Seventh Report | Fantasia 2015

The Royal_Tailor_75For all the stunning visuals, there’s also plenty of humor in The Royal Tailor, and it never drags despite a running time of just over two hours.

 

 

 

theroyaltailor 500

Most of the films at Fantasia seem to have pretty straightforward goals: entertain the audience and get distribution. It’s a genre festival, and by and large the films shown here are made to fit in particular niches—horror, fantasy, and so on—to delight pre-existing audiences who like those kinds of films. That’s not a criticism, just a description, and in truth I love films that know exactly what they want to do and do it well.

Now and then, however, you get a film that would be equally at home on the arthouse circuit. One such film is The Royal Tailor, a period drama from Korea directed by Lee Won-suk. It’s not entirely clear when the story takes place, other than sometime during the Joseon period (which stretched from 1392 to 1910), because the film is so tightly focused on the insular world of the royal court that the outside world seems to barely exist. The story revolves around a Salieri-Mozart type of conflict, where an older man who is accomplished at his trade but not particularly imaginative comes into competition with a young upstart who has more talent and creativity.

Jo Dol-seok (Han Suk-kyu), a man of humble birth, has devoted his life to serving the royal court as a tailor. He believes in respecting tradition, which means following the same patterns that have been used for generations, and observing all the proprieties expected from anyone serving at court. This approach has served him well, as he’s the head tailor and also in line for a promotion to a higher social station. Rival tailor Lee Gong-jin (Park Shin-hye) takes the opposite approach to his work: he’s a brash young man who believes rules were made to be broken, and whose innovative clothing designs draw attention to his work. However, Lee has little respect for authority or sense of appropriate behavior. He seems to lack the instinct for self-preservation that would help him distinguish between what he can get away with and what he can’t.

The production design and costumes in The Royal Tailor are absolutely stunning (reportedly, the costumes alone cost almost a million dollars), and the cinematography by Ji-yong Kim shows them off to their best advantage. However, the real theme of this film is power, not art, as evident in the story the King (Yoo Yeon-seok) tells about how his older brother put him firmly in his place during a meal. Everything at the court is serious business, and a lot of people’s careers are based on maintaining the existing hierarchy and enforcing the rules. For all that, there’s also plenty of humor in The Royal Tailor, and it never drags despite a running time of just over two hours.

momentum 75Momentum is the first film directed by Stephen Campanelli, a Concordia graduate who has a long list of credits as a cameraman, including many on Clint Eastwood films. It’s a moderately-budgeted thriller ($20 million according to imdb.com) about a group of thieves led by Alex Faraday (Olga Kurylenko), who rob a bank but come away with something even more valuable than diamonds—a jump drive that has incriminating evidence about a secret plot. A group of “mop up boys” (I’m tempted to call them “counter-thieves”) led by Mr. Washington (James Purefoy) are intent on getting the jump drive back, and much violence ensues. Other characters have names like Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, suggesting a nod to Reservoir Dogs.

The action comes fast and furious in Momentum, with kicks and punches and gunshots and car chases and explosions galore. True to its title, this film is all about forward momentum, with Laurent Eyquem’s soundtrack helping to keep the gas pedal pressed firmly down. Campanelli’s main goal seems to have been to incorporate as many action movie clichés as possible in a single film, and to turn the intensity up for each one, and in that he has succeeded admirably.

momentum 500

This film is all about action, with character development a minor consideration at best. Campanelli makes some effort to humanize Kurylenko’s (and to a lesser extent) Purefoy’s characters, but most of the film is populated by anonymous types with a single function to fulfill. Morgan Freeman has a small role (he’s the one who hired Purefoy and his associates), and the film does not so much conclude as set up a sequel, which feels like a cheat. The bottom line is that if you like your movies to play out like amusement park rides, Momentum more than fills the bill. | Sarah Boslaugh

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply