Saturday, November 04, 2006

The King's Man

So recently, a couple of my classes were canceled, resulting in a loss of 4.5 hours and a gain of 1 hour. So resulting in a net loss of 3.5 hours. This means that I have more time, although slightly less money. Anyway, as a result of more time on my hands, I've actually done something not related to work or grad school, and therefore I finally have something interesting to write about. Well, I've also been following the elections rather obsessively but I can't really write anything interesting about that.

Last night, I took some time off of trying to write my personal statement to watch The King and the Clown although the Chinese title is given as ็Ž‹็š„็”ทไบบ or in English The King's Man, which seems a little bit more true to the story. While watching it, it didn't necessarily blow me away the way some other movies have. But after watching it, I did keep thinking about it in a way that impressed me. Although the cover kind of makes it look like The Promise, The Banquet, etc. type of period piece, it's actually seems less self-consciously artistic and more like just a movie. Visually, there are certainly some really nice parts, but it's clearly not as high budget as the movies I mentioned above. Anyway, apparently this movie was a surprise hit in Korea, which was originally why I wanted to check it out.

Ultimately, The King and the Clown will probably be compared to Farewell My Concubine, since it's essentially about a gay love triangle involving stage performers in Asia, and involves a female impersonator. However, I would say I enjoyed The King and the Clown a lot more than Farewell My Concubine, and that there are some key differences between the two. However, like Farewell My Concubine, it focuses on two performers, one very masculine, the other rather feminine, and the wealthy patron, in this case the Emperor of Korea, who comes between them. I would say that The King and the Clown is significantly less homophobic than Farewell My Concubine. (I have a lot of opinions about Farewell My Concubine, I wrote my thesis on it.) I guess I probably shouldn't say too much about the plot since it might get released in the States someday. So briefly, two street performers run away from their troupe and arrive in Seoul. They put on a skit mocking the Emperor and his consort and, through chance and various other circumstances, are installed in the palace by the Emperor. Their presence then precipitates a series of conflicts within the court.

What really made the movie for me was the characters. There's never a clear bad guy in the movie. Even the childish and tyrannical Emperor is portrayed in a fairly well balanced light. The acting is generally quite good. Both of the actors who play the performers in the movie are really good and carry the movie. I was particularly impressed by the guy that played the female impersonator. Generally "effeminate" characters aren't written very sympathetically, and are often portrayed as weak. The part seemed difficult, because most of the character's feelings and decisions occur inside, which makes the viewer wonder what's really going on in his head. However, I thought the writer and the actor do a good job of bringing his character across.

Another thing I thought was interesting, is that while this film has a fairly clear gay theme: the emperor falls in love with female impersonator, and the two performers also seem to be involved with each other. (Hence the love triangle.) Their relationship is never commented upon by any of the other characters, but I thought their portrayal seemed more like, these are two people who are in love, rather than THIS IS A GAY MOVIE, which seems sometimes to infect movies like this.

Also, the film had some interesting quirks. I don't think I've ever seen another movie that included references to Hamlet, Farewell My Concubine, and Fists of Fury all at the same time. (I could be imagining the last one though.) The Hamlet reference was actually pretty neat, because the Emperor and Hamlet actually have a lot of things in common, oedipal tendencies, living in the shadow of their dead father, madness, mood swings. That plus the theater connection makes the whole thing kind of cool. The reference to Farewell My Concubine was a lot more random, except as a nod to Farewell My Concubine, or perhaps an acknowledgment that the film will inevitably be compared to Farewell My Concubine. However, it was really more random than anything and kind of took away from the movie, as well as seeming a touch anachronistic, but I'm not really sure about that part. The reference to Bruce Lee seemed to come at the end, but I may just be imagining things.

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