A DVD set as hefty as the flick itselfThe film “King and the Clown” has been reviewed so extensively by critics that even those reviews were reviewed. Months after the film’s release, whatever one says about the film is likely to make readers irritated by the time they finish the headline.
That’s the curse waiting for any writer destined to once again write about the film that will be released next week on DVD, because it’s too big of a deal not to write anything.
After all, this is a film that attracted over 10 million viewers to theaters across the country, breaking the record for the highest grossing Korean film.
As everybody therefore already knows, the film is a social parody about a group of royal clowns who conveys the movie’s theme, which is that “the world’s nothing but stage.”
Yet the film dips into other subject matters: The story is a romance; it involves martial arts, and it’s possibly about being gay. It features a ruthless king (played by Jeong Jin-young) lusting after a male court jester, who is plotting revenge on behalf of the king’s jealous mistress. The film is the first domestic work to openly portray homoerotic encounters, as boldly referenced in a literal translation of its Korean title, “The King’s Man.”
Its drama worked, in a way. The film was so monstrously popular that at one point the director, Lee Jun-ik, stood up during a public demonstartion to save the Screen Quota System ― which regulates local theatres to screen Korean movies for at least 146 days a year ― and lamented that his film had become “an assassin” of Korean cinema, as it was constantly used by government officials as a means to justify cutting the system’s demands by half as part of pre-negotiation deals for a free trade agreement.
Despite its faddishness, the film still manages to produce some amusing modern tension amid its period sets.
The homosexual romance between two clowns, Gong-kil (Lee Jun-ki) and Jang-saeng (Gam Woo-seong), resurrects the veiled class issue from the Joseon Dynasty, when many clowns were too poor to get married. But the film’s greatest accomplishment seems to be rooted in its intricate portrayal of the complex character of King Yeonsan, one of the most controversial royals in Korean history and often described as “a mad king.” The film does an eloquent job depicting a sexually perverse king who crawls underneath his lover’s dress in search of his mother’s womb to soothe his childhood trauma of seeing his mother assassinated.
The film’s English subtitles, which were done specifically for a Cannes screening by the historian Kim Yong-ok, who put them in Shakespearean English, seem at times to be over the top. But Yeonsan’s character, along with the film’s historical background, was given a thorough explanation in the film’s opening written expository.
The DVD comes in a package of four disks. It includes the movie; a director’s cut which is 10 minutes longer, a soundtrack and a supplement, on top of a separate booklet for film stills. For 36,000 won, the package isn’t a bad deal ― that is, only if you think there is still a mystery left in the film.
by Park Soo-mee