is a hard fact of royal life that a family member has to die before the next
prospective king can take his “rightful” place on the throne. Sure, kings have
abdicated, but it is generally a bad idea to leave loose ends cluttering up
your divine authority. The cutthroat nature of royal families drives the
tragedy of Lee Joon-ik’s The Throne (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.
for prizing scholarship, particularly Confucian ethics, King Yeongjo was
slightly disappointed in his ne’er do well, possibly psychotic son Prince Sado.
At least that is Team Yeongjo’s side of the story. Of course, Team Sado argues
the Prince was not really mad per se, just rattled by the King’s constant belittling.
For years a cold war rages between them, but both are restricted from taking
direct action by decorum and courtly law. However, Prince Sado finally raises
arms against his father in the opening scene, only to be betrayed by his wife,
for the sake of their son, the anointed heir.
in a rice chest as a means of indirect,
technically-not-an-execution-by-the-letter-of-the-law, Prince Sado slowly and
agonizingly wastes away, as the film revisits their tempestuous history through
flashbacks. Frankly, Lee and co-screenwriters Jo Chul-Hyun and Oh Seung-hyun do
not favor either the father or the son. Instead, their sympathies lie with the
grandson and the various royal family members and court officials caught in the
crossfire of their intrigues.
America, The Throne is notable as
Korea’s foreign language Oscar submission, but on its home turf, it was eagerly
anticipated as “Little Sister” Moon Geun-young’s return to film after an
eight-year hiatus at college and on television. As Lady Hyegyeong, the
potential Queen Mum, she is quite a compelling picture of conflicted loyalties
and motherly anxiety. Lee Hyo-je is also surprisingly effective as the anointed
grandson. Aside from Thirst, most
fans know Song Kang-ho for his more affable, schlubby characters in films like The Face Reader and The Attorney. While not exactly a heavy, the severe King Yeongjo is
a bit of a departure, but Song sort of humanizes him with some weird
fussbudgetry. Yoo Ah-in similarly plays Prince Sado with such off-putting
clamminess, it is only because of Lee Hyo-je that viewers come to sympathize
with Team Sado.
The Throne is a rich period
production and its machinations are fascinating even if we often lack a strong
rooting interest. Yet, Lee Joon-ik and company ultimately make a case for the
sort of tragically Machiavellian sacrifices nobility requires. Arguably, it
shares a distant kinship with Mike Bartlett’s West End hit, King Charles III. Recommended for its
wealth of first rate performances and a provocative examination of the costs of
attaining and maintaining power, The
Throne screens this Thursday (6/30) at the Walter Reade, as part of this
Labels: Korean Cinema, Lee Joon-ik, Moon Geun-young, NYAFF '16, Song Kang-ho