Film & TV

The Asian Silver Screen: Historical Dramas

Image of person holding a samurai sword
Credits: Krys Amon on Unsplash

Historical dramas are very popular in Asia. Many are fictitious representations but are set to be from ancient periods, like kingdoms and war. Everything from set design, the costumes and the language used (more formal and some words that are completely different from today) are all just a sight to behold. Here are some of our contributors’ favourite ones!

The Rurouni Kenshin Movie Trilogy
by Alex Daud Briggs

Based on the popular manga and anime series, Ruroni Kenshin is a trilogy of Japanese historical samurai films exploring the regret and guilt of a former assassin in a period of intense change.

The series is set at the start of the Meiji restoration. After years of civil war, the Shogunate government of Japan had been overthrown by the Emperor’s imperial government, with Japan transitioning from the feudal medieval period to a modern industrial state. The samurai class had been dismantled and swords had been banned. 

Kenshin is a former ‘hitokiri’ — a manslayer who killed hundreds for the new government during the revolution. Feeling intense guilt for his actions, he decided to live a life of peace and never kill again, but a faction of former samurai plan to overthrow the new government and soon Kenshin is forced to fight once more. 

The movies deal with the sins of the past. This was a time where the Japanese had their entire way of life fundamentally changed within only a few short years. We see how the once powerful samurai class had been reduced to soldiers and bodyguards exploited by the state, and the attempts at looking for peace when you’ve spent your life only knowing violence. Kenshin is devoted to his new life of pacifism but feels he cannot get away from his dark past and his inherent instincts to kill.

Beyond that, the trilogy has some of the best katana fights in Japanese cinema and great acting with costumes that actually look like their manga counterparts. If you’re a fan of  Japanese history, these movies are a must watch. 

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
by Soyal Khedkar
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo | Image Credits: UnitedKpop

If you’re looking for a drama that involves time travel, a historical aesthetic, romance and melodrama with a sprinkle of fantasy, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo is the series you need to check out. Based on the Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin, this drama was an international fan favourite due to its unique storyline, cast and set execution. Go Ha-jin (Lee Ji-eun/ IU), a 25-year-old woman, gets transported back into the body of “Hae-Soo” during the Goryeo Dynasty in the year 941. 

She finds herself falling in love with the kind-hearted 8th Prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha-Neul) but later on with the 4th Prince Wang So (Lee Joon-gi), infamously known as “wolf dog” among the people at the palace. The story initially starts out as a love triangle. It later develops into classic palace politics among all the princes who rival each other for the throne. Among the intensity and plot twists portrayed through the rivalry, the drama also has its comedic, light-hearted moments.

All in all, this drama is filled with martial arts, impressive sword-infused battlefield action, love triangles, comedic elements and drama. Which prince is siding with whom? Who would betray who for the throne? This series is the perfect blend of historical melodrama. 

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