Monday, August 6, 2012

Movie Rant: A Frozen Flower explores homosexuality versus heterosexuality themes

A Frozen Flower (Ssanghwajeom) is a 2008 Korean movie about the love triangle between a homosexual king, his queen, and his chief royal guard. I'm a total sucker for pretty period dramas or movies with pretty people and pretty costumes. But man...when I first watched A Frozen Flower, it gave me quite a SHOCK! I knew it contained some sexual material and violence inappropriate for the young audience, but I never expected it to be SOO graphically explicit!

I don't want to sound like a prude. Since I'm not exactly a young kid anymore, I have been exposed to quite graphic material in movies and TV series (especially HBO shows). I found Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidnam's Wide Eye Shut to be more sexually disturbing than A Frozen Flower. Unfortunately, I just made the mistake of watching this film with my sister...and my mother. -_- It was okay to watch it with the sister, but a big a big no-no to watch it with a parent. I bet my mom was probably thinking "What the heck is my daughter watching nowadays?!" I should be thankful my dad wasn't present. LOL. Be warned. This movie isn't for the sensitive and innocent souls. Underage folks are advised not to watch this movie without parental discretion, but my post does not contain anything graphic.

A Frozen Flower is a type of movie you should watch alone or with someone who appreciates the art of...uh hem...human body in its most primitive form. Besides all the nudity, violence, a deeply sensual kiss scene between two men, and some racy heterosexual scenes (I'm totally not kidding when I emphasized racy), I found the movie quite interesting albeit over-the-top with the sexual material. I understand the need to be graphic with the bed scenes, but I prefer that some bed scenes be cut a little shorter. If I have to compare the X-rated material in A Frozen Flower with another movie, Tong Leung's Love, Caution comes to mind. Except, Love, Caution won some critical acclaim while A Frozen Flower came closed to being labelled crude. This movie is an odd blend of Brokeback Mountain and Love, Caution. Despite some critical backlash, I really admire the lead actors, Jo In Sung (What Happened in Bali) and Song Ji Hyo (Goong), for taking the risk of de-clothing for the sake of art and the world to see. I heard that Jo In-Sung just made a promise to the director to film this movie after they successfully collaborated in Dirty Carnival and even before the script was written. I suspect he did not expect the director to require him to strip off his clothes.
Song Ji Hye and Jo Sung In need to show a lot of skin for their character
A Frozen Flower deviates from the typical love triangle. Instead of having two men pursuing one women or two women in love with the same man, it's a story about one man and one women, who also happened to be married, struggling to gain the love of one man. Twisted, isn't it? It's rare to watch something where the husband's love rival is his own wife. I found the relationship dynamic very dramatic in this movie. At first the Queen was extremely disgusted by the Chief Royal Guard's illicit relationship with her husband, but later she ironically gets embroiled in the illicit relationship too.
Set during late Goryeo Dyansty, King Gongmin (Joo Jin Mo)and his Queen (Song Ji Hyo), formerly a Mongolian Princess from Yuan Dynasty is experiencing intense political pressure to produce an royal heir. Even after many years of marriage, King Gongmin still cannot force himself to consummate his marriage because he is only attracted to his childhood companion/boytoy/Commander of the Royal Guards, Hong Rim (Jo In Sung). Since he cannot produce a royal heir with the Queen, a grand scheme get forged in his head. He wants Hong Rim to bed the Queen and produce a child for him. After experiencing sexual intimacy with the Queen, Hong Rim realizes that he prefers intimacy with the Queen over the King. All hell breaks lose when the Queen and Hong Rim cannot control their lust for each other and romantic feelings begin to develop. The insanely jealous King realizes his master plan backfired and some tragic consequences follow...

For a more in-depth synopsis, you can read the plot summary on dramawiki.

Quick Thoughts on the Three Main Characters
King Gongmin (Joo Jin Mo)  - Homosexual King of Goryeo
Joo Min Mo won accolades and an movie award for his successful portrayal of the love stricken and jealous King. Viewers could easily sympathize with his plight and admire his passionate love for Hong Rim. The inner turnmoil of King is carefully acted and nuanced. He cannot help but grow violently jealous over the budding relationship between his queen and lover. An initial conception to produce a royal heir who looks like his lover and solve his political problems becomes detrimental to all three main characters.

Hong Rim (Jo In Sung) - Commander of the Royal Guards and secret lover of King Gongmin
Hong Rim is at the center of this love triangle and is perhaps the most hated character in the movie. His indecision, passiveness, and betrayal of the King frustrate many viewers. Despite the King's love and loyalty toward him, Hong Rim fails to suppress his inherent heterosexuality and continues his illicit affair with the Queen behind the King's back. But when the current predicament forces him to choose a side, he abandons the Queen under the King's pressure and returns back to his comfort life as the King's bedside partner.

Although the general audience did not like Jo In Sung's mechanical delivery of his lines and the weaknesses of his character, I actually like Hong Rim more than the King. I usually dislike irresolute and weak characters, but somehow I don't mind Hong Rim's flaws in the movie. He did get on a my nerve a few times though. I pity Hong Rim. He is one CONFLICTED and flawed character. And you all know I have a proclivity for conflicted souls. ;P He isn't as straightforward as the King and Queen who clearly know what they want and are not torn by moral duty. Hong Rim's effeminate mannerism is a stark contrast to the King's masculinity. I think his "softness" is symbolic of his indecisive nature.

I saw Hong Rim as a victim of power and brainwashing. He was groomed from youth to become the King's lover/playtoy and did not have a say in the matter of his sexual preference. The question of Hong Rim's love for the King or for the Queen remains a mystery to me. I think he genuinely cares for both. But it's clear based on his physical attraction to the Queen, if Hong Rim was raised in a normal environment and had a choice, he would prefer women over men. He's one confused individual who cannot decide to live as a homosexual or heterosexual. He can't choose bisexuality since his situation doesn't give him that option.

As a loyal servant and closest confidante to the throne, Hong Rim is obligated by duty to serve the King. Especially since the King lavished him with unprecedented favors and attention throughout his life, Hong Rim is also indebted to him. These circumstantial factors convolute the love that originally exist between the King and Hong Rim.

However, due to the poor direction of the script, I still don't understand the ending. After everything Hong Rim went through, what message is the director trying to convey to the audience? Anyone who has watched this movie can enlighten me?

Queen Noguk (Song Ji Hye) A former Mongol Princess of the Yuan Dynasty
Out of the three main characters, the Queen probably suffers the most. Nothing is worst than being forced to copulate with a man you despised because your own husband is incompetent in the matter. She is sent off to foreign land to marry a stranger, then realizes her husband is gay and unable to produce a heir, and faces the threat of dethronement. While the husband and his secret lover are living under the same roof and ostentatiously acting all lovey-dovey under her eyes, the Queen can only watch in silence and embrace loneliness. Then she becomes the royal scapegoat for failing to produce a royal heir. I mean how bad can this woman's life gets? Nope, it gets worst. She gets deflowered by her husband's lover in an attempt to produce the long-awaited heir, but she still can't get pregnant. Life only gets a little happier and meaningful when Hong Rim shows signs of warmth and attraction toward her. After years of neglect in the palace, the only person who brought her some sunshine in the cold palace is ironically the same person who inadvertently caused her the pain in the first place.

Official MV ( I love the instrumental music!)
 
Trailer:
If you're don't feel daunted by the graphic material, you can watch this movie in HD quality on YouTube with English Subtitles (activate cc for English subtitles).
Part 1
Part 2

Though I always thought homosexuality is attributed more to genetics than the environment, this movie got me thinking about whether the environment also plays a significant role. Leslie Cheung was a famous Hong Kong entertainer who once had a girlfriend but then publicly declared himself to be gay.  It's also interesting homosexual love was considered more "pure" in Ancient Japanese culture . Some Tokugawa shoguns and many samurai practiced wakashūdo tradition. In China's long history, quite a few emperors were prefer same sex love. Some famous ones include the Han Dynasty Emperor Wendi (Ruby Lin's character husband in Schemes of a Beauty) and Emperor Wudi (emperor in Da Mo Yao). Heck, Alexandra the Great had his male lover accompanied him everywhere.

Related Link:
Interpretation of A Frozen Flower Divided by Gender + Deleted Scenes

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