NYAFF15: Empire of Lust

 

“Empire of Lust” is a Korean historical fiction action film directed by Ahn Sang-Hoon.  Based in the Joseon Dynasty, the viewer is introduced to three prominent men who hold the stability in the kingdom. One is the noble but vicious fighter, Kim Min-jae (Shin Ha-kyun) who has a dark past and seeks vengeance against the kingdom’s invaders. For his great skill at combat and strategy, he’s promoted as general of the East Army and royal protector of the emperor himself. Meanwhile, his friend, Yi Bang-won (Jang Hyuk) is a carefree prince who is against the Emperor’s idea of a national army and is well connected with all the nobles of the land. The third is the adoptive son Jin (Ha-neul Kang ) of  Kim Min-jae, who is chosen to marry the Emperor’s daughter. However he’s secretively a rapist who rapes young peasant girls and uses his status to cover up his crimes.

The story unfolds at the present situation with Korea in constatnt threat of attacking foreign invaders. To improve defenses the Emperor’s military head decides to create a national army to concentrate manpower and resources. However there is much political conflict in such decisions through the present that Kim Min-jae and Yi Bang-won, are watching a courtesan dance when one of their friends starts to harass her. Kim Min-jae protects her knowing that his friend is violating her space and with a turn of fateful encounters after the incident, the two fall in love. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience discovers that the courtesan Ka-hee (Kang Han-na), is actually working with Prince Yi Bang-won in his goal to become the next emperor while she gains her revenge on Jin, who has raped her in the past. As the story progresses, she begins to question her motives as Kim Min-jae grants her the respect and kindness she never has received because of her lower class status. As the pieces fall into place, the film serves as a larger commentary on the larger consequences of how rape can define a person and society’s construct to quiet the victim in preference to status and reputation despite the moral wrong.

The film’s artistic cinematography such as the landscapes and romantic scenes which reflect the characters desire for peace and tranquility in the midst of a system that values chivalry in battle. The film isn’t for the faint of heart and considering how there was various characters involved with their own back-story that could have been expanded on, the film did nicely in condescending it to focus on two back stories. The ending was a bit rushed and did rely heavily on flashbacks to convey more of the character’s back story. Other than that the actors and actresses did a fascinating job impersonating their characters, making the film a moving experience.

 

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