A Frozen Flower/쌍화점 A Frozen Flower/쌍화점 - (English) TYPE4

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Film Date :   2008
Genre :   Period Drama Romance   
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A Frozen Flower/쌍화점

A Frozen Flower (쌍화점;Ssanghwajeom) is a 2008 South Korean film. It is directed by Yoo Ha and starsJo In-sung, Joo Jin-mo and Song Ji-hyo. The historical film is set during Goryeo Dynasty and is loosely based on the reign of Gongmin of Goryeo (1330?1374), but it does not strictly comply with historical facts. The controversial story is about the characters’ violation of royal family protocol and their pursuit of love.

It was released in South Korea on 30 December 2008 and was the 6th most attended film of 2008 with 3,772,976 tickets sold.

Plot

The King (Joo Jin-mo) of Goryeo is married to a Yuan Dynasty princess (Song Ji-hyo), but they do not have any children. There is constant pressure on the King both from the Yuan emperor and his own counselors to produce a crown prince and ensure the continuity of the royal dynasty. The King's palace guard is composed of thirty six young soldiers, led by military commander Hong-rim (Jo In-sung), who is also the King's lover. The King finally decides to charge Hong-rim with a strange commission: copulate the Queen and beget a child. Hong-rim and the Queen are uncomfortable accepting the royal order, but they finally comply. However, their relationship does not stop at procreation, but genuinely true and intense romance soon blossoms between the two, and in this strong and close intimate relationship there is no place for the King.

The two passionate, intimate lovers surpass their "official mission" and continue to meet each other at midnight in the library in secret. The King begins to suspect Hong-rim's infidelity and soon gains evidence through another subordinate. To punish them and to also gauge the depth of Hong-rim's affection for the Queen, the King brings the two together to his chamber. The king tells them that he has decided that the Queen will continue to try and beget an heir, but only with another subordinate. The king remains firm in his decision despite entreaties from both the Queen and Hong-rim.

In despair, the Queen attempts to kill herself by slitting her wrists, but fails. In a last-ditch effort to change the King's mind, Hong-rim asks the Queen to stay away from him, and goes to the King to offer his own life in exchange for forgiveness. The King pardons him, believing Hong-rim's claim that his involvement with the Queen was purely lust. He decides to overlook everything that had happened, and instead orders Hong-rim to go away for a while to clear his mind and settle his emotions.

The night before Hong-rim's departure, the Queen's personal maid secretly informs him that the Queen wishes to meet him one last time. She also bears news that the Queen has finally conceived a child. Hong-rim sneaks out from the King's bedside to meet the Queen in the library. They end up making passionate love in the library, but the King has by now realised what is happening and catches them in flagrante delicto. When the two lovers attempt to save each other by begging the King to "kill me instead," the King realizes how strong their romantic love for each other is. In a jealous rage, he has Hong-rim castrated and sent to prison.

The Queen now realises that the King will eliminate everyone who knows their secret, so she sends her maid to warn Hong-rim's loyal subordinates, and they manage to free Hong-rim from prison and flee the city with him.

Upon learning of the escape, the King demands to know Hong-rim's whereabouts from the Queen, but she refuses to answer. In response, he kills her maid. The King is then informed that the Queen is pregnant, and as the Queen had predicted, he then orders the execution of everyone who knows that he is not the child's father. Only his junior commander, who taken over from Hong-rim, is spared.

Some time later, and having recovered from his wound, Hong-rim realizes that the Queen is still in the palace, and not on the run, as his subordinates were ordered to tell him. Furious, he starts out for the city on horseback, despite their protests, but then he stops in his journey, realizing how futile it would be. However, on returning to the refuge, he finds that his men have been tracked down and captured.

At the palace, the King tortures the subordinates to discover the whereabouts of Hong-rim, but they remain silent, so the King has them killed and their heads are put up on posts on the palace gates, along with that of the Queen's maid. Her head bears the Queen's necklace, in order to trick Hong-rim into believing the queen is dead and forcing him to return to exact revenge. When Hong-rim returns to the city he sees this, and indeed becomes enraged and determines to kill the King. Disguising himself as a soldier, he enters the palace grounds during the celebrations for the Queen's pregnancy and hides out, awaiting his chance to reach the King and kill him.

Meanwhile, as the King returns to his private quarters, he encounters the Queen, but he snubs her, and orders his Junior Commander to escort her back to her room. As the Commander is about to leave the Queen's chamber, she warns him that the King will surely have him killed as soon as the baby is born; she then says that if the Commander assassinates the King, and her father takes over the throne, she will guarantee that his life will be spared. The Junior Commander then calls a meeting of his most trusted subordinates and reveals the truth about the King, the Queen and Hong-rim. However, before they can carry out the Queen's plan, Hong-rim goes into action.

Ignoring the palace guards, who plead with him to leave before he is captured and killed, he fights his way to the King's quarters, cutting down all who oppose him. Reaching the King's chamber, Hong-rim confronts the King and demands that he fight him. An intense duel ensues, during which Hong-rim slashes the through the King's favourite painting, which depicts him and Hong-rim hunting together. As the desperate duel continues, the Junior Commander and his men arrive (their intentions not entirely clear) but the King orders them not to intervene, and the Junior Commander holds them back and awaits the outcome of the fight. At the climax of the duel, the King manages to break Hong-rim's sword, and stabs him in the shoulder. While Hong-rim is pinned by his sword, the King asks him a last question: whether or not Hong-rim had ever felt love for him. Hong-rim replies 'no'. Hearing this, the King is shocked, giving Hong-rim time to throw himself forward on the blade and kill the King with the shard of his own sword.

As the King dies, Hong-rim staggers to his feet, pulls the King's sword from his shoulder and charges at the guards, but he is fatally stabbed by the Junior Commander. Moments later the Queen comes upon the scene with the guards at her heels, trying to hold her back. Horrified, she tearfully calls out for Hong-rim. As she is taken away by the guards, Hong-rim realizes that the king had not killed her after all. He turns his head from her and dies facing the king, his eyes filled with realization of the King's test. The Junior Commander then declares that the King has been killed by an assassin, and he orders his men to quickly remove the bodies, and to tell no-one of what has transpired.

The final scenes of the film show a flashback to when the King showed young Hong-rim the view of the city and asked if Hong-rim wished to live together, to which the young Hong-rim replied "Yes." The film ends on a montage of the King and Hong-rim happily hunting together, referring back to a dream the King once had, as depicted in the King's painting.

Review

As much as I would have loved to have been there for the screening, my first few months of the year find myself temporarily based in Brisbane for a new job, so I had to sit this one out. In retrospect though, I’m actually a little glad. One of the great things about the Cinema on the Park program is the diversity of the audience it attracts, from university students to senior citizens, it gives the Sydney population great exposure to the many joys of Korean cinema. I have to draw the line though and say ‘A Frozen Flower’ is not a movie I’d want to watch sitting next to someone old enough to be my grandmother, I feel uncomfortable enough watching a pair of animals mating on a wildlife documentary if somebody is in the same room as me.

 

Thankfully though I do have the movie on DVD, so was happy to give it a re-watch for the sake of this review. Of course after those initial paragraphs, you’re probably wondering if there's anything else to it except two hours of debauchery and graphic images, and thankfully there is, a lot more. ‘A Frozen Flower’ is a period piece, and revolves around the love triangle that develops between the king, played by Joo Jin-mo (‘A Better Tomorrow / 무적자’, ‘200 Pounds Beauty / 미녀는 괴로워’), his chief bodyguard, played by Jo In-seong (‘A Dirty Carnival / 비열한 거리’, ‘The Classic / 클래식’), and the queen, played by Song Ji-hyo (‘The New World /신세계’, ‘Wishing Stairs /여고괴담 3 - 여우 계단’) . So far, so standard Korean drama storyline, but here it takes a unique twist.

 

The king’s bodyguard has actually been raised in the palace as the lover to the king, and has never known any different. When pressure starts to mount to produce royal offspring, the king creates a plan in which he asks the bodyguard to have sex with the queen in order for her to become pregnant. Ever the loyal servant, the bodyguard reluctantly agrees to do it, as does a severely sexually frustrated queen. However what’s supposed to be an act of reproduction, and nothing more, ends up igniting the flames of distinctly heterosexual passion within the bodyguard, and the same thing happens for the queen, who finally experiences a mans touch after years of loneliness. The bodyguard and the queen embark on a secret affair, meeting at midnight in the library whenever they can to unleash their lustfulness on each other, but when the king begins to suspect that something is going on between them, things can only go in one direction.

 

Upon release a lot of western reviews drew inevitable comparisons to ‘Brokeback Mountain’, which doesn’t really do it justice based on the fact that outside of the gay theme, the two movies bare no resemblance to each other. If any comparison can be made, then perhaps it should be to Ang Lee’s follow up movie to ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Lust, Caution’. Like in ‘Lust, Caution’, the sex scenes are essentially the equivalent of action scenes in an action movie, they’re there to serve as dramatic punctuation points in the narrative, and more importantly, to progress the narrative forward. To that end, just like in ‘Lust, Caution’, no matter how graphic or explicit things get, they never feel exploitative, with each one being both physically intense as well as emotionally. It slowly reveals the explosive power of lust to be as much a force of destruction as it can be one of passion.

 

If you haven’t seen the movie already, then it’s probably safe for you to deduct that most of the hype turned out to be just that. With the exception of a passionate kiss between Jin-mo & In-seong, much of the raunchiness belongs to scenes between In-seong & Ji-hyo, with everybody acting their roles exceptionally well. Directed by former poet Yoo Ha, who also directed In-seong before in ‘A Dirty Carnival / 비열한 거리’, & was responsible for Song Kang-ho’s recent mis-fire ‘Howling / 하울링’, the movie moves along at a good pace, cranking up the tension to almost unbearable levels in some scenes, as well as throwing in a smattering of wuxia influenced action to top it all off.

 

Underlying everything is the theme of what it means to be loved, and perhaps even more to be able to distinguish the often fine line between love and lust. By the time the credits role all three of the main characters are no longer the people they were at the beginning, dragged through jealousy, bitterness, rage, and regret, with no one coming out the winner. Perhaps more than any of the scenes of passion, it’s the reaction of In-seong to the final question the king asks as the movie comes to it’s close that will remain with people the most, as maybe the difference between love and lust is realized. ‘A Frozen Flower’ might be known more for its controversial scenes, but its powerful storyline should be the real selling point.

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