The Fatal Encounter a.k.a King's Wrath
Yes, it's yet another South Korean film review. I can't help it, I kind of like Asian cinema, especially theirs. This is a good one I discovered a few weeks ago. It was released at the end of 2014 and performed pretty well at the domestic box office. It stars some very well known South Korean actors: Hyun Bin, Jung Jae-young, Jo Jung-suk and Han Ji-min. Director Lee Jae-gyu, is more well known for television dramas (I've only seen two of his works- Bethoven's Virus and The King 2 Hearts) but he makes the transition to feature film quite well. The film's strength lies in his direction and in the story. While it has flaws, its other attributes make up for that.
To start off, a little backstory:
The story is based on a real life assassination attempt on King Jeongjo. He was the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty and nicknamed the "King of Misfortune," King Jeongjo was the son of the infamous Crown Prince Sado. When Jeongjo was ten years old, Sado was executed by a royal decree from his father, who ordered he be sealed inside a wooden rice box. Sado died eight days later. There are conspiracy theories behind his story, but it is generally accepted that Sado suffered from mental illness and that he would randomly kill people in the palace and was also a serial rapist. The film touches partly on this, though not on the actual reason behind his death.
King Jeongjo came into power after his grandfather's death. He survived no less than seven assassination attempts during his first year of reign. The reason being the fierce party strife between the Noron and Soron factions. Fatal Encounter focuses on one of these attempts.
The film opens on a rainy night, where we see the remnants of an obviously bloody fight. A dark figure runs over the the multitude of dead bodies and we hear a swords clashing in the background. Before we can see who is fighting we are taken back to twenty hours before.
In the dead of night, Gab Soo (Jung Jae-young) a eunuch, fills small pouches of dirt. He serves King Jeongjo (Hyun Bin), who is the current king.
It's troubling times for the king. His life and kingdom are being threatened. He is seen as a pariah and lives in fear. Gab Soo is the only one King Jeongjo trusts.
King Jeongjo is so closely guarded and in fear, that he spends his nights reading and training, unable to freely do any of it in broad daylight. He goes so far as to tie small pouches of dirt to this body and legs, to bulk up. I suppose if you're trying to trick your enemies, appearing weak would be the right way to go.
The story wouldn't be complete without some political intrigue, in this case in the form of the dowager Queen Jeongsun (Han Ji-min), the very young and late wife of King Jeongjo's grandfather. She hates both the king and his mother, Lady Hyegyeong.
As if that wasn't enough, there is a secret group of assassins out to get the king. The group is led by Gwang-baek (Cho Jae-hyun), a ruthless old man who kidnaps young children to train them as assassins. He enlists (or rather blackmails) the help of Eul Soo (Jo Jung-seuk), the most skilled assassins out there. He has twenty four hours to kill King Jeongjo or the woman he loves will die. It is this that leads us to what we glimpsed at the beginning and to the horrible fate of some of these people.
Amidst the politics and the lies (are these ever mutually exclusive?), lies a wonderfully sad story between two brothers whose fate is not only entwined, but has been a rather shitty one. Jung Jae-young and Jo Jung-seunk, knocked it out of the park in my opinion. These two actors are phenomenal. They bring a certain profoundness to their characters, that it makes it all the more bittersweet when they reunite--now at odds with each other.
While the movie is promoted as being more about the king's story, I felt that King Jeongjo took a back seat to it about thirty minutes in. He serves more as a link to two sides, with his own complications in the middle. Hyun Bin also did a great job, but I feel like he could have done more if the story had truly focused on him. He spends most of his time being reactive to what is occuring around him rather than being active. Perhaps it is because the king was in fact trying to hide so much to survive, but I feel that the last moments in the film where he really shows he can be a great king, could have been interspersed throughout the entire film more. There is a great moment at the beginning of the film, where we see him go head to head with other "knowledgeable" subjects who help him rule, and he completely leaves them speechless--demonstrating their own hypocrisy. I would have wanted to see a bit more of that.
On the other hand, Han Ji-min's portrayal of the dowager queen is not bad. There are times when it felt she was just chewing scenery, but then she does something utterly horrific and she becomes this psychopath with a sweet smile and pretty face. She almost kills a kid for pete's sake.
What I liked the most though, was the color and tone of the whole film. It has an overall earthy color, with very dark shades and a certain dirtiness that makes it seem that more real. It helped me feel as if I was privy to something I shouldn't be.
For a historical film, I liked this. The story and the people involved were all interesting and all the actors did a great job of portraying real people, without it feeling too forced. I definitely recommend you watch.
You can find the film HERE or HERE.