The Face Reader (Movie Review)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: South Korea

DATE OF RELEASE: Sep 11th, 2013

MOVIE DURATION: 2 hours, 22 minutes

CAST: Song Kang-Ho, Jo Jung-Suk, Lee Jong-Suk, Lee Jung-Jae, Kim Hye-Soo, Baek Yoon-Sik.

SYNOPSIS: 

Set during the seizure of the throne by Sejo of Joseon in the year 1455, the movie follows the life of Nae-Kyung. Nae-Kyung, the son of a ruined noble family, goes all around Joseon and studies physiognomy. He is able to assess the personality, mental state and habits of a person by looking at face. He was living in seclusion when he was offered a lucrative partnership by Yeon-Hong, a gaesang.

Nae-Kyung accepts the proposal to read the faces of Yeon-Hong’s guests only to get involved in a murder case. With his face reading skills, Nae-Kyung successfully identifies the murderer and his skills are soon acknowledged by King Moonjong who orders him to identify the potential traitors who threaten his reign. However after the unexpected death of Moonjong, Nae-Kyung is courted by Grand Prince Sooyang who yearns to become King himself by killing the young successor Danjong.

Nae-Kyung decides to keep his loyalty to the late King and help Kim Jong-Seo protect the young King which forces him into the biggest power struggle in the history of the Joseon dynasty.

REVIEW:

I was absolutely drawn into the movie from the first scene which is ironically completely opposite in tone to the ending. If I went in expecting a tragedy, I might have enjoyed the movie much more than this.

I’ve seen Prince Suyang’s plotting and scheming in The Princess’ Man and the bloodshed that happened in order for him to ascend to the throne in place of his young nephew. The brutal slaughtering of all those who opposed him as well as the innocents who were offed by association was no less horrific to watch here and I had tears in my eyes as I watched the coup unfold.

This is one of the strong points of this movie: the way it can makes you feel numb one moment and then filled with emotion at the next. It got me in the heart and it really hurt for the characters.

Physiognomy (or face-reading) is an almost extinct practice today because many people don’t believe that so much could be told about a person from his features or the thought that our fates are (for the most part) fixed and unchangeable. I think it’s possible to read faces and determine some of people’s qualities if you’re skilled enough but I don’t believe it can help tell the future. That’s stretching it.

That explains why I was a little disappointed that there were a lot of exaggerations when it came to Nae-Kyung’s abilities (which depended more on estimations than anything else). I couldn’t fully understand some of the characters’ reasoning and motives as it hasn’t been clearly explained in the movie and that pulled me from the magic of the story sometimes.  I have to mention, though, the amazing cinematography and directing that took my breath away with every scene.

I can now understand the reason behind the hype surrounding this movie but it fell short from being THE movie for me.

(And, am I the only one who thought the whole scene where Prince Suyang first appears in full evil glory awesome?)

[Also posted on MDL]

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