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Frozen Flower, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Frozen is hardly the word for a movie with this much heat."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: How things change; before "The King and the Clown", which was very careful about what it showed of its title characters' relationship, I don't think you ever saw gay characters in Korean cinema, and Park Chan-wook's "Thirst" wound up with relative unknown Kim Ok-bin landing the female lead because more established actresses wouldn't get near the nudity and sex the part demanded. Just a couple years later, both of those seem to be relative non-issues for "A Frozen Flower", which puts a Goryeo king and one of his guards in the same bed with no doubt what's going on, and has a few eyebrow-raising scenes involving the queen, as well.

Toward the end of the Goryeo era, the King (Ju Jin-mo) creates the Kunryongwe, a group who enter the palace's service as children, with the palace as their home and family, and one boy, Hong-lim, catches the King's attention with his dedication and skill. Ten or fifteen years later, the adult Hong-lim (Jo In-seong) is now the captain of the guards as well as the King's lover. This presents a problem, politically; though the King is Korean, he must defer to the Yuan emperor, and has married a Yuan princess as part of that alliance. But since women do nothing for the King, not even his beautiful and loyal Queen (Song Ji-hyo), he has no heir, and is thus vulnerable. So, the Queen must conceive, and Hong-rim is the only man the King will trust with the job. But once you put two people in the same bed, things are bound to get complicated.

A Frozen Flower does a remarkably good job of balancing its erotic thriller and palace intrigue sides; even though those have always been two sides of the same coin. Writer/director Yu Ha does a good job of showing us the situation in the kingdom so that we may admire the King's strength as a leader even as we mayt start to harbor doubts about how he handles his personal life. At the same time, he makes sure that the King, Queen, and Hong-lim are interesting individuals so that the needs of the kingdom don't overwhelm what affection we develop for the characters. The triangle he sets up is interesting, not just for the homosexual nature of one of its legs, but for how we perhaps don't initially realize quite how unevenly the power is distributed in practice as well as in theory, so that by the end we have to wonder whether it was that way from the start - although Yu manages to make it much more ambiguous than he otherwise might have. He's also good at cranking up the heat in both senses of the term - the tension is thick as relationships disintegrate into mistrust and plotters tighten their nooses, and the sex scenes are equally exciting, not just for being titillating (if a studio released it in the U.S., it would be a very hard R), but for being in turns blissful, awkward, and passionate enough to leave an impression for when we see the characters later.

The cast is top-notch. Jo In-seong starts Hong-lim off as charming but a little insubstantial, gradually building him until his passion is what drives the movie. He is able to work well with both his other leading man and his leading lady, enough that the audience can not reduce the film's conflicts to just his sexual orientation. Ju Jin-mo is charismatic as the King, a strong and forceful personality able to make the audience keenly aware of his position without coming off as pompous or likely to be underestimated. And Song Ji-hyo is quite good as the Queen, both regal and able to convince the audience of her loneliness and humanity.

It's a pretty good movie, sexy and suspenseful, beautifully realized. My only real issue with it was that it may have been a little too funny at times: The scenes where Hong-lim is trying to impregnate the Queen while the King is in the next room, with literally paper-thin walls between them, got a lot of laughs, and I'm not quite sure how appropriate a response that was. It could have been played as uncomfortable-tense, as opposed to uncomfortable-funny. Similarly, the last scene is broadly sentimental in a way that the rest of the film pointedly is not, and although it's grown on me a bit, it's a bit much in the moment.

One thing that I would like to praise that may get overlooked amidst the sex and the intrigue is how great the action in this movie is. There are only two or three big action moments, but they are explosive - the first from how unexpected it is, and the one at the end for the sheer fury demonstrated, and how each swing of the sword and bit of destruction seems to have meaning. This is not just a person angry and looking for revenge, but an attempt to tear down everything that had once meant something, as much a bitter recrimination as a rousing finale.

It's an exclamation point on the story, and a fitting one. "A Frozen Flower" could have been just a costume drama where the costumes frequently come off, but instead plays as both an intriguing thriller and a surprisingly strong romance.

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originally posted: 08/24/10 12:29:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/09/10 phasplay the film grabbed my attention fully . Think a lot afterwards . 5 stars
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Directed by
  Yu Ha

Written by
  Yu Ha

  Jin-mo Ju
  Ji-hyo Song
  In-seong Jo
  In-beom Ko
  Tae-won Kwon
  Ju-hwan Lim

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