Born in 1929 in Pyongyang, Lee Gun-Sam majored in English Language and Literature at Dongguk University (Seoul). He then went on to study dramatic arts at the Universities of North Carolina and New York. He was for many years a Professor at Sogang University, Seoul.
He began his career as a playwright during his studies in the United States, when two one-act plays written by him in English were performed at the Carolina Playmakes Theater in 1958–9. Returning to Korea, he began to write plays for the Korean stage and established the Minjung Theater Group in 1963. He has published more than sixty plays in all and is considered to be one of the most prolific as well as one of the most-acted dramatists in Korea.
Lee Gun-Sam’s work has greatly influenced Korean drama, since he was the first Korean playwright to devote his energies to comedy, a genre too often undervalued by Korean literary critics. His comedies are not farces, written to provoke loud laughter, but often subtle exercises in satire. In many works he has targeted the military dictatorships of the recent decades and he is strongly aware of the dramatist’s duty to include social criticism in his work.
Among his most popular plays
are ‘The Great King Refused to Die’, ‘King Lee’s Property’, ‘The Wandering Troupe’,
‘The Madmen’s Festival’. He has also written more than ten books on the theater,
including ‘A History of Western Drama’, and ‘Introduction to Theater’, and has
translated over thirty plays into Korean, including works by Shakespeare, Marlowe,
Shaw, and Eugene O’Neill. Lee Gun-Sam is best known for A New common sense,
which was first staged at Seoul’s National Theater in 1965 and has since been
performed more than 500 times in different parts of the world. It is a tragi-comedy
set in the 1960s. The story depicts the lives of young Koreans who avail themselves
of all possible means to climb the ladder of success and become corrupted on
the way by materialism.