Rags to riches. Good guy caught up in corruption, revenge stories. They are all common threads that we see in the cinematic world as they are good tools to tell a tale. But for a story to dip into all these elements and weave them seamlessly into their narrative can be a difficult task, especially if the language it is is being told in isn’t the viewers’ first.
However, in Korean film The King (Deoking) director Jae-rim Han takes all the best elements of these simple storytelling methods to create a compelling film. The story is told from the perspective of Park Tae-soo (Jo In-seong) who after seeing his father cowering at the feet of a prosecutor, decided that is what he wants to do, so he works incredibly hard and goes from being a deadbeat who gets into fights to being top of his class and passing the bar exams. However, the world of a prosecutor isn’t quite as glamorous as Tae-soo pictures it, until one day things change, and as he puts it, he becomes one of the 1%.
Tea-soo grabs the attention of Yang Dong-chul (Bae Seong-woo), who recruits him to the major case squad, where Han Kang-sik (Jung Woo-sung) stockpiles evidence of high-profile crimes that he can prosecute strategically later in a manner that consolidates his power, whether it be to protect gangster ally Kim Eung-soo (Kim Eui-song) or influence the result of Presidential elections.
While things are all rosy, Tea-soo is happy to go along as an integral member of the trio, but when things start to get hot under the collar, there is a change in his mentor Kang-sik’s approach to the young upstart.
Things start to go sour when an anti-corruption prosecutor, Ahn Hee-yoon (Kim So-jin), investigates him and uses him as a pawn to try to capture a bigger chess piece, Han, but also the death of his childhood friend and guardian angel Choi Du-il (Ryu Jun-yeol) at the hands of Hang-sik. This then creates the revenge element of the story, allowing the king to take his thrown.
Director Han Jae-rim finds just the right balance between drama and action/violence. There are a few bloody scenes that look quite grisly, but it’s not over the top nor distracting from the film’s dramatic momentum. With a running time of two-and-a-quarter hours, The King does feel a little long-winded at times, and there are some floating elements of the film where the translation may get a little lost. But overall the flow of the film and the way the story is told is spot on. With many comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Wolf On Wall Street, it is not a bad comparison to make, but for me The King has its own identity and was a thoroughly enjoyable journey to take.
Dir: Han Jae-rim
Scr: Han Jae-rim
Cast: Jo In-seong, Bae Seong-woo, Jung Woo-sung and Ryu Jun-yeol
Country: South Korea
Run time: 134 mins
The London Korean Film Festival 2017 presents the UK Premiere of Korean box-office smash hit thriller The King at Picturehouse Central, Monday 12 June.