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The Fatal Encounter - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2014

Period, Thriller

Lee Jae-gyoo

Hyeon Bin
Jeong Jae-yeong
Jo Jeong-seok
Han Ji-min
Jo Jae-hyeon
Kim Seong-ryeong
Park Seong-woong
Jeong Eun-chae
Song Yeong-chang
Lee Do-kyeong
Seo I-sook
Yoo Eun-mi

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The Fatal Encounter

Story: King Jeongjo (Hyeon Bin) may be sitting on the throne as of late, but his ministers are rarely supporting him in the way he rules the country. Moreover, he has to fear being betrayed from all sides. His military force could be turned against him under the leadership of a strong general at any time and the wife of his grandfather, Queen Jeongsun (Han Ji-min), seems to be plotting against him for a while already. The king can only trust eunuch Gap-soo (Jeong Jae-yeong), who he knows since his childchood days. However, Gap-soo was in fact infiltrating the palace as a child in order to one day murder the king. Gap-soo's friend Eul-soo (Jo Jeong-seok), who was trained with him as an assassin under gruesome conditions, is now sent to kill the king as well. While Jeongjo reads every day in order to lead his people better and more benevolently he also realizes that things eventually will come to a bloody conflict and that he needs to eliminate the traitors at the royal court. But who is left that he can trust?

Review: At some point period dramas started to lose their appeal. In technical respects "The Fatal Encounter" is an almost perfect thriller about intrigues at the royal court during the Joseon dynasty, with countless assassination attempts on the king and betrayal waiting around every corner. The reason why the film is still merely neat genre entertainment is probably the story (based on real events), which despite a complex net of ambitions and power struggles remains somewhat predictable. Or to draw an analogy: There may be a few variations within the motif, but the song still seems pretty familiar. That the movie can't make use of its potential is because the filmmakers did put too little emphasis on drawing the characters with more than just what's absolutely necessary for them to carry the inevitable dramatic moments.

The Fatal Encounter - Film Screenshot 11

Of course you are instantly reminded of movies like "Masquerade", "The Face Reader" or "The Concubine". But even though Hyeon Bin ("A Millionaire's First Love") celebrates a well-done comeback here after his mandatory military service, he certainly can't hold a candle to Lee Byung-hun as a king. Sure, the ruler is a benevolent man whose efforts are thwarted by his ministers just because of that, but is there more? Well, there definitely could have been more, because his friendship to Gap-soo, Jeong Jae-yeong ("11 AM", "Confession of Murder") once again delivering a strong performance, hints at a depth of the characters which we sadly never penetrate. That's a shame as it's just these moments between the two friends when the film works best.

The Fatal Encounter - Film Screenshot 12

The friendship between the two assassins, of which one is embodied by Jo Jeong-seok ("Architecture 101"), seems to be promising, too. But again, the only thing we get are flashbacks that can hardly be called inventive. At least it's enough that the finale manages to create a minimum of emotional impact. Nevertheless, here it also becomes especially apparent how much more should have been done with the characters. The way it is the movie never feels seriously detached on an emotional level, but there is still something missing. The supporting roles highlight the problem that arises from the archetypically written roles, too, the coldhearted "grandmother" just being the tip of the iceberg. Of course this means that you don't wonder about finding only little enthusiasm to care about the different opposing parties, particularly at the beginning.

As soon as you are in the know about the aims of the individual parties you soon start to realize that there isn't anything extraordinary going on here. Granted, there is the mandatory betrayal and the twists that go hand in hand with it, but it isn't really that exciting. The flashbacks used in the film are a bit confusing, too. We are constantly told that things happen ten or eight hours before, but before what exactly? The prior scene certainly can't possibly be the point of reference, can it? The mystery is solved when you realize that the opening scene is actually the film's finale. This is also easily forgotten since there are also your classic flashbacks within this whole giant flashback that almost stands as the whole movie!

The Fatal Encounter - Film Screenshot 13

The film's pacing is oftentimes way too slow and the running time of 136 minutes is thus not justified. At the end there is at least a bit of action which doesn't seem out of place at all, despite the king proving to be an extraordinary sniper with his bow and also being quite a formidable swordfighter. When it comes to the technical execution you can't accuse director Lee Jae-gyoo, who has already shot drama shows like "Beethoven Virus" for the screen or "The Influence" with Lee Byung-hun for the internet, for not knowing his craft. At times his composition of pictures even looks superior to that of his competition, especially concerning the camera work. Accordingly, "The Fatal Encounter" is visually a very well done affair, but those who have already watched some thrillers around intrigues at the royal court will be disappointed. The story is only composed of well-known components, which is why it just lacks depth.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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