THE FACE READER ‘Gwansang izle‘ (2013)



Song Kang-ho is the future.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know I have a great regard for this actor.
A performer of such sensibilities that make him one of the most interesting screen actors of this century.

Here he plays Nae Kyung, a Face Reader, one who is adept at physiognomy, the assessment of a person’s character or personality by the study of their outer appearance especially the face.

Set in 1455 in the political world of the King and his potential usurpers, Han Jae-rim directs this historical tale of intrigue and conspiracy

Nae Kyung is lured into the employ of a Madame working in the city and is noticed by the Vice Premiere to the King, Kim Jong-so (Baek Yun-shik) and consequently finds himself working for the palace, getting involved in the political web that disgraced his father years before.

This film begins very light-heartedly and gradually progresses toward drama and tragedy. I recently read that this is quite a staple of period pieces from Korea, the only period piece I saw before this was the excellent Untold Scandal (also scored by this films composer, Lee Byung-woo).
It is a very enjoyable piece yet it lacks that bit of extra magic to elevate it to the heights it could have reached.

The cast are all on point and although Song Kang-ho is billed as the lead this is very much an ensemble piece.
Lee Jung-jae (The Housemaid, The Thieves, New World) is subtle in his snake-like portrayal of the King’s brother, Prince Suyang. Jeung Jo-suk is brilliant as Nae Kyung’s brother in law and provides all the great comedy moments early on, working as a great double-act with Song Kang-ho. Kim Hye-su takes on the challenge of being the only major female character in an ostensibly male dominated film (war usually is on screen) and relishes the opportunity.

This film is an historical epic that takes the viewer on a journey into territories unknown (especially non-Koreans) and that is all good.
An above average experience filled with wonderful moments and dastardly intrigue.





There’s a lot to be said about seeing a film that you know little or nothing about story wise.

South Korea’s Bong Joon ho’s first English language film has been greatly anticipated.
No expectations apart from the fact that it’s bound to be pretty interesting and definitely worth a watch.

Having said that, this film set in a future where the world is too cold to live in and all that’s left of humanity exists on a train designed to keep them all alive. The usual tropes are all here (Alphas/Epsilons/ the power and the people) and it’s amazing how relevant this is in society today.

Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder, The Host and Mother) has been directing some incredible Korean films over the last 20 years. He is an artist with some experience of repute.  Critically, he is revered.

So, it is interesting to find out that this film was released in South Korea in August 2012 and still hasn’t been released worldwide.

The reason-Harvey Scissorhands.

He picked up the rights to release the film everywhere else-ish and felt that it couldn’t be a big success without some sort of hair-cut, Joon-ho disagreed and the crux of the sitch is that Harvey Weinstein will release the director’s cut in a few selected cinemas instead of giving it the full treatment publicity and exposure wise.

The film already made its money back within the first week of its release in Korea, over a million people went to see it in the first two days alone.

There are big, established and upcoming, stars in this film, Chris Evans taking a break from Steve Rogers to play the lead here along with John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer (who does not have the chops people thought she had and really lets the side down), Ewen Bremner, Luke Pasqualino, Alison Pill and Tilda Swinton giving her best Margaret Thatcher as a northerner but the true star of the film is, one of my favourite actors of the moment Song Kang-ho.

Every scene he is in is a joy to watch. His instinct for interesting, naturally/unnatural choices is sharp and always surprising in a beautifully subtle way. Here he acts in his own language getting his own subtitles and more than standing his own ground but making a bold statement with his presence.

Playing his daughter is Ko Ah-sung who also played his daughter in the director’s earlier, classic monster piece The Host. She also brings an interesting element to the table. The fact that they both speak Korean seems natural and unforced and fits in wonderfully to this English language film.

The effects are sometimes inferior due to lack of big budget but that is such a minor criticism when you think of the magnitude of the film.

If you’re a fan of dystopian sci-fi check this out.

It isn’t perfect but it’s way up there.