Dol- Seok (Han Suk-Kyu) served the court of the Joseon Dynasty for 30 years. He started from humble beginnings but rose to nobility mainly for setting the clothing standards of the Royal Court and being fierce adherer of Court rules. His staff crafted traditional attire guided the base principals of social status and decorum permeating though every cuff and collar. Into this proper society drops Kong- Jin (Ko Soo) armed with radical ideas from the countryside. He sleeps with his customer's wives, is fond of using a half stitch and believes that clothes should be tailored to fit the person as opposed to the other way around.
Ko Soo's new ideas first come to the attention of mid level nobleman Pan -Soo (Ma Dong-Seok) who is the first wear the new style tailored outfit. Next he catches the eye of the queen (Park Shin-Hye) when he fixes a ceremonial robe for the king damaged by one of her attendants. Then the King himself (Yoo Yeon- Seok) requests that Kong- Jin create a new hunting outfit. The battle lines are drawn between the new and the old methods but the two Sanguiwon are respectful both seeing the other's talent. It's the king that settles the argument choosing a camp due to a political opportunity to cement his year old reign.
Director Lee Won Suk presents a story that at its core features base instinctual elements that have been explored many times before. In sports it's' the proven veteran player facing off against the young talented rookie. In music, the seasoned pop star trying to hold the stage vs. a new pop sensation. In the wild it's the mature male fighting off a challenge from a younger rival. The story is quite linear and could have used some trimming to its 127 minute run time especially during segments of the final act. However, the clothing is the real star of the production. Cinematographer Ji-yong Kim and the costume design team worked well in tandem to bring out the rich colours of the costumes. The garments feature intricate embroidering plus rich, reds, purples, blues and browns that leap off the screen. Director Suk does a superior job of capturing the movement of the fabrics as they cut through the air through gestures or movements of the wearer.
Suk-kyu Han is prominent in the title role. He is especially strong when conveying a clear recognition of Ko Soo's genius but is enrage by his attitude and actions that are contrary to every rule at Court. Park Shin Hye turns in a sound performance as the Queen. Her character is conflicted on several levels. She's left over from the prior regime being the widow of the Kings older brother. The King's eye wonders to concubines, women at court and daughters of advisors who could maneuver to replace her as Queen. She has her standing but is often on the fringe of court life and events. Dong Seok Ma is notable as nobleman Pan-Soo. He is the first to go to Ko Soo for his services eventually becoming his main supporter. Pan -Soo is the centre of an excellent interlude when he shows off his fresh form fitting garment with short cuffs.
The Royal Tailor provides a window into the Royal Court during the Joseon Dynasty. The film gives a look at the elements that were deemed important to show social standing and the behaviour that was required to succeed in society. The film suffers from some unneeded elements that build and play a major part in the third act. However if you have an interest in the period or ceremonial fashion and costume the film is worth a viewing.
** 1/2 out of 4
The Royal Tailor | Lee Won-Suk | South Korea | 2014 | 127 minutes.
Tags; Joseon Dynasty, Sanguiwon, Rivalry, Royal Court, Fashion, Royal Hunt, Treason.