The Treacherous (간신) – ★★☆☆☆

The Treacherous (간신)

The Treacherous (간신)

NB: This review is based on the European edit of The Treacherous.

In 1505 AD, the tyrannical King Yeonsan (Kim Kang-woo (김강우) has insatiable sexual desires that, alongside his violent suppression of any who oppose him, makes him one of the most despised rulers in the history of Korea. His lust becomes so great that he orders advisors Im Soong-jae (Joo Ji-hoon (주지훈) and Lim Sa-hong (Cheon Ho-jin (천호진) to become ‘Beauty Scout Officers,’ and acquire 10,000 women from across the land for his pleasure. Yet King Yeonsan’s greed results in widespread anger across the peninsula, while the motivations of some of his new beauties, including peasant girl Dan-hee (Lim Ji-yeon (임지연), may seal his doom.

The insatiable king commands his advisors to bring him 10,000 women

The insatiable king commands his advisors to bring him 10,000 women

Based on the true story of abhorred King Yeonsan, The Treacherous is a beautifully composed and colourful period drama by director Min Gyoo-dong who generates an acute epic scale and flair to the proceedings. Yet the overly long film is marred by a thread-bare narrative and frightfully misogynistic sexual politics throughout that, in conjunction with distinctly OTT performances by the main cast, make the erotic piece little more than a visually attractive male fantasy.

Helmer/scribe Min Gyoo-dong has certainly exceeded himself in a cinematic sense, as The Treacherous represents his most visually competent work to date in an impressive filmography that contains All About My Wife and Memento Mori. The period drama consistently emphasises epic scale whether capturing the grandiose exterior locations or within the beautifully ornate rooms in the palace, displaying lavish production values in every frame. Combined with a glorious use of colour, the Joseon dynasty has rarely looked more elegant and wondrous.

Yet while director Min conveys the extravagance of the era with aplomb, the manner in which he portrays women is appalling. King Yeonsan is despised within the annals of history for his violent subjugation and womanising – he is especially noted for converting revered libraries into concubine abodes – however rather than convey the royal’s actions negatively, director Min glamourises them as male fantasy to the point of disbelief. Scenes involving his forcibly acquired 10,000 women being paraded, putting special powder into their vaginas to make them tighter, or bent over in a line and forced to endure different sized dildos before receiving a stamp on their rears, are presented as erotica and are thoroughly misogynistic in nature.

The acquired women are forced to endure sexual humiliation for the King's pleasure

The acquired women are forced to endure sexual humiliation for the King’s pleasure

Actress Lim Ji-yeon, fresh from winning a few Best New Actress awards in erotic drama Obsessed in 2014, is generally the focus of such fetishisation within The Treacherous. It’s curious that she has opted to appear in another film that requires much more exposure and sexual scenes as her latest project, but she acquits herself confidently and capably. Her unique form of ‘non-acting’ and the coldness she exudes however makes her character difficult to empathise with, yet luckily her motivations alongside the dire ways in which she is treated within the palace easily position her as the heroine of the film.

The narrative also attempts to posit royal advisor and beauty scout officer Im Soong-jae as a hero of sorts yet fails through the poorly constructed plot. Though he is very much the central protagonist of the film, Im is portrayed as a horribly selfish and ambitious individual from the very opening with his impetus to change based solely on his attraction to peasant girl Dan-hee. Actor Joo Ji-hoon does what he can with the role yet as there is precious little chemistry between him and Lim Ji-yeon, the advisor’s attempts to reform ultimately ring hollow.

The greatest problem however lies with Kim Kang-woo as King Yeonsan. Suffering psychological issues due to a disease brought on by his promiscuity, the King is undoubtedly a villainous figure yet Kim Kang-woo portrays the man as the Joker on acid, cackling throughout scenes while falling into hysterics in others, and forcing those around him to endure ridiculous tests of torment. It’s a frustrating approach and one that effects the entire film, and makes the overly long two hour running time even more arduous.

The King becomes palpably psychotic as he forces bizarre tests of endurance

The King becomes palpably psychotic as he forces bizarre tests of endurance

Verdict:

The Treacherous is a visually extravagant and epic period drama by helmer/scribe Min Gyoo-dong, with the Joseon dynasty rarely appearing more elegant and grandiose. However the misogyny laced throughout the weak and overly-long narrative is awful, presenting the violent sexual subjugation of 10,000 women as male fantasy masquerading as erotica. Combined with bland performances by the central cast, The Treacherous is an attractive yet frustrating effort.

★★☆☆☆

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The 10th Jechon International Music and Film Festival

The 10th Jechon International Music and Film Festival

The 10th Jechon International Music and Film Festival

The 10th Jechon International Music and Film Festival (JIMFF) is due to commence on Thursday the 14th of August, running through until Tuesday the 19th.

JIMFF has always been one of the more unique festivals in Korea due to the focus on films featuring music, screening international and Korean productions as well as hosting three nights of live music on the picturesque Cheongpung Lake Stage.

The Cheongpung Lake Stage will also be the venue for the JIMFF Cinema Concert, arguably the most iconic event of the festival, which features classic films accompanied by a live orchestra. For JIMFF 2014, two classic Japanese films have been selected – Ozu Yashujiro’s A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) and Shimizu Hiroshi’s Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933). Pianist Yanashita Mie, one of the most prestigious and celebrated contemporary musicians in silent cinema, will perform alongside the classic works.

The official trailer for JIMFF 2014, helmed by director/actress/screenwriter Ku Hye-sun (The Peach Tree (director), Boys Over Flowers (actress)), can be seen below.

Opening Film

Golden Chariot in the Sky (하늘의 황금마차)

Golden Chariot in the Sky (하늘의 황금마차)

Golden Chariot in the Sky (하늘의 황금마차)

Director O Muel

JIMFF 2014 will open with director O Muel’s Golden Chariot in the Sky (하늘의 황금마차). The film, which received its world premiere at the 49th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, is the eagerly awaited follow up to critically acclaimed drama Jiseul. With Golden Chariot in the Sky, director O Muel has gone back to his more quirky comedic style in depicting the life of Ppong-ddol, a man with ambitions of forming a successful band. He recruits friends and neighbours to join him, although they quickly discover that none of them are particularly good musicians and run into financial difficulties, which in turn opens past wounds for Ppong-ddol and his family. Golden Chariot in the Sky is also the debut of Korean ska band Kingston Rudieska, who perform a unique blend of Jamaican-inspired jazz music.

For more information about JIMFF 2014, please click the link here to visit the official homepage. 

Festival News Jechon International Music and Film Festival (제10회 제천국제음악영화제) Korean Festivals 2014