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Shadows in The Palace

1 rating: 4.0
Korean Mystery horror film
1 review about Shadows in The Palace

A Tense, Gripping South Korean Mystery Horror Thriller

  • Dec 21, 2008

SHADOWS IN THE PALACE (2007) is a South Korean period film which is also a mystery-horror-thriller that takes place during the Chosun era. 85% mystery thriller and 15% supernatural horror thriller, the film is a fictionalized account of an incident that happened in the Royal court of King Jung-Jo. The film focuses on the court maids who work in the palace rather than the king and the queen, unlike the other Korean film "The King and the Clown", which is also directed by Mee Jeung Kim. At first glance, "Shadows in the Palace" may have similarities to "Hwang Jin Yi", but don't let its appearance fool you, the almost all-women cast is very different from all the court maids in that film/series. These Korean women are manipulative, conniving women who would do anything to hold onto whatever power and social status they may have in the court.

A court maid is found dead that very much looks like a suicide in the palace grounds. Chun-Ryung (Jin-Hee Park) is the palace medic/nurse who performs the autopsy which leads her to suspect foul play and even murder. With a sense of justice and hunger for the truth, Chun-Ryung delicately attempts to unmask the deception. But soon she confronts the sinister past; full of secrets that has been kept hidden by those who have more power than anyone can expect.

"Shadows in the Palace" has been billed as a horror film, so naturally, I was first led to believe that the film is another bid to display a vengeful white-faced ghost. To my surprise, the film focuses more on the mystery surrounding the murder of Wol Ryung (Yung Hee-Seo) and the political intrigue behind it. This is a very impressive move by the director to go in this approach since I rather thought that the film does succeed in becoming a taut, gripping thriller than to be one of the usual fare of Asian horror. While there are hints of supernatural elements in the proceedings, and they are quite creepy at times, the massively growing secrets that Chun-Ryung is entangled in proved much more interesting. The investigation sequences are quite gripping enough as one secret after another are slowly revealed, that it does actually add credibility to the build-up of its supernatural elements.


The film's main premise is the internal workings of the king's palace and the women who work there; chambermaids, courtesans, concubines are all revealed as conniving women who would resort to anything to maintain or ascend to their position of power. The hidden secret is actually the film's main strength as the film also becomes a cerebral thriller that is quite involving and I had to rewind a couple of times to keep up with the dialogue at times. Also, the interesting characters also complement the atmospheric and sometimes seductive proceedings of the film. Seems like almost all the characters have a secret that more or less can be a reason for seeking redemption. The most sympathetic characters of all is Wol Ryung (Yung Hee-Seo), and Ok-Jin, the mute court maid (Jung-eun Yin), because in a way they are both victims of authority figures in their own twisted way. Beautiful Sae Ah-Yun (Blood rain) plays Mistress Hee-Bin, a King's concubine who has given birth to the heir to the throne; Hee-Bin is full of layers and layers of secrets that serves as the film‘s main twist. The film's heroine Chun-Ryung carries more of the film's burden and thankfully actress Jin-Hee Park is up to the challenge. Which brings us to the performances of its cast; all have given superb performances, that makes the film's screenplay very strong.


One other thing about the film is its excellent cinematography that has a darker tone than "the King and the Clown". The film also has scenes of torture that is both self-inflicted and administered as punishment. There is quite a bit of blood and gore but not the type that would repulse viewers. Those scenes actually assist in promoting the film's dark premise. While there is a vengeful spirit suggested in the film, the way it was executed was very clever that it relied on the slow build-up, and not to cheap clichés. It was a very nice touch, to put the mystery and the dramatic elements as the central focus of the film.

Overall, I found "Shadows in the Palace" a very rewarding experience. The film does deliver a taut and gripping thriller with the character's development relying the "slow reveal" as the heroine stumbles around to unlock the secrets. As such, viewers will have to pay extra attention to the flashbacks so they won't be lost in the sequences. The film does deliver a very effective climax that closes with an exclamation point. Full of intrigue, underlying mystery and individual surprises, combined with excellent set designs, elaborate costumes and atmosphere, the film proved very worthy of my time.

Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]

poster-SF Asian film festival Yoon Se-Ah poster Park Jin-Hee

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December 28, 2010
How did I miss this?
October 20, 2009
This sounds really good, you sure know how to pick em my dark Asian knight!
January 05, 2009
Hi, Karen! Yes, this will be released soon in netflix! Just add to your queve, and when it drops you will get it. I too have seen too many bits of Asian horror--but this is very different and more a mystery than anything...
January 05, 2009
You've been a busy boy, Woop. Is this another one of those Netflix films that I might be able to put on my list? I hope so because from what you have to say about it this sounds like an extremely intersting film. To be frank, a lot of the current Asian horror doesn't always do it for me because it does tend to be a bit repetitious. In addition I enjoy period films a great deal, they're so much more colorful that anything set in the moder day--even if the settings are dark and moody. Great review.
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