Movie tells timeless tale of father-son dispute
Even though Lee Joon-ik’s latest period film, “The Throne,” goes back centuries to revive the tragic tale of Crown Prince Sado (1735-62), it manages to resonate with the present-day audience by focusing on the age-old theme of father-son relationships.
Director Lee, who masterminded a number of historical hits like “Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield” (2003) and “King and the Clown” (2005), which attracted 12 million viewers, has again delved deep into the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to explore the tragic family history of King Yeongjo (1694-1776) and his son Crown Prince Sado.
King Yeongjo (Song Kang-ho), the longest-reigning Joseon king, was praised for leading the dynasty to one of its most prosperous times, but he had his own complex as a son of his father’s concubine, who was from the lowest social strata.
In order to justify his legitimacy, he always pursued perfection in his studies and behavior. However, when his son (Yoo Ah-in) fails to live up to his high expectations but shows interest in martial arts and drawing, Yeongjo begins to mistreat him.
Failing to come to a compromise after repeated disappointment and despair on both sides, King Yeongjo locks his son in a wooden rice chest to put him to death. Sado was actually a name given to the Crown Prince after his death.
“The main plot revolves around Crown Prince Sado, but I filled the rest with the story of a father-son relationship,” Lee said at a press screening event on Sept. 3 in Seoul. “There is no man in this world who doesn’t have a father. This relationship has caused numerous conflicts, and everybody strives to solve the problem at first. If the problem becomes an insurmountable mountain, then it becomes a tragedy.”
It took eight days for Sado to die in the chest, and director Lee straightforwardly lays each day out in chronological order, but inserts flashbacks of Sado’s younger days in between.
After Sado’s death, the film jumps forward to show King Jeongjo, Sado’s son, lamenting the death of his father. Even though the film encompasses a vast time period that spans half a century, Lee cleverly juxtaposes scenes from different time periods to tell the heartbreaking tale of a royal family.
“In order to effectively tell 56 years of stories, I had to implement the flashbacks. I was quite worried that going back and forth would confuse the viewers, but I tried to make it as linear as possible,” Lee said.
Veteran actor Song, who came back to the big screen after starring in “The Attorney,” which enjoyed immense success in 2013 with 11.4 million ticket admissions, said the strongest point of his latest film is that it “sticks to the tradition.”
“We have seen many period dramas that are very stylish and original. However, this film excluded all that but maintained its original purpose of telling the story of Yeongjo and Sado. In my acting as well, I took all the techniques out but just played it straightforwardly,” Song said.
Actress Moon Geun-young is also appearing on the silver screen for the first time in 10 years as another historically famous figure, Lady Hyegyeong, who is the wife of Crown Prince Sado.
“I analyzed my character as a multilayered one who has a dilemma as Sado’s wife and also as crown princess,” she said.
“I approached my character as one of the influences who led Sado to end up like that,” she added.
The film, which opens nationwide on Wednesday, was selected last week as the contender for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film by the Korean Film Council.
BY JIN EUN-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]