왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown) Production Meeting Report
Although largely ignored in the west, perhaps because it was too local, Lee Joon-Ik's 황산벌 (Once Upon a Time in The Battlefield) was one of 2003's most unique comedies. or should I say 'Fusion Historical Dramedy.' It didn't only showcase the kind of 'local comedy meets Historical Drama' style that would permeate a lot of films in the following years, such as 천군 (Heaven's Soldiers), but it had the balls to 're-write' important historical happenings, like the battle of Hwangsan, from a new point of view. No, the film wasn't focused on solemn figures who commit great acts of heroism, like your average nationalist potboiler would do - think 안중근 (Ahn Joong-Geun) - but it painted General Gyebaek, Kim Choon-Chu and Kim Yoo-Shin (legendary figures in Korean History) as simple men, with their flaws and peculiarities. Without making them look like Gods, and neither disrespecting their legacy.
But even better, it used that setup to make a hilarious comedy about one of the core sentiments in Korean society: regionalism. Its use of 사투리 (Saturi, regional dialect) to underline the cultural differences between Shilla, Baekje and Goguryeo and their distrust for each other was no only hilarious, but ended up making a powerful statement at the end. That history is always written by the winners, and maybe disputed later by those who lost. But those in between, the people, never really have a chance to say how things went from their point of view.
Without making too much noise, Lee has been preparing his third film [키드 캅 (Kid Cop) in 1993 was his debut]. And it seems to be made of the same elements which made 'Battlefield' such a joy to watch. 왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown) centers on another very controversial period of Korean History, when King Yeonsan was ruling Joseon. King Yeonsan is infamous for leading the purges of 양반 (yangban, literati) in 1498 and 1504, but also for being one of the few Korean kings without a posthumous title. But although he's reviled by most historians, not all the changes he tried to make to the basic governmental fabric of Joseon were negative. What killed his chances of becoming a popular King were his tyrannical and petty rule, and his personality, arrogant and intolerant.
'The King and The Clown' is adapted from a very popular theater play - 이 (爾, You) by Kim Tae-Woong - which started its run in 2000, and received great praise from critics and audience alike. Later, TV Station EBS broadcast the play, and Director Lee announced he'd be making a film about the matter. That 'You' refers to how a Royal Clown (Gong-Gil) was addressed by the King. Yeonsan even mentions his relationship with Gong-Gil in one of his publications, writing about a phrase Gong-Gil made famous: "임금은 임금다워야 하고, 신하는 신하다워야 하고, 아비는 아비다워야 하고, 자식은 자식다워야 한다. 임금이 임금답지 않고, 신하가 신하답지 않으니 비록 곡식이 있은들 먹을 수가 있으랴" (The King should act like a King, Subjects should act like Subjects, Fathers should act like Fathers, and Children should act like Children. If that doesn't happen, can you really eat corn even if it's available?"
The 'Clown' of the title, played by Gam Woo-Sung, could be compared to Song Kang-Ho's role in 효자동 이발사 (The President's Barber). Both simple men serving a despotic ruler, both men who both love and hate the man they serve for different reasons. Both men who aspire to gain a certain kind of freedom. 'The King and The Clown' had its Production Meeting last November 3 in a small village near Seoul (near the location where the film is shooting). Presenting the film director Lee Joon-Ik and stars Gam Woo-Sung, Jung Jin-Young, Kang Sung-Yeon and Lee Joon-Gi. Here's a few snippets from their interview with the press:
The role of Prince Yeonsan [in Korean, because Yeonsan is amongst the most detested Kings in history, they just call him that, 연산군 - Prince Yeonsan] seems to be the highlight of Jung Jin-Young's career. While acting the part, what did you try to focus on the most?
Jung Jin-Young: We've finished shooting quite a while ago, so I forgot many things. In the past I did a lot of approximative acting, but I tried to avoid that this time. The range of emotions is so wide, if I did that it wouldn't work. While on the set, I tried to act through my feelings. I think this films shows well the pain and life of the King's Clowns, and to better convey those feelings, I had to express the large scope of Yeonsan's feelings. As he didn't have the nicest of personalities, while acting I was irritated. I mean, even High School kids get to play King Sejong, why did they have to pick Yeonsan for me? (laughs)
You've adapted the play 'You' for this film. You're making a film out of a play whose fans think it's legendary, and that it has no equal.
Director Lee Joon-Ik: I didn't see the play myself. I read the script [which is available online if you read Korean, check Naver] and the Video, and I was really impressed by it. Originally the story was about King Yeonsan and Gong-Gil, focusing on how the closest people get to power the more they're influenced by it. But we decided to focus on the weight of life. But something both film and play try to convey is the kind of feeling a lowly person experiences when right in front of immense power, and how he reacts. Joseon Royal Clowns didn't just live off mockery and satire like those in Shakespeare's works, they put their entire body on the line to entertain the King.
What's the meaning of the [Korean title meaning 'The King's Man']?
Lee: Making the film I learned a lot about Royal Clowns. If you look at western plays, there's been women playing male roles. And even in our country, there was a tradition of men playing female roles. Using 'The King's Man' as a title might evoke a certain homosexual nuance. If you say 'Homosexual', many people think of it as something coming from the west, but it's just another cultural inferiority complex, since it's something which has a certain relevance in our history too. 'The King's Man' is just someone the King coveted, and that could only have been a man. But it has a different meaning compared to the modern concept of homosexuality.
I'd like to know your impression of the Clown, the role you play in the film
Gam Woo-Sung: While acting the part, I thought the Clown as myself. Someone who didn't just spend time trying to gain money and fame, but someone who acted as a symbol of all the people who strive to do what they really want to do in life.
Did you have any interest in making this a film which could appeal to the International market, or were even preparing for it?
Lee: I didn't really have room for worrying about things like that. Just doing enough to tell a good story was enough work for me. If there's any difference between 사극 (Historical Drama) and films dealing with Contemporary society, that's something Art Directors have to worry about. Since everything you see on the screen was handmade, I hope the work of the staff will pay off and show in the final result. As for the problem with foreign markets, that's not something I can control. If that someone who penetrates the market becomes myself, I can only be happy, but I can't really do anything about it. There are a lot of elements influenced by Shakespeare's work in the film since, after all, the father of Cinema is literature, and the father of literature is Shakespeare. That's something I wanted to experiment with, and am actually curious about how people will approach it.
왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown)
Director: 이준익 (Lee Joon-Ik)
Cast: 감우성 (Gam Woo-Sung), 정진영 (Jung Jin-Young), 이준기 (Lee Joon-Gi), 유해진 (Yoo Hae-Jin), 강성연 (Kang Sung-Yeon)
Teaser Trailer (Streaming, 700k, Windows Media)
Making Of(Streaming, 300k, Windows Media)
Making Of (Streaming, 700k, Windows Media)