Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Princess and the Matchmaker

Astrology is totally bogus, so a faked or faulty astrology chart should be a contradiction in terms. Yet, a bad reading could consign a Joseon princess to a marriage of misery. Court official Seo Do-yoon is beyond such mistakes and corruption, but some nefarious schemes are afoot in Hong Chang-pyo’s The Princess and the Matchmaker (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Princess Songhwa has always had bad luck, but that is not her fault. In fact, we come to learn she had “help” being so unlucky. However, the king is still rather attached to her, even though he has never really done much to make her happy. With a severe drought plaguing Joseon, the court astrologer decrees the Princess should marry to bring balance to the kingdom. Basically, it will be an open casting call, American Idol-style, but court official Seo Do-yoon will chart the compatibility of the top eligible bachelors. Frankly, we do not need astrological “pillars” to know they are a pack of jackals.

The princess is not inclined to sit idly while her fate is determined, so she sneaks out of the palace hoping to visit the ten candidates incognito. Seo is onto her immediately, but he contrives ways to accompany her as she makes her visits unconvincingly disguised as a man, sort of in the tradition of Shakespearean comedies. Of course, she will become attracted to him instead. However, as the conspiracy to marry Songhwa off to the ambitious nobleman Yoon Shi-kyung tightens around them, the film evolves into more of a romantic tragedy.

P&M is billed as a historical romantic comedy, but the second half of the film is played largely straight—and most viewers will be deeply invested in it by that point. Shim Eun-kyung (the original Miss Granny) is absolutely luminous and altogether winning as Princess Songhwa. She also benefits from the achingly poignant scenes featuring her younger self. Yet, her relationship with the king, played with dignified reserve by Kim Sang-kyung is surprisingly nuanced and thoughtfully developed.

Frankly, Lee Seung-gi is a bit bland as Seo, but Yeon Woo-jin and Choi Woo-sik are quite sinister as the deceitful Yoon and the even more problematic suitor, Nam Chi-ho. It should also be conceded Jo Bok-rae will eventually grow on viewers as Gae-shi, the con man Seo busts, who evolves into his unlikely sidekick.

This is the kind of bittersweet love story that will make Korean movie lovers feel warm and happy inside. Despite a bit of shtick in the first act, its charm is indomitable, perhaps even irrepressible. Recommended with a great deal of affection, The Princess and the Matchmaker opens this Friday (3/9) at the CGV Cinemas in LA and Buena Park, as well as the Edgewater Multiplex in Jersey.

 (Photo: CJ Entertainment)