This New Korean Drama on Netflix Brings an Imaginary World to Life

Arthdal Chronicles starts streaming on June 1.

PHOTO BY Netflix

(SPOT.ph) Fantasy shows often offer viewers a taste of an exciting, unique world that combines fictional events with elements that can actually transpire in reality. Netflix’s upcoming Korean drama Arthdal Chronicles is just that, as it explores the ancient times and early civilization, alongside themes of diversity, survival, and dreaming big, and it is as riveting as it gets.

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Set in the fictitious land of Arth, Arthdal Chronicles revolves around mythical heroes and the birth of civilization in ancient times. It deals with stories of love, struggles, and thirst for power among its main characters: There’s Eunseom (Song Joong-ki), an innocent-looking fighter who grapples with his identity and finds himself in conflict with Tagon (Jang Dong-gun), the charismatic and ambitious leader of Saenyeok tribe; Tanya (Kim Ji-won), the successor of the Wahan tribe who embraces her destiny to lead and takes on challenges to save her people; and Taealha (Kim Ok-vin), the most beautiful lady in the city of Arthdal who yearns for power.

From left to right: Jang Dong-gun, Song Joong-ki, Kim Ji-won, and Kim Ok-vin.
PHOTO BY Netflix
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SPOT.ph got to catch up with the stars of the fantasy drama alongside writers Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon during the show’s press conference in Seoul. They talked about the fictitious city of Arthdal, their thoughts about the show, and the challenges involved in filming a prehistoric drama.

Writer Park acknowledges that the show can be daunting at first, especially since it deals with a complex world. He briefly explains the story by describing the lead characters. “These people [seated] in the far right and far left [of the stage], these are really powerful people,” referring to stars Dong-gun and Ok-vin. He then gestures at Joong-ki and Ji-won, then goes, “They are the innocent people with no power at all, so how are they going to fight against them?”

“It’s a story about characters played by these four actors going through conflicts with each other,” writer Kim explains. Once you start watching the series, you’ll also agree that it’s not difficult to understand.”

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The team behind Arthdal Chronicles went to great lengths in order to build a world from scratch—one that even had a detailed map on set and a language of its own—presented in a way that viewers, and even the actors themselves, will find realistic and gripping. 

The idea for Arthdal Chronicles goes as far back as 2012, when writer Kim pored over anthropology books and went as far as watching a lecture on rites of passage of a primitive tribe. “I was so intrigued by the content and thought to myself, ‘I need to create a story with this. I think I’ll be able to come up with a very original and interesting series.’” 

Joong-ki found Eunseom's primal look very refreshing, which is one of the reasons why he accepted the project.
PHOTO BY Netflix
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Joong-ki thinks back to the time before he received the script for the project. “I went to visit them (the writers) at their office where I saw a new language written on the board and a map of characters of different races on the wall.” That's when he knew that the show was bound to be something great. And not that he needed more reasons to accept the role; it also helps that he previously worked with both writers for Deep Rooted Tree, and with director Kim for one of Joong-ki’s earlier projects, Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

During the filming (which took around five months to complete), Joong-ki developed a close relationship with the production team on set, especially since the actors were left to imagine the scenes that would be completed with visual effects. “The team leader in charge of [visual effects] was always on set to give us feedback and the two writers were always very prompt to give us feedback on visual components like the costumes, accessories, and shoes and the emotional narrative as if they were always on set with us,” he shares.

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Dong-gun, who plays Tagon in the show, hopes that this series becomes the new piece of work he's remembered by.
PHOTO BY Netflix

Dong-gun assures everyone that once you’ve become familiar with all the terms, the characters, races, and tribes in the series—which he says should happen naturally when you get to episode two—it’ll be easier to follow the show. And this is coming from someone who had to go back and forth between the first two episodes. "Once I got used to the ideas introduced in the first two episodes, the story became so captivating," he reveals.

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Ok-vin describes her character Taealha's Hae tribe to have a strong female-oriented culture.
PHOTO BY Netflix

For Ok-vin, Arthdal Chronicles is engaging more than it being difficult to follow,” acknowledging the fact that it's a concept that cannot be easily created or developed into a series. “I thought, ‘People would think very differently because there is no single law governing a society and reason or ethics is not the common currency,’ or  [that] ‘tribes would have very different ways of existence as they have different ruling systems,’ which was so much fun to imagine [on set].”

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Ji-won's Tanya will go through a journey of growth and development for the benefit of her tribe.
PHOTO BY Netflix

Meanwhile, Ji-won finds the role of Tanya very challenging, not only because the story is set in ancient times when “nothing much exists,” but also because she has mostly starred in modern dramas. She offers a refreshing insight: “When I studied my character, I thought to myself, ‘People who survived this era must be people who survived attacks by wild animals, which means that each of these individuals must have their own set of skills for survival. They must be stronger than modern-day people.’” Plus, she found herself being drawn to her character, who is brave and never gives up despite her life's challenges.

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From all this talk and the trailers alone, Arthdal Chronicles is shaping up to be a fantasy drama of epic proportions. Writer Park shares that at some point in the concept development phase, he thought long and hard on whether it is something they could put out to the world or not. The thought of someone would try to stop the production of the show also crossed his mind. “In the end, no one did,” he looks back fondly. “Everyone said, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’ which was shocking, to be honest. None of the actors present here said, ‘Can we really do this?’ but they simply said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’ and joined the cast.”

In the series, Eunseom and Tagon get caught up in a power struggle.
PHOTO BY Netflix
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Towards the end of the press conference, Joong-ki makes a segue on a comment he read about the Korean movie Parasite, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival. “The critic said that even though Parasite is a Korean movie, it tells a story that would resonate very much in his country as well. I felt proud as a Korean,” he shares. “I think the critic’s comment can be applied to our series as well. It’s a very Korean story, but at the same time, it’s universal—it talks about politics, religions, and social issues that would resonate with us today, and I’m sure these themes will also resonate with audiences outside Korea despite the story’s fictitious premise.”

Arthdal Chronicles starts streaming on Netflix on June 1.

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