Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The King

Went to this one right after the rally against the immigration/refugee ban at Copley Square on Sunday, which was a pretty good crowd, noteworthy for happening a stone’s throw from the site of the Marathon bombing. If Bostonians are going to protest in favor of refugees at the site of that event - which from the comments a lot of my movie-loving friends made about Patriot’s Day is still very much an open wound for many - I don’t know what the rest of America is afraid of.

In more immediately relevant terms of attendance, despite walking in at about five minutes before the start time, I found a small handful of people, but it must have filled in quick, because when I looked up at the end of the movie, it was a pretty full house for a Korean movie that often wasn’t even listed properly on a Sunday afternoon. It opened in Boston nine days after Seoul, which isn’t the fastest I’ve seen a movie come over (Train to Busan was a 2-day stagger), but it’s pretty good speed for a Korean movie that doesn’t have much in the way of name recognition for the cast and director and has some very specific material in it. Quick releases help!

Deoking (The King)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 January 2017 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Not every epic film has a point-of-view character meant to help the audience approach the larger-than-life people at the center, and maybe The King doesn’t either. That’s the problem - the guy we follow just doesn’t do that much compared to the “king” of the title, but he seldom feels close to that man’s plans. It leaves the audience with a slickly made movie of great sweep that nevertheless keeps them at arm’s length.

It comes from the perspective of Park Tae-soo (Jo In-seong), who grew up in the town of Teolla-do but was inspired to become a prosecutor when he saw one utterly humiliate his tough-guy, small-time-crook father - that was power. He passes the bar, and eventually comes to the attention of Yang Dong-chul (Bae Seong-woo), who recruits him to the major case squad, where Han Kang-sik (Jung Woo-sung) stockpiles evidence of high-profile crimes that he can prosecute strategically later in a manner that consolidates his power, whether it be to protect gangster ally Kim Eung-soo (Kim Eui-song) or influence the result of Presidential elections. Tae-soo is a quick learner, making his own alliance with old classmate Choi Du-il (Ryu Jun-yeol), although eventually anti-corruption prosecutor Ahn Hee-yoon (Kim So-jin) gets wise to the pattern.

Some familiarity with South Korean history likely makes Han Kang-sik a bit more of an interesting figure; the country’s transition from a dictatorship to something more closely resembling a true democracy was gradual, and Han’s selective prosecutions might have been both what a dictatorship needs to function as well as the skills needed to rise within one. This is not a thread that comes up much during the film, aside from conversations about various Presidential candidates’ values, and as a result, Han plays as a somewhat bland villain - ruthless and capable, sure, but without any guiding motivation, and despite being portrayed as successful, he doesn’t seem to rise much. Jung Woo-sung sets his face in a demonic smirk while still portraying Han as someone not obviously monstrous to the outside world, but he’s never given the complexity that would make this “king” compelling.

Full review on EFC.

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