29 November 2013

Movie Review: A Frozen Flower (쌍화점 / Ssanghwajeom)

I'm frankly surprised that I did not watch this film sooner. I did get a trip from someone to watch it and put it on a list but was skipped. The movie is based upon the life of the 31st king of the Goryeo dynasty. In real life, it is claimed that after the death of his first wife due to childbearing complications (after a very long period of failing to get pregnant), King Gongmin turned to pederasty for sex and affection. Eventually, one of his young bodyguards, Hong impregnated one of Gongmin's concubines and the concucine and Hong eventually killed Gongmin. The son of the two went on to become King U, the 32nd king of the Goryeo dynasty.

While there is a thread of the pederasty issue, the romance/sex part of the story between Gongmin and Hong doesn't pick up until Hong is a beautiful adult man. In the movie, Hong is the "chief" of a special King's guard made up of young men selected before puberty to be in this special King's guard. Hong is their chief and Gongmin's lover. The age difference in the movie, it is suggested is 7-14 years. Gongmin looks like a teenager when he invites a prepubescent Hong to join the guard.

If you know anything about Asian history, Gongmin served at the end of the Yuan Mongol-Chinese dynasty in the fourteenth century. The Goryeo had submitted to the Yuan -- they had no choice. But the Ming were ascending in China and would shortly end Mongol rule. This struggle between Mongol and Ming spilled over into all the tributary states, like the Goryeo state.

In the movie, this tension is used to add instability to a king who has no interest in his queen (or getting an heir to the throne). He can't get it up and doesn't want to get it up. His queen is a daughter of the Yuan emperor and so getting an heir is important to the Yuan. The Goryeo court is divided about the heir issue but a pro-Yuan noble has been recommended by the Yuan emperor to be crown prince to insure proper succession.

Gongmin asks Hong to attempt to impregnate the queen as the only person he could trust to do the job with discretion. It appears Hong's only sexual or intimate relationship has been with Gongmin. When Hong does it, it turns out both he and the Queen like it and fall in love. Oops!

This complicates Gongmin's plans and the rest of the movie works out how the three of these individuals attempt to work out their own inner conflicts within the realm of their apparent ability to do anything. There is much here that seems anachronistic but I thought it was a well done movie overall. I enjoy listening to music from the geomungo sanjo so I though the soundtrack was also nice.

The lesson, I think, has to do with taking responsibility for one's actions and the failure of revenge to take account of one's own responsibility. This is definitely a must see movie, in my mind.

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