Saturday, April 28, 2018

“The Royal Tailor” 2014 Korean historical movie synopsis (no spoilers) and review

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(Jump to Review and reactions; Lessons in photography from “The Royal Tailor”)

“The Royal Tailor” is an award-winning, 2014 Korean historical movie. The cast is led by Park Shin-hye (“Stairway To Heaven,” “Pinocchio,” and “Doctors”), Go Soo (“The Flower in Prison”), Han Suk-kyu (“A Tree With Deep Roots”), and Yoo Yeon-seok (“Mr. Sunshine”).

How to use this synopsis

To create this synopsis with no spoilers, I divided the movie into eight parts, indicating the start and end of each part in minute marks. For each part, I narrated the main actions without going into the twists and turns.

Part 8 is the movie’s finale (the last 35 minutes and with spoilers), so you can just read Parts 1 to 5, for example, to know what the movie is all about and then go watch the movie. (Part 5 is the midway point of the movie where the rivalry between the protagonists really heats up.)

Part 1: Jo Dol-seok and Kong-jin (from start up to 12:02)

Some cultural artifacts have been recently repatriated to Korea; during a press conference that's attended by dozens of reporters and photographers, the museum official presents a ceremonial dress that was created by Jo Dol-seok, the man who revolutionized fashion during the Joseon Dynasty.

Interesting article: “A rare look at Joseon
king’s funeral
(The Korea Herald)
Flashback ...

The three-year mourning period for the previous king has ended; after putting on the newly-sewn dragon robe, the King orders Jo Dol-seok (the Head Tailor) to design new clothes for all the ministers. Reacting to the Prime Minister’s remark, he also asks Dol-seok to design a new dress for the Queen.

Dol-seok has served three kings; because of the present King’s favor, he will soon be promoted as a sixth-rank government official, and his status will be raised to “yangban” (nobleman).

At a gisaeng house, Bureau of Tailoring officials Pan-Soo and Je-Jo strain to enjoy their food and wine because of their luxurious but ill-fitting clothes. As they ogle the gisaengs with their revealing dresses, Pan-Soo discovers that the dresses were designed by the genius, avant-garde tailor Kong-jin.

Part 2: The King’s “myunbok” (from 12:02 up to 23:33)

Relevant discussions: “Joseon’s Court Attire:
Kdrama Style” (Part 1; Part 2) from
The Talking Cupboard
To show her appreciation for the King’s gift of a new dress, the Queen tells Dol-seok that she wants the King’s “myunbok” (ceremonial robe) to be repaired by her court ladies and maids. Later, however, one of her maids becomes sleepy and knocks over a candle that burns up a large part of the “myunbok.”

During a meeting with the officials of the Bureau of Tailoring, the Queen becomes frantic when Dol-seok says that he can’t repair the “myunbok” overnight. Pan-Soo, who has become one of Kong-jin’s avid customers, recommends to the Queen that Kong-jin be allowed to repair the “myunbok.” But Dol-seok protests, saying that it’s against the court’s regulations; he also belittles Kong-jin’s ability as a tailor.

Part 3: Kong-jin and the Queen, So-yi and the King (from 23:33 up to 40:20)

After the King expresses his delight over the “myunbok,” the Queen meets Dol-seok and Kong-jin to thank them. While having tea, the Queen and Kong-jin engage in a lively conversation about “The Art of War” that offends Dol-seok and the Queen’s attendant.

As he tries to learn how to write, Dol-seok remembers his childhood when, as a slave, he was taken into the Bureau of Tailoring.

Pan-Soo brings the Queen’s gift to Kong-jin and convinces him to design the King’s new hunting outfit. But Kong-jin’s ideas for the hunting outfit run counter to that of Dol-seok, who insists that the King’s clothes must be designed according to court rules and royal traditions.

After racing with the royal guards, the King meets So-yi, the daughter of the Minister of Defense. In the palace, while out on a walk, the Queen overhears the wives of the government ministers as they gossip about her.

At a gisaeng house, Kong-jin defends Wol-hyang (the head gisaeng) and a young gisaeng against an arrogant, fashion-conscious nobleman. Seeing Dol-seok who’s about to leave the gisaeng house, Kong-jin drags him into the argument with the nobleman.

Part 4: Violets and the Queen (from 40:20 up to 47:44)

Interesting articles: (1) “What do flowers mean
in Korean Dramas?”
(2) “Violet Flower Meaning:
The Multipurpose Ancient Flower”
Despite his reservations, Dol-seok begins designing the dress that So-yi will wear for her induction as a Royal Concubine. Meanwhile, Kong-jin tells the Queen that she herself should sew something special for the King; he also offers to design a special dress for her.

While learning how to sew from Kong-jin, the Queen mentions that she has never visited her mother’s grave. Kong-jin offers to sneak her and her attendant out of the palace to see her mother’s grave.

Part 5: Dol-seok’s jealousy, Kong-jin’s infatuation (from 47:44 up to 59:27)

Dol-seok becomes jealous and insecure when the King becomes more impressed with Kong-jin’s designs. On the other hand, Kong-jin begins daydreaming about the Queen.

Inspired by some women who are cleaning huge jars, Kong-jin designs another dress for the Queen that amazes the wives of the ministers but infuriates Dol-seok.

So-yi becomes angry during her induction ceremony as Royal Concubine. Later, as she storms into the assembly hall to see the King, the Queen is also on her way there to give what she has sewn for the King.

Kong-jin takes the Queen for a boat ride, and when she starts to cry, he offers to her an embroidered handkerchief.

As the rain begins to pour, Pan-Soo tells Kong-jin the reason for the ice-cold relationship between the Queen and the King. Later, Kong-jin consults Wol-hyang about her secret for longevity.

Part 6: Bonfire of the vanities (from 59:27 up to 1:10:04)

Court ladies and minor government officials begin flocking to Kong-jin, asking him to make clothes for them. Soon, Dol-seok finds out that women all over the capital are wearing Kong-jin’s dresses.

The Prime Minister and the other ministers petition the King, saying that Kong-jin’s dresses are corrupting the morals of Joseon women. But the King says that they’re just using it as an excuse to dethrone the Queen; later, he orders Dol-seok to deal with the problem.

Kong-jin leaves the palace in anger and disgust.

Part 7: The royal fashion showdown (from 1:10:04 up to 1:32:09)

The Prime Minister insists that the King should bow down to Qing’s authority over Joseon; he also suggests that, at the welcome banquet for the Qing ambassadors, Royal Concubine So-yi should be there, instead of the Queen.

When Kong-jin hears about the Prime Minister’s suggestion, he immediately goes to the palace and implores the Queen to attend the banquet by wearing the dress that he will design for her. He promises the Queen that everyone will bow down before her.

The Minister of Defense and Royal Concubine So-yi, meanwhile, order Dol-seok to make for her the most beautiful gown ever.

As Kong-jin struggles over the design of the Queen’s dress, Dol-seok cautions him against crossing the line with the Queen. When Wol-hyang warns him of the danger that’s facing him in designing the dress, he storms out of his studio.

Having run out of ideas for the design of Royal Concubine So-yi’s dress, Dol-seok steals the design drawings in Kong-jin’s studio.

Part 8: The King, the Queen, and Kong-jin (from 1:32:09 up to the end, or the last 35 minutes; with spoilers)

After the Queen’s triumph in the banquet, Kong-jin visits her in her quarters to say goodbye and to return the phoenix hair pin that she gave to him. But at that same time, the King is on his way there, having decided to consummate his relationship with the Queen.

After being demeaned and shouted at by Royal Concubine So-yi, Dol-seok becomes mentally-unhinged. The King, meanwhile, becomes extremely jealous and orders the arrest of Pan-Soo and the Bureau of Tailoring’s officials.

With Dol-seok’s connivance, the King accuses Kong-jin of trying to poison him; he also accuses the Queen of having an affair with Kong-jin.

When the King tries to force Kong-jin to implicate the Prime Minister, the Queen finally stands her ground and accuses the King of being a coward. As she walks away, the King notices that she’s wearing the phoenix hair pin that Kong-jin returned.

Dol-seok visits Kong-jin in prison and tells him that his arrogance led to this situation; Kong-jin replies, however, that it was Dol-seok’s fear and insecurity that are responsible for everything. Later, Kong-jin is beheaded, along with the Prime Minister and the Bureau of Tailoring’s officials.

Dol-seok visits Kong-jin’s abandoned studio; as he begins to burn Kong-jin’s design drawings and other things, he finds the nobleman’s clothes that Kong-jin promised that he would make for him.

After being promoted, Dol-seok waits at his house for the King to visit him. As he kneels before the open gate, people start passing by on the street outside, wearing clothes designed in Kong-jin’s style.

Present day ... The ceremonial dress that Kong-jin designed and which the Queen wore during the welcome banquet is displayed in the museum, with a plaque stating that it was designed by the man who revolutionized Joseon fashion — Dol-seok.

Review and reactions

1. The movie at the 38:34 mark shows the lead characters Kong-jin and Dol-seok in a fantasy sequence; they’re on the moon with Dol-seok wearing the nobleman’s clothes that Kong-jin has made for him. Two giant rabbits also appear in that sequence, raving over Dol-seok’s clothes.

This sequence seems so odd and so out of place compared with the rest of the movie. The screenwriter should simply have stayed with a straightforward narrative.

2. The 23:31 mark is the transition to the scene where Kong-jin and Dol-seok are having tea with the Queen. As you can see in the picture on the left, that shot really has nothing going for it — a close-up of the feet of the palace guards with a building and some court maids in the distance. Why didn’t the movie’s director or editor use some other transition shot or just simply cut to the scene with the Queen, Kong-jin, and Dol-seok?

There’s also a continuity error at the 1:55:33 mark; the Queen’s attendant shows her one of the dresses that Kong-jin designed for her, and the Queen has it thrown away. If you look closely, that dress has silver dragons that are sewn on the shoulders. But two of the dresses that Kong-jin designed had gold dragons, with the third not having any design on the shoulders at all. (Besides, historically, the Queen’s dresses during the Joseon Dynasty always had gold, not silver, designs on the shoulders.)

3. The movie’s final scene shows that the dress designed by Kong-jin and worn by the Queen in the welcome banquet has been credited as Dol-seok’s creation. All reviews of this movie say that this scene (or the ending itself) leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth — Kong-jin was beheaded, the Queen was condemned to live an utterly miserable, loveless life, AND now history has given Dol-seok the credit for designing that dress! So why did the writer seemingly end the movie this way?

I believe that there’s a better interpretation of the ending: Notice that the Queen’s banquet gown survived through the decades. But didn’t the Queen order her attendants to throw away the gowns that Kong-jin made for her? This means that the attendants gave the gowns to Dol-seok, who kept them for posterity. This also means that Dol-seok, later on, adopted Kong-jin’s avant-garde style of designing clothes and, thus, was credited in history as having revolutionized Joseon fashion. Remember that the writer already gave Dol-seok his redemption — as he waits for the King to visit him after his promotion, he wears the nobleman’s clothes that Kong-jin designed for him. With this interpretation, Kong-jin gets the justice that he deserves, and Dol-seok fully redeems himself.

4. At the 1:59:16 mark, the first snow (“soseol”) of the season begins to fall — Wol-hyang opens a window of the gisaeng house, the Queen lifts her head up, and the King steps out from the parasol that covers him and looks up.

From “For Koreans, the first snowfall is a joyous moment. In traditional society, ‘soseol’ was not a seasonal holiday and was perceived simply as a day that signals the beginning of winter preparations. These preparations included stocking up on kimchi and preparing fields for the upcoming frosts.” According to popular belief, if you confess your love for someone during the first snow, you will always be with that person.

Wol-hyang, the Queen, and the King react in different ways upon seeing the first snow. Wol-hyang looks up at the falling snow with deep sadness and regret; although it was obvious from the start that she loved Kong-jin, she never said anything to him about her feelings. The Queen looks up at the falling snow with sublime happiness, having known through Kong-jin what true love is all about. On the other hand, the King has a quizzical look on his face; because he won’t move on from his bitterness towards his late brother, he will never know what love is all about.

The Royal Tailor Campus Connection blog 320 px the power of touch GIF5. Besides the Queen’s triumphant entry into the welcome banquet, one other scene that I like the most is that scene where Kong-jin takes the Queen’s measurements. Because the King has neglected her and never touched her, the Queen trembles at Kong-jin’s lightest touch and their nearness to each other.

This scene reminds me of what Dr. Ed Wheat says about the power of touch. In his bestselling book “Love Life for Every Married Couple” (Zondervan, 1980), Dr. Wheat describes his B-E-S-T formula for a great marriage. With the “T” in his formula standing for “touch,” Dr. Wheat says:

God created us with hundreds of thousands of microscopic nerve endings in our skin designed to sense and benefit from a loving touch. A tender touch tells us that we are cared for. It can calm our fears, soothe pain, bring us comfort, or give us the blessed satisfaction of emotional security. As adults, touching continues to be a primary means of communicating with those we love, whether we are conscious of it or not. Our need for a caring touch is normal and healthy and we will never outgrow it.

But if touching is so valuable and pleasurable, why is it necessary to advise couples to do more of it? The answer lies in our culture. While our western civilization is highly sexual, it frowns on or ignores touching apart from sex.

This is particularly true for men, for there are only three acceptable kinds of touching in today’s world: the superficial handshake, aggressive contact sports, and the sexual encounter. Men have been conditioned to turn to sex whenever they feel any need for loving closeness. No wonder experts believe that our extreme preoccupation with sex in this society is actually an expression of our deep, unsatisfied need for the warmth, reassurance, and intimacy of nonsexual touching.

Those of you who begin to practice physical touching in your marriage in all of its pleasant nonsexual forms will find that you may be having sex a little less often, but enjoying it much more. Snuggling and cuddling, sleeping close to each other, sharing affection through simple touch, will meet many of the emotional needs that you hoped sex would provide. At the same time, this pattern of affectionate closeness provides a delightful prelude to the entire sex relationship, preparing the way emotionally for wonderful times together.

Physical contact is absolutely essential in building the emotion of love. You may take it as a sobering warning that most of the time marital infidelity is not so much a search for sex as it is for emotional intimacy. The Scriptures indicate that touching a woman kindles a flame that should be natural within marriage. If you would like to kindle a flame in your own marriage, then begin to show your love through physical touching.

6. Besides the Queen’s deep need for physical touch, several other things led her to fall emotionally for Kong-jin.

A. In his book “Five Languages of Love,” Dr. Gary Chapman talks about how people express or receive love. These languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

(1) Acts of Service that meet emotional needs: The Queen reveals that she has never visited her mother’s grave and that her father promised to plant lots of violets (her mother's favorite flower) on the grave. Kong-jin then sneaks her and her attendant out of the palace so that she can visit her mother’s grave. At the site, she finds numerous violets on and around the grave.

After being disappointed again by the King, the Queen isolates herself and tells Kong-jin that she has a beautiful dress but nowhere to go. Kong-jin thoughtfully takes her on a boat ride on a lake in the palace.

(2) Gifts: As they’re taking the boat ride, the Queen starts to cry. Kong-jin then offers to her a handkerchief that he embroidered with violets.

As I wrote in “Relationship tips from Korean dramas,” gifts to women should be either be (a) emotional, or (b) practical and yet emotional. Moreover, women appreciate it if a man takes the time and effort in thinking about what to give and in getting the gift.

Kong-jin also gives the Queen a dress with a jar-like skirt that makes the wives of government ministers envious of her.

B. World-famous marriage counselor and author Willard Harley Jr. in his book “His Needs, Her Needs” said: “The man who takes time to talk to a woman has the inside track to her heart.” This is exactly what Kong-jin did: he talked with the Queen about the things that she was interested in or cared about.

Lessons in photography from “The Royal Tailor”

Bokeh (aesthetic quality
of the blurred areas of a photograph)
Aerial perspective
Foreground and background blur
Bokeh (aesthetic quality
of the blurred areas of a photograph)
Converging lines, vanishing point
Direction of light
Direction of light, line of direction
Dutch angle, natural frame
Dutch angle
Establishing shot
Foreground and background blur,
out-of-focus foreground element as partial frame
Foreground and background blur,
out-of-focus foreground element as partial frame
High angle shot, lines
High angle shot, partial frame
Linear perspective,
foreground and background blur
Low angle shot
Low angle shot
Natural frame
Natural frames
Background blur, line of direction,
dynamic symmetry
Off-center emphasis, high contrast
Out-of-focus foreground element as partial frame
Out-of-focus foreground element as partial frame
Linear perspective, patterns
Quality and direction of light
Sidelighting, off-center emphasis
Shallow depth of field, natural frame
Shooting against the light, rim lighting
Rule of Odds:: shooting odd-numbered groups
is easier
Silhouette, converging lines, natural frames
Symmetry, natural frames
Symmetry, shadows


unknown007 said...

Very well written and explained! Looking forward to your other reviews! :)

Unknown said...

A truly well balanced writing! I have gained a lot of knowledge from it .Thank you.

Unknown said...

Wow... This is gave me more understanding of the movie

Unknown said...

After crying so much, I felt dissatisfied with the ending.... Trying to find answers as to why the head tailor kept bowing I went searching for the answer. Needless to say, I am happy I stumbled across this discourse. I have now been satisfied. My eyes are dry!!! Thank You.

Atty. Gerry T. Galacio said...

To "Unknown" (April 27, 9:24 AM):

Thanks for your kind comment. When I first saw “The Royal Tailor,” I was also very disappointed with the ending. But after watching it again (especially that scene where Dol-seok wears the nobleman’s clothes that Kong-jin made for him), I realized that the common interpretation of the ending was wrong.

If you have not seen them yet, I recommend to you the following K-movies:

1. “Masquerade” historical movie starring Lee Byung Hun ("Mr. Sunshine"; IRIS) and Han Hyo-joo ("Dong Yi")

2. Movies about the the 1980s Gwangju Uprising: “A Taxi Driver” and “26 Years” (starring Han Hye-jin who played So Seo No in “Jumong”)

3. “Love Lies” historical movie starring Yoo Yeon-seok ("Mr. Sunshine") and Han Hyo-joo. The story takes place during the Japanese occupation of Korea up to the present; it’s a love triangle story of a friendship betrayed and of vengeance, where Han Hyo-joo plays the role of a traditional Korean singer. The ending will completely reduce you to tears.

I have written the synopses for “Masquerade,” “A Taxi Diver,” and “26 Years” (look for the links in the sidebar).

Onyinye said...

This is honestly one of the best reviews I have ever read.