Wednesday, March 18, 2020

“The Last Princess” aka “Princess Deok Hye” 2016 Korean historical movie, synopsis (no spoilers)

(Click the picture above to view or download a bigger copy.)
Jump to synopsis of Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6; How I wrote this synopsis with no spoilers; Historical backgrounders and other information; Lessons in photography from “The Last Princess”

From Wikipedia: “The Last Princess” is a 2016 South Korean period drama film directed by Hur Jin-ho with a screenplay by Hur, Lee Han-eol, and Seo Yoo-min, based on the best-selling novel by Kwon Bi-young. It stars Son Ye-jin as Princess Deokhye, the last princess of the Joseon Dynasty. The film depicts Princess Deokhye’s life in Japan after she was forced to move there at age 13 by the Imperial Japanese government, and her attempts to return to Korea.

Director Hur Jin-ho decided to make a film about Princess Deokhye after watching a documentary about her on television; he could not forget the scene showing the princess reuniting with her court ladies at the Gimpo Airport, when she was finally allowed to return to Korea after 38 years in Japan. The film’s screenplay was co-written by Hur, Lee Han-eol, and Seo Yoo-min, based on the best-selling novel Princess Deokhye (2009) by Kwon Bi-young. The story is a mix of fact and fiction, as Kim Jang-han is a fictional character. Princess Deokhye’s story had never been made into a film before this.

“The Last Princess” opened in third place at the box office on August 3, and rose to the number one spot during the weekend of August 5–7. Over the weekend, 1.2 million tickets were sold across 961 screens, accounting for 24 percent of all ticket sales in South Korea. The film earned US$12.4 million in a five-day period (August 3–7), with 1.7 million tickets sold. The film grossed US$35.4 million in South Korea. It grossed US$40.35 million worldwide.

The movie and its cast won various awards: Blue Dragon Film Awards (Best Actress); Grand Bell Awards (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume design, Best Music); Korean Film Producers Association Awards (Best Actress); Golden Cinema Festival (Best Actor); and Baeksang Arts Awards (Best Actress).

How I wrote this synopsis with no spoilers

I divided this movie into six parts, with Part 5 and Part 6 comprising the last 35 minutes. You can just read Part 1 to Part 3 (or even up to Part 4) to learn what the movie is all about. Except for Part 6, I did not include the twists and turns of the plot, and so, they are spoiler-free.

Part 1 (from start to 21:12)

Department Head Kim of Seoul News receives a call from Japan informing him that Princess Deokhye has been found.

Flashback, 1919 ...

Princess Deok Hye is the beloved 7-year old daughter of Emperor Gojong and Royal Consort Yang. As the court ministers pressure Emperor Gojong to approve the union between Korea and Japan, she runs from her attendants, barges into the meeting, and hides behind him.

Worried about the future of Princess Deok Hye, Emperor Gojong arranges her marriage to Kim Jang Han, 2nd son of the late commanding general of the Manchurian Restoration Army.

1925 ...

Advisor Han Taek Su pressures Princess Deok Hye to adopt Japanese customs such as the wearing of a kimono. Later on, he informs King Sunjong that the Japanese government has approved the royal title for Princess Deok Hye and that she must study in Japan.

Part 2 (from 21:13 to 34:14)

1961 ...

Department Head Kim arrives in Japan. As he searches for Princess Deok Hye, he visits the wife of the bedridden King Yeongchin (former Prince Eun).

Flashback ...

Kim Jang Han, now a 2nd lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, meets Princess Deok Hye when he is assigned as the military aide of King Yeongchin. Princess Deok Hye has finished her studies, but Advisor Han Taek Su refuses to send her back to Joseon.

Prince Yi Wu (Emperor Gojong’s grandson) offers Princess Deok Hye a way to go back and, later, brings her to a secret meeting of Korean students in Japan. But the meeting is interrupted when the Japanese police arrive and force their way in.

Part 3 (from 34:15 to 49:40)

Along with Prince Yi Wu, Kim Jang Han and his uncle plan to strike against some top Japanese officials during the “New Era Celebration”; they also prepare a way for King Yeongchin to escape to Shanghai.

Princess Deok Hye is moved by the plight of the children of Korean workers in Japan; she asks Kim Jang Han to help her set up a school for the children.

To stifle the labor unrest among Korean workers in Daito Industries, Advisor Han Taek Su orders Princess Deok Hye to go there and read his prepared speech. When Princess Deok Hye refuses, he says that, if she does what he wants, he will finally allow her to go back to Korea where her mother is critically ill.

Part 4 (from 40:41 to 1:28:19)

Because of Advisor Han Taek Su’s increasing cruelty, Kim Jang Han asks his uncle if they can eliminate him.

King Yeongchin refuses the government’s offer for Princess Deok Hye to marry So Takeyuki, who’s from a noble family and a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University. But Advisor Han Taek Su insists that the marriage must push through.

Along with Prince Yi Wu, Princess Deok Hye tries to convince King Yeongchin to go into exile in Shanghai. But Prince Yi Geon (King Yeonchin’s eldest son and an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army) walks out of their meeting.

After King Yeongchin agrees to go into exile, Kim Jang Han, his uncle, and their comrades finalize their plans of creating a diversion for their escape by bombing the “New Era Celebration.”

Part 5 (from 1:28:20 to 1:40:51)

1931 ... The Japanese Emperor forces Princess Deok Hye to marry Count So Takeyuki.

August 1945 ...

Princess Deok Hye now has a daughter named So Masae (“Jeong Hye”). After learning of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the allied forces, she takes her daughter and goes to Shimonoseki Port to sail back to Korea.

Part 6 (from 1:40:52 to the end, or the last 27 minutes)

Kim Jang Han finds out that Princess Deok Hye (now Yang Deok Hye) has been confined in a mental institution where she has tried to commit suicide numerous times. Later on, he launches his crusade to bring King Yeongchin and Princess Deok Hye back to Korea.

In 1962, after 38 years, Princess Deok Hye finally returns to Korea.

Historical backgrounders and other information

1. ‘The Last Princess’ a refreshing historical drama (The Korea Herald)
“The Last Princess” provides a refreshing change from typical dramas about the Japanese occupation of Korea, which are usually intent on delivering a message of patriotism, and tend to be heavy-handed in their emotional arcs.

This film has been handled by a director who is sensitive to the inner turmoil of characters, understands that a muted approach can often evoke greater emotions, and weaves an intensely personal story into historical context.

The core of the film lies in actress Son, who herself invested 1 billion won ($900,000) in the film and once again proves herself a sensitive and technically refined performer. She paints a moving portrait of the princess -- frail, determined, loyal, confused and heartbroken.

2. Late Joseon Princess Deokhye’s life revealed (The Korea Herald)
She was born royal, victimized by history and died in solitude ― having lost her country and sanity.

The life story of Deokhye (1912 - 1989), the last princess of the Joseon Dynasty, is a tragedy that reflects the wretched fate of Korea’s last monarchy. More than 20 years after her death, her life, once written out of history, is making a comeback in different forms and ways.

3. From Wikipedia: Princess Deokhye of Korea (25 May 1912 – 21 April 1989) was the last princess of the Korean Empire

She was born on 25 May 1912 at Changdeok Palace in Seoul. She was the youngest daughter of Emperor Gojong and his concubine, then known as Yang Gui-in. Then, Emperor Gojong bestowed a royal title, Boknyeong, to Yang when she gave birth to Princess Deokhye. Princess Deokhye was not formally recognized as a princess by Japan until 1917, because she was not a daughter of the queen. In 1917, her name was formally entered into the Imperial Family's registry. Her father, Emperor Gojong, loved her greatly and established the Deoksu Palace Kindergarten for her in Junmyungdang, Hamnyeong hall. Girls her age from noble families attended the kindergarten. Princess Deokhye is called Deokhye Ongju in Korea, not Gongju. Gongju refers to the daughters of the queen, and Ongju refers to the daughters of concubines.

She returned to Korea at the invitation of the South Korean government on 26 January 1962, after 37 years. At first, the Korean government refused to allow the return of the last royal bloodline, because president Lee Seung Man wanted to avoid political chaos. However, reporter Kim Eul Han found the princess and persuaded the Korean government to allow her return. She cried while approaching her motherland, and despite her mental state, accurately remembered the court manners. She lived in Nakseon Hall, Changdeok Palace, with Crown Prince and Princess Eun, their son Prince Gu, his wife Julia Mullock, and Mrs Byeon Bokdong, her lady-in-waiting. She died on 21 April 1989 at Sugang Hall, Changdeok Palace, and was buried at Hongryureung in Namyangju, near Seoul.

Lessons in photography from “The Last Princess”

Sidelighting, natural frame, out of focus foreground element as partial frame
Balance and symmetry
Low angle shot, keystoning
Converging lines, hidden geometric patterns
Dutch angle or Dutch tilt
Dutch angle or Dutch tilt
Establishing shot
Establishing shot
Natural frames, balance and symmetry
Aerial perspective
Balance and symmetry
Balance and symmetry
Decisive moment
Converging lines
Quality and direction of light
Dutch angle, keystoning
Dutch angle
Establishing shot
Sidelighting, partial frame
Foreground blur, sidelighting
Foeground blur
Line of direction, conveying depth
Linear perspective
Low angle shot
Quality and direction of light
Shallow depth of field

How the cinematographer shows sense of isolation

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