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"King and the Clown : Simple Emotions, Deeply Moved"

[Original (Chinese) Article]

Prior to watching the movie, I had a lot of doubts about King and the Clown.

The fact that it broke box office records and created a huge sensation in South Korea certainly made me curious to experience its charm. Yet, at the same time, I was afraid that a good piece of the movie would be wasted on me due to my limited understanding of its background. There are many reasons for this: I am not particularly interested in homosexually-themed stories, whereas the movie has been promoted and hailed as the eastern equivalent of Brokeback Mountain; while I think the history is very interesting, I am not into nor had ever watched any Korean period palace pieces; I know nothing about Korean stage plays and donít have the imagination to visualize the transformation of a stage play into a movie. The fact that the South Korean government invited more than a hundred foreign dignitaries to watch the movie certainly gives the impression that you need to be politically savvy to appreciate the movie, much like the huge political effect that rippled around 13 Days when it was released in Taiwan. All in all, there were many reasons for me to back out of watching this movie.

Nevertheless, what needed to be done had to be done, especially for a risk-management person like myself (aka firewalker). To prepare myself, I made an effort to brush up on the historical background of the movie, especially around King Yeonsan. Alas, all my anxieties and worries proved unnecessary. Even without knowing the history, you can easily understand the movie as the key points are carefully and craftily infused into the storyline. All you need is just to be a little more attentive.

King and the Clown does not complicates its storyline by fictionalizing its historical context; instead it is just the opposite. To understand its meaning, all you need is to apply your life experiences to its historical context. You will never be in the dark as to what is happening, but you may be perplexed by the characters' states of mind and emotions. Director Li does not go as far as to fan your emotions with musical cues to remind you that it's time to shed those tears. Instead, the emotive displays are at their rawest. In other words, the actors put life into their roles and in turn the characters put life into the movie.

The Chinese title of the movie translates to "King's Man (Men)", but "King's Man(Men)" doesn't entirely emphasize on the king and the man (men) in his court. The English title is "King and the Clown", yet the story is not just about the king and his jesters. This is not to say that the movie title does not reflect its own theme closely - it does to some extent - but its content is far too rich to be expressed in so few words.

The King and the Clown is about two members of the ancient Korean underclass striving to get the upper hand; it's about their bonding friendship/relationship; it's about their love for the stage, their life-changing experiences after entering the palace court, their limitation and agony against situations over which they have no control. Just these two characters alone could have easily driven the story. But this is not all. Throw in an insane and tyrannical King Yeonsan - his indulgence, his pain, his fragility - and couple this with the intrigues of power, struggle and sexual rivalry, and you have one ingeniously fused yet un-confusing and certainly not disorganized movie.

Personally speaking, I am very satisfied with the structure of the story behind the movie. However, it is its group of great actors that instill the movie with soul.

King and the Clown is a tragicomedy (tragedy + comedy) that bring tears to your eyes amidst the laughter. Laughter comes not from ingenious dialogue or hilariously funny scenes, but from the vocal and body expressions and the emotive displays of the actors. The same effect could have been lost if done by somebody else. Tears come not through sorrow over the characters' tragedies or their unfortunate destinies, but rather in how they struggle in their own ways to triumph against the weight of their miserable fates.

Undeniably, both the effeminate looking Li Joon-ki and aggressively confident Gam Woo-sung bring out the essence of their characters through their performances. For me, however, the best performance has to be Jung Jin-young as King Yeonsan. There is only one line to describe his acting:  how marvelous is human nature!

There are many kinds of good actors in this world. There are those that make you fall in love with their characters despite their many flaws; this is the way Jung perfects the role of Yeonsan. On the one hand, he is very believable as the tyrannical king whose displeased glance is enough to kill. At the same time, you can also sense his helplessness and craziness as a manipulated pawn. Every part of his body seems to be immersed in his role as Yeonsan through the many transitions between these two extremes.

Even the supporting roles are well chosen. Although dreadful looking, the supporting trio of jesters are "dreadfully" adorable and "dreadfully" funny.

King and the Clown is dramatic in nature. It starts off light-heartedly enough before drenching you in sorrow and pain to finally lead you to its climatic ending. Yet, unlike commercial films, it never gives you the feeling that it is only out to sell tickets for an emotional rollercoaster ride. Due credit must be given to director Li Joon-ik who chooses to reveal the sentiment between his characters through the bits and pieces of their lives. Instead of focusing on physical intimacy and constantly embracing each other, the affections between the characters by Lee Joon-ki and Gam Woo-sung are expressed on a much higher level through their interaction during and outside of the stage play.

There are many good things about this movie but it's difficult to pinpoint them all. Its immediate impact is not strong, but its goodness lingers very subtly in your mind and grows as time passes by. It gives you a comfortable aftertaste that you have just watched a very good movie but the odd thing is not being able to tell just where this feeling is coming from.

- Translated by KatC Team (December06, 2006)
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Original (Chinese) Article

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