There hasn’t been a single moment when I was left disappointed by Lee Joon-ik’s work; every one of his films is truly exceptional. Well-known for his period drama films and still associated with his 2005 King and The Clown – which brought him an international recognition – Lee Joon-ik cleverly balances historical events with a real life drama (Dongju: The Portrait of a PoetThe Throne) as well as with humorous occurrences (Once Upon a Time in a BattlefieldBattlefield Heroes). Ten years after the King and The Clown’spremiere, Lee decided to make another period film: The Throne. The film is a drama in its most purest, most classic form; and without any additional historical themes, it is a tragic story of Crown Prince Sado, the 27-year-old royal who was condemned to death by his own father. The tale, delineated in The Throne, has been repeatedly adapted to the small and big screens; nevertheless, Lee Joon-ik’s version tackles not only the complex relationship between the King Jeongjo and the Prince, but it also perfectly depicts a calamitous correlation between father and son.

the throne 2

In XVIII century, King Jeongjo, after losing his son, longs for another male heir; the Queen So Chongsong is childless, while the King’s favourite concubine, Lady Sonhul, has daughters. It all changes when in 1735, Sonhul gives birth to a baby boy, Prince Sado. At the age of 3 months, the infant Sado is assigned a governess, maids and security; away from the palace and parents, he is growing up doing just as he pleases. Without caring much for education and palace life, he manages to provoke his father’s anger even without realizing it. Whenever they meet, the King’s resentment against his son usually predominates over his affection.

Years pass by and Sado becomes a handsome man, marries Lady Hong and has a son. From time to time, the Crown Prince acts on behalf of the King; however, there are always issues between them, and the Prince seems like he is not able to do any good. Sadly, the lack of support from King Jeongjo leads the Prince to lose himself in a whirlwind of amusement, drinking and violence, which only worsens the relationship between the father and son. After receiving disturbing information about the Crown Prince’s behaviour, with a heavy heart, the King summons Sado, deposes him as the Prince, and sentences him to death. He orders to put his son in a heavy wooden rice chest without water and food, and keep him in the palace yard in the scorching sun. It takes 8 days for Sado to die and the King suffers terribly after losing him; he then allows for his son to be buried in the Royal Tomb and restores his Prince title, with Sado’s son thus becoming the next heir.

the throne 3

It is said that Sado was a brutal and mentally unstable young man; however, some sources say that he was a victim of a political conspiracy. What is great about The Throne is that the film does not lean on any of the theories; Lee shows the lives of a king and a prince and then elaborates more on the relationship between a father and son. The most visible issue is the confusion and lack of communication between the two, which over the years only increasingly impaired their relationship. The film jumps between the present, in which the audience sees Sado in the rice chest, and flashbacks, which like recurrent memories show the various stages of King Jeongjo’s and Prince Sado’s catastrophic relationship. Lee’s excellent storytelling techniques make The Throne into an extraordinary production. He definitely drew on the great acting talent of Yoo Ah-in as Prince Sado and the phenomenal Song Kang-ho as Yeongjo; with their impeccable performances, they dominate the big screen. The film may not be flamboyant in technical terms, but the cinematography by Tae-kyung Kim is spotless, and the costumes by Lee Ji-yeon and Shim Hyun-seob are astonishing. The film will bring you to tears and might even drain you emotionally, but it is a must-see production.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos © Tiger Pictures Inc.

The review was originally posted on May 8, 2016 on http://www.viewofthearts.com

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About viewofkoreancinema

Maggie Gogler is a freelance film producer, production manager and she also works with children. She has a passion for Korean and World Cinema as well as music and arts. Maggie has been interested in cinema since she was 15 and discovered love for Korean films in 2004 when she saw Kim Ki Duk’s The Isle. She supports British and Asian independent film-making and enjoys producing creative and interesting projects. Maggie is the co-founder of View of the Arts and its sister website View of Korean Cinema. Sanja Struna is a freelance translator, occasional writer and a perpetual dreamer. Film is her first and longest-lasting love; since writing is her second, she saw the light a couple of years ago, let the two join hands and entered the field of film journalism. She has honed her knowledge through various film festivals which she either worked for or frequented. She is currently harboring a fascination with all things Korean and condones losing sleep if that means she can watch a good Korean film or drama. Sanja is the editor of View of the Arts and co-founder of View of Korean Cinema.

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