순수의 시대 (Empire of Lust)

순수의 시대 (Empire of Lust)

A Fineworks/Keymaker Production
Distribution: CJ E&M
Rating: 18 and Over
Genre: Sageuk
Running Time: 113 Min
Shooting Time: 2014/Apr/01~Jul/19 (63 Dates)
Release: 2015/Mar/05

WITH 신하균 (Shin Ha-Gyun) as Kim Min-Jae; 장혁 (Jang Hyuk) as Lee Bang-Won; 강한나 (Kang Han-Na) as Ga-Hee; 강하늘 (Kang Ha-Neul) as Jin; 손병호 (Son Byung-Ho) as Lee Seong-Gye; 이재용 (Lee Jae-Yong) as Jung Do-Jeon; 최무성 (Choi Mu-Seong) as Jo Young-Gyu; 강경헌 (Kang Gyeong-Heon) as Lady Jung; 김다예 (Kim Da-Ye) as Princess Gyeongsun; 김구택 (Kim Gu-Taek) as Ha Ryun; 기주봉 (Gi Ju-Bong) as Jo Joon; 사희 (Sa Hee) as Lady Min; 황금희 (Hwang Geum-Hee) as Mae-Hyang;

CREW Director 안상훈 (Ahn Sang-Hoon) Executive Producer 남희정 (Nam Hee-Jung) 김민기 (Kim Min-Gi) | Screenplay 김세희 (Kim Se-Hee) | Director of Photography 손원호 (Son Won-Ho) Lighting 김승규 (Kim Seung-Gyu) Editor 신민경 (Shin Min-Gyeong) Music 박기헌 (Park Gi-Heon) Art Direction 김성규 (Kim Seong-Gyu) Action Choreography 권승구 (Kwon Seung-Gu) | Assistant Director 김선규 (Kim Seon-Gyu)

BOX OFFICE
KOFIC Nationwide
TOTAL REVENUE: 3,733,412,428 Won
TOTAL ADMISSIONS: 468,912
BUDGET: 5,400,000,000 Won

Photo ⓒ Keymaker, Fineworks, CJ E&M

SYNOPSIS

Set during the volatile period of the Joseon dynasty’s founding, army commander Min-jae keeps careful watch on the ambitious Prince Yi Bang-won, who isn’t satisfied with his title as the fifth in line to the throne. Min-jae’s life becomes entwined with that of Ga-hee, a beautiful gisaeng (female entertainer), when he spends a bewitching night with her and soon takes her as his concubine. But there is more to Ga-hee than meets the eye. Beneath her noble exterior lies a woman who insinuated herself into Min-jae’s life with a heart bent on vengeance. With her plan for revenge nearly fulfilled and Yi ready to seize the throne, the three are thrown into a storm of fate in this tumultuous era. [KoBiz]

IN SHORT

There are times when ambitions reap generous rewards, but you can also end up with a misfire. This is generally seen as too much of a risk by an industry that is now dominated by producers and the vertically integrated corporations they represent, so going safe is generally seen as a better option for everyone involved. That is one of the reasons why diversity and risk-taking are such “endangered species” in Chungmuro – another reason being the relaxing of the screen quota which scared off producers from trying anything risky starting nearly a decade ago, but that's a can of worms we shall open on another day. So yes, if you're too ambitious for your own good, there is a mighty good chance that nowadays you might end up as persona non grata in this neck of the woods. Ahn Sang-Hoon's “faction (fact+fiction) sageuk” is one of those cases when too much ambition leads to failure. He wanted to combine action, political intrigue, melodrama, betrayal, lust… All rolled into one, and trying to wrestle for time in less than two hours. Sure enough, the industry was once again right: the film was a gigantic flop, ending up with a meager 400,000 odd tickets after a quick death at the box office and already making its way to digital downloads not even a month after its debut. And yet there is a lot to like about it, if we agree that risk-taking alone cannot be a mark of quality.

In theory you'd think that faction sageuk are easier than traditional ones because you don't have to deal with real events and can create fictional characters as much as you like, but it's actually the opposite: if you wish your film or drama to be believable, you need period awareness, and to make sure that any change will be if not fact based at least in the realm of verisimilitude – that begins from the characters. The best recent example is probably 공주의 남자 (The Princess' Man), which managed to throw believable yet fictional characters into a narratively tight historical frame – Sejo and the Gyeyu Uprising. I guess the risk in this case was choosing the transition between Joseon founder Lee Seong-Gye and Lee Bang-Won, one of the most renowned period in Joseon history. The idea of creating a fictional son-in-law of Kingmaker Jung Do-Jeon and making him one of the right hand men of the eventual heir to the throne was interesting on paper, but not that easy to pull off. Too many factors played important roles in leading to Taejong's investiture, reason why Korean TV has managed over the years to put the focus on different aspects of his rise to power – from classics like 용의 눈물 (Tears of the Dragon) all the way to 정도전 (Jung Do-Jeon). For a character as barebones as Min-Jae is (the whole “son of a Jurchen mother” angle perhaps being his only real defining point) to make a mark in the midst of such political turmoil and characters with such historical baggage you need to make everyone around him take a step back and highlight what sets him apart. But after a while his defining traits become that he can fight a good fight like the best of them. And that he is, well... very horny.

Give this setup twenty hours on TV, someone who can do the political and historical background justice (Jung Ha-Yeon? Kim Won-Seok?) and enough time for the melodrama surrounding it to find its believability and you'd probably have as good a starting point as any sageuk of recent memory. But in two hours it's a bit too much to deal with, and inevitably the fact becomes caricatural and the fiction a bit maudlin (especially that overly poetic ending).

And yet, as I mentioned, this film is not quite devoid of charm. For instance, when it comes to its look and the pathos and decadence that surround it. There's an energy to everything from action to political bickering and all the way to the sex itself that hasn't been seen on big screen sageuk in a while. And perhaps the performances should be given credit for that. Jang Hyuk might be born to play smarmy sageuk characters like these, but the only real sageuk “work” Shin Ha-Gyun had done before was as a hilarious parody of the Lee Soon-Shin saga in 위기일발 풍년빌라 (Harvest Villa). He dominates the screen with rabid burst of fire and charisma that almost put Jang in difficulty. And what to say of Kang Han-Na, not quite a newcomer but certainly in her first real meaty role? Part Kim Hye-Ri in her younger days as a decadent femme fatale, part Kikuchi Rinko's penetrating gaze and effortless grace, she is riveting from start to finish, and adapting to the enormous difficulties of nailing a sageuk role without breaking a sweat (we're talking poise, diction, physicality, the whole spectrum).

As flimsy as the script ends up being, on many a occasion Ahn manages to make those scenes believable, thanks to a cast that's too good to be “wasted” on something this hastily concocted, but also to the power he fills the frame with. In the hands of a better writer and – dare I say – more time to flesh out the characters, his flurries of pathos might have been put to good use. Alas, as things stand we only get a few great moments surrounded by extremely well acted clichés. But you know what? I'll still take that over excruciatingly safe star vehicles and fluffy romcoms. It might not be a good film, but it's an interesting ride throughout, with some of the best acting of the year and visuals that deserved a much more fitting narrative. Whatever the industry might say about all this “risk-taking”…

ACTING GRADES

86 강한나 (Kang Han-Na)
84 신하균 (Shin Ha-Gyun)
80 장혁 (Jang Hyuk)
80 이재용 (Lee Jae-Yong)
76 손병호 (Son Byung-Ho)
76 강경헌 (Kang Gyeong-Heon)
75 최무성 (Choi Mu-Seong)
69 기주봉 (Gi Ju-Bong)
68 황금희 (Hwang Geum-Hee)
65 강하늘 (Kang Ha-Neul)
62 김다예 (Kim Da-Ye)
60 김구택 (Kim Gu-Taek)
56 사희 (Sa Hee)

69
That wasn't on purpose, I swear...
~ Last Update: 2015/03/26