ContactSales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul (firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 2 Jun 2010.
Presented by CJ Entertainment (SK). Produced by Barunson Film Division (SK), Sio Film (SK). Executive producer: Katharine Kim. Producers: Mun Yang-gwon, Syd Lim.
Script: Kim Dae-woo. Photography: Kim Yeong-min. Editing: Kim Sang-beom. Music: Mok Yeong-jin. Production design: Park Il-hyeon. Costume design: Jeong Gyeong-hui. Sound: Choi Seong-u.
Cast: Kim Ju-hyeok (Bang-ja), Ryu Seung-beom (Lee Mong-ryeong), Jo Yeo-jeong (Seong Chun-hyang), Ryu Hyeon-gyeong (Hyang-dan), Oh Dal-su (old man Ma), Kim Seong-ryeong (Wol-mae, Chun-hyang's mother), Song Sae-byeok (Byeon), Gong Hyeong-jin (randy official), Oh Jeong-se (Ho-bang), Choi Mu-seong (Gwang Cheon), Jeong Yang (Wol-rae, Wol-mae's younger sister), Mun Won-ju (Mal-ho), Jeong Da-hye (servant girl), Park Jin-taek, Kim Min-gyo (eunuchs), Jo Han-cheol (government official), Kim Seon-yeong, Yun Ju-yeong, Yang Ju-ah, Kim Bo-ra, Ah Rong, Park Na-eun (girl singers), Shim San (trader).
The Servant 방자전
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 124 mins
Directed by Kim Dae-woo (김대우 | 金大又)
By Derek Elley
Thu, 01 July 2010, 19:06 PM (HKT)
Untold Scandal meets Chunhyang in an ironic tale of sexual shennanigans and not-so-discreet class warfare. Limited offshore potential beyond festivals.
Joseon dynasty. Well-known gangster Lee Bang-ja (Kim Ju-hyeok) hires a popular novelist to write up his life story. Years ago, he says, he was a servant to young aristocrat Lee Mong-ryeong (Ryu Seung-beom) who, on a trip to Namweon, Jeolla province, fell for Chun-hyang (Jo Yeo-jeong), the cultured daughter of gisaeng Weol-mae (Kim Seong-ryeong). However, Bang-ja also fell for Chun-hyang and, despite his low status, became determined to win her. Schooled by wily old Ma (Oh Dal-su) in the art of seduction, and using Chun-hyang's maid Hyang-dan (Ryu Hyeon-gyeong) - who fancied him - as a way of getting to her, Bang-ja finally bedded Chun-hyang. While Mong-ryeong was away in the capital studying for his government exams, Bang-ja and Chun-hyang carried on their relationship with her mother's consent. But Chun-hyang all along had her eyes on marrying Mong-ryeong to advance her social position, and her plan appeared to unravel when Mong-ryeong eventually returned as a government inspector.
The Servant 방자전 (2010) takes one of the best-known Korean classics, The Tale of Chun-hyang — already filmed by SHIN Sang-ok 신상옥 | 申相玉 in 1961 and IM Kwon-taek 임권택 | 林權澤 in 2000 — and plays a cheeky "what if?" game. What if Bang-ja, the hero's servant (and a minor character in the novel), also had designs on Chun-hyang? What if Chun-hyang was not so innocent as she was made out to be? And so on. In the hands of writer KIM Dae-woo 김대우 | 金大又, who's already gained a reputation for sexually transgressive costume movies (Forbidden Quest 음란서생 (2006) and Untold Scandal 스캔들 (2003), the latter a reworking of Dangerous Liaisons), the result is consistently entertaining, if a little hard to follow sometimes with its story ellipses.
Though the finer points of Kim's elaborate riff will be lost on viewers not familiar with the classic novel, the general theme of people trying to advance their social positions via sex is universal enough. That every character is highly aware of his/her position in the social order — but not giving a hoot when a good shag is at stake — is a low-key joke throughout the movie. "We're of the same rank, so nothing will happen to us!" gasps Chun-hyang's maid when in flagrante with Bang-ja, and it's the way in which the characters blithely cross invisible social lines that sets The Servant apart from the usual stodgy Korean costume dramas.
Like the even longer Forbidden Quest, which Kim also directed, there are times during the second half of the two-hour film when the drama dawdles and one is left appreciating just the colourful costume design and KIM Yeong-min 김영민's handsome widescreen photography. But like Quest, The Servant repays the audience's patience with a final sequence that magically transfigures the whole movie, as well as justifying the seemingly pointless framing device of the hero narrating his story to a writer.
As in Quest, and the E J-yong 이재용 | 李在容 directedUntold Scandal, the cast rise beautifully to Kim's dialogue — full of blunt sexual talk, by both women and men. The gamble of casting dumb-looking comic star RYU Seung-beom 류승범 | 柳昇範 as the noble, and handsome KIM Ju-hyeok 김주혁 | 金桂赫 as the unsophisticated servant, adds to the film's sly humour; and as the woman of both their dreams, JO Yeo-jeong 조여정 | 趙汝貞 gradually builds a portrait of Chun-hyang that's somewhere between innocent, worldly and scheming. They all get lively support from OH Dal-su 오달수, prematurely aged as the lecherous old love tutor, RYU Hyeon-gyeong 류현경 as Chun-hyang's horny maid, and KIM Seong-ryeong 김성령 | 金成鈴 as Chun-hyang's courtesan mother. Rising to the spirit of the project, both Jo and Ryu go fearlessly, and naturally, topless in the movie's several sex scenes.