I’ve not met a vampire yet, but who knows what tomorrow brings

scholar who walks the night

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have

Socrates

Title
Scholar Who Walks the Night  (2015)
Genre
 Action,    Fantasy,    Fusion Sageuk,    Historical,    Romance
Written by
Jang Hyun-joo
Directed by
Lee Sung-joon
Starring
Country of Origin
South Korea
Episodes
20

oh! … brief

An alternate Joseon dynasty is plagued by an ancient blood-thirsty vampire called Gwi who resides in semi-secret in the royal palace. The daughter of a former nobleman who was framed for treason related to Gwi is being raised by a bookseller. Raised since birth as a boy, she now goes by the name Jo Yang-sun. But, another vampire exists in complete secrecy also within the city of the royal palace and is disguised as a scholar called Kim Sung-yeol. There are myths regarding a ‘Night Scholar’ that is based on his true life story. Political machinations and abuse of power are rampant in the kingdom and both the reigning Crown Prince and Kim Sung-yeol are trying to uncover a plan to rid the palace of Gwi and those humans that protect him.

oh! … talks drama

When I first added this kdrama to my list to watch, I was not aware that it was a vampire drama, I like sageuk and it looked like a romantic love story. When I finally read the synopsis, I had very little interest in proceeding with the series. I just didn’t believe that anyone could pull off a Joseon-era vampire drama series that could run in the same league as the Twilight series, although many drama series have popped up trying to do just that.

Well, I have been pleasantly surprised, and proven wrong, once again!

Based on a manhwa written by Jo Joo-hee and illustrated by Han Seung-hee, scriptwriterJang Hyun-joo has penned a fantastical tale involving the evil vampire Gwi and his arch nemesis and vengeful vampire, the ‘Night Scholar’ – Kim Sung-yeol.

The story is well developed with interesting plot twists and turns which make for an exceptionally entertaining and interesting take on fusion sageuk. I enjoyed watching it.

Jang Hyun-joo did an incredible job of writing an intense and bloody screenplay versus some the anticipated vampire fluff which typically features mellow vampire characters and melodrama. Instead, he wisely opted for fierce, violent and intense scenes and characters, which is what made this production so thrilling to watch. Fortunately, there is only a little of the overwrought and anxious melodrama, and far more action, violence, blood and gore. It could be called refreshing, but that isn’t the ideal word, instead, it’s kind of repulsively seductive.

While I was thrilled with the action aspects being written into the script, I also applauded Jang Hyun-joo’s decision to set the mood as sombre and dysphoric. The pervasive grief and melancholy that the audience is subjected to and that most of the characters suffer from throughout the production was ingenious! The combination of the darkness of the characters, the sombre mood, and the bloody violence sets up Crown Prince Jung Hung’s journal as the only source of hope. The journal is the glimmer of light in all the darkness. Clever!

I was puzzled by the inconsistent manner with which people bitten by vampires died. Initially, they were stabbed through the heart with a hawthorn blade – made perfect sense. Then they were being shot with silver bullets. That also made sense, but only after some thought and no real explanation. So, my take on this inconsistency is that with time and understanding from personal experience, the first method worked, but, later on, it was known to Gwi and the black-robed men that silver bullets were also effective. An explanation would have been ideal, and it may have plausibly existed but hit the editing floor with a lot of other film shot.

The writing around the romance is perhaps the most interesting for this kdrama. There are numerous romances at play.

  1. The romance the ‘Night Scholar’ shared with his first love and her subsequent death, paralysed his emotions and left him focused on Gwi. The love that one of the ‘Night Scholar’ employees (Soo-hyang) has for him goes unrequited. Even as Soo-yang’s love for him grows into jealousy and seriously complicates matters, he keeps her around for the useful information she manages to collect.
  2. The attraction the Crown Prince has for Jo Yang-sun is not long-lived and is also unrequited, although initially there was an attraction on both sides. Betrayal, however, is a definite killer of affection and/or love.
  3. The romantic entanglement that develops between Jo Yang-sun and the “Night Scholar”, starts out one-sided, with Jo Yang-sun feeling attracted to and enamoured with Kim Sung-yeol. The “Night Scholar’ is, however, attracted to the scent of Jo Sang-sun’s blood and has to fight the urge to drink her blood at every close encounter – which happens a lot as Jo Yang-sun needs frequent rescuing from harrowing situations. All the close encounters and the innocence of Jo Yang-sun wears down the “Night Scholar’s” resistance and he begins to feel again. I’m not sure you can call it love in the beginning, but it certainly becomes that as the drama progresses. But, I must point out that while important to the backstory, the romance is not this focus of the kdrama.
  4. The love that develops between the Crown Prince and his Queen, Choi Hye-ryung is perverse and obscene. Both parties are manipulating each other in a mad scramble for power that will elevate their position. The Queen wants to have dominion over life, having been a puppet and forced to dance to the tune of various puppet masters. The Crown Prince needs the power to be positioned to rid the kingdom of the antagonist Gwi. However, through conscience and empathy, turns from their initial plan and both find even though they have betrayed each other and used their relationship they have fallen in love.

The cinematography for this production was outstanding in terms of South Korean television drama standards. A lot of high-speed cinematography (slow motion) was used for the production. To accomplish those super fast chase scenes, the ‘over-cranking’ technique was likely used. It delivered chase scenes equal to those of the Twilight series.

The fight scenes and running over roofs, almost like wuxia ninjas, were well choreographed and accomplished and most successful, that included the sword-fight scenes too.  Camera angles and the various uses of the camera easily and readily achieved great film.

Overall the filming had an aesthetic quality to it and was equally eye-catching whether indoors and outside or shot during the day or night. I don’t think the cameraman or the director was looking for breathtaking film, but they certainly captured a few of those shots (photos will be in my gallery of personal shots).

The costumes and makeup were striking. The two vampires and the Crown Prince had exquisite outfits, of a high quality. Perhaps by design, their outfits were far superior in style and colouring than the King and courtiers gwanbok. In fact, the choices for the baji, jeogori, sokgui, and kotsin were all grand. I must mention Gwi’s scenes where he is wearing baji and po and his chest is bare and exposed. It added a dangerously sultry allure and sexiness to the character. I was satisfied with the fact that so much attention to detail was taken by the director.

Many typical audience and fans might have struggled with the very gory make-up aspects of this production. Would it be embarrassing to admit that I relished the bloody mouths, and blood dripping off the chins of the two vampires? Perhaps! But, it is true! You cannot have a vampire production without blood and gore – vampires drink blood to survive, so it is inevitable that there would be some blood and gore. With the story, the level of violence and gore is balanced with the realistic day-to-day lifestyle for this fantastical production. I found the makeup convincing and the use of blood and bloodshed precise. Good job!

The accompanying soundtrack was equally impressive to the writing of the screenplay, the directing of the production, the filming of scenes, and the acting. With songs by Beast, G.Na Yook, Sung Jae, Jang Jane, Eungaeun Kimbo, and instrumental music by Oh Joon Sung, this CD is a keeper! My playlist on Spotify is available below.

The characters were hypnotic and elaborately detailed in their backstories. The writing of the characters may well have been complex and multi-layered, but the performances delivered were calculated and insightful.

The “Night Scholar” Kim Sung-yeol was played by Lee Joon-gi and I was absorbed in his performance. He embodied the heartbroken but vengeful vampire looking for a way to kill the enemy. Lee Joon-gi mimicked the taciturn and somewhat impassive Kim Sung-yeol with a quiet countenance. His eyes were both flat and expressive, it was eerie! He kept his facial expressions to a minimum and his emotions were mostly flat. It’s very hard to be this way when other cast members were expressive and energetic. I admired his tenacity.

Lee Joon-gi mirrored a snarling animal when he ‘turned’ or became incensed with the smell of blood or felt endangered. The curled-up lips, fangs and creased brow were astonishingly realistic and combined with the clawed hands and body stance made for a frightening picture.

But, I mostly enjoyed when Lee Joon-gi conveyed Kim Sung-yeol’s affections for Jo Yang-sun – particularly when he would tear up and his face would visibly soften – it was beguiling!

This character was complex and Lee Joon-gi nailed it!

  • Soo-hyang, an employee/supporter of the “Night Scholar” and who is obsessed with him and jealous of Jo Yang-sun, was played by Jang Hee-jin. She did a terrific job of conveying her emotions – fear, anger, jealousy, affection, frustration etc. She was a character I enjoyed watching.
  • Ho-jin, the “Night Scholar’s” employee and confidant was played by Choi Tae-hwan and I enjoyed his interpretation of his character. Not quite fearless, but energetic and determined to help in any way possible. Choi Tae-hwan was expressive and both serious and comical, but the right balance between the two. Of the “Night Scholar’s” two supporters, I preferred this character, but neither was a better or stronger performer than the other.

Both the “Night Scholar’s’ supporters were exceedingly loyal and devoted to him. Choi Tae-hwan and Jang Jane did exceptionally well in their portrayal of devotion and loyalty. Both characters also had an affinity and affection for each other and the ‘Night Scholar”.

It was hard not to empathise with the character Jo Yang-sun aka Seo Jin. The once cheerful and kind-hearted bookseller who is living a double life, not by her own choice, becomes a key figure in the mad hunt for the former Crown Prince’s journal. As such she’s targeted by Gwi. Lee Yu-bi played this character to perfection! The audience cannot help but fall in love with her cheerful disposition in the first episodes, which was conveyed by Lee Yu-bi with lots of expressive smiles and joviality.

Towards the middle of the drama series, while still oblivious to who she is, she becomes embroiled in the political machinations of the royal court and is manipulated, imprisoned, tortured and betrayed. Lee Yu-bi’s role was by far the most complex and taxing, but she was flawless in communicating the broad emotions her character was subjected to in an authentic and earnest manner.

From the sunny, smiling unaffected young man to the concerned and earnest young woman, it was arresting to watch her character develop and unfold.

The chemistry shared between Kim Sung-yeol and Jo Yang-sun was sublime. A quiet, yearning, aching longing on his part and a gentle, soothing devotion on her part.

  • Of those in her family circle, her surrogate father had the largest role. Jo-saeng played by Jung Gyu-soo was believable most of the time, although I found that he overacted just a tad. Her surrogate mother, Kkot-boon, played by Oh Yoon-hong was such a vile character, so I guess the acting was good enough to make me believe how spiteful she was. Dam-yi, the crippled surrogate sister was another character that sometimes overacted and I found it hard to connect with her emotionally. The overacting could well be the direction from the director and not a reflection on the actor or actress. The tension between these family members was, however, palpable and as the story develops you understand why.

I would have liked to learn more about the backstory to Gwi. Although there was one very brief scene that showed how he came to be living in the palace, it doesn’t explain how he became a vampire or the true reason behind his incessant desire to have dominion over humans?

Gwi was played by the ever-handsome and much-chiselled Lee Soo-hyuk, who’s waiflike appearance is deceptive. From an aesthetic viewpoint, I completely understand why he was cast in this role. His physical appearance is at once, both seductive and animalistic. I’ve always been enamoured with Lee Soo-hyuk’s look, he has this beauty that transcends mortal realms. He’s always struck me as someone who has a transient look about him and there is something not quite ethereal, but, at the same time, not quite malevolent.

As Gwi, he was phenomenal! Lee Soo-hyuk carried his body with a hauntingly imposing regalness – the modelling career certainly paid off for this role! But it was his contemptuous mannerisms and facial expressions that hooked me and continually seduced me. I would have run away with him in a heartbeat if he had just beckoned me with a single finger!   This kid has only been in the acting business for six or seven years but he did such an impressive job with this character that I will want to check out some of his other productions. And who knew he had such a low, almost husky voice. Uncanny!

The chemistry between Gwi and Kim Sung-yeol is formidable and menacing but completely fascinating to watch. These two men, complemented each other’s personality, mannerisms and vibe. It was awesome! Gwi wanted to have a human heart so envied Kim Sung-yeol and the hatred was visible in Lee Soo-hyuk’s face – pay attention to this blood vessel that appears off-centre on his forehead when he is angry and intense. Go look – I swear it appears time and again! And there is also a vein in his neck that when agitated, pulsates. And the veins in his hand that bulge as he pulls a fist. Perhaps now you see why I was seduced visually!

Crown Prince Lee Yoon who is actively seeking to avenge his father’s murder was played by Shim Chang-min and of all the actors, he gave the most understated performance.

I especially applauded his depiction of anger – a cool, calm, fierce, boiling that flushed his cheeks. Also, when he had to make hard choices, his face and body looked perfectly disturbed, crushed and fractured. In these understated moments, Shim Chang-min was alive in his character.

Shim Chang-min’s refined acting style was a good match for the character he portrayed. I often root for the second male lead, or in this case, the third male lead. But not this time! Shim Chang-min’s attraction was frustrating, although I understand why it was written this way and how it came to be. Duh! Shim Chang-min painted the budding love charmingly well – wistful stares, tenderness around the eyes and body language. I just didn’t want Crown Prince Lee Yoon ending up with Jo Yang-sun. But I also didn’t want him ending up with the Queen or in love with her. We, the audience, don’t always get what we want when it comes to kdrama’s.

Shim Chang-min didn’t, however, convince me with the emotions following his betrayal. That fell flat for me. But, he picked up again and finished off in the same manner he started, understated.

Noh Kay-yong, the Crown Prince’s closest friend was played by Yeo Eui-joo and he did a fine job in his supporting role.

Baek In-ho, the Crown Prince’s martial arts teacher and personal guard played by Han Jung-soo was excellent in his supporting role. I think he did considerably well with the fight scenes and swordfight and basic horseplay. Han Jung-soo certainly has the physique and experience in this type of role. There was a lot of running around and physical activity yet he rarely seemed out of breath, so I’m suspecting that he was super fit played a big part in why he excelled in the role.

King Hyeonjo, grandfather to the Crown Prince was played by Lee Soon-jae who has amazing acting skills but always manages to secure characters who I inevitably hate. And boy did I loathe him as this King! Ordinarily, I find Lee Soon-jae’s acting to be impeccable, not so this time. Not only did his character earn my ire, so too did his acting. I found him flat and almost wishy-washy this time around. Maybe time to retire?

I know that Kim So-eun was cast in the leading role of Lee Myung-hee aka Choi Hye-ryung but I didn’t ever think her role was a lead role. She always seemed to be on the sidelines and it didn’t really change for me.

As Lee Myung-hee I think Kim So-eun delivered a pleasing performance. The emotions of love and devotion to Kim Sung-yeol came across as sincere and in this role, she acted well.

But, Kim So-eun is not one of my favoured actresses.  She can act, so I was surprised to find how bland her performance as Choi Hye-ryung was in this piece. I am sure the director and writer wanted to portray good and evil within the nature of her characters. I also understand her character is angry and wants revenge but the banal, almost hackneyed performance was disappointing! She interpreted the disillusioned second character to the extreme, and while it wasn’t overly distracting, it just didn’t feel right.

The ending pre-conclusion showdown is pretty intense at times. I don’t think the writer was at fault for the inconsistencies surrounding the shooting of the showdown. The timing between day-night and then day again was out of sync, unless for some fantastical reason that time slowed and then sped up. It was a little weird, but I suspect this has more to do with how things were planned out according to what the script suggested and how the director made it work.

Of course, the battle between Gwi and Kim Sung-yeol could have spanned a number of hours. It wasn’t glaring this inconsistency, it just didn’t fit.

oh! … sidekicks

The minor role of Crown Prince Sadong, played by Jang Seung-jo was stirring. I wish he’d been cast in another role that stuck around longer because I liked his performance. He was particularly provoking in his emotional demise in the well! Wow!!

Another worthy mention would be Lee Hyun-woo who played the Crown Prince Junghyun. This was a minor role but crucial to the overall story and I believe Lee Hyun-woo gave a moving performance.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I love a drama or film that explores human nature and exposes our human failings. I especially like a drama or film that has a deeper or hidden message or theme. There were a few themes at play in this production. Predominantly, the theme of man’s greed and the lengths we, as a species, will go to get our way and the lust for power. This theme walks hand-in-hand with greed. We’re seeing this theme play out in the real world this year (2017) in countries across the globe – new rule under new maniacal beings.

This kdrama fusion sageuk married the ancient culture of the Joseon era with Western mythological blood-suckers to create a fantastical production – the underlying theme of which is all about freeing a kingdom and her people from greedy power-hungry humans manipulating vampires to maintain order and hierarchy. It certainly is a unique underlying theme for dramaland. And it worked so well!

I had not set expectations too high. I am a fan of vampire movies, but not your average modern-day production, I prefer the classic, macabre almost gothic-styled films produced many years ago. More years than most audience members for this show would have seen. The writing, the directing, the cinematography and CGI, the wardrobe and costumes, the makeup, and even set production merged neatly together to create a diamond in the rough.

You’ll enjoy watching this if you like fantastical fusion sageuks – this one is intensely emotional. If you enjoy fluffy love stories between vampires and humans, this may not appeal to you. But, if you’re like me and can appreciate a darker, violent and dramatic romance, then Scholar Who Walks The Night will appeal to you. There is a fair amount of violence, action and blood, but, it’s not garish.

oh! … tidbits

Two cast members were injured on set on June 10, 2015, and were both hospitalised. Lee Jong-gi suffered a nasal fracture and Lee Yu-bi suffered a herniated lumbar disc in the ‘fall’ on the set.

High-speed cinematography (slow motion) works when images are exposed anywhere higher than 24 frames per second and playing them at normal speed. The excess frames fill in the gaps making things appear much slower than normal.  Until recently, the high-speed cinematography was only for large-scale, big budget productions. To shoot high-speed you needed specialised cameras and lighting, very expensive equipment.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

This gallery is a smaller one with mostly official posters, drama-stills and a few behind the scenes photos. I really wanted to add my own images, but, I decided it would be better for you to watch it. I may update this with the images I produced.

oh! … trailers

scholar-who-walks-the-night-behind-the-scenes-1

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