Riding on the titanic wave of Brokeback Mountain, comes the Korean movie, King and The Clown 王的男人. But sorry to say, Brokeback Mountain it is not, but nevertheless, is still an above-average film about the relationship between two poor street entertainers who attempt to make it big in Seoul of about 800 years ago. As if by destiny, their lives intertwine with a lustful tyrant’s, resulting in a bitter end.
For a historical drama, it is fairly rich in culture with the recreation of the dances, the music and the street entertainment of skits and gymnastics, which all but sparkle with an ancient oriental charm. The street skits by the virile Jang-seng (KAM Woo-sung), and his star-crossed partner, the feminine Gong-gil (LEE Joon-ki), are especially hilarious, mocking the tyrant for his sexual exploits, the eunuchs for their impotency or the court officers for corruption and oppression. Though, at times, they are close to distasteful, even for my liking.
The set is impressive enough: every touch of detail in the tyrant’s room, the costumes of the concubines and the officials. What I find most pleasing though, is the intricacy and trickery with which the court minstrels – Jang-seng and Gong-gil included – are manipulated like puppets by a faithful servant of the tyrant, to prick the conscience of their enemies among the officials. So much so that each time, the crimes of the officials or the old queen (the king’s grandmother who causes his mother’s death) are re-enacted by the minstrels and bloodshed follows, I would resort to praying for the pair to flee from the palace before danger befalls. And indeed, they are a fraction too late, as the tyrant becomes infatuated with Gong-gil, who in turn takes pity on him losing his mother at an early age, to stay by his side.
Disaster strikes, as Jang-seng takes his act to the extreme, mocking the tyrant’s unnatural fancy for a young lad. The consequence is a blinded pair of eyes. A revolt then arises amid the pair performing their final skit ending in suicide. With which, the script whimpers to a halt, almost too abruptly.
What this movie lacks, Brokeback Mountain (BBM) has aplenty. BBM has the right touch of sentimentality, intensity and humanity; nothing too melancholy. And BBM is first and foremost a lovely story of lasting love between two humans regardless of gender. In comparison, King and The Clown 王的男人 hardly evokes vibes of that depth, and may be suitably seen as little more than a kiddie movie – save the vulgarity, of course.