Long Live The King
Set in Joseon during the early years of what is now Korea, The Crowned Clown is a serialized remake of the 2012 historical film Masquerade. Having not watched that film myself, it’s difficult to tell how faithful this series is to the source material but what’s here certainly impresses so far. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking The Crowned Clown is just another slow-burn historical drama. With a surprisingly quick pace, an engaging story and some gorgeous cinematography, this new Korean drama comes out swinging in its first episode.
While the characters are all introduced pretty quickly, the multiple layers of political intrigue combined with a truly mesmerizing dual-performance from Yeo Jin-Goo make this a 16 part series that holds some serious promise going forward. It all begins with the death of the King. After uttering a chilling promise with his dying breath, the passing of the King turns the throne and crown to Lee Hun. This begins a chain of events that leads to several uprisings from the people, complete with assassinations and shady deals going on behind closed doors to usurp the throne away from the mad King. Surrounded by enemies, Lee Hun quickly learns of one close family member that’s involved and disposes of him with a merciless slash of his samurai sword.
This essentially unhinges Lee Hun further as he teeters on the edge of sanity, unsure of who to trust. This leads to him ruling with an iron fist while hiding his fear for those closest to him that may wish to usurp the throne. An early assassination attempt results in a flurry of swords and impressively shot action before one of the assailants tells Lee Hun they believe he killed his own Father along with his brother to retain the throne for his own.
Obviously Lee Hun doesn’t take too kindly to this and after slicing up the messenger, he comes face to fadfxce with one of his concubines, So-Woon, who informs the King that she’s pregnant and expecting a boy. Thinking he would be pleased at the news, Lee Hun flies off the rails and in a mad fit of rage, forces her to drink until she chokes and smashes a teapot to pieces. This storyline is left open for the episodes to come but it doesn’t bode too well for the baby boy when he’s born if this is the King’s reaction now.
It’s not until deep into the episode that we find out just who’s sent the assassins and just what their end goal is. We won’t reveal that here of course but suffice to say it’s a well implemented plot line and plants seeds of doubt ready for future episodes. After finding out the truth about who the assassins are working for, Shin Chi-Soo orders the prisoner into the throne room, only for the captive man to lie and give a false confession, allowing the plot to thicken even more.
While this political madness engulfs the city of Hanyang, an entertainer who looks identical to the King called Ha Sun sets out with his merry band of friends for the city, hoping they can make a name for themselves. This storyline doesn’t get much attention in the first episode but the sprinklings of humour the early parts of this arc bring are nicely scattered through the 80 minute episode, helping to break up some of the tense drama.
After being caught up in a particularly mischievous performance outside one of the temples, Ha Sun is taken to the royal chamber where he comes face to face with the King himself. As they stare each other down, one with fear, the other with crazed wonder, a maniacal, chilling laugh fills the throne room and closes the episode on an ominous but intriguing note going forward.
There is an awful lot going on in The Crowned Clown, so much so that I had to write notes just for the purpose of bringing a thorough review to this Korean drama. Still, there’s no denying that The Crowned Clown is an incredibly endearing, well written series. The costume design, cinematography and general camera work is outstanding too and every aspect of this series breathes a sophistication missing from some historical dramas. While the relentlessness of the story may turn away some people, Jin-Goo’s dual performance is mesmerizing, getting this Korean drama off to an incredibly good start.