[HanCinema's Film Review] "Tyrant Yeonsan" + Full Movie
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
Considering the success of the first film, "Prince Yeonsan", and the appeal to the audience of movies focusing on the particular character, it is no surprise that the next year, 1962, Shin Sang-ok decided to shoot a sequel, where this time, Yeonsan is already a king, and along with his infamous concubine Jang Nok-su, continues indulging in the most appalling brutalities.
After a series of sports where he faces the country's most famous fighters, who do not dare winning against him of course, and under the coercion of the always present by his side, Nok-su and advisor Im Sa-hong, Yeonsan turns against another high class member of the court, Minister Im, against whom the Sa-hong harboured a grudge, spreading rumours that he even offered his daughter to the King in order to get promoted. The truth, however, is that the King essentially forced the girl to sleep with him, again listening to the false advice of his two despicable advisors. As the two of them continue to control him with their cunning ways, the King, whose custody also includes the ever-present, blood thirsty jester Kim Ja-won, proceeds on taking to his bed every young girl from the country he fancies, while eventually he shuts the door to the palace, essentially cutting down on commerce, worsening the already dire financial situation of his subjects even more. Park Won-jon, son of Minister Im, whose wife is also taken by the King, decides to stage a coup, by exploiting Yeonsan's lust and the disgruntlement of many people in the palace.
As in "Prince Yeonsan", Shin Sang-ok creates a costume drama extravaganza, sparing no expenses in sets, costumes, and action sequences, with DP Jeong Hae-jun capturing all the aforementioned in majestic fashion, through rather vivid (to the point of fluorescent on occasion) colors, in a visual style that must have looked particularly impressive in the era. The same applies to the sound and music, while all the exterior shots are outstanding, highlighting the artistry in the technical aspect even more.
The acting is also on a very high level. Shin Young-kyun in particular is sublime in the titular role, highlighting the torment that has led him to become a violent tyrant who cared for no other but himself, but in a way that truly draws no sympathy at all, even if it becomes quite apparent that his "trusted advisors" influence him in the worst way possible. Kim Jin-kyu as Bak Won-jong is also great in the way his family drama is transformed into resolve. Do Kum-bong as Jang No-suk is as sensual and cunning as a snake, with the only one who compares with her in despicability and theatricality being Lee Ye-chun as Im Sa-hong. Kim Hee-kap, who always found his way in Shin Sang-ok films, playing the clown, the jester or any kind of similar roles, is great once more in the role of Kim Ja-won, a truly sinister entertiainer.
Shin Sang-ok's direction aims at impression, and with a rather intriguing story in his hands, filled with the always appealing to Korean audience melodrama, he succeeded fully, creating a spectacle that is quite entertaining from beginning to end, even if, at 132 minutes (the original version was actually longer, at 183 minutes) somewhat overextends its welcome, particularly close to the end, where the forced sentimentalism takes completely over. The tournament in the beginning, the revenge Yeonsan unleashes to almost everyone around him, and the agonizing scene during the coup procession, are a true wonder to look at, also inducing the narrative with elements of agony, action, and a bit of exploitation.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.