The Concubine (film)
Promotional poster for The Concubine
|Hangul||후궁: 제왕의 첩|
|Hanja||後宮: 帝王의 妾|
|Revised Romanization||Hugung: Jewang-ui Jeob|
|McCune–Reischauer||Hugung: Chewang-ŭi chŏp|
|Directed by||Kim Dae-seung|
|Produced by||Hwang Yoon-jeong|
|Written by||Hwang Yoon-jeong
|Music by||Jo Yeong-wook|
|Edited by||Kim Sang-bum|
|Distributed by||Lotte Entertainment|
The Concubine (Hangul: 후궁: 제왕의 첩; RR: Hugoong: Jewangui Chub; lit. "Royal Concubine: Concubine to the King") is a 2012 South Korean historical film directed by Kim Dae-seung. Set in the Joseon Dynasty, it centers around Hwa-yeon (Jo Yeo-jeong), who becomes a royal concubine against her will, Kwon-yoo (Kim Min-joon), a man torn between love and revenge, and Prince Sung-won (Kim Dong-wook), who has his heart set on Hwa-yeon despite the countless women available to him. These three characters form a love triangle which is ruled by dangerous passion. The struggle to survive within the tight-spaced boundaries of the palace is intense, and only those who are strong enough to overcome the hell-like milieu can survive.
Set during the early Joseon Dynasty, the film begins with the queen mother and former concubine (Park Ji-young) in a precarious position of having no blood ties to the childless king (Jung Chan). She schemes to replace him on the throne with his stepbrother and her submissive young son Sung-won (Kim Dong-wook). Indifferent to his mother’s plans, the timid prince falls in love at first sight with Hwa-yeon (Jo Yeo-jeong), an aristocrat’s daughter, who has already found love with Kwon-yoo (Kim Min-joon), a low-born commoner. When her father (Ahn Suk-hwan) decides to send her to the royal palace as a concubine for the king, the two lovers try to elope but are caught after their first night together. She only gives in to parental demands in a quid pro quo for his life.
Five years later, Hwa-yeon has become the queen from giving birth to a son. Sung-won comes back from traveling to see the King upon hearing of his ill-health. In a private conversation, he hands a hair stick to her as a present and as a confession of his feelings. After the king passes away to what the eunuchs assume is poison, the Queen Mother appoints herself as Regent and she sits her son, Prince Sung-won, on the throne as a puppet king, giving the ruthless matriarch firm control over the royal court. Hwa-yeon is moved to a closely watched humble residence where she is being under surveillance constantly. When Hwa-yeon's father suspects the missing pages of the King's Log to contain the assassination of the king, he is arrested for treason. Present at her conversation with Sung-won is her former lover, Kwon-yoo, who she is quite surprised to see. However, when she reaches to him for help, he gives the image of being a helpless eunuch all the while plotting to end her father's life as revenge for castrating him for his elopement with her; he even goes as far as thwarting any plans Hwa-yeon might have to help rescue her father. Hwa-yeon continues to subtly beg Sung-won for her father's life and even manages to find the woman who recorded the King's Log to exonerate herself and her father. Kwon-yoo is ordered by Sung-won to save her father but he refuses to help in any way, thereby making the exoneration impossible. To assassinate Hwa-yeon and her son in order to secure her position in the palace, the Queen Mother tells Minister Yoon, in charge of medicinal purposes, to pass off a concentrated block of poisonous aconite to Kwon-yoo to give to Hwa-yeon.
Sung-won is still apparently very attracted to Hwa-yeon and lusts after her, even taking her personal maid, Geum-ok, so that he can inflict his sexual desires on her while fantasizing about Hwa-yeon. One night, Sung-won enters Geum-ok's room and is extremely angry when he sees her wearing Hwa-yeon's hair stick (which he had given to her as a present earlier). To save her own life, Geum-ok reveals that Kwon-yoo, who is present that night, had a relationship with Hwa-yeon. Sung-won confronts Hwa-yeon about the relationship, which Hwa-yeon refuses to admit to; the king becomes suspicious of Kwon-yoo and pulls down his pants to reveal his castration, dismissing any further accusations. When Sung-won becomes embarrassed, he attempts to rape Hwa-yeon but leaves when Hwa-yeon tells him to "come back when you become a real King." After this incident, Kwon-yoo realizes that he is the father of Hwa-yeon's child from the night they eloped together. In order to gain Hwa-yeon's forgiveness, Kwon-yoo turns on Minister Yoon by giving the poisonous rock to Sung-won instead of originally Hwa-yeon; he proceeds to secretly puts it in Sung-woo's medicinal drink; however, he is left with no choice but to drink his own concoction after Sung-won dares him out of jealousy. After his violent reaction to the poisonous medicinal drink, Sung-won quickly suspects his mother after the physician admits that Minister Yoon, who is directly beneath the Queen Mother, is head of medicine.
Upon finding out that the son of Hwa-yeon, who is then imprisoned, may not in fact by the King's child by Geum-ok, the Queen Mother charges Hwa-yeon with treason and orders Minister Yoon to end both the mother and son's life. When she meets with Sung-won in an attempt to tell him, he quickly accuses her of trying to poison him, after which she then admits to poisoning the previous king for how they were treated so that she could put Sung-won on the throne. Both Kwon-yoo and Minister Yoon are brought in to admit guilt with Hwa-yeon present to admit her innocence. Keeping his promise to Hwa-yeon to protect her and her son, Kwon-yoo lies that the Queen Mother was behind Sung-woo's assassination, to which Sung-woo orders for both their execution and for the Queen Mother to be held in her chambers. In a carriage heading towards the execution, Hwa-yeon thanks Kwon-yoo but tells him that she was only using him to protect her own son and also as revenge for her father. Sung-woo is greeted in his room by Hwa-yeon and the two engage in sexual intercouse but Hwa-yeon stabs him in his moment of completion. Right after the death of King Sung-Woo, Queen Mother was also quickly disposed of. The last scene shows her staring at the camera as she and her son enters the empty royal court.
- Jo Yeo-jeong ... Shin Hwa-yeon
- Kim Dong-wook ... Prince Sung-won
- Kim Min-joon ... Kwon-yoo / Choong-young
- Park Ji-young ... the Queen Mother (Daebi), Sung-won's mother
- Jo Eun-ji ... Geum-ok, Hwa-yeon's maid
- Lee Geung-young ... Chief eunuch
- Park Chul-min ... Pil-woon, pharmacy eunuch
- Ahn Suk-hwan ... Shin Ik-chul, Hwa-yeon's father
- Jo Gi-wang ... Vice-Premier Yoon Jong-ho
- Oh Ji-hye ... Lady Park
- Hong Kyung-yun ... Lady Kim
- Park Chung-seok ... Seung Jeon-saek
- Park Min-jeong ... medium
- Im Jong-yun ... Left-State Minister Jeong
- Lee Seok-gu ... Go Won-ik
- Chae Dong-hyeon ... Chief Military Eunuch
- Oh Hyun-kyung ... Yoon Gi-hun
- Jung Chan ... King
- Hong Yeo-jin ... Suragan, court lady
- Lee Yong-nyeo ... old woman
- Kwon Byeong-gil
Reviews have been almost unanimously positive, with The Korea Times calling it "one of the best commercial films this year." Promotion and hype had singularly focused on the film's graphic portrayal of sex and Jo Yeo-jeong's nudity, which local critics found misguided and demeaning to a film that according to The Korea Herald "explores the theme of betrayal, revenge and obsessions, with much nuance and depth" and "offers substance and ample entertainment, as well as almost Shakespearean psychological intricacy." Despite "too many subplots which cause the narrative flow to be awkward at times," The Korea Times said it was an "intense, multi-textured journey that is certainly worth the effort", with "psychological depths that demand multiple viewings." Hwang Ki-seok's lush cinematography was praised, as were the costumes and the cast's excellent acting, particularly Kim Dong-wook's performance.
One of the movie’s highlights is the finale, a slow zoom-out on a scene that mirrors one of Christianity’s famous images, The Pietà. It summarizes Prince Sung-won’s character and his tragedy ― all stemming from the abusive relationship with his mother. Director Kim Dae-seung also said that it is a reference to salvation, or the lack thereof, in all the characters' quests. Everyone ends up in self-destruction after a lifelong struggle to save themselves, their children or in the king's case, his love.
Released on June 6, 2012, the film sold 1.4 million tickets in its first 10 days, and by the end of the month it had easily passed the 2 million admissions mark. The Korean Film Council reports that it sold more than 2.6 million tickets, making it the eleventh most watched Korean film of 2012.
Awards and nominations
- Best Supporting Actress - Park Ji-young
- Nomination - Best Actress - Jo Yeo-jeong
- Nomination - Best Cinematography - Hwang Ki-seok
- Nomination - Best Art Direction - Cho Geun-hyun
- Best Supporting Actress - Jo Eun-ji
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