Yeonsan Gun (1476-1506) was the 10th King of Joseon Dynasty from 1494 to 1506. He was said to be one of the most cruel kings ever. He killed people without any compunction. His mother was ordered to drink poison and commit suicide for the crime of killing other concubines out of jealousy.
|Jang Sa Eng|
The headman of the village likes young boys and asks for Gong-gil to be sent to him. The leader of the troupe agrees to that. Jang Saeng does not like it, we learn that this has been going on for a long time. The leader often pimps Gong-gil for extra rations or money. Gong-gil is used to it, but Jang Saeng fights for him.
In the ensuing fracas, the leader is killed and Gong-gil and Jang Saeng run off to Hanyang (present day Seoul). There they meet up with another small troupe and start performing risque plays involving the King and his Concubine which are met with wholehearted audience approval.
|The ribald Play|
The King's Clerk Cheo Sin (Jang Hang-Seon) is not amused when he sees the play while passing by. He gets the troupe arrested and flogged. Captain - Jang Saeng - dares him to show their skit to the King. If he laughs, they live, if he does not, they die.
The King (Jung Jin-Young) is used to pretty cultural shows like this, not a nasty ribald comedy.
|The King and His Concubine|
But despite the nervous performance by Captain's troupe, he laughs. He is not just amused, he wants the troupe to stay and be the Royal Minstrels. What the Captain's troupe don't know is that the King is unhinged and is quite likely to become violent. Also, to Jang Saeng's consternation, he appears to like Gong Gil a bit too much. The King's clerk seems to have an agenda as well. He seems to want them to perform plays on controversial topics.
|A Play about the poisoning of the Queen|
The movie is about very strong bonds of friendship (perhaps even intimacy) between Jang-Saeng and Gong-gil. The King - Yeonsan- is attracted to Gong-gil too. Gong Gil likes being with the King because he gets to see the King's vulnerable side. The three leads, Kam Woo Sung, Jung Jin Young and Lee Jun Ki put in stupendous performances. They are required to love and hate each other at times and they do it wonderfully.
But it is the director Lee Jun ik who is the ultimate winner for putting together this wonderful tale. Each scene is tight and well directed. The script and dialogues (alas, I had to depend on the subtitles) are flawless.
The director chooses the audience to use their own imagination to make out what is going on. There are never any 'leading' dialogues to make the audience think anything. Only in one instance in the beginning - where Jang Saeng speaks about Gong-gil being regularly pimped (which was integral to the story, if you think of it) - is the audience directly 'told' something.
You, as a viewer, can choose to believe that Jang Saeng was intimate with Gong Gil, or not. You can choose to believe that the King slept with Gong Gil, or not. Even the last scene is very open ended and you may, if you wish, believe what you will.
This is what I loved best about the movie. This is what makes it stand out so much from the usual fare that is dished out.
The cinematography is very good. As it is a historical film, there are a lot of costumes and montages of flag waving and grandeur. Even the countryside is pretty and virgin (as it must have been in those times).
A special word about the background score. Fabulous. We are given silences, traditional pipes and drums and a beautiful tune to accompany the opening credits. It is soothing and apt for a great movie like this one.