Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Movie Review: The Royal Tailor (2014)

English Title: The Royal Tailor
Korean Title: 상의원
Genre: period/drama/fashion
Director: Lee Won Suk
Release Date: December 24, 2014
Rating: 9/10

Main Cast
Han Seok Kyu as Cho Dol Suk (Royal Head Tailor)
Go Soo as Lee Kong Jin
Yoo Yeon Seok as King
Park Shin Hye as Queen

A royal tailor is challenged by new, younger and more liberal tailor. The new tailor makes ruckus around the country and tries to create more comfortable and beautiful clothes. Problems arise, when the tailor also falls in love with the Queen and the royal tailor feels threatened .

“Beautifully directed, well acted and well written. If it’s a fabric, it must be a piece of silk.”
I rarely praise a movie, neither do I ever manage to watch 2 hours movie without getting bored. This movie has managed to do both, worthy of praises and didn’t get me bored for 2 hours. Quite a feat! Besides, Director Lee Won Suk, who previously directed “How to Use Guys With Secret Tips” (quite funny movie!), is talented and let his creativity combined with beautiful cinematography direct this movie.

From the very first scene, when the king wore his royal robe, to the very end, the cinematography is alive. Not obstrusive to the viewers, but enhance the scenes more. Every shot were beautifully done, especially the shots with vivid colors. The movie also sprinkled with enough humor to keep you entertaining. For example, the funniest part in the movie was when one official came to Kong Jin and requested to fix his clothes, he then narrates the scenes where everyone have to wear same size clothes and the small ones have oversized clothes.
Then after Kong Jin fixed their clothes, they came back to palace, strutting with dignity (I wish I could gif this scene).

I was intrigued by the casts first, the four leads are amazing in their own right. I never question Han Suk Kyu for a sageuk, he fits like a glove. Here’s he shows the character that is on waning period, but still searching for fame and respect. Go Soo is amazing on his own, he has one of the most expressive eyes in the industry. He was the main draw for me and during the movie, he’s still the main focal point. Yoo Yeon Seok can play both hero and villain with same conviction. He’s not quite the villain nor the hero here, just the king that for some reason feels alianated and despite yearning for love, he doesn’t want to reach it. Finally, Park Shin Hye, many would find her overrated, while I do agree on some extent because she’s really wildly popular while her drama choices were not always the best, she’s one of the best young actresses in her generation. Compared to the other three leads, she’s rather underwhelmed although still deliver her role.

Funnily enough, Lee Yoo Bi plays supporting role here, as a jealous concubine who dreams to be the Queen. She also played second fiddle to Park Shin Hye’s “Pinocchio”, while in “Gu Family Book” she was Yoo Yeon Seok’s younger sister, so to play his concubine here, as the viewers I feel awkward. There’s enough supporting cast who have acted in sageuk for years, including set of ministers who seem to just change the king and their titles, Ma Dong Seok as official Pan Soo and Jo Dal Hwan as Dae Gil, Dol Suk’s assistant. So the result, as everyone guessed, the actors played their characters very well.

For the story itself, the plot is quite simple, nothing ambiguous, except maybe the characters were rather ambiguous. A royal head tailor, Cho Dol Suk, (Han Suk Kyu) who had worked with 3 kings suddenly found himself a new competitor. The new competitor, Kong Jin (Go Soo), was smart and having delicate and brilliant sewing but he used to create clothings for gisaengs, until one day officials came in and beg him to create a clothing that would fit them. The King and Queen also used Kong Jin’s service, much to royal tailor’s disappoinment although he adored Kong Jin. The royal tailor used to use strict set rules that’s passed down generation by generation. In contrast, Kong Jin was all about experiment, he wanted to create comfortable and pretty clothes. He even got the chance to create a dress for the Queen, meeting the young queen was fateful for Kong Jin as he fell in love with her. He began to create beautiful clothes for her and changed her world little by little. While she who was reserved, began to open her heart in front of him. Everyone was ravishing Kong Jin’s clothes, from King, Queen and the commoners, set the jealousy to older head tailor who can’t seem to believe everyone’s taste.

See, I’m sure everyone who ever watch movie won’t get confused by this kind of storyline. Rivalry, love and jealousy are pretty much generic theme for movie and/or drama. This kind of rivalry, which actually show as healthy rivalry in the movie, is my favorite kind. You get to know two geniuses with two different or even opposite styles and they compete against each other to produce the best result. No underhanded shady deals, no bribery or rivalry stemmed from (petty) revenge. It’s all makes sense and could happen everyday in real life. As Kong Jin interpreted “The Art of War” book, the book says it’s best not to fight, but reality differs. People would say you’re stupid if you try to stay out of fight and don’t avoid shit because you’re scared. Fight and competition happen everywhere and therefore while it’s best to avoid them, we can’t avoid it all the time or people will say we’re stupid. Or in other words, geniuses compete against each other. It’s just natural that two best tailors in Joseon would compete against each other to create the most beautiful clothes for the royals.

Overall, I’m happy that this movie surpassed my expectations. Being in love with sageuk genre, most of the times we’re forced to watch stupid ministers/officials debating their own agendas while the kings or queens are just pawns and it makes for boring watch. Or if it’s about underdog story, we get pretty formulaic plot. Here it’s quite different. It’s not boring at all, the two hours seems just like a breeze and everyone rocks his/her character. We get the chance to witness how clothes were made in the palace, how royals clothes were made, how sewing was done in Joseon era and how others perceived tailor profession.

My disappoinment is we don’t get to witness many scenes between Park Shin Hye and Yoo Yeon Seok although they’re married King and Queen. They don’t have many scenes to build their chemistry and instead they spend most of the time with other characters. Besides, it’s also not the kind of movie that shows a lot of romance and skinship, so if you look for skinship between the leads, you’re in the wrong movie (although there are few scenes in between). However, all in all, it’s enjoyable watching and I must say one of the best sageuk movies in Korea.

Although “The Royal Tailor” flops so badly on the mainstream cinemas, the movie did well enough in festivals and award shows. Including screenings at 2015 New York Asian Film Festival, 2015 HIFF Spring Showcase, and 2015 Udine Far East Film Festival in which the movie got My Movie Audience Award. Through this movie, Park Shin Hye also got Popularity Award at 51st Baeksang Arts Awards.

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