Friday, April 28, 2017

The King’s Case Note: King Yejong Investigates

Even during the Joseon Dynasty, trouble came from the north. A conspiracy of court officials eager to protect their power and privilege will foment and exploit northern unrest, but the king is unusually learned and assertive. Of course, that is exactly why they started plotting against him in the first place. It will be king versus court in Moon Hyun-sung’s The King’s Case Note (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

This will be pie-faced Yoon Yi-seo’s first day as a court historian chronicling King Yejong’s wise rule. After passing the civil service exam with the highest score, Yoon assumed such a position would be an honor, until he meets the King. His Majesty likes to keep officials on their toes, Yoon most definitely included. However, Yoon comes to respect the loose cannon precisely because of the enemies he has earned.

Northern official Nam Gun-hee is definitely one of them. Following a keep-your-enemies-close strategy, the King has just appointed him defense minister. Unfortunately, Nam’s men will still cause all sorts of chaos through rumors, especially after they kidnap the King’s popular adolescent nephew and inevitable rival for the throne, Prince Jaseong. There are also reports of a mysterious “ghost fish” sea monster wreaking havoc in northern rivers. However, the coup-plotters misunderestimate the King’s deductive skills and early forensic investigational techniques.

Although billed as a comedy, it is really the intrigue that drives Case Note. Granted, the King constantly hits poor sad sack Yoon over the head with whatever might be handy, but it is far less shticky and slapstick than a lot of Korean comedy imports (that generally play awkwardly for American audiences). Instead, Case Note is a fast-paced, action-packed tale of Joseon skullduggery.

Slightly playing against type, Lee Sun-kyun (the roguishly corrupt cop in A Hard Day) is electrically charismatic as the stubbornly virtuous king. As his Watson and Boswell, Ahn Jae-hong provides the comic relief without going excessively over the top. Jung Hae-in shows off some impressive action chops as the King’s nick-of-time bodyguard, Black Cloud. However, Kim Hee-won might be too understated as devious Nam.

Shrewdly, Moon plays down the Scooby Doo elements in favor of courtly machinations and betrayals. The result is just a lot of fun. The film also comes at a time when it will resonate with a lot Americans, due to its portrayal of a maverick head of state sabotaged by featherbedding civil service bureaucrats. Highly recommended for fans of historical mysteries and thrillers, The King’s Case Note opens today (4/28) in the O.C. at the Buena Park CGV Cinemas.