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The Concubine - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Hoo-goong: Je-wang-eui Cheob

South Korea 2012

Drama, Thriller

Kim Dae-seung

Kim Dong-wook
Jo Yeo-jeong
Park Ji-yeong
Kim Min-joon
Jo Eun-ji
Lee Kyeong-yeong
Park Cheol-min
Ahn Seok-hwan

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The Concubine

Story: Prince Seong-woon (Kim Dong-wook) instantly falls in love with Hwa-yeon (Jo Yeo-jeong), the daughter of an aristocrat. However, Hwa-yeon is already in love with Kwon-yoo (Kim Min-joon), against the will of her father. One day her father catches Kwon-yoo and Hwa-yeon spending the night together and his daughter can only save her beloved from certain death by selling herself to the king as a concubine.
Five years later Hwa-yeon is the queen of the country, but the king is dying. After he has died without having named a successor the king's mother (Park Ji-yeong) puts Seong-woon on the throne. But Seong-woon soon realizes that he is solely a puppet. Finally, he is one step closer to his beloved Hwa-yeon, but his mother wants to erase her completely from the political picture. She declares that Hwa-yeon's father is a traitor and let's her son know that he can have every woman but the former queen. Yet Seong-woon's love is too great to adhere to his mother's order and although he may not have any power concerning any other issue, he still wants to have Hwa-yeon for himself no matter what...

Review: As is the case with many other good movies that feauture quite some eroticism this aspect doesn't stand in the focus of events and also isn't put into the film without any motivation. "The Concubine" is a well elaborated thriller at the royal court during the Joseon period. As in a classic stage play the depicted power struggle consists of love and betrayal waiting at every corner. But all of this is highlighted by a grittiness that is rarely to be found within the genre. Along with the nice pictures and the good acting the movie doesn't seem to lack anything to be called a favourite of the audience and critics alike. But that's not thoroughly the case. Reason for that being flaws concerning the editing which considering the otherwise high quality of the movie turn out to be more and more annoying and to a certain degree also make enjoying the movie a bit difficult.

The Concubine - Film Screenshot 11

Director Kim Dae-seung is actually beyond reproach since "Bungee Jumping of Their Own" and "Blood Rain" already count among his works. His pictures are in fact captured very well at all times and create an intense and gripping atmosphere. The sets are also easy on the eyes, even though it shouldn't be kept a secret that the movie almost makes the impression of a TV film in the beginning. But this impression soon fades away and is most likely also just the result of the editing. This big drawback of poor editing makes "The Concubine" falter on several occasions. The people to blame should be Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sang-beom, but then again this seems rather unlikely since they have also been responsible for the editing in movies like "Oldboy" and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance".

The Concubine - Film Screenshot 12

Maybe the fault also lies with the soundtrack, which on its own is pretty well composed, but stops too abruptly at times, making some of the cuts look unclean. Whatever the reason, it is quite annoying and still so at the end. The last freeze-frame is also something to get het up over. Even the more as director Kim only shortly prior to that captures a very strong and symbological picture when the camera zooms out of the palace. Those technical missteps therefore harm a movie that easily could have worked on a similar high level as "A Frozen Flower". That it can't is also very unfortunate as the sex scenes deliver the necessary aesthetics and nudity that constitute a movie of this genre, which centers around love and lust that eventually makes you dive into madness. There aren't many directors who can successfully pull this off.

The gruesome acts commited at the royal court are also described in all of their details, although they aren't always graphically depicted. But when it needs to the movie also shocks you with the depiction of an eunuch's genitals. However, almost even more gruesome than that are the entanglements and intrigues at the royal court. From a certain point onward you can't be certain anymore if there really is even one individual that isn't corrupted to his/her core in some way or another. Maybe Hwa-yeon, but you can't be sure. And the prince is actually a victim of his desires, which is why you feel sorry for him - and also because he is a puppet whose strings are pulled by his mother. Kim Dong-wook ("Happy Killers", "The Cat") has some pretty strong moments and is supported by an equally strong supporting cast.

The Concubine - Film Screenshot 13

Jo Yeo-jeong ("The Servant"), though, doesn't seem that convincing at all times, until it becomes obvious that within her acting she is actually acting and deliberately not always that convincingly. A convoluted construct, which she manages to carry well. The psychological depth of the characters is impressive and the plot offers enough smart twists to make an otherwise easily lengthy story told very tightly and captivating. Accordingly, "The Concubine" is a very well achieved palace drama that has some pretty strong scenes in store. If it weren't for the rough edges that are very apparent between the individual scenes (also because of sudden leaps in time), there wouldn't be anything to criticize about the film. But this shouldn't keep anyone from watching "The Concubine". It's worth it.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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