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'Arthdal Chronicles' features Song Joong-ki as half-neanderthal hero in antiquity

Returning to the small screen for the first time since his sensationally popular role in the 2016 drama series, "Descendants of the Sun," actor Song Joong-ki plays a half-neanderthal hero who fights against a well-equipped chieftain in the upcoming TV fantasy series "Arthdal Chronicles."

The 18-episode series, set against the background of the early civilization period around the Bronze Age, on a mythical continent called Arth, depicts a power struggle by competing chieftains for the throne of the first nation founded on the continent.

Song Joong-ki (Blossom Entertainment)
Song Joong-ki (Blossom Entertainment)

With reportedly the biggest budget -- some 40 billion won ($33.7 million) -- of any Korean TV series this year, the show is the country's first TV show to delve into the Bronze Age that goes back more than 2,000 years before Christ.

Matching the gigantic scale of its story, the series brings together an unprecedentedly high-profile cast for a TV show, including Jang Dong-gun of the 2018 film "Rampant" and Song Joong-ki, a roaring hallyu star and the main actor of the wildly popular 2016 TV drama series "Descendants of the Sun."

Kim Ji-won, who also appeared on "Descendants," and Kim Ok-bin, the heroine of 2008 film "Thirst," which won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, also joined the main cast.

It is Song's first TV appearance since "Descendants" as well as since his marriage to Song Hye-kyo in 2017 after the couple met through the TV series.

"The ancient story and its primitive background came as very new to me and this is why I chose this series," Song said in a press conference on Tuesday in Seoul.

"The acting needs a quite lot of imagination," Song said, recalling the set where much of the background and details had to be filled with computer graphics later on.

Song plays Eunseom, half homo sapien, half neanderthal, who grew within the primitive clan Wahan as an alien. Jang, playing Tagon, the first son of the leader of the Arthdal tribe, conquers the land of Wahan, setting Eunseom up for an uphill journey to save his clansmen against the bigger, stronger Arthdal tribe.

"It is a very Korean story, but it also deals with political, social and religious issues that are universal to any period in the world," according to Song.

He also referred to his wife during the news conference. 

"After marriage, I earned stability in my heart. My wife also encouraged me to keep focusing throughout the shooting."

For Jang, Tagon was a character he couldn't resist. "The character is so multi-dimensional and tricky. He goes between good and evil. So I was very eager to take the role as an actor," he said.

"I was very excited when I was cast ... the scenario read like a legendary story my grandmother would have told," according to Jang.

Kim Yeong-Hyeon, one of the two main writers of the screen work, said she wanted to bring the focus on the diversity and integration of humankind.

"All kinds of animals have their subspecies, but only humankind do not have one, with homo sapiens being the only surviving species. We delved into why it happened that way and why other human species were not accepted," she said.

"Arthdal" is Song's second joint work with Kim since their first collaboration in the 2011 drama series "Deep Rooted Tree."

"Arthdal" also brings Song back with TV series director Kim Won-seok since the 2010 series "Sungkyunkwan Scandal," which propelled Song to stardom.

Kim Ok-bin was strongly attracted by the unique and different characters of each clan in the show. "In the clan I belong to, women usually have strong characters," she said, referring to her role, Tae-alha, an ambitious power seeker from a minority clan specialized in bronze-making and science.

"It's a story set in a time of primitive, explicit desires, rendering a lot of interesting clashes between characters," she said.

The series has been frequently compared to the globally sensational American fantasy drama series "Game of Thrones" for depicting the process of ancient nation building and a power struggle to take the throne.

Park Sang-yeon, the other main writer of the show, rebutted the comparison saying, "'Game of Thrones' is the apex of human entertainment and our series can hardly match up to that." 

The new tvN series' first episode will hit the small screen on Saturday and air every Saturday and Sunday, with the final six episodes to separately go on the air in the latter half of this year. (Yonhap)