Frozen Flower: Mediocrity at Its Finest
As you know, I'm a long-time fan of Asian movies. I know a bit more about Japanese movies because I just love the Japanese culture. I also know a bit more about Korean movies because my niece is very much into K-pop and I am her financier. Just a month ago, she asked me to buy her a mini-album (CD with five songs) and it was worth $20.
When I watched this movie, though, I didn't really know much about it. It was recommended to me because of the explicit sexual scenes (it was recommended by a guy) and not really for its aesthetic value. It was pretty surprising considering the movie is from South Korea and it is still a conservative society. If only for this, it was worth a watch.
I'll make it easy. The king (Joo Jin-mo) is gay and is in a steady relationship with his General (Jo In-sung), also gay.
The king was pressured to have a child but couldn't bring himself to sleep with his queen so he asked his General to sleep with his queen (Song Ji-hyo). The General and the queen fell in love. When the king asked the two to stop sleeping together for some reason, they pursued their affair until the king found out.
The movie was loosely based on the life of King Gongmin of Goryeo during the Goryeo Dynasty. This king supposedly refused to get concubines when he was with his wife but when the wife died, he went into a concubine frenzy and pursued men as well. The movie was always open about the fact that the story of the movie is far removed from reality.
The narrative movement seems solid. The king and his general have been together since they were kids. Neither knew how it is to be with a woman. However, as it turns out, the king is more certain about his sexuality than his general. When the general discovered how it felt like to be with a woman, he realized he has a male side to him.
As solid the story seems to be, it is also where the biggest failure happen. The whole story became a mess when the director opted to demonstrate love through sex. The queen and the general never interacted outside of their evenings when they were supposed to have sex. During the time when then they were supposed to be falling in love, the director didn't provide a reason for the two characters to do so. Aside from their genitals, there really was no other way one character complements the other.
Thus, all the dimensions are lost. It became about sex instead of love. There wasn't even an exploration on how the general felt for the king and what he discovered about that feeling when he started sleeping with the queen. There was no exploration on how the queen felt about the king either.
However, the controversy of the film lies not in the narrative but in the treatment. The movie is one of the most controversial in Korea primarily because of the explicit sex scenes. There were about six or seven, all of them involved nudity where everything but the genitals were shown.
It's nothing new to Hollywood but I have to admit that even to Hollywood standards, the sex scenes here are pretty graphic and long... and detailed. I think it may be qualified a soft core, if my understanding of softcore is correct. In one scene, there were so many sexual position changes that I was able to drink half my coffee and they were still at it.
It was clear that it was about sexual awakening. The queen was a virgin and the general was a virgin to women.
However, towards the end of the movie, the General and the Queen ended up fighting for each other which must mean lust turned to love. That's where the problem started. Unless the director explicitly intended for love to be defined by sex, there weren't a lot of scenes that showed their emotions crossing over from lust to love.
There was one time when the Queen gave the General a necklace and one of the two gave the other soup but that's about it. There weren't a lot of motivations, reasons or driver for the emotions to cross over to love.
By all accounts, the General and the Queen were each others' rebellion having been trapped in the royal life with the King but it still does not justify how lust transitioned to love.The director didn't give the characters and the love a chance to grow.
Sex should have been the result of love. In this movie, sex is the be-all and end-all of love and that's why many also think the film is a total failure. Of course, the director and the writer can easily say that sex is their contextual definition of love but that's a paradoxical non sequitur.
As I've said, explicit sex scenes aren't new in Hollywood but it doesn't give any filmmaker an excuse to use it carelessly. In this movie, sex scenes didn't have to be treated the way it was treated. If the intention was to show how the emotions have changed, from obligation to love, wouldn't it make more sense to change the treatment of the scenes from raw to romantic? Or wouldn't it make more sense to bring their relationship out of the bedroom and into something that involved spiritual or emotional connection? That would involve clothes.
If the intention was for the audience to see how the emotions change, why do a 69 where their faces were buried into each others' genitals? The two actors weren't that great as actors to be able to convey their emotions using their back muscles, you know. And in those shots where their faces were shown during sex, I couldn't quite get whether they were in agony or they needed to poop. The queen was shown squirming (or whatever that facial expression was) while pumping. Well why on earth are you having sex with him if you are in agony? Darn it!
It is also undeniable that the sex scenes were long and detailed. Considering most of the greatest films of all time didn't involve nudity in a sexual context, I don't understand why these scenes have go on for so long.
I have no problems with nudity and sex scenes but I am always adamant that it be done ONLY when there is no choice because it is absolutely necessary for the story. There are so many love stories that didn't even show skin and even more love scenes that were done with so much sensitivity - 300, Ghost, Pretty Woman. Lo and behold, it is possible.
Of the three main characters, the king stood out. There is natural depth in his eyes. There is a natural disturbance and instability there and it meshed well with his royal bearing. He walked with pride and certainty but his eyes showed softness. It is also interesting how he decided to attacked the role with timidity. He was reserved and his movements were small but precise so that when he exploded in anger, the horror was greater.
The general played well as the object of affection. From the get go, it was clear he was the "female" in the relationship however subtle it may be but the lack of dimension on his role probably affected the dimension of his acting. Of course, there will always be a question on whether or not it is up to the director or the actor to put dimension on the character but those who know film would know how much the actor can influence his role.
The queen is probably the biggest failure. It is understandable that she takes on a regal form but she must have mistaken royalty to stiffness because her face always looked like she just rolled out of bed and saw a bear standing by her feet. I couldn't understand whether she's damning the world to pursue the man she loves or simple enjoying the sex like it's no one's business or in some sort of a trance and she doesn't know what she's doing.
The movie had a lot of promise and it didn't really turn out that bad especially if you take into consideration the great visuals and great cinematography.
As mentioned, you will get the point of the whole movie. However, it will not take you through the journey. It will not take you through the adventure of discovery. It feels like the movie is a classroom teacher who just declares the lessons to be learned instead of allowing the students to discover the truths.
It is mediocre, at best.