It is the 15th century. In the kingdom of Joseon, the vast majority of the population is illiterate, and the few people who do know how to read and write must make use of Chinese characters – a writing technique that is notoriously difficult to master.
The aging King Sejong the Great (Song Kang Ho), dreams of sparking an intellectual revolution in his country. His plan is to develop a script so straightforward and easy to read that even peasants could learn to read it.
Spurred on by the quick-witted Queen Sohun (Jeon Mi Sun), Sejong embarks on an ambitious quest to realize his dream – and help his country move out of China’s shadow, with a move he says “would take China 1,000 years to achieve.”
But Sejong is dismayed to find that his royal court and noble advisors are short of ideas on how best to create the script.
In his desperation, he turns to a group of low-born Buddhist monks led by Shin Mi (Park Hae Il) for help. Shin Mi and his monastic brothers guard the secrets of the Tripitaka Koreana, a massive library of 81,258 wooden printing blocks produced in the 13th century.
Shin Mi’s calligraphy and language skills are second to none, while the king’s drive to complete the project is unswerving. But many obstacles stand between them and what seems at times like an impossible dream.
Can King Sejong and his unlikely cohort of pious linguists help create a script that will ultimately become Hangeul, the modern Korean alphabet?
The movie was based on real-life events, and all three of its main characters were historical figures from Korea’s past.
“The King’s Letters” is a 2019 South Korean movie directed by Cho Chul Hyun.