‘Empire of Lust’ sheds light on love in battle for Joseon throne

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Feb 25, 2015 - 18:45
  • Updated : Feb 25, 2015 - 18:47

Actor Jang Hyuk (“Windstruck,” “Deep Rooted Tree”) plays a ruthless Joseon prince in the new period drama flick “Empire of Lust” directed by Ahn Sang-hoon.

Lee Bang-won, Jang’s character, is a well-known historic figure whose ascension to the throne was established through rounds of bloody coups against his potential rivals and enemies, including his own siblings, which historians describe as the Strife of Princes. Lee ruled as King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon era, from 1400 to 1418.

In playing this wily, cunning and ambitious character, Jang focused on emotions.

From left: The cast of the period flick “Empire of Lust,” Jang Hyuk, Shin Ha-kyun, Kang Han-na, Kang Ha-neul and director Ahn Sang-hoon, pose at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Two Rabbit)

“When people think of Lee Bang-won, they picture a strong-willed, ambitious and rational figure,” the actor said at a press conference on Tuesday in Seoul.

“I tried to highlight the emotional side of the character and illustrate different aspects of him, in contrast to previous depictions.”

Actor Shin Ha-kyun (“Joint Security Area,” “Brain”) joins Jang in the film as Kim Min-jae, a fearless general who fights against Lee.

“It was hard,” commented Shin, describing his action-packed role. “I don’t usually exercise much and it was my first time horseback riding and fencing.”

The film is his first-ever role in a periodic flick, despite having starred in many films and TV dramas over more than 15 years.

Shin also emphasized emotions as the key to his approach to the character.

“I tried hard to portray feelings of love throughout the film,” said Shin. “I hope the audience will be able to connect with Minjae’s heartbreaking and pitiful love story.”

Up-and-coming actress Kang Han-na plays the courtesan Ka-hee, who lures all the male characters, including Lee Bang-won, Kim Min-jae and Jin (Kang Ha-neul).

“When I was with Kim Min-jae, I wanted to showcase a woman who fluctuates between two emotions ― revenge and affection,” said actress Kang. “But when I was with Lee Bang-won and Jin, I had to appear strong to express my inner pain and vengeance.”

Of the film’s much-talked-about bed scene with Min-jae, the actress confessed that the scene illustrates an innocent man and woman in love. “It was more important to express their intimacy and change of emotions,” said Kang.

The film, centering on the First and Second Strife of Princes in the early Joseon era, is also dubbed the Korean version of Ang Lee’s acclaimed film “Lust and Caution” for its ill-fated love plot with explicit sexuality.

Director Ahn noted that the purpose of this film is to focus more on the stories of individuals ― including forgotten and nameless soldiers ― and less on historical figures, despite the film’s setting during a harrowing historical period.

“The original scenario was a romantic story with a vague setting,” said Ahn. “So I thought the perfect period to tell the sentimental story was the early Joseon era, a tumultuous time.

“It’s like a flower blossoming above the murky water.”

The “Empire of Lust” is slated for a March 5 release.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)