Here’s the next review on my line-up for the 2011 Korean Film Festival. Before I begin, let me be the first to admit that I love Song Hye-Kyo. I would marry her anytime if she would have me. But don’t think I was biased or anything about reviewing “Hwang Jin-Yi”, which is the only historical movie featured in the festival.
“Hwang Jin-Yi” is a 2007 movie based on the life of the most renowned gisaeng from 16th century Korea. Hwang Jin-Yi (played by Song Hye-Kyo) is a captivating, intelligent woman born into an aristocrat family. Like most privileged women during her time, she learned to read and write – nourishing her mind as her beauty blossomed. All this time, she grew up with her childhood friend, Nom Yi (played by Yoo Ji-Tae), a servant of their family who later becomes banished for bringing Hwang Jin-Yi to the outside world.
Years pass, and their paths cross again. With her family falling on hard times, Hwang Jin-Yi has chosen to become a gisaeng or courtesan. But unlike other ordinary women in her profession, she is more than just a pretty face. She relies on her with and cunning to put herself in a position of power. Nom-Yi is now a gangster eventually becomes her procurer or protector. But as Hwang Jin-Yi’s life as a courtesan unfolds, Nom-Yi realizes that he cannot bear to watch the woman that she loves in a profession unworthy of her.
With this, they part. But the call of love bids Nom-Yi to see Hwang Jin-Yi again after several years. As the most sought after courtesan in the country, she counts among her suitors, the new magistrate. Nom-Yi tries to rekindle his relationship with Hwang Jin-Yi. But with a powerful adversary, their love can only end in tragedy.
All in all, “Hwang Jin-Yi” is a historical epic that seems enjoyable on the surface. It has all the ingredients for what could be a grand masterpiece. However, that’s just it. It feels a bit smaller than the big movie it could have been. The sweeping landscapes, intricate costumes, thunderous music, thrilling scenes, political maneuverings could have made such a magnificent feast for the silver screen. However, Song Hye-Kyo fails to deliver the right amount of emotions for her character. I’m the first to admit that Song Hye-Kyo, beautiful as she is, needs a lot of improvement with her acting. And with a role as big as the most famous courtesan in Korean history, she definitely seems engulfed by Hwang Jin-Yi.
Because of this, the story loses a lot of its impetus. For more than anything else, “Hwang Jin-Yi” is a character movie. You either care for her or you don’t. And no amount of artsy cinematography can keep you interested. Still, I would watch this solely because of how it captures Korean traditional culture. It’s sweeping historical setting can be truly captivating to someone interested in Korean culture.
Catch Hwang Jin-Yi in the 2011 Korean Film Festival at SM Mall of Asia Cinema 6 on Sep. 21, 9:30pm and Sept. 24, 12:45 pm. You can also watch it at SM North EDSA Cinema 3 on Sept. 20, 1:40pm and Sept. 25, 1:40pm. For those in Cebu, the movie will also be screened at SM Cebu Cinema 1 on Sept. 29, 5:30pm and Oct. 2, 7:30pm.
Thanks to doggymon for the video.