KatC Special Feature & Collection
A Different Viewpoint on "King and the Clown" : Who leads and Who follows
[Original (Chinese) Article]
There are 2 viewpoints that I have on “King and the Clown”:
The first is aimed at the director’s intent. It can be said that Lee Jun-ki (Gong-gil) became an overnight sensation with the release of the movie. For a supporting role to achieve this kind of sensation is almost impossible to imagine, and then to have your every move and action focused on must have been extremely difficult. For the audience, regardless of their age and the reason they step into the cinema - to watch Jang-saeng, Yeonsan, Nok-su, six / seven / eight or even Cheo-seon - there is no way that anyone can ignore the existence of Gong-gil and not to pay any attention to this character. The reason is clearly obvious, more than the goodness, beauty and innocence that Gong-gil personifies in the movie, the movie is unable to actually detach itself from the original stage play. In the original stage play “Yi”, Gong-gil is the absolute lead. In “Yi”, both Yeonsan and Gong-gil take the leads while Jang-saeng is only a supporting role. It is Gong-gil who threads the story along and the play concludes with his death.
In my opinion, the director attempts to narrate the story development in the movie through Jang-saeng’s angle is only his wishful thinking. It’s true that in the first half of the movie, the story is indeed told from Jang-saeng’s point of view. However, as the story develops, Jang-saeng seems to lose his grip on what’s happening and what’s to be expected. From the moment Gong-gil is summoned by the king, Jang-saeng is no longer in control of the situation and lacks the courage to understand and find out what is going on. In all matters, he seems to seek consensus from Gong-gil. From this point on, it is Gong-gil who dictates how the story goes.
Right from the start, the director has never really put any importance to the character Gong-gil. If not, given his disposition, he would not have risked using a newcomer for the role, even if he demands the newcomer to be talented in his performing skill. In the movie, his focus is only to present the goodness and beauty of Gong-gil and to use this as the essential element to fuse the contradictory conflict between Yeonsan and Jang-saeng.
While the movie takes on the narrative viewpoint of Jang-saeng and added a substantial portion of scenes on him, emphatically on the emotive interaction between Jang-saeng and Gong-gil, it has not actually reduced the part of Gong-gil. It is not that the director does not want to do so but rather it is not possible to do so. How would the story develop if the role of Gong-gil is reduced? On the other hand, if the role of Jang-saeng is reduced, the story can still go on. At the least, the most minimum of plot is still there.
Therefore, to me, the three characters – Gong-gil, Jang-saeng and Yeonsan are all leads. This is a movie about the bonding between men and it has deepened my understanding of human nature on the emotional and sentimental level.
From here, I would like to go on to expand on my second understanding of friendship and bond between men.
What kind of relationship does Gong-gil and Jang-saeng has? A question that is likely to evoke different answers depending on your understanding. For me, the strongest bond that surmounts love and even life and death is that between men which can be equated to ones’ belief. In this relationship, there is only loyalty and betrayal. There is no middle ground. To forsake this bond is as good as betrayal.
Jang-saeng and Gong-gil are street entertainers, belonging to the underclass, even inferior in status to the ordinary common people. Long-term living and performing together has enabled them to develop a harmonious tacit understanding to a high degree. In daily life, they have to endure endless hardship but in their plays, their constrained spirits are allowed to explore freely. Both Gong-gil and Jang-saeng are talented performers and the main leads in their theatrical troupe. They may be street entertainers, but they are unashamed of their status and they are happiest doing what they like – performing and entertaining. They are not envious of the luxurious palace life. All they want is only to sate their stomachs. Jang-saeng and Gong-gil are also absolutely unify in their spiritual pursue. They both like working as entertainers and to be able to freely perform is their highest pursue. Between them, Jang-saeng and Gong-gil are spiritually interdependence and mutually see each other as the life’s center of gravity to the other from their long-term performing relationship and immersing themselves in their plays. They are committed to each other in trust and loyalty. To people of their upbringing, this mutual tacit understanding is all that is needed to satisfy their spiritual needs.
After entering the palace, Jang-saeng and Gong-gil thought they can have a better life – not to worry anymore about basic necessities and yet be able to perform freely. But when Gong-gil is summoned by the king after their 2nd performance, suspicion and vacillation develops in Jang-saeng’s mind. More than the thought that the king will abuse Gong-gil, I believe he fears Gong-gil will choose the king (who has the stronger protective strength) over him. He is under-estimating the trust and loyalty between them because he is helpless against the king. When the troupe prepares to leave the palace, he is very obviously waiting for Gong-gil to come back. When Gong-gil asks him not to go, he displays an unusual violent fury. This is constrained rage in explosion as he is not prepared to let go of their mutual trust and loyalty in any way. Indistinctly, he feels he is about to lose Gong-gil, the center of gravity of his life. Something that Jang-saeng is not about nor able to accept. When the false allegation is brought against Gong-gil by Nok-su, he is willing to forsake everything to take the punishment for Gong-gil. Although the false allegation is a capital crime, Gong-gil may not necessarily die for it. However, if Jang-saeng admits to it, he will surely die and he knows it. Therefore, I think he is making his stand to Gong-gil. When Cheo-seon releases him, why did he not walk away to live another day? Simply because he is unable to let go…to let go of Gong-gil. To Gong-gil, his stand is very strong and clear – without you, I would rather die.
In the movie, Gong-gil is a youth of seventeen or eighteen. He must have been betrayed many times by the troupe leader. In order that his comrades do not go hungry, he has no choice but to sacrifice himself but in no way does it means he does so willingly – just look at the tears behind the mask. Seemingly a very submissive person, it is he who decisively takes the troupe leader down when he wanted to hurt Jang-saeng. The fact that both Gong-gil and Yeonsan do not have motherly care triggers Gong-gil to develop sympathy for the king. His innocence and goodness causes him to have an illusion of the king without realizing the intense need of the king for him. However, when he foresees Jang-saeng inevitable death, it is he who firmly slashs his own wrist, thus dealing a heavy blow to the king. Jang-saeng is ambitious and bravely rash while Gong-gil is more self-confident, firm and decisive in nature. He has never doubted Jang-saeng. This is the trait of a true king, a necessary quality of someone who leads. In my heart, Gong-gil is an absolute wiser. In conflicts, he does not hesitate with hesitiation. He solves problems calmly, decisively and very manly. In truth, all instrumental decisions are made by Gong-gil, even the king has no real say in the matters. Unfortunately, all these have been overshadowed by his soft and docile exterior and his age.
Going back to Yeonsan…in comparison, Yeonsan is a king and should have many followers by his side - people who are willing to follow him to death. Without such unquestionable loyalty, no king can accomplish anything otherwise. As a king, he must have the charisma and charm for people to willing put their lives at stake, to suffer and die for him. All these are part of an individual belief self-realization process. Unfortunately, Yeonsan takes his mother's death too much to heart. He is unable to find a balance point and thus causes his own disposition to be distorted. Yeonsan has only Cheon-san and Nok-su as two willing followers. Nok-su only wants to monopolize his love, substitutes for his mother and becomes the person whom he trusts. She is not a decisive factor to help him with any of his dominant. On the other hand, Cheon-san is only really loyal to the crown, regardless of who is the king. As a King, two followers are far from enough. So, not only is Yeonsan alone in his life but also in his rule. He is also politically unstable. He desperately needs followers and trust to consolidate his rule. Therefore, he and Cheo-seon try to adopt all methods to suppress and threaten his ministers to follow him. Unfortunately, his inability to control his mood betrayed him. Cheon-seon gave up on him and committed suicide while his ministers revolt against him.
Basically, Yeon-san lacks self-confidence. As a person, as a king, he is a failure. After avenging his mother’s death, he is unclear of his role and purpose as king as well as with his life. Even Gong-gil, the one person he believes who knows him best chooses to leave. Yeon-san is extremely lacking in his ways to win followers. He thought he is good to Gong-gil by conferring a high official post but Gong-gil has seem through him and rejects his appointment. Only then does he clearly recognize that he is alone and that his political changes are unsuccessful. As entertainers, Gong-gil and Jang-saeng can reach and share a mutual tacit understanding with each other. But this cannot be the case for a king. The position of a king itself demands only blind following but Yeonsan lacks the aggressiveness to do so. By being excessively intertwined to one matter, it has costed him to lose his ability to rule and his lack of long term political strategy has costed him the consolidation of his own rule.
As final conclusion, all I want to say is that both Jang-saeng and King Yeonsan are kings only in appearance. In actual fact, their eyes and hearts follow Gong-gil, Gong-gil may be delicate and passive in appearance, but it is he who has the firmest belief in his heart and it is this that both Jang-saeng and King Yeonsan wants to control or to follow.
- Translated by Alucard (19-Jan-07)
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Original (Chinese) Article
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Last modified: March 15, 2007 21:42:11 +0800