Mr Sunshine is a 24-episode K-Drama that is set in the Late Joseon period during the Japanese invasion and takeover.
But, are the characters in the show real or fictional and how accurate is the history?
Please Note: The information on this page provides information about the main characters and may contain spoilers.
You may also like: Late Joseon Dynasty and Korean Empire 1864 – 1910
Born Choi Yoo-jin, he escaped to the United States after his parents were killed in 1871. As an adult he returns to Joseon as part of a mission to the American legation in Korea and falls in love with noblewoman Ae-shin.
Although Eugene Choi is a fictional character, there was an American embassy in Seoul from 1883 until the Japanese takeover in 1910.
Ae-shin is the daughter of Hee-jin and Sang-wan, two members of the Righteous Army that are murdered by the pro-Japanese Lee Wan-ik. She is raised by her paternal grandfather Go Sa-hong who eventually helps her follow in her parents’ footsteps.
Although Ae-shin is a fictional character, the Righteous Army did exist and resisted the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea.
Timeline of the Righteous Army
Son of butchers, the lowest class in Joseon. After his parents are killed, he escapes with the help of a young Ae-shin. He goes to Japan where he becomes skilled Samurai and leader of the ruthless Musin Society.
Although the Musin Society is fictitious, it is based on the Black Dragon Society (Kokuryūkai) which was a Japanese nationalist para-military group that was formed in 1901. The society was used by the Japanese government to carry out assassinations, sabotage and psychological warfare to help the Japanese take over Korea.
Jang Seung-gu saw his father killed in the Battle of Ganghwa and vowed to take up arms and fight against the invaders. He becomes a member of the Righteous Army and dies fighting in the Battle of Namdaemun.
Although Jang Seung-gu is a fictional character, the Battles of Ganghwa and Namadaemun were real events.
King Gojong ruled Korea from 1864 until the Japanese takeover in 1907. His wife, Queen Myeongseong, known as Queen Min, was assassinated by Japanese agents who disliked her pro-Russian stance. Gojong’s rule saw the French invasion of 1866, the American campaign of 1871 and the 1876 Treaty of Ganghwa with Japan which gave trade rights to Japan. As depicted in Mr Sunshine, his government was made up of pro-Joseon and Pro-Japanese factions.
Lee Yang-hwa / Kudo Hina
Lee Yang-hwa is the daughter of Lee Wan-ik who was married to an old Japanese man by her father. She took the name Kudo Hina on her marriage. Hina runs the Glory Hotel in Mr Sunshine.
Although Kudo Hina is a fictitious character, it is believed that the Glory Hotel is based on the Songtag Hotel. The Songtag Hotel was the first Hotel in Korea to serve coffee.
Kim Hui-seong is the grandson of the Kim Pan-seo, the nobleman that killed Eugene Choi’s parents. He was sent to be educated in Japan and delayed returning to avoid his arranged marriage. He is ashamed of his grandfather’s ruthless behaviour and tries to atone for their behaviour by helping the Righteous Army.
Kim Hui-seong is a fictitious character but he is used to show how newspaper reporters strove to depict the real events. In the show he photographs the pro-Japanese ministers that push through the Eulsa Treaty that put Korea under the protection of the Japanese.
Lee Wan-ik is a rughless pro-Japanese official who was responsible for the deaths of Ae-Shin’s parents. He wangles his way to become Minister of Foreign Affairs and helps to further the Japanese takeover.
Lee Wan-ik is used to represent the five Eulsa traitors. The five government ministers that signed the Eulsa Treaty of 1905 that placed Korea under the protection of Japan and paved the way for the take over of 1907.