The Concubine

THE CONCUBINE 후궁: 제왕의 첩 (Korea, 2012)
North American Premiere
122 minutes, DCP, in Korean with English subtitles
Directed by: Kim Dae-Seung
Starring: Jo Yeo-Jeong, Kim Dong-Wook, Kim Min-Joon

Here at NYAFF, we know what you like: Soap operas. Specifically, fancy period soap operas like Downton Abbey – tales of rarefied worlds, of servants and aristocrats meeting between the ballroom and the backstairs. But in the royal court of the Joseon Dynasty, there are plans within plans, betrayals within counter-betrayals, and everyone’s got an angle and a target. The winners take all, the losers get their genitals sewn shut and there’s an inordinate amount of severed dicks and heads. It’s like a castration-heavy version of Game of Thrones. Welcome to the world of THE CONCUBINE, this year’s most lush and lethal epic.

All Hwa-Yeon (the beautiful and unstoppable Jo Yeo-Jeong) ever wanted was a happy ending. But when she’s ripped from her lover’s arms and forced to become concubine to a king targeted for extermination by the scheming Queen Mother (Park Ji-Young, The Housemaid), she soon finds herself widowed with a young son, trapped in a suffocating nest of royal vipers. Once the Queen Mother’s mama’s boy becomes king and Mama inherits the power behind the throne – literally behind the throne, where she hisses the king’s orders at him – Hwa-Yeon knows she has only one trump card left to play: her new king’s schoolboy crush on her from years past. Determined to survive, she must use the only weapons at her disposal. Desire is the lure. Love is the killing blow.

Helmed by Kim Dae-seung, known in Korea for his probing emotional dramas, THE CONCUBINE could easily have been little more than an overripe frosted costume piece. But it’s way more than that, because this movie is balls-out insane. In Kim’s capable hands, the Joseon Dynasty is a hermetically-sealed world of sex and death where the servants must talk you through fucking your wife, crowing to her to “Accept the royal penis!” as the whole court slithers and skitters behind the sliding panels to watch the boy king assume the anal position. In this world, only the pervy eunuchs know the truth. There is no right or wrong, good or evil, passion or principle: there is only power.

Monday July 1, 9:15PM Walter Reade Theater Buy Tickets