Saturday, September 25, 2010

NYKFF ’10: A Frozen Flower

During the Goryeo Dynasty, a young king has been unable to conceive an heir, despite his perfectly willing queen and concubines. He prefers spending time with the chief of his elite guards, who were hand-picked as young boys to serve his whims. Yep, you guessed it. However, when the king orders his loyal bodyguard to fulfill his husbandly duties, it leads to quite the royal love triangle in Ha Yu’s A Frozen Flower (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2010 New York Korean Film Festival now underway at MoMA.

Forced to swear allegiance to the Chinese Yuan Dynasty, the king is already in a delicate position. Obviously, his arranged marriage to a Yuan princess is a loveless affair, though she enters into it in all good faith. Unfortunately, his lack of an heir further weakens his position at a time when conspiracies are brewing. Enter the reluctant Hong Lim, chief of the guard and royal boy toy. Though certainly awkward at first, the queen and the soldier warm to each other quickly. Soon enough, they are going beyond royal orders, recklessly meeting for midnight trysts at the palace library. As one would expect, complications soon arise.

Frozen is sort of like a Korean version of Starz’s Spartacus series, with a lot of straight sex, gay sex, and hack-and-slash swordplay, wrapped up in the classy veneer of a historical costume drama. Ha Yu also throws in the occasional bloody jolt that should satisfy the fanboy audience, notwithstanding its subject matter. In fact, despite its gay subject matter and sex scenes, Frozen might not constitute “gay-friendly” cinema. It is not exactly a sympathetic portrayal, after all.

There is plenty of action though, including a nice sequence pitting Hong and his men against hordes of Japanese-financed assassins. Joo Jin-mo makes a pretty convincing villain as the increasingly unstable king, nicely illustrating the corrupting nature of power. Conversely, as Hong, Jo In-seong is blandness personified. Likewise, his fellow guards are almost indistinguishable from each other. At least Song Ji-hyo’s queen supplies a few surprises. Instead of playing her merely as a victim, she shows a spark of self-assertion, to the extent possible given her circumstance. Clearly, she was also game for a fair amount of nudity.

Energetically paced, Ha Yu never lets the action (of one sort or another) flag throughout Frozen. Not exactly a high art film, it definitely follows in the tradition of bodice-ripping guilty pleasures. It screens again tomorrow (9/26) at MoMA and the following Sunday (10/3) at BAM.