Traditional Painters in ‘Faction’: The Painter of Wind 1, 2 by Lee Jung-Myung

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.2 Winter 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
The Painter of Wind 1, 2

One of the most popular television genres for Koreans is the historical drama featuring kings. In the 500-year history of the Joseon Dynasty, the court was frequently engulfed in fierce strife and feuding. Power struggles not only involved kings but also their wives and mistresses. In the 21st century, a genre called fusion historical dramas, began to gain popularity in Korea. This form of entertainment incorporates modern elements into historical facts or figures, a dramatic representation of fiction and facts, or better known as “faction.” Even a couple of pages about a historical figure can generate a full season of television shows, as long as the imagination is well supplied.

“Daejanggeum,” a blockbuster historical mini-series that swept through out Asia, is a case in point. Since the sparkling success of “Daejanggeum,” an influx of faction-style television mini-series has flooded the screen. “The Painter of Wind,” which is enjoying record viewer- ship, is one example. The television series, however, is based on a novel of the same title. The novel’s strength lies in the timely attention to the 18th century Joseon culture. Real figures such as Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok – both highly esteemed court painters – also ignite Lee’s literary imagination. Lee’s novel, in addition, revives details of everyday life in Joseon, a bonus for those curious about the socio-cultural landscape of the 18th century.

Unlike other court-oriented historical fiction, The Painter of Wind focuses on seemingly mundane episodes instead of the powerful elite’s ferocious struggling to gain its own advantage. The mystery surrounding Shin Yun-bok is tantalizingly depicted. At the time, it was strictly banned for court painters to depict the female body realistically, but Shin did not care about such thing and instead produced a masterful portrait of a young lady. He went on to portray the upper class with unprecedented realism and satire, laying bare their hypocrisy and sexual desire. As a hook, the book gets off to a start by asking the question: “Was Shin Yun-bok really a man?” This provocative question bolsters the novel’s plot that is at once solid and intriguing. 



Author's Profile

Lee Jung-myung is a writer of historical factions. His novels include The Painter of WindThe Deep-rooted Tree, and The Investigator.