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  Publicity Stills of "Hwang Jin Yi"
Courtesy of Shaw

In Korean with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Chang Yoon-hyun
Starring: Song Hye-gyo, Yoo Ji-tae
RunTime: 2 hrs 21 mins
Released By: Shaw & Festive Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: www.festivefilms.com/hwangjinyi

Opening Day: 27 September 2007


Hwang Jin Yi, a famous 16th century Gisaeng, is the most legendary courtesan of the Joseon Dynasty. She was noted for her exceptional beauty, charming quick-wit and extraordinary intellect.

The movie sheds new light on the life of Hwang Jin Yi, who made her art blossom even when her love was put to test. It also depicts the tragic life of Hwang who faces hardship due to her social status…

Movie Review:

I thought I was going to enjoy this. After all, it’s got the elements of a historical epic movie which I’m known to be a sucker for: a female protagonist who overcomes all odds and courageously lives her life, a love who isn’t your typical Prince Charming but an outlaw who steals from the rich to give to the poor, a 16th century Korea backdrop which guarantees big sets and majestic pieces, and most importantly, Song Hye-Kyo (TV’s Autumn in the Heart, Full House) as a real-life legendary courtesan.

But by the end of the movie’s 141 minutes, I was left weary and drained.

Director Chang Yoon-Hyun helms this drama about Hwang Jin Yi, an aristocrat who became a courtesan to preserve her pride and honor, only to face hardships and challenges which she must overcome. Along the way, she picks up the find art of being a ‘gisaeng’ (that’s a Korean term for ‘geisha’ for you), and finds her true love in a wanted bandit played by Yoo Ji-Tae (Running Wild, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance).

The urge to compare Song and Zhang Ziyi’s Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) is inevitable. While we remembering guffawing at Zhang’s English in Rob Marshall’s movie two years ago, this movie had us checking our watch repeatedly every time Song tries her best to look intense with emotions. The pretty actress is nice to look at, but her portrayal of the long-suffering courtesan seems somewhat disengaging. The result is a dreary viewing experience that may disinterest the most ardent Korean movie fan.

Yoo’s angst and broody performance is underrated, but will probably not make the pacing of the movie any faster. The love between the leads neither sparkles nor touches, which is a pity because we do sense the efforts put in by the actors to bring out the best in their characters.

The sceneries and set designs may be breathtaking to look at, but there is only so much of villages, bandit camps, ship docks and ‘gisaeng’ courtrooms you will be interested in. The intricate costume, make up and hair designs are beautiful to look at too, but a viewer’s attention span can only last that long.

Ultimately, the movie fails to make us feel the ‘epic-ness’ of Hwang Jin Yi’s dramatic life story. What we get instead is a predictable episode-by-episode production which tells a conventionally humdrum tale of a woman who overcomes all odds and courageously lives her life. The sad thing is: we have seen that done in more interesting and engaging ways before.

Movie Rating:

(Despite the commendable production values, the movie is bogged down by sluggish storytelling)

Review by John Li


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