History and the historical genre are things usually treated with a straight face in Korean cinema and television. There are times, however, when a historical setting is merely used as a background to stories in genres for other types of audiences. Much like films "Detective K" and 'The Grand Heist', 'I Am a King' is set during the Joseon dynasty and uses parts of history to essentially tell a comedic 'The Prince and the Pauper' story.
Prince Chung-nyeong (Ju Ji-hoon) is a spoiled man without any interest in becoming the people's king. When he is chosen for the part by his father, he attempts to escape his quarters and falls on slave Deok-cheol as he jumps the outer wall. Deok-cheol, whose appearance and voice are identical to the Prince's, finds himself in the palace, as the Prince's personal guards struggle to come up with a plan on how to find the Prince and in the meantime use Deok-cheol as a stand-in.
Any creator who hopes to appeal to mainstream audiences knows that picking a cast which is trusted by viewers with the genre and ambitions of the piece is an essential part. Star Ju Ji-hoon does a fine job with the comedy and dramatic parts of 'I Am a King', but he is also joined by names like Baek Yoon-sik, Kim Soo-ro and other great actors who always shine in their roles and are naturals at conveying comedy. The characters of the film are quite fun and for the most part easy to like, something the cast contributes greatly to.
There are two things which sometimes hold such comedies back. One is that the story turns overly dark in the final act and the other that there is sometimes lack of a point. Of course, entertainment can just be that, but a message or goal is always a plus. The film manages to avoid both becoming too heavy to bounce back into comedy and also keeps the moral prevalent throughout. Deok-cheol might be a nice man, but his lack of leadership knowledge and skills mean he makes mistakes which harm the people and endanger the kingdom. On the other hand, Chung-nyeong's abilities are useless, since he is not willing to use them and does not see why he should. The movie does explore this need for balance through the two men.
That is not to say 'I Am a King' achieves this exploration flawlessly. In fact, most of the film shows very little character development, which comes quite late in it and also feels a bit too sudden and lacking nuance. This is not as bad as it may sound, as there are reasons why the changes happen so abruptly, but it leaves less time for highlighting some of the societal issues and critique that appear in the latter part of the film.
The movie's aforementioned ability to remain a comedy throughout is praiseworthy, but some of the running jokes do tend to become a bit repetitive. It also uses more of a slapstick and generally quite juvenile type of humor for the most part, with the occasional witty moments. This is not a flaw per se and the talented cast delivers on every aspect, but it is something those who prefer other types of humor might not be keen on.
'I Am a King' is not one of the best comedies or best movies out there and it does not tell a story never before told. What it does is make quite a decent work out of its elements and give a good cast the necessities to be entertaining and endearing. It offers some laughs, a nice basic story through a coherent plot, and for those only looking for something to spend a little time with, an easy and amusing film to watch.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "I Am a King""
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