a diversion, they set fires to different parts of the palace complex and then set Hunae free.

Eps. 35-38

Hunae wins the final contest between the Goryeo and Khitan warriors, and she secures the release of all Goryeo prisoners of war. But after being embarrassed before everyone, the Khitan Emperor vows revenge against her.

The Grand Dowager Empress Xiao takes Hunae to a place where they can see the lands of the Song Dynasty in the far distance. Meanwhile, the Khitan Prime Minister grants Kim Chiyang exclusive trading rights.

King Seongjong collapses after finding out about Prince Gaeryeon’s epilepsy; the royal doctor says that he must rest completely for the poison to disappear from his body.

Hunae returns to a rapturous hero’s welcome in Seogyeong. But in the capital, she finds out that Queen Munhwa is now the regent. Later, despite Queen Munhwa’s order, she forces her way into King Seongjong’s quarters.

Queen Munhwa restores the Shillan ministers to their former positions and sends Minister Seo Hui and Hang Gamcham to the northern territories. She also sends her father, Minister Kim Wonsoong, as an envoy to the Khitan Empire. Meanwhile, with Gang Jo working on getting the palace guards to their side, Hunae orders Hyangbi and Kim Chiyang to organize an army from the Balhaen refugees and Jurchen tribesmen.

As Sa Gamun’s man creates dissension among the public by spreading rumors about how corrupt the royal court is, Hunae agrees with Kim Chiyang’s plans to overthrow King Seongjong. Later on, however, she finally finds out about Prince Gaeryeong’s epilepsy.

Queen Munhwa and Minister Choi Sum plot to install Prince Daeryang (son of Prince Gyeongjuwon and Seol) as the next king, instead of Prince Gaeryeong. But when Kim Chiyang finds out about it, he orders Sa Illa to kill Prince Daeryang.

Eps. 39-41

Queen Munhwa and Minister Choi Sum are shocked to find out about the relationship between Hunae and Kim Chiyang. Meanwhile, in the Khitan capital, Minister Kim Wonsoong finds out about the secret deal between the Grand Dowager Empress Xiao and Hunae.

King Seongjong stops the torture of the civilians who were arrested by the palace guards on orders of Minister Choi Sum and Queen Munhwa; he also begins presiding over the royal court.

After dumping the village chief’s body into the sea, Sa Illa turns to kill Prince Gyeongjuwon and his son Prince Daeryang.

Tensions rise in the Khitan Empire when the Song Dynasty moves 100,000 soldiers near the border. Meanwhile, in the northern territories, Gang Gamcham and Minister Seo Hui find out more about Yang Kyu, the mysterious warrior.

In the capital, Queen Munhwa and Minister Choi Sum find out about Hunae and Kim Chiyang’s plans for a coup. Later, Confucian scholars gather outside the palace and petition King Seongjong not to appoint Prince Gaeryeong as the next king.

When the secret deal between the Grand Dowager Empress Xiao and Hunae is revealed three days before the coup, Kim Chiyang hastily changes their plans; he asks Gang Jo to immediately assassinate King Seongjong.

Eps. 42-43

Hunae’s rebellion fails, and King Seongjong orders everyone involved to be tortured. Later, he sentences the plotters, exiling Hunae 250 miles away from the capital.

King Seongjong demotes Prince Gaeryeong in status and confines him to Sungdeok Palace. After deciding to install Prince Daeryang as the new Crown Prince, he orders Gang Gamcham to bring him back to the palace.

Ten years later ....

The issue of who will succeed King Seongjong has not been resolved, with conflict arising between the Shillan ministers and the northerners led by Minister Seo Hui and Hang Gamcham.

Xiao Zanli (the Khitan royal consort) gets King Seongjong addicted to an opium extract. Meanwhile, Prince Gaeryeong has become a rowdy drunk and a womanizer.

Eps. 44-45

King Seongjong lifts Hunae’s exile and brings her back to the palace, despite the objections of Queen Munhwa and the Shillan ministers.

In Myeongbok Palace, Hunae tells Prince Gaeryeong that he will be the next king. But Prince Gaeryeong refuses, saying that he’s not interested in the throne. Later, assassins sent by Minister Choi Sum and Minister Kim Wonsoong attack and overrun Myeongbok Palace.

Queen Munhwa finds hope upon learning that Gang Gamcham has found Prince Daeryang and has brought him back to the palace. She hastily prepares a royal decree that names Prince Daeryang as the next king.

King Seongjong dies. After Hunae accepts his conditions, Prince Gaeryeong reluctantly agrees to take the throne. Acting as regent, Hunae imposes sweeping changes, promoting Minister Seo Hui, Gang Gamcham, and Gang Jo to higher positions and Kim Chiyang to a minor position. She also kicks Queen Munhwa and Khitan royal consort Xiao Zanli out of the palace.

Despite the royal court’s worries, Hunae restores Goryeo’s status as an empire; Emperor Mokjong (Prince Gaeryeong) bestows on her the title “Dowager Empress Chun Chu.”

Eps. 46-47

After revealing himself as the last remaining heir to the Shillan throne, Kim Chiyang kills Minister Choi Sum.

Dowager Empress Chun Chu interrogates the Shillan ministers and later orders the arrest and imprisonment of Lady Yunheung (Queen Munhwa). But in anger, Emperor Mokjong turns against her and the royal court.

Based on Kim Chiyang’s recommendations, Dowager Empress Chun Chu sentences the Shillan ministers. Minister Kim Wonsoong vows revenge for losing everything that he has, and later, Xiao Zanli forms an alliance with Lady Yunheung.

Emperor Mokjong coerces the ministers into stripping Kim Chiyang of his post and banning him from entering the palace. But Dowager Empress Chun Chu shocks everyone by admitting her relationship with Kim Chiyang and promoting him as the commissioner of finance.

Eps. 48-50

As part of the celebration of Emperor Mokjong and Sunjeong’s wedding, a martial arts competitions is scheduled. Among the dozens of warriors from all over Goryeo who join are Yang Kyu from the northern territories and Kim Sukheung (the man who saved Dowager Empress Chun Chu when she was in exile).

After the competition, Dowager Empress Chun Chu announces changes in policy, including making military officers equal with scholars-civil officials in rights and privileges. But the scholars-civil officials grumble at the changes, especially with the reinstatement of the Buddhist festivals.

Despite her misgivings, Lady Yunheung agrees with Xiao Zanli’s plan to entrap Emperor Mokjong. During the Lotus Lantern Festival, she manipulates Emperor Mokjong into sneaking out of the palace.

With the ministers caught in the middle, the conflict increases between Dowager Empress Chun Chu and Emperor Mokjong over Kim Chiyang’s actions.

When she finds out that Emperor Mokjong has been sneaking out of the palace at night, Dowager Empress Chun Chu orders the arrest and interrogation of Lady Yunheung and Xiao Zanli.

Eps. 51-56

After meeting with the Khitan Grand Dowager Empress Xiao and surviving an assassination attempt instigated by Emperor Shenzong, Dowager Empress Chunchu leads her entourage back to the capital. There, she finds out that Emperor Mokjong has reinstated the minister who tried to kill both of them. Meanwhile, Kim Chiyang finds out about Emperor Mokjong’s relationship with Yu Hangan, the male dancer.

With the Khitan Empire’s ever-present threat against Goryeo and despite the ministers’ objections, Dowager Empress Chunchu reorganizes several military units — the Two Armies and Six Guards of the central army under Gang Jo’s “Soaring Eagles” and Dae Dosu’s “Dragon Tigers” with some 48,000 soldiers in all. Meanwhile, Kim Chiyang organizes his own forces, with Jurchens disguising themselves as warrior-monks in Buddhist temples around the capital. He also begins bribing some top military officials and their men.

While Prince Daeryang continues to impress his tutor and Gang Gamcham with his intelligence and virtues, Emperor Mokjong continues in his debauchery.

When Dowager Empress Chunchu becomes pregnant with Kim Chiyang’s child, the ministers are outraged, and her conflict with Emperor Mokjong becomes deeper and deadlier.

Emperor Mokjong wants to abdicate in favor of Prince Daeryang and to act as his regent. But Dowager Empress Chunchu counters him, the ministers, and the protesting scholars by ordering Prince Daeryang to become a monk.

Because of all the incidents — the poisoning attempt, the attack on Prince Daeryang at the temple, and the assassination attempt after Gang Jo’s wedding — Gang Gamcham musters his courage and warns Dowager Empress Chunchu against Kim Chiyang’s ambitions.

Eps. 57-58

While Hyangbi continues to investigate Kim Chiyang’s background, Dowager Empress Chunchu takes Gang Gamcham’s advice and turns over the management of domestic affairs to Emperor Mokjong. Meanwhile, Milwha succeeds in getting Emperor Mokjong’s attention.

Tension arises when the envoys from Song China and the Khitan Empire arrive one after the other in the Goryeo capital. To get Dowager Empress Chunchu’s help in fighting the Khitan Empire, the Song China envoy agrees to give back the Balhaen and Goguryeo territories. Meanwhile, after meeting his spy Dokyun, the Khitan envoy threatens to expose Kim Chiyang if he doesn’t help prevent the Goryeo-Song China alliance.

Eps. 59-61

As the Song China and Khitan war begins, Empress Chunchu gives birth to a baby boy and, later, names him Prince Hwangju.

The Goryeo expedition against the Khitan Empire is disrupted by infighting among the ministers and an earthquake that devastates villages and army camps in the staging area.

Three years later ...

With Emperor Mokjong’s success in gaining the people’s affection through the earthquake-rebuilding projects, Dowager Empress Chunchu decides to end her regency.

Anxious that Dowager Empress Chunchu’s plans could affect his own plans for Prince Hwangju, Kim Chiyang exposes Kim Woon-soong’s counterfeiting operations and the truth about Royal Consort Milhwa’s pregnancy.

As she continues her investigation, Hyangbi gets caught secretly listening to Kim Chiyang’s conversation. She escapes, but Sa Illa chases after her. She overpowers Sa Illa in their fight, but Kim Chiyang shoots her on the back with an arrow.

Eps. 62-63

Unable to forget Royal Consort Milhwa’s death, Emperor Mokjong asks his attendant Yu Hangan to get him some opium extract. After using the extract, he hallucinates, thinking that Yu Hangan is his beloved Milhwa.

After Hyangbi’s funeral, Gang Jo takes a post as inspector general of the northwest provincial armies.

When the people become restive over the taxes and conscription needed to maintain Goryeo’s army of 300,000 soldiers, Dowager Empress Chunchu decides to impose changes in the centuries-old sharing scheme in the income between the landowners and the tenant-farmers. But Gang Gamcham warns her that the ministers and the landowners will oppose her plan.

In the Khitan capital, Grand Dowager Empress Xiao leaves for a warmer climate to deal with her sickness. In her absence, Emperor Shenzong recalls some of his generals and begins plotting how to conquer Goryeo.

Because of Princess Jeong’s appeal, Dowager Empress Chunchu lifts the exile of former Queen Munwha.

When Gang Gamcham visits him in the northwest territories and then asks him to secretly watch Kim Chiyang’s movements in the border market, Gang Jo happily obliges. But he loses control after seeing Kim Chiyang meeting with the Khitan Prime Minister.

Eps. 64-69

After Emperor Mokjong admits that he slept with his attendant Yu Hangan, Dowager Empress Chunchu decides to depose him and to install Prince Daeryang in his place. She secretly orders Gang Gamcham to bring Prince Daeryang back to the capital. Meanwhile, Emperor Mokjong confesses to the shocked ministers that he has slept with a man.

Through Sa Illa, Kim Chiyang finds out about Dowager Empress Chunchu’s plan, and he immediately sends Sa Gamun and Dokyun to find and kill Prince Daeryang.

Gang Gamcham tells Dowager Empress Chunchu that Kim Chiyang ordered the assassination attempt against Prince Daeryang. She doesn’t want to believe it at first, but after confronting Sa Illa, she orders the arrest of Sa Gamun and Dokyun.

Kim Chiyang decides that it’s time to launch his coup and overthrow Emperor Mokjong and Dowager Empress Chunchu. He mobilizes the warrior-monks from the temples around the capital and the military officers and men whom he has been bribing through the years. He also asks the Khitan Prime Minister to send troops to pin down Gang Jo and his army and thus prevent them from rushing to the capital.

Eps. 70-78 (Finale)

Emperor Mokjong abdicates the throne, in favor of Prince Daeryang. But General Gang Jo mobilizes his soldiers and threatens the royal court to continue Dowager Empress Chunchu’s regency.

The ministers pressure Emperor Hyeonjong (Prince Daeryang) into marrying the daughter of Lady Yeunhung. Meanwhile, along the way to Chungjoo Palace, former Emperor Mokjong is murdered.

After the death of Dowager Empress Xiao, Khitan Emperor Shengzong launches an invasion of Goryeo with a vast army of 400,00 soldiers.

Despite the protests of the ministers, Emperor Hyeonjong agrees with Minister Gang Gamcham’s suggestion to recall Gang Jo from his house arrest and to appoint him as the supreme commander of the Goryeo army.

When she learns about the Khitan invasion, Dowager Empress Chunchu leads her small band of soldiers towards the capital.

The Khitan army besieges the first fort on its path, which is defended by only 30,000 men under General Yang Kyu.

Emperor Shenzong decides to divide his army and maneuver to besiege Junju Fort. Contrary to his officers’ advice, General Gang Jo decides to fight the Khitan army on the plains outside the fort.

With the Khitan army poised to capture the Goryeo capital, Emperor Hyeonjong, the royal family, and the ministers hurriedly escape from the palace. When Khitan soldiers pursue them in the forest, Emperor Hyeonjong’s entourage divides into two groups, with Lady Yeunhyung leading Empress Wonjeung and their companions into her hometown.

Emperor Hyeonjong and his group reach the village where Dowager Empress Chunchu and former Emperor Mokjong were mistreated. Later on, they retreat to Chungjoo Palace, but the Khitan soldiers finally catch up with them.

After capturing the enemy’s supplies, General Yang Kyu and his soldiers cut off the Khitan army’s escape route.

With the hostilities finally over and Emperor Hyeonjong safely back in the palace, Dowager Empress Chunchu begins searching for her son Prince Hwangju.

Historical backgrounders and other information

From Wikipedia: Queen Heonae

Queen Heonae (964 – 20 January 1029), also known as Queen Dowager Cheonchu, was the third Queen consort of King Gyeongjong of Goryeo. She served as regent of Goryeo from 997 to 1009 during the minority of her son, King Mokjong of Goryeo. Her life story was the basis for the drama Empress Cheonchu.

Queen Heonae was born into the Hwangju branch of the royal house of the Kingdom of Goryeo. Her father, Wang Wook, was the eighth son of King Taejo of Goryeo by his fourth wife, Queen Sinjeong. She had one older brother, Wang Chi, the future King Seongjong of Goryeo, and one younger sister who eventually became the mother of King Hyeonjong of Goryeo.

Although a male-line descendant of King Taejo, Queen Heonae did not carry the surname of the Goryeo royal family, Wang. Instead, she and her younger sister used the surname Hwangbo, which was the surname of their paternal grandmother, Queen Sinjeong.

Queen Heonae married Gyeongjong of Goryeo, her first cousin. She was the sister of King Seongjong of Goryeo, who succeeded her spouse to the throne. When her son, Mokjong of Goryeo became King in 997, she became Regent. However, she contracted a marriage of consent with Kim Chi-yang, and gave birth to Kim Chi-yang’s son. Kim Chi-yang conspired to set his son on the throne.

When Kim Chi-yang burned the Manwoldae, royal palace, to the ground, threatening to kill the King and take over, King Mokjong called General Gang Jo to the capital city of Kaesong. General Gang Jo immediately executed Kim Chi-Yang and his supporters.
Then, the scholar officials, enemies of Gang Jo, spread rumors and lies that the general was planning to take over the government for himself. These rumors reached the King, and he planned to kill Gang Jo. Gang Jo heard of the conspiracy and doubts of the King, and ordered his army to attack and kill all of his enemies, including the king. After assassinating King Mokjong, General Gang placed King Hyeonjong of Goryeo on the throne. Queen Cheonchu was exiled to Hwangju. In 1029, she returned to the royal court and died in her chamber at Sungdeok Palace.

Lessons in photography from “The Iron Empress”

Shallow depth of field; line of direction; rim lighting
High angle shot; natural frame
Shallow depth of field
Color temperature; line of direction; shooting against the light
Aerial perspective
Conveying depth through overlapping forms
Dutch angle; low angle point of view
Conveying depth through foreground and background blur
Low angle point of view; Dutch angle
Low angle shot
Low angle shot; sidelighting; rim lighting
High key lighting
(Partial) natural frame
Natural frames
Red is a dominant color
Conveying depth through overlapping forms
Conveying depth through overlapping forms
Partial, foreground frame
Aerial perspective
Lines of direction
Establishing shot
Shallow depth of field, compressed perspective
Dutch angle (Dutch tilt), low angle point of view
Dutch angle (Dutch tilt), low angle point of view
Dutch angle (Dutch tilt), low angle point of view
Establishing shot
Foreground and background blur
Natural frame, foreground blur
High angle shot, shape (enclosure)
Juxtaposition, linear perspective
Lens flare, silhouette
Lens flare
Linear perspective, natural frame
Linear perspective
Low angle shot
Partial (natural) frame
Rim lighting
Rule of Odds, low angle shot
Silhouette, lens flare
Linear perspective, symmetry
Linear perspective, symmetry
Conveying depth through overlapping forms
Leading lines, dominant vertical lines
Linear perspective, foreground and background blur
Linear perspective, diagonal line, dominant vertical lines
Focus on the eyes
Linear perspective
Local frame (natural frame)
Rim lighting