Hello everyone 🙂 Today is Mach 1, 2014 and I am set to put captures for this post. I don’t have spare time actually, meaning I’m stealing this opportunity hahaha, but I’ve noticed that many people drop by to look over this post. I therefore felt compelled to fix things up a bit here primarily for my peace of mind. I’ve never intended to leave this post bare of illustrations and so now that Ms. Song Ji Hyo is in a new drama, Emergency Couple, I thought it’s as good a time as any to put an effort here once and for all. This update also marks the time that I squealed of delight after finding out that these favorites of mine are connected by close friendship: Jo In Sung, Song Joong Ki, Lee Kwang Soo, and Song Ji Hyo. Also, Joo Jin Mo is currently doing Empress Ki (which I’ll have to tackle in a separate post another time, by the major reasons that it has the cast of Damo plus another favorite of mine, Ji Chang Wook 🙂 This post is just a little expression of support for professionals from whom I have benefited much by way of insight acquisition. The fonts in pink are links to my other two posts that have more to say on this.
Many have commented a dislike over the sexual element in this film. I do not have any comment against them, and they are perfectly qualified to hold such opinions. For myself I would not want a minor younger than, say, 21 years old to view this film. That’s just a general gauge of how old an individual could be before s/he can handle well themes that s/he may have not experienced personally, such as homosexual relations and betrayal of close bonds. I believe that age is not a good marker for so-called maturity because there are youngsters who are able to process such “adult” issues with admirable capability, and there are adults who cannot see the forest because they’re focused on the individual trees.
My liking for this film does not reflect the entirety or the summary of my personal convictions, the major part of which I have not even put tabs on.
That is, because although I am not familiar with so-called lesbians, indeed I am very much familiar with the male counterpart, the so-called gays. But, well, these are just labels so just so there are terms that can be used for discussions and conversations. I’m sure the issues involved go way much much deeper and wider than what is promoted in popular media. What I know is that, as a Filipino who grew up in a rural setting, I have not been so much isolated by norms and religion as to condemn per se that homosexuals will go to hell. I have a handsome cousin who leans towards the feminine of traits and although I had a catastrophic fight with him decades ago over that issue I have become a big fan of his right now, even after decades of separation and even not having seen him even once since then. I also had high school classmates, dearly beloved, whom we all respect sincerely despite their deviation from the accepted norms of manliness.
Now, for the issue on physical sexual relations with the same genders, that is a field that I personally withhold abstract speculations from because I hold the conviction that God is not trapped within conventions and norms. My gay friends love God as much as I do, and my case rests there for now.
Finally, I wanted to pretty up this post as an expression of appreciation to the three actors who made the film a success: Song Ji Hyo, Joo Jin Mo, and Jo In Sung. This is not to add pressure to their already stressful lives. I just want to say that, if ever I were a friend of any of them, to take good care of their personal health especially the emotional aspect, and that this film established my respect for them as persons. They are beautiful people and I wish them the happiness that they can identify as their own, one which is not dependent on wealth, fame, or reputation. This wish also goes for everyone in the world. I wish happiness for all of us. Kampei! 🙂 Thanks a million for dropping by and for allowing me to share some of my thoughts with you. The screen captures enlarge when clicked on. Peace ❤
… below now was the original post …
This king in our story, in ancient Goryeo, is like a god. He can do what he wants. His servants are his property. He has a retinue of eunuchs at his beck and call, all of them at a bent position in his presence. They never stand straight in his company.
This king bows down to only one person, to the emperor of Yuan whom we don’t see in the story. We see only a princess of Yuan, she who had been sent to the palace to be the king’s bride about a decade ago.
Though this king does not have a complete autonomy, still his word is law in his kingdom. This is what we understand when a violator was spared of beheading as per the king’s order.
The king in his youth gathered 36 children to himself and reared them in the palace next to him to be his trusted companions. Their body, mind, and will were trained for only one purpose: to protect him and to always be available only for him.
At one session the king asks the seated children who the best warrior in the kingdom is. Of all the answers given to him his eyes particularly shone at one boy’s answer, that it is one who willingly gives up his life for the king. Thus the love affair between this king and this bodyguard began. The king cares for all the children but his affection begins to be centered to only one, on Hong Lim.
Hong Lim becomes the respected chief of the 36 bodyguards (though one, the sub-chief, does not show proper respect by remaining seated while the others stand up and bow as Hong Lim enters their quarters).
In their close ties he is also “hyungnim”, big brother. When one of them, Han Baek, falls in love and tries to run away with one of the queen’s maids Hong Lim takes advantage of his closeness with the king to beg for Han Baek’s life. The crime entails beheading. It is a desertion of the king, a betrayal, treason (i.e., the guards are forbidden private lives). However, the king relents. Han Baek is returned to his comrades, who are greatly relieved. They hug him. They thank their chief. There is genuine affection amongst them. They are merely the king’s objects but as persons they are family. When the sub-chief sneers at Hong Lim’s accomplishment Hong Lim gives this justification: that Han Baek is one of them and hence could not possibly be left in the lurch for just a one-time offense, though this is not to be a precedence for further violations. Hong Lim subjugates the resentful sub-chief, defending the king’s honor from such snide remarks. Hong Lim is loyal to his brothers as well as to his king.
The first hint of disaster manifests when Hong Lim glances at the queen on the king’s comment on her perfume-locket, during that beautiful spring day as the royal couple was relaxing outside the palace grounds. Hong Lim’s existence is supposedly solely for the king, for the king’s wishes and wants, to protect, please, and lay one’s life to at any time. This had been his mindset ever since he first came to the palace. This is what he has been programmed to live according to. The king’s pleasure and contentment is supposedly his pleasure and contentment as well, and nothing else. Would there have been in him an element of jealousy at the king’s interest in the queen? Or perhaps just an interest at what the king is interested in?
The day before the picnic, after the Han Baek incident, we see Hong Lim gently combing the king’s hair. The king asks Hong Lim if he would do that, too, run away and leave the palace in case something similar happens to him. Hong Lim replies that he doesn’t think he could, because the king is in the palace. This, then, is the king’s fear: that Hong Lim will desert him.
During the picnic the king smilingly insists to the queen on “that song of Goryeo that you usually sing”, saying that he’d like to hear her sing to them. He even solicits Hong Lim’s support in this request. (Here is an incident where the three of them are in harmony.) The surprised and flattered queen shyly obliges. We see a king who is not icy towards his queen. We could say that they are good friends, that they are comfortable with each other.
Hong Lim, whether because of the beautiful voice or of the lovely song, glances at the queen again. From his view behind the king he can see her left profile. He has now glanced at the queen long enough to be established in the plot that he is able to later recall what the potpourri-locket looks like. However, was he already drawn a long time ago to the queen’s beauty? He and his brothers would have been blind if they did not appreciate their queen’s looks at all. But the queen sings beautifully. Perhaps it is only this that he appreciates at that point. However, her song’s theme alludes to the incident with Han Baek’s attempt to run away. We see the king covering his emotions by a sip of drink. (He insisted on her singing and he got a reminder of his fear. What a day.)
Naturally, the king being outside of the palace’s protection, assassins take an attempt on him. The issue involved has something to do with the political struggle between the king and his court with the influence of Yuan on one side and the absence of an heir on the other. Yuan describes this as a “political instability”. Several members of the court, including the queen’s visiting older brother, became implicated at the attempt of the few in this assassination. At the first whiz of arrows the king lunges to his right and covers the queen with his body. (Hong Lim quickly flips the table, for shield.) Next the king asks Hong Lim if he is okay, then orders that the queen be taken away to safety. To the queen’s fright he demands for his sword and stays with his bodyguards in the fight. We see a king who has a superior skill in fencing.
Now the emperor of Yuan makes a move in the face that the king so far has not produced a progeny. The emperor now intends to crown somebody as next in line. This place belongs to the king’s son.
But despite having had the queen and the concubines in the palace for many years now no royal children have been produced to the kingdom. As the emperor’s representative reads this edict up on the dais we see all the courtiers bowed down beneath, on the floor, with the king at their head. The queen, on the other hand, is seated up on the dais, on her throne, next to Yuan’s representative, and next to the king’s temporarily vacated one.
The king next gathers his court. Seated now next to the queen up on their dais, bodyguards behind, members of the court express that it would be wise to conform to the emperor’s wish. The king looks and sounds resigned as he asks the court for more opinions. The queen, barely controlling her anger, decides to speak out. She lashes at the surprised court for accepting Yuan’s edict, implying that they are looking forward to the day that the present king has no power anymore over the country. The king’s nostrils slightly flares at his queen’s defense of his honor, at her publicly owning up of the fault of their being childless, saying that it is not the “still young” king who is incapacitated. Hong Lim, of course, empathizes with the queen and is moved by her show of fierce loyalty to the king. In this incident the three characters are once more in harmony with each other.
By now it is clear that the king is protective of the queen, as a husband should be. That evening alone with her he tells her to go back to her native country now that his humiliation is inevitable. He does not want her to be humiliated as well. They now talk openly of the problem: he can’t “do it” with a woman. Even if she sleeps in his chambers tonight and at any other time they would still not be able to produce an heir. She in turn chooses to cling to him, to refuse to leave him and her adoptive country. She declares that this where she belongs now. The king then, perhaps encouraged by her clear support, tells her of an alternative. To beget a son for him through Hong Lim.
Indeed, as the king and Hong Lim make love we see the passion in the king’s eyes as he holds Hong Lim’s face and looks at him. It’s a sort of a helplessly fiery openly honest passion. We see that Hong Lim is at ease with this relationship he has with the king. He accepts his place as being the object of his king’s passion and willingly responds to the king’s satisfaction. We do not see any problem between them in there. Albeit, I cannot see fire in Hong Lim’s eyes as he looks at the king. This fierce passion between them will be re-enacted the morning after Hong Lim spends a night with the queen. The king had then demanded of Hong Lim’s “heart”, that it should be given to him. It will be enacted again at the last tableau, with their final swordfight. In there, however, it will be a passion to subjugate and to eliminate each other.
Disturbance is first seen in Hong Lim’s eyes when the king tells him what he wants to be done. Hong Lim bolts up in bed, passionately declaring to the king’s turned back that he can’t possibly do it. Perhaps to him it sounded like being commanded to desecrate the queen, or like being commanded to betray the king. The queen, alone in her chambers, has tearful eyes of emotions. She has long resented Hong Lim for taking away from her the rightful place as the king’s favored nurturing partner. She, a virgin, must consummate the marriage act with a person she sees as worse than a stranger. She who has wholeheartedly given her loyalty to her husband has been commanded by him to exert a very intimate effort at conceiving with a “servant”. She, a princess of the mighty Yuan, will be made equal to a mere “property” of a vassal country.
To defy the king’s wish is to humiliate him, and she is not in the position nor does she have the will to do this. She is too good a country’s subject, wife, and woman. She is foremost the king’s property, the country’s subject next, and being her own self the least–if ever she indeed has that notion at all. Hong Lim, she knows, will surely not defy the king as well. She realizes that she is helpless.
The king, having totally believed that he can always get what he wants (except in the case of Yuan), did not anticipate that these “properties” that he manipulates could get out of his control. He does not see himself as deficient (except for being heirless). He can even beat the best of his bodyguards in a swordfight at any time of the day. What best for him to do other than have his most trustworthy confidant impregnate his very loyal wife? He must have felt he had the safety nets on all sides. At that point there was no reason to suspect that either of them is capable of betraying his trust.
On the first consummation night the king gently lays his agitated queen in bed and silently reassures her with a very tender kiss on her lips. He lets Hong Lim in after encouraging him with a brotherly pat on the shoulder. The queen quakes as Hong Lim approaches. He sees her anguished eyes full of tears. He gives up.
The morning after, the king, taking the failure in hand with an almost imperceptible smile, encourages him again. The next night the queen has mustered more courage–she volunteers to disrobe herself. Now, as the rhythm of Hong Lim’s breathing increases, he looks at the king’s shadow against the thin dividing wall as if asking for permission to leave the king and venture into a world without the latter.
The queen eventually accepts Hong Lim. A new knowledge can be read from her face. Hong Lim, finally, rests his head beside the queen’s. They have stepped onto a threshold of no return. Ahh, so, Hong Lim can, in fact, do it. The king at the next room, hearing of that exact moment, freezes and blots his ink painting. The king has started to lose his control over the matter.
Hong Lim felt it. He excuses himself from the palace to distance himself from this overwhelming new force in his narrowly restricted existence. The queen felt it. She persistently prostrates herself in prayer to calm her confusion. Hong Lim cannot stop the force. He thinks of her in his sleeping time. He gets a new necklace to replace her lost one (during the assassins’ attempt at the picnic). He sneaks a peak at her at the palace, while she repeatedly bows in front of the altar, unbeknownst to all. He muses about her while his brothers play at the river. He hides the truth from the king whenever the latter asks of anything that might divulge a clue to his increasing attachment to the queen . She becomes sick and gets a fever.
At these times the king starts to re-establish his control over the two–he shows open affection to Hong Lim just like before, and he shows sincere concern for the queen just like before. Hong Lim will start to distance himself from the king. The king reaches out and tightens his hold against Hong Lim. These acts of insistence on control worsen, escalate, until even the sub-chief becomes horrified at the king’s madness—the first instance of which is the tragedy in the library during the night of the thunderstorm. In there the king had become like a hysterical woman scorned by her lover.
We see in the queen’s eyes the switch of affections. Whereas before to the king she gives warmth and to Hong Lim she is uncaring, now she turns her face away from the king, perhaps shielding her true emotions from his gaze. Little by little she looks at Hong Lim with warmth (there is that deleted scene, of another secret meeting in the library, the queen wearing a palace maid’s attire and Hong Lim wearing the head band that she embroidered for him, where she in a playful mood surprises him with a hug from behind, erasing his anxious look, and then they talk briefly, and he tearfully cradles her head in a tight embrace–a mark that they eventually see each other as equals, and are now “self-less” in their regard for each other). As to Hong Lim, whenever he is not looking at the queen, his eyes are sad, touched with a resigned and helpless look. Though he is sure of his love for the queen, and eventually of the queen’s love for him, yet these are absolutely forbidden in their context.
So Hong Lim continues to hide truths from the king. The sub-chief consistently works out his way into snatching for himself the affection that the king has for Hong Lim. The queen responds to Hong Lim’s signals. In the very constrained situation that they are in, where the king always finds ways to know about truths they hide from him, Hong Lim and the queen nurture their newly found world. They communicate through little gifts, and glances, and meetings whenever they can snatch them.
But Hong Lim calculates their chances of survival before the queen does. He realizes that he has no power to protect the queen from the king. He tries to put a stop to the danger when he sees that only disaster awaits him, and the queen especially, should they continue with their attachment, where they are persons of mutual high worth plus without a demand to sacrifice their personhood.
The king has been persistently hounding him, enough to assure him that surrender is his only safety net. The king has had all traitors killed, all the high officials and even the queen’s brother. He knows of the king’s capabilities. He cuts his happiness short by surrendering to the king. His eyes now look almost lifeless.
The queen, on the other hand, did not have the understanding by this time enough for her to agree with Hong Lim. She begs him to run away with her anywhere, to “take her away”, even to the hills. He tells her of his powerlessness. She is saved from a suicide attempt. She discovers she is with child. She accepts Hong Lim’s departure (him being assigned by the king to the border stations for the purpose of “forgetting”) but has to tell him of her fear, that their child might not be safe with the king.
Alas, their love for each other cannot be constrained. The king, with the help of the sub-chief, finds them despite the thunderstorm. Both, with hands tied and kneeling before the king, alternately defend each other at the cost of their lives. When Hong Lim declares twice that he loves the queen the king snaps. He makes a shocked sub-chief castrate a superior brother. The queen faints. The royal physician congratulates the king on the queen’s conception. The madness in the king’s eyes that started when Hong Lim lied about sending honeysuckle tea to the queen now grows into crazy proportions–he commands the sub-chief that all subjects private to the fatherhood of the queen’s pregnancy be killed. Except Hong Lim. The king goes to him in prison and bargains at the back turned to him, to return to how they were before, and that all would be forgotten. (Whoa! You cruelly deprive a man of an essential part of his personhood and you bargain your kingdom with him! Too late, king! Hong Lim has finally discovered that a person can live outside of your gilded cage.)
The queen, in danger to her own safety, sends brothers loyal to Hong Lim to take him away from the palace. The baby, she says, cannot have two fathers. (I guess she has projected how their lives would be in the future when the child grows up and Hong Lim is forced to live in the pain of not even be allowed to have his child call him “father”. The secret of the true fatherhood is bound to eventually leak out. Perhaps she has a good idea that Hong Lim will not be willing to be reconciled to the king anymore. Perhaps she did not anticipate that the king has gone crazy enough to ask Hong Lim for a reconciliation–she did not anticipate the king’s level of obsession with Hong Lim. She miscalculated that the king would put Hong Lim first before self-honor. Ahh, but this is a drama movie–the more angst the better.)
The king guesses right that it was the queen who has sent Hong Lim away. She denies his accusations without turning her head to answer him. When she finally does so she gives him a venomous glare.Her child is threatened yet still she insists on Hong Lim’s safety. Hong Lim, successfully spirited out of the palace, turns back against his brothers wishes in order to get the queen, and his child, out of the king’s clutches. His brothers say he has nothing to give the queen anymore. He rides fast alone. The queen’s song plays. He stops. He is resigned. He goes back to a ransacked temple-hideout, his comrades missing.
But then, how would I say anything about a king who has known the virtue of being in control all his life? Can his acts be justified in view of his insecurity and humiliation at not being capable of producing an heir? That, him being in this state, Hong Lim shouldn’t have spurned him? Did he really love Hong Lim? How many legitimate dimensions of love can one possibly talk about? He has lavished Hong Lim with gifts and attention—is this a proof of love? Whereas, Hong Lim, who has not had the privilege of choices at all, and who has been indoctrinated since childhood that his life belongs to the king, has only his integrity to give to the king—and this he did until the king initiated the triangle. Were the king’s consistent intents at forgiving Hong Lim’s betrayals proofs of love? Crazy.
Crazy to torture and kill the four brothers that protected Hong Lim, thereby supporting him and the queen in their quest for freedom from the king. Crazy to bait Hong Lim back by putting up the queen’s head along with the brothers’ on stakes at the palace wall. As Hong Lim declares at their swordfight, the king has “cut him to his roots”. The king is a bad loser. It happens to people. From where I am coming I hesitate at blaming the king here. I only know the story based on the characters’ faces and voices and on the dialogues translated into English (hehehe). I can only understand the story based on where I’m “coming from”, which is not of the ancient Goryeo worldview. Besides, the king can sing beautifully, too (it’s the actor’s own singing voice) 🙂 His song is as haunting and poignant as the queen’s.
If Hong Lim’s sword had not become broken at that precise instance then he and the king would have thrust at each other simultaneously. As the king impales Hong Lim he asks if he was, even for one instance in the past, an object of Hong Lim’s “love”. The latter answers “no” and “never”, and drives himself forward through the length of the king’s sword in order to thrust his own halved sword into the demoralized king’s torso. Thus, the king dies open-eyed, gazing at Hong Lim’s back.
The queen did the only way she could to ensure Hong Lim’s protection, and also perhaps avenge the deaths of so many people including her brother and her personal maid (whose head on the stake with the queen’s necklace Hong Lim mistook as hers): instigate the sub-chief at killing the maddened king, to “put him out of his pains” she tells him.
Fortunately for the sub-chief, Hong Lim is already on the process of doing the deed for him. The king is having a late night snack in his bedroom as Hong Lim enters and bows his final respects, which basically is a request for the king to get hold of his sword. (Hong Lim then unsheathes his sword—from some Japanese story I read I learned that this act is an indication of an intent to strike. Swords are valued and are not supposed to be drawn out unless they are intended for use.) He’s on his last mission at freeing himself from the king’s shackles. He’s about to perform the exact opposite of what he was programmed to do all his life: take the king’s life. His anger at the king is magnificent but subtly expressed.
He declares to the arrogant king (who shouts “castrated fool!” at him) that he has no fears anymore. Still, years of programming emerges as he feels a loss at having finally struck down the king. There is also that element of horror at having struck at a helpless man (this is against a warrior’s honor code), because the king, after hearing from the impaled Hong Lim that he had never been loved for even once by him, seemed to have let go of life itself simultaneous to his slightly slackened hold on the jade sword handle.
The sub-chief, aside from personal grudges, had to kill Hong Lim. His brothers behind him witnessed the treason: a trusted guard wanted for high treason has killed the king.
If during that meeting with the bodyguards moments ago the chief was not yet a “traitor” to them, now he clearly is. Moreover, they are not willing to put their lives in “unjustified” danger, though their faces looked unanimously aghast at the summary execution of Hong Lim by the sub-chief. (In fairness to them, the ones outside the building urged Hong Lim to leave the palace before anyone sees him. That is, they were still protecting him in his state of being wanted for high treason.) Would Hong Lim have lived even without that torso thrust?
The king had slashed at him several times before that final strike to the left breast, impaling him. That final hit was intended by the king to be a death blow, after all. Would his brothers have put aside the law and embraced him nevertheless at that hour of crisis? As Hong Lim staggered towards them his eyes seemed to say that he wanted to explain to them his side of the story, the reason why he did all this. It seemed he was asking the sub-chief to listen to him. When he was finally hit and was already falling his eyes seemed to say that he forgives the sub-chief, that he understands him and is without grudges against him, and that he accepts his fate.
The queen barges into the death tableau. She spots the king first and calls out “chonha”, perhaps not realizing yet that he’s already dead. Hong Lim’s resigned eyes light up at the sound of her voice. Her gaze shifts to him, already lying on his stomach and shaking in his last breaths.
She screams his name repeatedly and struggles to go to him against the guards who are restraining her. As she is being forced away Hong Lim looks at her direction, silently saying that he would have very much liked to spring up and rush to her. The sub-chief commands that she be ushered out. Her voice fades as she disappears from Hong Lim’s view. His eyes briefly show elements of regret that, perhaps, they will be parted permanently now, and that, perhaps, a sadness that he cannot stay with her and their child anymore. Perhaps also an apology that he was not able to protect her, and won’t have the chance to do so anymore. When her screams are not heard anymore Hong Lim forcibly turns his head to the direction of the king, whose eyes already had that same dead look even before he died.
Did that turning of the head say that he loved the king after all? I don’t think so. He was already prepared to die before he discovered that the queen is still alive. He was already on the act of dying with his face turned towards the brothers that he grew up with, his family. When he sees that the queen is alive, what could have gone through his mind? Ultimate relief perhaps, for a treasure thought lost but is found again, and not only for this beloved woman but also for their child she carries.
But what about the last scenes of him and the king in the bliss of the olden days? As youngsters they had virtually pledged to each other that they would be together all through their lives. Ahh, but young children are highly impressionable and may be bound to change their preferences as they grow up. What about that dream of the king’s where Hong Lim as well was getting ready to shoot with the bow, in the manner that he requested for the king to re-depict in his painting? Well, the king was shocked when Hong Lim had slashed that painting. Whereas, Hong Lim wasn’t thinking about it at all, him being intent at just their sword fight.
The king, in between strikes, demands from him if love was really that important to him. Aha. The king has come to see that there is something that he wanted from Hong Lim but was not given to him.
Hong Lim heatedly replies that he is thankful enough for the king in leading him to feel that same love. (Okay, so, in this context as he speaks, would this love have been for the king or for the queen? I was confused about the whole issue of who loved whom and so I tried to understand the story again. Based on this dialogue it’s clear that both meant that love which Hong Lim declared for the queen—this is based on his confession in the library, the one that made the king snap. Hong Lim had slightly straightened from his kneeling position and had fiercely reiterated, explicitly into the king’s eyes, that he loves the queen.)
Hong Lim experiences something worse than death (he was shouting that he’d rather be killed). Though castrated and betrayed by the one he devoted his life to, Hong Lim was freed in his sexuality and in his personhood, even in just a short period of time for him to enjoy it all. Thus it is not only the king that controls a bow, as what the king at first depicted in the painting. He, too, has now a chance to shoot with his own bow, a freedom of choice and of decision making all by himself.
Indeed, that happy scene with the king will forever remain as a dream because in reality the king will never consent to him a freedom of equal level. The king kept on trying to keep Hong Lim by his side until right before the time he impales him.
Hong Lim in his death is at peace with the thought that he will soon have a child who will carry life on for him. I think his last glance and tears for the king was a goodbye as well as an expression of gratitude for all that the king has given him–for the care, friendship, attention, generosity–, for having led him to find a kind self-affirming love with the queen and hence a sort of freedom, and most of all for not killing her and his child. It might also have been an apology for a misplaced rage that is supposedly the last straw for his decision at revenge, and a sadness at killing a person that he had for so long looked up to.
Perhaps there is also sadness at the pain that came to the three of them and at the senseless waste of many lives, of his brothers and the servants privy to the secret. It also seemed to say, “Ah, you’re also just a man, a powerless one, and what a pity that it all ends like this… I did wish you happiness but not the one that you kept forcing me into… at least now I’m free…”–I thought on this after noticing that his eyes had vitality until the queen was dragged away but after he turns to the right his eyes had dullness, peace, and resignation. I think he had started to cry as the sub-chief hit him. He would have died in his fallen position and not turned to the right had the queen not appeared. It seems like this last tableau brought harmony to the three of them for the last time.
Alas, the queen sees her beloved dying, and thankfully he sees her, only by forcing herself against the controlling power at that final moment: that event was only within the bond between the king and his 36 bodyguards. That’s why the sub-chief had to wrap up everything fast with everyone: it must be told that it was an assassin, and that they have eliminated him. The queen is not included in this bond. However, she is smart and is aware of all palace machinations. As an untouchable princess of Yuan and the queen of Goryeo, all alone now with her maid-companion also gone, she has at least the joy of having her own child. This child was born of a love that freed her and Hong Lim from fear. The king who had threatened the child’s well-being is now gone. Among her memories she will be recalling that time, on their last meeting, when Hong Lim told her to stay strong and take care of herself.
Ahhh… the king was really convincingly frightening here… He projects an aura of velvet-covered strength… I wouldn’t have wished him to be a real person… 🙂 This movie is not for the faint of heart with regards to issues of sexuality and the tragic consequences of controlling and uncontrolled “love“. The costumes, setting, and music are of top quality—i.e., a treat for the senses and are unforgettable for those who are not familiar with lavish settings of east Asia. I will certainly watch this movie again. I am drawn to the eyes of the three main characters. The king’s make me want to go for cover. The queen’s make me want to empathize with her in the depths of her introspection. Hong Lim’s make me want to first reach out and hug him and then go out free myself and live out life. Kaja!
(still hoping to post some illustrations here…)
Just watched this movie and was searching for explanations to several questions. Your summary of movie was very clear and best I have seen. I agree with your take on the feelings and motives of the main characters. As far as I can find, the director never specifically answers these questions we have about the validity/healthiness of the king’s relationship with Hong Lim, could the king possibly truly love his chief when in such a powerful and coercive position, giving his “lover” no smidgeon of freedom; Hong Lim’s level of awareness of his own true feelings, the effect his encounters with the queen had on his sense of self, and at the end, why didn’t the king admit that the queen was alive? Obviously the king’s obsession with Hong Lim was sick enough that he was willing to risk death in order to test the depth of the chief’s regard for the queen. He wanted all of Hong Lim, body and soul. His only motivation in the movie ended up being the obsession with Hong Lim. The final scene shows him happy to see him, asking him to sit with him! As if!!! I saw the king as mentally unstable, with the political pressures and his insecurities over HL’s feelings pushing him way over the edge. He would have still welcomed HL at the final scene if HL had bowed down and been willing to resume the status quo. He would have found a way to raise the baby as his, kept the queen as a figurehead, and kept HL as his prized (though damaged) possession. With no regard for anyone’s feelings but his own. Death was inevitably the only possible end for both of them. So very sad. I can’t understand some reviewers rooting for the king and his relationship with HL. This story was Not about homosexuality, though the “man on man” aspect was used to promote the show. It was about the many faces we put on “love,” the ways we fool ourselves, the lies we tell ourselves. The misery we cause when we seek to control those around us. The king lives in a fantasy world where Hong Lim is his perfect pet, and when the pet rebels, his hold on sanity loosens. The king may have wanted them to die together I think, though he did seem shocked when HL made the final blow. Hoping to the last that the love he had so carefully cultivated was real.
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Let me just say that this entire commentary reminds me clearly how two folks can see a glass half empty or half full. Clearly this is purely a very subjective view of this story. I don’t have much to say but just to try to be as objective as possible.
The story establishes the consequences of actions such as what the Chief committed right from the start. Having affairs with ladies if they are in the palace meant death. So he knew what the consequences of his actions could bring. Second, please use this fact to measure your comments, that the King forgave him and had him promise never to meet her again. It is true that love or lust can be powerful forces and make one do things that seems totally out of character. What ever drove the Chief to do what he did, sleeping with the Queen, he knew the consequences of his actions.
I can understand that the Chief was never given an opportunity to make a choice about his sexuality, but does that excuse his knowledge of the rules and laws? Does strong emotions justify his actions and excuse him from an oath? It’s a tough place to be in but if he decided to act upon his emotions, then be prepared for the consequences. Don’t get angry and seek revenge after he made the decision to pursue his desires. The King may have snapped and yes maybe his actions may be seen as harsh, but was he within his rights as King? Absolutely yes! Just because his actions could be classified as cruel and unusual punishment does not mean they weren’t justified under the knowledge of the rights of the King. And if all else fail, it’s just dirty to sleep with another man’s wife and act like it’s ok just because you found new love.
The facts were established from the start of the movie and in other areas, emphasizing the consequences of actions such as what the Queen and the Chief were involved. Also you just can’t disregard integrity for an awakening of emotions. From a child, an oath was taken and each guard was trained and taught that they were subjects to the King for life. Now again, you may decide to forfeit your oath but do so with the understanding that you have just opened up yourself to the consequences of such abandonment. Don’t get indignant because you get caught, be the man you think you are and accept the result of your actions.
Again, the rights of these men were long surrendered to the will of the King. Just because things don’t turn out the way it should have because they fall in love doesn’t excuse this fact. This is the only light in which to view the actions of the King because he has the right to do whatever he did. His actions may be judged as inhumane if not for the clear understanding of their profession. You may feel sorry for the Chief or the men who were beheaded but again, the actions were just when seen from the perspective of their oath to the Crown.
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This comment is by “ria” and I am sorry that I was not able to approve this at the correct time. Thank you very much, ria, for this comment and for the others you have generously shared with us here. This was on March 19, 2018.
the last look of hong lim to the king was not one of love, but one of contemplation where that ”love” and relationship led them to: distruction and death; ultimately hong lim looked at his achieved aim: king’s death. through the film hong lim asked for his own death so many times that you had to wonder whether subcousciously it was not his deepest wish as a way out from kings shackles( i will look for your forgiveness in death he tells the king when surrending to save the queen from disgrace, feeling guilty for loving the queen, thus betraying the king)
surely love in the positive way(is there any other love?) is one that offers freedom and put the other first, like hong lim and the queen did. no one choses where his heart and feelings go to, whom to love: you either have it or not.
Hong lim respected and loved the king, but not the man in the king. it was a co-dependent, unhealthy relationship at best. the king with his power surely lost control over the matter through castrating and making the object of his love into a simple slave(who apart from me would ant you now?, he asks when castrating) all under the name of loyalty, duty and integrity.
the relationship between hong lim and king was the basis of the film and the queen was secondary to it, she barely had any say in the matters at all. it was a men’s business after all and she only had to produce an heir. in that yes, her relationship with hong lim was secondary to the kings.
but love is a totally different matter: it has to be of free will, free choice and it cant be forced or controlled, as the king tragically tried to.
i incline to think that hong lim was drawn to the queen before the sex scenes.the glance he gives at her sachet at the picnic shows guarding in hong lims eyes, as if to a danger. at first i thought he was jealous of the queen as the king spoke to her, but looking back now, he was only feeling the perfume and the attraction of the jewl and tried the close off against it(remember the opening scene of the film with the two lovers trying to escape, and the joke over losing one’s head for a girl, that was omniscent). the second look he takes at the queen is a freer one, no guarding, as the king asks him whether he wants her to sing, so he feels he is allowed to look at her . from that moment on, he and the queen take the road to forbidden love and uncontrolled desire.
the crude sex contains barely any talk and tenderness; the love was a secret that took place between hong lim and the queen, it had to be kept that way and hong lim knew that chances of real fulfilment were null.
to me, the sex between them was not even lust, it was anger and revenge and desperation for having no control over their lives and hearts, and perhaps some sort of revenge against the king who so long had their lives at his own will.
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I agree – I would have liked to see more love and hope in the main characters.
I didn’t like the ending, I found it quite sad, like the whole film actually.
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”job done”. that its what hong lim thought when whilst dying, he turned his head at the deceased king
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A great post. Thoroughly enjoy reading your thoughts. I think the last scene is the point of the story. When Hong Lim struggles and succeeds in turning over to face the King as he realises the test the King gave him (the Queens locket on the decapitated maid’s head) was a final realisation that he was loved by the King and in turn his love and loyalty was always to the King. My understanding of Korean history supports this. The loyalty to King is always uppermost. For the Queen and Hong Lim to be forced into helping the King have an heir is a gain a loyalty command. The fact that they, as people, fell in to a loving connection is second in their minds. When viewed in this manner this becomes a majestic story and that’s the kind of story I love.
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Many thanks! I think you’re right, too, about that kind of love.
Ultimately loyalty is to the throne- that one which the king could not rightly fulfill, hence he faced dethroning.
hong lim s face turned at the king whilst dying indicates contemplation of their life they shared together: death with no love.all he ever asks for the king throughout the film is death – quite disturbing actually.
it was a filial twisted type of love and affection hong lim had for the king.not a lovers love.
the king is his groomer – his maker, his father and hong lim is conflicted, feels guilty towards him, as toward to a god.
hong lim was as kind, soft, loyal, and sensitive soul as the queen. he was not fully developed and clearly not prepared to have faced the king in a crisis, on any level. (how childishly he lies, how often he gets caught, how he can’t really plan anything aside from king’s machinations).
the first encounter of the three – king, queen, hong lim, when the queen enters the room and king snubs her that she should have not brought in the tea herself – watch hong lim’s face, see how it cripples ever for one second in pain as he leaves. he is uncomfortable with the position he is in – perhaps he would have not have it at all had he been given a choice(he clearly is not given a choice as we see it in the beating he gets from the king following his night spent with the queen).
what brings you here, sire? he asks the king as the king has waited in vain with his horse present, that is : what are you doing in my room. uuups i forgot, it is not my bedroom, it is yours….and so am i….i forgot, uuups and the king asks for hong lims heart …..well he never had it. he was a prisonier, and he had a prisonier’s heart, a castrated one in the end. that’s what hong lim was in that relationship with the king: castrated.
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Golly. It is so good to see how others read these acts. The meanings we give are so entwined in our own lives/loves/beliefs… I am so clearly thinking all three (King/Queen/Lover) have their hearts in a place that is conflicted… as you say ria, loyalty to the throne drives them all… (including the King that he retains his territory), the Queen and the Lover…. loyalty rules. I still lean toward them all loving each other.
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