The film is bookended by contempo scenes in a museum that exhibits the handiwork of Chul Dol-suk, a tailor who made a far-reaching impact on Korean fashion design. From there, it steps back in time to the Joseon dynasty, as the new king (Yoo Yeon-seok, “Hwayi”) summons Dol-suk (Han Suk-kyu, “The Berlin File,” “Swiri”), his father’s royal tailor, to make new clothes for every official attending his coronation. While Dol-suk throws himself into the task, relishing the prospect of being granted nobleman status for his labors, the queen’s maid accidentally burns the king’s old robe. When Dol-suk refuses to help for fear of breaking palace rules, Lee Kong-jin (Ko Soo, “The Front Line”), a young clothes-maker, is brought in as a last resort. Not only does he salvage the garment, he trims it into a better fit, earning a new assignment from the king: to furnish him with new hunting garb.
The light-hearted first half plays fast and loose with history, devising sights gags to send up Joseon fashion crimes like shoulder pads, push-up bras and platform shoes, which are amusingly anachronistic. But the scenes also serve to paint Kong-jin’s personality in vibrant strokes, such as his preference for the company of gisaeng (courtesans), who model his provocative designs with sexual confidence, to his habit of hobnobbing with high-ranking snobs.
Although Kong-jin is notorious for his womanizing ways, taking too much time “taking measurements” under virgins’ skirts, it’s love of the purest kind when he sets eyes on the queen (Park Shin-hye, in a total makeover from her modern look in “Cyrano Agency”), a breathtaking beauty rumored to be untouched by the king since their wedding night. When Kong-jin measures her waist with a skein of thread, the use of a lush closeup is more sensuous than any caress. To help her win the king’s affections, the tailor whips up a divine 15-layer gown so that she can gate-crash a state reception like Cinderella at the ball, and the episode sparkles with fairy-tale enchantment. Unfortunately, Kong-jin’s piece de resistance upstages menacing royal concubine So-yi (Lee Yoo-bi), whose gown was painstakingly designed by Dol-suk. In court, even the shortening of a sleeve or a new hairstyle can provoke deadly conspiracies.
While Dol-suk is the hands-on artisan who excels at embroidery, Kong-jin is the quintessential artist, experimenting with shapes and forms, and drawing inspiration from such mundance objects as a wine jar. His consciousness of style as an individualist statement is epitomized by his habit of burning his logo onto his costumes, the Joseon version of a fashion label. The rivalry between the two tailors is loaded with class implications; appalled by Kong-jin’s out-there designs, a nobleman proclaims, “A garment should reflect social status and rules,” echoing the law of the period that prescribes, legally, what each class can wear. While buttressing the hierarchical system, Dol-suk is ironically its victim, barred from donning any of the fancy clothes he makes.
As performances go, Ko gets by on good looks and rakish charm, letting Han do the heavy lifting. The Cary Grant of the Korean wave in the early 2000s, Han, who’s just hitting 51, has been making an uncertain transition as a character actor. Here he’s largely successful, revealing a dark, volatile nature and corrosive envy in subtle ways that invite pity, as well as respect for his dedication to his craft.
Ironically, Dol-suk’s complex about his lowly background parallels the king’s chip on his shoulder about being born of a palace maid and landing the throne by default. Lee Byoung-hak’s screenplay is particularly acerbic in rendering the king’s childhood hangups, which result in such unseemly behavior as bestowing his smelly socks on court officials as gifts, or comparing his queen to a piece of leftover barbecued short rib. Yoo convincingly limns his descent from mere pettiness to paranoia; his increasingly boorish gait suggests that, despite all his regalia, he lacks the qualities necessary in a ruler, reinforcing the film’s message that clothes do not make the man. By contrast, the graceful Park emanates beauty from within.
Tech credits are excellent. The generic production design actually helps to spotlight Cho Sang-kyung’s resplendent costumes, which carefully reflect an evolution in taste to a style more akin to the hanbok, or Korean national costume, worn on formal occasions nowadays. Mowg’s score playfully mashes up ’70s jive with Western chamber music, while the crisp sound design accentuates the swish of skirts and rustle of taffeta. The Korean title “Sang-eui-won,” refers to the royal department of clothing founded in 1392.
I just finished watching The Royal Tailor and surprisingly I enjoyed it. It's my first time watching it and I found that all the 4 main actors portrayed their roles very well. The ending was sad, nevertheless it was a beautiful and interesting movie.
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The Royal Tailor
Friday November 6, 2015 @ 9:15 pm| AGO Jackman Hall View Map
South Korea 2014 Rated 14A 127:00 Korean with English Subtitles Toronto Premiere Buy Tickets
After 30 years of serving the king, Dol-seok, the royal tailor, only has a few months left until his expected promotion. When a new tailor, Gong-jin, a designer of hanboks (traditional garbs for courtesans), arrives at the palace and finds favor from the queen, Dol-seok is terrifed.
Gong-jin’s avant-garde designs open the eyes of the royal family, and Dol-seok feels both envious and insecure. As the two tailors duel to create masterpieces for two rival queens vying for the king’s favour, the audience is treated to a visual feast of gleaming golden embroidery and flowing gowns that bloom like flowers.
Unburdened by conventional historical elements, The Royal Tailor is a thrilling story of struggles foreign yet familiar, with a refreshing focus in style. -JK
Even though I have seen it on iPad but I had promised myself that if it came to Toronto, I would not miss it.......Unfortunately, I will not be there for this month.
I can just imagine the impact of Shinhye in those beautiful hanboks! The scene of her grand entry in the golden dress , the trip outside with her maid and the tailor etc would have been awesome to watch on the Big screen.
But, the upside is that more people will get to see beyond Korea, some Asian countries, few European ones and now in North America.
It's a beautifully made movie in which Shinhye portrayed a sad, neglected Queen extremely well . People will get to know her in a different avatar and a serious actress. Thus, I am happy at the exposure she is getting with the MV being shown in Toronto.
It's interesting that this movie got more exposure and interest in other countries than in Korea. Sad that it didn't have VIP premier in Korea. Wonder if that would have made a difference in Korea. But overall I am glad it is still showing in other countries. I hope her next movie will do better with more promotions.
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