The King’s Letters Movie Review
Movie: The King’s Letters (English title)
Release Date: July 24, 2019
Run Time: 110 min.
Distributor: Megabox Plus M
Country: South Korea
The King’s Letters is the story of the creation of Hangul letters during the reign of Sejong The Great of Joseon. The biggest plus point of the movie is its cast. Successful veterans of the business Song Kang-Ho (Parasite), Park Hae-Il (Moss, The Host) and recently deceased Jeon Mi-Sun. All three of them worked together previously in highly entertaining Memories of Murder way back in 2003. Song Kang-Ho plays the role of Sejong The Great, Park Hae-Il plays the Monk Shin-Mi while Jeon Mi-Sun plays the Queen So-Hun.
The movie provides us its theory of how the Hangul letters were created. It could rub Korean public the wrong way as it shows the letters were mostly the work of the Monks rather than Sejong itself. Also, if you have seen the drama Deep Rooted Tree this may look far less entertaining to you. The fight between the great King and the nobles who are against him is far more low key than what we saw in the drama. It is because they put more effort and time into showing how the letters were created. Which could have been a better idea only if it was presented in a better way.
Story (Contains Spoilers):
The movie starts with the King upset with himself over not able to create a simple form of letters that could be easily learned by his common people. At that time, a group of monks from Japan come to him to bring wooden carved Tripitaka back to their homeland. Their point is that as Joseon (at that time) mostly follows Confucius rather than Buddhism it will more benefit Japan. After hearing about this Monk Shin-Mi (Park Hae-Il) and two other monks arrive in the palace and defeat the Japanese Monks in a debate. The debate takes place in Sanskrit language and this language is very important for this movie (at least for the first half).
Sanskrit is an Indian language which used to be the primary language of ancient Indian. The ancient scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were written in Sanskrit. The king wants the monks to create new letters on the basis of Sanskrit and its sister languages. Monks speak lot of Sanskrit and I really praise them for their effort. But at the same time their pronunciations were very distracting (especially Hae-Il). Which may not be the case for you if you don’t know Sanskrit. Then you can’t relate to me and it will be a good thing for you guys.
Then the rest of the first half of the movie is about the monks creating the letters along with two princes assigned to them by King. We then see how the letters come into existence by lot of effort and research. Here we see the lack of involvement of Sejong in the process of creation. Hangul letters becomes the creation of Monk Shin-Mi rather than Sejong The Great. Creation of the letters was not the difficult part but distribution and teaching of the letters to the commoners becomes the next challenge.
Here the king comes under the pressure of nobles who followers of Confucius and cared more about the Ming Emperor. This creates tension between the King and Shin-Mi which is the plot of the rest of movie. The death of the Queen plays an important role in the reconciliation. Her funeral scene is the best work of cinematography during the whole movie. The side characters (especially Hak-Jo) were more entertaining and important to the movie than Sejong himself.
Film shows that Sejong The Great may have not been that great as we have come to believe. Also, the lack of presentation and the chemistry between the cast let it down. This is an allright watch but still a disappointment considering the cast and story line chosen by the director.
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