The King's Case Note
Director: Moon Hyun-sung
I don't know who came up with the English
title to this film - perhaps it is a literal translation - but it does the
film a great disservice. What does it even mean? It was enough to keep me
away for a few years but I thought it was a fun playful film (I noticed that
many did not) that mixes comedy and conspiracy to just the right portions.
It is a period film - the Joseon era - but the two main protagonists have
a very modern vibe about them - at times like Holmes and Watson (the Robert
Downey version), at other times a bit of Laurel and Hardy slips in. Yes,
a buddy film but then not really. The crown weighs heavy on the head of King
Yejong (Lee Sun-kyun) with conspiracies and skullduggery trying to do him
in. But he is a wonderful character of able skills - scientist, magician,
swordsman, practical joker and detective. It is an even match. He is nothing
like the typical somber Kings in Korean films.
Yoon Yi-seo (Ahn Jae-hong) arrives for his first day on the job at the palace.
A little chubby with small blubbery lips and a dull sheen in his eyes, he
doesn't make an impressive entrance - but he has been hired to be the King's
scribe. His job is to stay within five steps of the King and record everything
he does and says for the official records. But behind his sleepy eyes, he
has a photographic memory and as the film goes on many other talents as well.
The King first tests his memory by asking him questions about a dragon pictured
on the ceiling - smacking him on the head as he goes - and then testing his
loyalty. He passes both and the two of them are like paper and glue. Their
relationship is really the heart of the film - there is always a power differential
of course but now and then Yoon crosses the line and gets a crack on the
But there is villainy afoot - a large group of older greedy ministers want
to replace the King with his 12-year old nephew who they will be able to
control. And they have killers in their hire. A man arrives frantically requesting
to see the King only to have his head explode into flame, a giant ghost fish
prowls the waters wrecking boats and causing the people to think these are
evil omens for the King. It plays out like a mystery - finding explanations
for all these mysterious happenings and avoiding being killed in the meantime.
But it is the humorous interplay between King and Scribe that makes this
such a charming film. So charming that they don't even bother to bring on
a romantic interest for either. I could gladly watch them in another film.
It did well at the box office in Korea - not so much in the USA when it was
released - so maybe they will someday. This is directed by Moon Hyun-sung,
who also directed the wonderful ping-pong film As One.