[DVD REVIEWS]A delightful story of a scheming woman

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[DVD REVIEWS]A delightful story of a scheming woman

"Jang Huibin" (1962)

Directed by Jeong Chang-hwa.?Starring Kim Jin-Kyu, Kim Jee-Mi, Kim Dong-Won

The story of Jang Ok-nan, the selfish girl who slept her way to the top of the Joseon Dynasty, is a popular one that has been tackled many times in film, including by the great director Im Kwon-taek. But this version is even older than Im's, and distributed on DVD by Bitwin.

It's late in the 17th century, and the queen mother decides to take on the beautiful Jang Ok-nan to be her servant. Ok-nan is rude and ignorant of court etiquette, but the queen mother thinks the girl can learn manners.

Ok-nan turns out to be a quick study, not of manners, but of courtesan manipulations. She "accidentally" allows herself to be spotted by the crown prince, and soon becomes his No. 1 woman.

A short time later the crown prince takes the throne as King Sukjong and Ok-nan becomes the huibin, or chief consort. But that's not enough for the ambitious one, who then plans to oust the queen and become queen herself. She succeeds, but the king's world begins to fall into disorder. Eventually pious, proper behavior wins the day, and Ok-nan is commanded to drink poison for her evil efforts.

One of the movie's more unusual qualities is its focus on a despicable lead character. Ok-nan is rude, scheming and eventually outright evil. "Jang" is a better film for it. After all, bad guys are more fun. While all the other characters are putting you to sleep with their virtuousness, Ok-nan is plotting revenge, lying and using her wiles for her own gain. Great stuff.

On another matter, the DVD "Bomnaleun Ganda" (One Fine Spring Day) has been released in an impressive three-disk format. But strangely, it comes without any subtitles at all, English or Korean. It's a nice-looking package, but you would be better off waiting for a future pressing and hoping the folks at Starmax smarten up and include subtitles.

by Mark Russell

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