Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Fatal Encounter - 2014

The Fatal Encounter is a South-Korean Film directed by Lee Jae Kyu and written by Choi Sung-Hyun.  The cinematograhy is by Go Nak Sun.

Background: King Jeongjo (1752-1800) was a ruler of Joseon dynasty who ruled from 1776-1800.  He was the son of Crown Prince Sado who died as a result of being enclosed in a rice chest for eight days. Sado was called a killer and a rapist and various ministers under the rule of his father Yeongjo asked for his elimination.  As a royal person could not be harmed, Sado was ordered to climb into a rice chest and was sealed inside till he died. Upon assuming the throne at the young age of 24, King Jeongjo tried to clear his father's name, he also survived several assassination attempts in the very first year of his rule.  This movie is an account of one of those attempts.

King Jeongjo (Hyun Bin) has a punishing schedule.  He wakes up very early and works out.  He also wears weights on his body to strengthen it.  He is a master archer and is good with a sword as well. He is a great scholar who spends most of his time reading.

His clerk, the eunuch, Gap Soo,(Jung Jye Young) is always with the king.  He was brought over to the palace as a young boy,  In fact, he is a trained assassin who was castrated and sent to the palace so he may one day aid in killing the king. Gap Soo becomes the young prince's playmate and is convinced that the king should not be killed.

There is a nasty Fagin like person Gwang Bae (Choe Jae-Hyun) who brings up little boys and girls and raises them among pits and caves.  He trains them to be assassins and hires them out for killing people for money.  He had trained Gap Soo.  Gap-Soo's brother in distress in those training pits was Eul-Soo (Cho Jung Seok).  He is now the best assassin that Gwang Bae has.  Gwang Bae wants him to go and assassinate the king.

Eul Soo is in love with the laundry maid in the palace, Wol Hye (Jung Eun-Chae).  All he wants is to go somewhere far away with his lady love and live a normal life.

Jeongjo's grandmother, Queen Jungsoon (Han Ji-Min) is a very young woman whom his grandfather married at the fag end of his career perhaps. She is one of Jeongjo's deadliest enemies.  She is always at loggerheads with the King's mother, the two women keep trying to diminish each other.

This movie covers one day in the life of the King Jeongjo.  It is very crucial for him as there is a huge conspiracy to kill him that he is not aware of.  Within 24 hours, we move back and forth in time, getting vital information about various characters.  There are several situations that crop up, there are threats of poisonings, killing contracts and palace coups planned.  How the King, along with his loyal retainers (few and far between), copes with them within a day's time is what the movie is all about.

The movie uses the 24-hour format for its story telling very intelligently. It forays into the past to expand upon the current scene now and then, when it has to explain why the character is behaving so, or why the character is feeling this way. It was particularly useful in establishing the relationship between the King and Gap Soo; between Gap Soo and Eul Soo; between Eul Soo and Wol Hye. It helps to flesh out a narrative which is otherwise very terse and focused.

It is beautifully filmed, full marks to the cinematographer and the director for composing lovely scenes.  The movie is full of wonderful action sequences, obviously as it is a near war like situation in the palace, It was no surprise to me, after having seen some great K-dramas, that the acting was so good all around.  All the actors put in great performances.

The cherry on top of the cake is Hyun Bin as the King Jeongjo.  The King is just 24 years old when he ascends the throne.  So a young Hyun Bin is the right age to depict the King.  Right at the start I drooled watching the toned body of Hyun Bin as he works out.  All through the movie, he maintains a grim (kingly?) visage which suits him so much.  He is the focal point of the movie and he delivers confidently.

I have just finished watching Sungkyunkwan Scandal, a Korean Drama.  Post completion I was reading up a bit on the Joseon King Jeonjo who was depicted in the series, when I ran into a reference to this movie and was piqued into watching it. I am mighty glad too, as it is a fabulous film that no movie lover should miss.


  1. This is one of my favourite Korean historicals. Most of the others either end terribly sadly, and/or are very violent and bloody all through - this one was intriguing and much more satisfying than most. And Hyun Bin... *goes off into a swoon*. I read somewhere that his chemistry with Han Jeen Min was what led them to being cast opposite each other in Hyde, Jekyll, Me. Which, by the way, is worth seeing not just for the story (which is pretty interesting) but more for Hyun Bin. He doesn't merely look good, he acts brilliantly. I was blown away by his acting in that.

    I had forgotten Jo Jung-Sook was in this movie. I like him a lot too, ever since I saw him in The King 2 Hearts (warning: do not see that drama, not even for Ha Ji Won. It has the most horrifically caricatured and annoying villain, and the most idiotically pointless ending I've seen in a drama).

  2. Alright, next stop Hyde, Jekyll, Me! I am just too into Hyun Bin right now. Sigh!

    It was the slow unfolding of how the assassination takes place and all that happens that is really the best part.

  3. Yes, Hyun Bin - especially in his more recent dramas and films - can be pretty addictive! I don't like him as much in earlier work, like My Lovely Sam Soon or A Millionaire's First Love. He's one of those who seems to get better as he grows older.

  4. What an interesting story!
    someday, maybe.

  5. Thanks for the recommendation.
    It was a wonderufl movie. I loved it.
    It made me root for all the main characters, naturally I sided with the monarch, but had deep sympathy for the assassin as well.
    One would want everythign tot urn up well and everybody's story has a happy ending, but when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
    I hope the king was a just ruler during his reign.

  6. Yes, Harvey. He was one of the best kings of Joseon. I felt like I understood the film a bit better on the second viewing. Koo gave in too tamely, methinks, especially as he did not seem to be a wise person, but a braggart. But it was the turning point for the King. He manages the assassination attempt very well, managing to subdue his Grandma forever. He did bring about peace between the Noron and Soron factions, history tells us.

    His mother wrote memoirs which were very famous. I am going to try and read them, if they are available in translation.