After the huge box-office success of “The King and The Clown”, we all knew it was only a matter of time before South Korean filmmakers would follow up on its winning formula. “A FROZEN FLOWER” (aka. Ssanghwajeom, 2008) is a purely fictional tale set in the Goryeo period (918-1392, A.D.) when Korea was greatly controlled by the YUAN Dynasty in China. Directed and written by Yoo Ha, the film blends period set pieces, political conspiracies, swordplay action, infidelity, homosexuality and strong sexual themes.
Goryeo Period. Korea is greatly influenced and politically manipulated by the Yuan Dynasty in China. The young Goryean King (Ju Jin Mo) has called upon young boys to be trained as “Kunryongwe” as his Royal guards and escorts. Among those selected was Hong Lim (In Seong Jo) who has become extremely close to the King and becomes the supreme commander of the elite. The King has kept Hong Lim as his personal confidant ever since they were kids, the two have also developed a sexual relationship much to the Queen’s (Song Ji-Hyo) dismay. Meanwhile the bilateral relationship between Goryeo and Yuan hit a rocky road as Yuan officials threaten to put another of Royal blood to become the crown prince of Goryeo since the King has no heir. The King is unable to perform sexually with the Queen for obvious reasons. Desperate, the King gives Hong Lim a covert order to protect Goryeo‘s independence; Hong is asked to sleep with the Queen until she gives birth to an heir. The two reluctantly agrees, but a simple necessity begins to blossom to love and lust. Hong and the Queen threaten the very stability of the land…
“A Frozen Flower” will get the most attention from its homosexual angle but truthfully, the film has very little scenes of homosexual eroticism. I saw the uncut edition of the film which had one mild scene of homo-eroticism but other than that, the film settles into the heterosexual relationship between the bodyguard and the Queen while bringing forth the political intrigue that comes from the King’s mad jealousy. The film also has a good number of action sequences that utilizes the usual Asian swordplay choreography and some of them were very nicely executed. The corruption and betrayal of Korean authority figures are also brought into play and the film does have an enthralling script that becomes more intense the deeper it goes into its main premise.
While it does sidestep the development of the relationship between the King and his bodyguard, (no doubt to be more “Korea-friendly”) the intrigue developed by the situation is more than enough to keep the film moving. The political machinations to maintain power and the inherent betrayal by the ministers also play a part in the crux of the film. The film may have a controversial tone about it, but it will be remembered because of the numerous love scenes between Song Ji-Hyo and In-Seong Jo (A Dirty Carnival). I liked the way the direction played on emotions, showing some remorse in the part of the Queen in the beginning that as the they slowly became used to each other. The sex and nudity are gratuitous, the shots are kept compact with emphasis on facial expressions; to bring such emotions such as confusion, guilt, enjoyment, lust and finally love. You see the two become more comfortable with what they are doing, the actors looked good together and the love scenes are very graphic, but it is mild compared to Japanese films of a similar nature. Love is said to conquer all, and would forsake everything--this is where the film becomes darker as the two lovers become victims of the jealous King’s ire.
The film’s screenplay goes into overdrive as the King gives in to his fury and anger. Oh, this is no mere King, he is a highly-trained swordsman with skills that rival those in his elite personal guard. The first sparring between the King and Hong felt like a former lovers’ squabble, that carried a lot of emotion. You can see the King’s jealousy and Hong’s confusion. Actor Ju Jin Mo is pretty gutsy to pull off this role, his expressions mirror those of a woman scorned; he becomes more and more unreasonable and quite mad. In-Seong Jo may feel a little too stoic for my tastes but I suppose one would act this way in the face of guilt and confusion. Hong is a man who had never known the touch of a woman, he had the King to keep him company for most of his life; Hong finds himself immensely enjoying the passionate sexual bonding with a woman. It is a feeling he tries to fight, but it also takes over his being. Song Ji-Hyo embodies that reserved eroticism; she looks very seductive in a restrained way. Not that she isn’t as sexy as Yoon-Jin Kim (Lost) or Jung Suh (The Isle) but she exudes that different kind of sexual appeal, that type that is simple but nonetheless alluring. She looked real good in the sex scenes.
The set designs are very colorful and the cinematography very tight. The one thing I noticed is that the dungeons didn’t look very authentic and felt very comparable to shows on television. The horseback sequences are also a little lacking. The action swordplay is good and not as good as those in “Shadowless Sword” and “the Restless”; but it does have blood and some gore. I guess this would be ok, since the film is more meant as a period drama with strong erotic elements than as a Wuxia film. The film also has some severed heads and sliced body parts, it also has a minor torture sequence that adds some visceral punch.
“A Frozen Flower” may not offer anything significant and fresh, but it is entertaining enough to satisfy fans of Korean cinema. The homosexual angle may provoke some controversy, but I thought it was handled well. I would've wished the film to be a lot darker and uncompromising when it came to the King's madness; the romantic angle didn't hamper the screenplay (it did work on some levels) but it could've been better. The graphic sex scenes between Song Ji-hyo and In-Seong Jo will no doubt attract male viewers. The plot and the screenplay may not be perfect, it does have some holes and I felt that it held back in provoking viewer reactions. “Frozen Flower” was a little too safe although its ambition was there. While the film will not become an uncompromising classic, it is still worth a look.