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KBS K-drama designer Minjung Lee helps bring characters to life [INTERVIEW]

Minjung Lee Kdrama designer interview

Fashion plays an important part in Korean films and K-dramas—from the Joseon era girls who are free to roam in boy’s clothing to the newly rich women obsessed with name brand items—clothing defines and transforms characters. There may be a reason that so many K-drama plots, both contemporary and historical, feature makeovers. Nothing visually symbolizes change and new confidence quite like new and more flattering clothing. Costume designers know that costumes have a lot to say. According to designer Minjung Lee, no one should take costuming for granted.

The outfits are an essential part of historical Korean dramas, contributing to both character development and cinematography. Historically accurate costumes help recreate eras so vividly that viewers feel temporarily transported in time. Those are the clues that Lee seeks to express when she envisions drama costumes.

Currently a visiting scholar at UC Davis, Lee worked as a costume designer for KBS Artsvision for 10 years. She focused on costume design because of her interest in the history of Korean clothing, but also because she was fascinated by the psychology of fashion.

“I really wanted to read someone’s mind, to understand why they wore what they did,” Lee told KultScene.


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This vision to see clothing as a reflection of personality helped Lee create costumes for characters in a range of KBS historical dramas. From the royal robes created for Kim So Eun in Empress Cheonchu: The Iron Empress to Kim Hyun Joong‘s Inspiring Generation wardrobe, Lee researched and created authentic designs that helped bring the characters to life.

Lee’s first experience creating a costume did not live up to her expectations. It happened in middle school, when her class was planning a costume parade. She knew what she wanted to be but the costume did not exist, so she had to make it.

“I wanted to be a tree but then I thought, how do you make a tree? I had to figure it out, to find out where there were fabric stores in Seoul. My mother didn’t even know. It was my first costume and it was not very good.”

The tree costume, fashioned from nylon tent material, may have disappointed her but that did not discourage Lee from studying fashion for her undergraduate degree then going on to pursue a master’s degree in Korean costume and a PhD in the aesthetics of dress at Seoul National University.

“My mother wanted me to be a doctor, but my talents fell somewhere between the scientific and artistic,” said Lee. “I Ioved to draw but was not talented enough to be an artist. Nothing looked like I wanted it to. Textiles seemed like a good way to combine the scientific and artistic.”

Her university studies included dyeing, printing, design, illustration, and marketing. Lee became so interested in the psychology of clothing that she briefly considered a career in psychology. Then she received her first costume request: The priest at the church she attended asked her to make him an authentic Gogoryeo era (37 BC–668 AD) costume, because he was studying martial arts.

Fulfilling that request was a challenge for Lee, as much of the dress history she studied in the past had focused on Western fashion. So she took a class in Korean dress history but there were few illustrations of what Goryeo era clothing actually looked like. Descriptions of Goryeo period clothing was mostly gathered from tomb paintings and the rare intact clothes displayed in museums were those worn by nobles. Rare Goryeo-era artifacts were mostly stored in North Korea, and while Lee attended school even scholarly access was limited.
There was no way to know what colors people wore, or what patterns tailors used. Despite the challenges Lee was determined.


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She contacted the costume department at KBS and asked to visit their storehouse to see costumes of that period. They agreed. “They could have rejected me but they let me look at the clothes in their warehouse.”

Exploring the KBS warehouse was so much fun Lee decided not to major in psychology but take a course in 10th century history. She eventually she became a costume designer at KBS Artsvision.

“After I got acquainted with the people at KBS I knew I had to become a costume designer,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about being a costume designer, no idea what was involved, but I knew I had to do it. I thought if I can interpret raw data into costumes, it will be perfect.”

Part of the motivation was the clothing, but also because Lee herself is a fan of Korean dramas. “I love every kind of TV,” she said. For a decade she worked on a variety of dramas, set in different centuries.

Once she starts working on a drama wardrobe, Lee says it is an all-consuming process and that she can think of nothing else. After she reads the script, Lee begins to research costumes of the period and create a wardrobe that best portrays the characters. She researches textiles and pays painstaking attention to the details–from hats to belts to jewelry– that make clothes seem authentic. Based on her research, she also has to create a budget and stay within it, oversee the production of all the drama’s clothes, manage fittings, and supervise alterations that might be required while filming. After the drama is over, the clothes must be collected and catalogued before storage.

Her roster of dramas includes Empress Cheonchu: The Iron Empress (2007), King Geunchogo: The King of Legend (2010), which she won an award for, The Princess’ Man (2011), Jeon Woo Chi (2013) and Inspiring Generation (2014).

Despite the rigorous research that goes into costume design, some historically accurate details may not be appreciated by a drama’s cast or crew. When Lee’s research led her to design clothing with sleeves that passed the fingertips, the crew was not pleased.

“The staff got mad at me because the sleeves dragged and ripped off, so I had to shorten them,” she said.“[And] sometimes the actors do not feel the clothes are flattering so they have to be altered.”

After years of designing costumes set further in the past, Minjung Lee designed clothes for the 20th century historical drama Inspiring Generation, set during the era of the Japanese Colonial Rule of Korea (1910 to 1945). “The clothes in such dramas are more realistic since they are well documented,” she said. “It makes it less of a challenge, but easier to replicate.”

Lee also hopes to design costumes for films, citing The Royal Tailor, starring Park Shin Hye, as an excellent example of faithful costume replication. “The costume designer was brilliant, one of the best. I actually made my dream come true by pursuing textiles, but I want to be a designer like her. That is my ideal.”

The costumer has written about dress aesthetics in the era represented in Inspiring Generation in her PhD dissertation, “Dress and Ideology during the 20th Century of Korea,” where she examined the clothes and ideology of that time. She presented a paper “Fashioning identity and Ideology in Inspiring Generation” for a Fashion in Fiction conference and recently also spoke about the era at a Fashion Institute of Technology conference in New York.

Minjung Lee is currently living in the U.S. and taking a sabbatical from her design work while serving as a visiting scholar at the University of California-Davis in the Textiles and Clothing/Women and Gender Studies departments. When she returns to Korea in February, she plans to write more about the significance of fashion. “Academia does not always respect dress,” she said. “They take dress for granted and fail to see it in the social context in which it originated.”

What do you think of Lee’s take on K-drama fashion? What’s your favorite historical drama fashion? Share your thoughts about this article in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

5 Reasons To Love Kim So Eun & Song Jae Rim On ‘We Got Married’

Even before the couple’s first episode aired, those of us at Kultscene thought that We Got Married’s latest couple was worth watching. Kim So Eun and Song Jae Rim are both actors who are talented on their own, but together they make up one of the best couples We Got Married has seen in a long time. The two come together to form a realistic couple, with their similarities and their differences, and are truly enjoyable to watch. The two actors are completely different, incompatible, but somehow they make the audience forget that everything is just for the sake of the show. It’s impossible not to watch this couple without grinning at their interactions, and getting squeamish when it comes down to their over-the-top moments.

[Disclosure: This contains content from the latest episode, so mind the spoilers.]

1. A Perfect Match

Couples need to be different, but they also need to have similarities, and that’s the case here. Both Song Jae Rim and Kim So Eun are actors with impressive careers but not superstars, so they have a hard-working determination that makes them perfect for one another.

Song Jae Rim Kim So Eun WGM Selca

Some couples on We Got Married are unevenly matched in their careers, but Jae Rim and So Eun are in similar places and really connect over that. Their personalities also match, and, even when bickering, the two find similarities and things that they can bond over– taking selfies, loving cats, living alone, saying “my style,” and countless other things.

Song Jae Rim Kim So Eun Sunglasses Selca ‘We Got Married’

2. Realistic Couple

The two make you forget that We Got Married is just a faux-marriage program. Instead, Song Jae Rim tries multiple times each episode to get closer to Kim So Eun, whether it’s putting his arm sneakily around her or when he tries to kiss her neck in romantic gesture. He constantly teases So Eun about intimate relations and going to bed together that it’s hard to imagine that there are cameramen following them around.

Song Jae Rim Kim So Eun Skinship ‘We Got Married’

Even though Kim So Eun thinks Jae Rim’s cheesiness and attempts at skinship are over the top, she can’t resist his charm. The two became close early on and even felt comfortable watching a mature movie together. They tease each other like normal couples do, but even when they annoy each other, Jae Rim and So Eun find the other charming.

Kim So Eun Hitting Song Jae Rim ‘We Got Married’

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3. Song Jae Rim Is Cute and Sexy All At Once

Known for his powerful roles in The Moon Embraces The Sun, Inspiring Generation, and Two Weeks, as well as for being eye candy in The Idle Mermaid, Song Jae Rim has completely ruined his image on We Got Married.

Song Jae Rim Sexy Bed Picture ‘We Got Married’

He’s gained the nickname “Obligation Song,” due to how he does everything that So Eun asks him to do. Kim So Eun and the in-studio audience cannot handle his over-the-top compliments sometimes, although in the latest episodes, So Eun’s started to be just as ridiculous as Jae Rim. He’s so, so, so cheesy that even the MC’s can’t handle it.

 4. Kim So Eun Shows Her Tough Attitude and Soft Side

The leading lady doesn’t take anything from her man, even when he tries to tease her by not wearing boxers under his hospital gown. Jae Rim pushes, and So Eun pushes right back. But she also makes him dinner, visits him when he’s ill, and puts up with his over exaggerated attempts at flattery. She’s a bit more innocent than Song Jae Rim, and admits that she hasn’t been in a relationship in a while, but even though she gets flustered when he teases her, she is ready to match him head to head rather than letting him take control of the situation. So Eun’s able to take as much as Jae Rim gives and it’s simply fantastic to watch them try to go head-to-head with one another. (Plus, she’s great on Liar Game!) 

 

But, at the end of the day, Kim So Eun is independent, and whenever Song Jae Rim teases her, she finds something to tease him about. JaeRim couple may as well be called “bickering couple” based on how they go at it sometimes, and it’s absolutely amazing.

5.  Kuni Omma & Olla Appa

We Got Married couples usually have names for each other, often “darling” or “honey,” but this couple became parents early on in their marriage. Both Song Jae Rim and Kim So Eun are cat lovers, and instead of dropping their cats off somewhere else during filming, they both brought their cats, Kim Seo Eun’s Kuni and Song Jae Rim’s Olla, to their We Got Married home.

The cats make a common appearance, and the two have bonded over their common love by decorating their house and clothes with cat decals. They let the cats sleep on the bed, which didn’t leave room for the couple. Kuni Omma and Olla Appa’s response? Build a cat tower from scratch and forcibly lift the cats to it  after sprinkling catnip on it.

Song Jae Rim Kim So Eun ‘WGM’

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Bonus: Eric Nam Is The Best Commentator

Eric Nam is an unwitting star due to his hilarious reactions at Jae Rim and So Eun’s interactions.

How much do you live this We Got Married? Who do you think will come out on top, Song Jae Rim or Kim So Eun? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.

[All images are taken from MBC via Tumblr]

5 Reasons To Watch Kim So Eun & Song Jae Rim’s ‘We Got Married’

With the departure of the Wooyoung-Park Se Young couple from We Got Married 4, a new couple is stepping up to the plate. After a slew of idol-dominated relationships, We Got Married is adding a new couple made up of two actors whose names you may not recognize, but whose faces you very may well. Kim So Eun and Song Jae Rim are definitely a couple to keep an eye on.

The first episode with the new couple will air on September 20, and you may be thinking about watching. Here are five reasons to definitely tune in to the show.

1. This Preview

You don’t need subtitles to see how fun this couple will be. In just a few seconds, Song Jae Rim goes from being introduced as a charismatic man, fighting and riding a motorcycle, to being a complete dork who Kim So Eun is practically appalled by.

We Got Married Song Jae Rim Kim So Eun

We also see the couple drinking, initiated by Kim So Eun (ruining her sweet, innocent image), something that brings a more mature side to We Got Married. The two are already seen feeding one another and acting familiar, which looks so different from the coyness other couples have shown.

2. You Know Them, Even If You Don’t Think You Do

Kim So Eun played Cha Ga Eul in Boys Over Flowers, the best friend who falls in love with Kim Bum. Everyone rooted for her the entire show, hoping that she could win over his heart, and she end up winning over all of ours. She’s starring in the upcoming tvN drama Liar Game, and recently appeared in the Cannes Film Festival film, Mourning Grave.

 

Song Jae Rim, on the other hand, is currently in tvN’s drama The Idle Mermaid, but it’s his reputation as a tough warrior that has gained him a lot of attention. In The Moon Embraces The Sun, he played the loyal bodyguard Woon, and in Two Weeks he was the fearful assassin hunting Lee Joon Ki.

 

3. Song Jae Rim Is Really Sexy

There’s really no way to be less blunt about it. The actor has proved his manliness and charisma time and time again (while pulling off long hair), and if the two of them go to the beach in an episode, people will be very excited.

Song Jae Rim Sexy

4. Kim So Eun’s Variety Skills Will Make The Show Exciting

Kim So Eun has done variety shows before about her relationship with another celebrity, f(x)’s Victoria. The two of them showcased trends that 20-somethings would be interested. The first episode began much like an episode of We Got Married, with the new “couple” meeting one another anonymously and going to different locations on “dates.”  

5. Because We Got Married Needs More Realism And Less Idols

We Got Married isn’t really a place for idols. Idols are meant to be seen from afar, not in relationships. The season began with three idols involved in couples (MBLAQ’s Lee Joon, Secret’s Sunhwa, and ZE:A’s Kwanghee), and it kind of threw off the whole show. We Got Married appears to be trying to get back to more “realistic” faux-marriages with this couple that looks like they get along really well.

Are you looking for to this new We Got Married couple? Who was your favorite We Got Married couple? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.