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The Fatal Encounter ("Yeokrin")

Quebec Premiere
  • South Korea
  • 2014
  • 135 mins
  • DCP
  • Korean
  • English (subtitles)
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“This quasi-Shakespearean litany of woe, violence and incident makes for quite a ride” - David Noh, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

“Balances the most engrossing aspects of the South Korean telenovela with grandiloquent Hong Kong-influenced fight scenes” – Martin Tsai, LA TIMES

Two small boys fall into the clutches of a brutal slavedriver, who trains them most cruelly in the ways of assassination. Once they’ve reached a promising level of skill, their divergent destinies are decided by a game of rock-paper-scissors…

Years later, the young King Jeong-jo rules the land as the 22nd monarch of the Joseon dynasty — but his is not a life of ease and privilege. Only a year has passed since he claimed the throne and already several attempts on his life have been made. He is haunted by the execution of his father, which he witnessed as a child. Now, he trains his body in secrecy for the next attack, wherever it may come from. The quiet beauty of the palace masks a poisonous snakepit of lies, betrayal and great peril, as scheming aristocrats and rival political factions plot their murderous moves. The mortally fearful king can only place trust in his longtime friend and closest advisor, the scholarly court eunuch Gap-soo. King Jeong-jo has all the makings of a wise, benevolent ruler — but will he make it through the next 24 hours?

South Korean entertainment on screens of all sizes abounds with dramatic tales of noble houses in the medieval Joseon era. THE FATAL ENCOUNTER deserves an important place in the longstanding genre, and massive home-turf box-office indicates that Korean audiences agree. It’s the feature-film debut of skilled TV director Lee Jae-kyoo, who imbues this powerful, tragic political thriller — retelling an oft-told tale of true history, an attack on the so-called “King of Misfortune” in 1777 — with a smouldering atmosphere of taut apprehension amid the muted elegance of its gracious courtly setting. Screws turns and souls are laid bare as the tale’s climactic assault draws inexorably closer, but long before the blades of steel are drawn, their subtler sisters — words, gestures, glances — are bristling in the shadows. Pathos and paranoia intertwine as an ever-more-complex web of intrigue and unhealed wounds reveals itself. TV star Hyun Bin acquits himself marvelously in his first go at a period drama, grippingly convincing as Jeong-jo, while the role of Gap-soo invites an intense and unusual turn from Jung Jae-young (familiar to Fantasia-philes via CASTAWAY ON THE MOON, CONFESSION OF MURDER, and many more). A superior slice of silks-and-swordplay, sultry, sumptuous, sophisticated — and savage.

— Rupert Bottenberg