Learn the real-life history behind Six Flying Dragons
Six Flying Dragons is Korea's new hit sageuk, with last week's premiere taking the top spot in Korean ratings on both Monday and Tuesday. If you're a fan of historical dramas and Korean history, the premiere probably covered familiar ground for you, but if you're a newbie to Korean history, keeping all of our dragons straight can be a bit of a challenge! To help you make the most of this fantastic epic, let's do a quick rundown of the major characters and how they line up in history.
SPOILER ALERT: We're just covering the historical record, but if you don't want to know who lives and dies in the drama, stop reading now!
Background: Our drama opens at the end of the Goryeo dynasty in the late 1300s. Goryeo had become weakened by Mongol occupation, and the big question facing Goryeo's leaders was whether they should ally themselves with the Mongol Yuan or the emerging Ming dynasty.
DRAGON #1: Yi Seong Gye/ King Taejo (played by Chun Ho Jin)
Yi Seong Gye was the son of a minor Mongol official who was Korean by ethnicity. Yi Seong Gye and his father defected in order to help Goryeo regain land, and Yi Seong Gye eventually rose through the ranks to lead Goryeo's army. Six Flying Dragons opens when Yi Seong Gye is a military commander dealing with conflicting factions who want to ally themselves with either the Yuan or the Ming.
Yi Seong Gye revolted against Goryeo's leaders and dethroned the king, eventually ascending to the throne himself. He became King Taejo, the first king of the Joseon dynasty.
DRAGON #2: Jeong Do Jeon (played by Kim Myung Min)
Jeong Do Jeon (also known by his pen name Sambong) was a prominent scholar and advisor to Yi Seong Gye. He played a massive role in establishing the Joseon dynasty, laying the framework for both the ideology and the legal policies in nearly every aspect of the kingdom, from military to education.
Yi Bang Won was Yi Seong Gye's fifth son. He played a big part in helping his father take the throne, assassinating key rivals. He seemed like the natural choice to be named crown prince and ascend the throne as his father's heir. (The practice of naming the eldest son as heir wasn't automatic at the time.)
This is where the conflict gets interesting. Yi Bang Won and Jeong Do Jeon had conflicting views on how the country should be run, with Yi Bang Won favoring strong central power for the monarch and Jeong Do Jeon preferring to give power to the nation's ministers with the king acting as a symbolic figurehead. Jeong Do Jeon and Queen Sindeok convinced King Taejo to skip over Yi Bang Won in favor of his eighth son (and Queen Sindeok's child).
Without giving all of the details away, Yi Bang Won killed several of his brothers in what is known as the First and Second Strife of Princes. He also killed Jeong Do Jeon and Queen Sindeok. King Taejo voluntarily abdicated the throne in sorrow over his son's actions and handed over the crown to his second-eldest son, Yi Bang Gwa (played by Suh Dong Won).
Yi Bang Won took over the throne from his brother to become King Taejong, ruling Joseon for eighteen years before crowning his son, Sejong the Great (whose story you can see in Tree with Deep Roots).
What about the three remaining dragons, Boon Yi (Shin Se Kyung), Ddangsae (Byun Yo Han), and Moo Hyul (Yoon Kyoon Sang)? All three are fictional, though the character of Moo Hyul also appears in the drama Tree with Deep Roots.
What makes Six Flying Dragons so compelling is that Yi Bang Won becomes the central character. Korean history often sees him as a ruthless and bloodthirsty leader, willing to do anything to gain and maintain power, but I have a feeling we'll have a much more nuanced depiction with Yoo Ah In in the central role.
What do you think of this series so far? Are you exited to see where it goes? Do you hope it stays true to the history books? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Now that you're equipped with the history you need, check out the premiere of Six Flying Dragons below: