The first time I watched King and the Clown (2005), it was on a tiny screen with turbulence and frequent reminders to “Please fasten your seat belts.” The movie was enjoyable enough, rocky flight notwithstanding. I giggled at the antics of the clowns, cringed at the king’s unpredictable mood swings, cried in the sad scenes, and when it was over, pronounced myself content. It didn’t blow me away, but I could see why it was breaking all the records.
Then I landed, battled jet lag, and a few days later, watched the extended version in my scrumptious worth-every-penny Special Edition set. The next day, a dull ache settled in my heart and refused to leave. My eyes were unusually watery, as if a cold was creeping up. The movie rewound itself endlessly in my head, the images mostly of Gong-gil (Lee Jun-ki) and Jang-saeng (Gam Woo-sung), and of their relationship which could not be categorized or neatly explained.
Paternal love? Brotherly bond? Homoerotic underpinnings? Or just a strong friendship? What was it and what were they? Most importantly, did it matter?
To me it was just love, pure and simple. A love so deep, so powerful they would protect each other to the end. I thought of how attuned the two men were to each other. So different in temperament, one brash the other quiet, they didn’t have to speak to understand what the other was thinking or feeling.
Oh, how I enjoyed their delightful “I am here, and you are there” skit on that field. I love, love, LOVE that scene. Even if they were blind, they would find each other. They would face the future resolutely TOGETHER. They left the village to seek their fortunes in Hanyang together. They entered the palace together. They would not leave without the other.
When I watched the movie the first time, I thought no one stood out in particular. Everyone was impressive; I especially loved the three clowns and their hilarious parodies. But watching the extended version, for some odd reason I was mesmerized by Gong-gil.
Gentle and quiet Gong-gil, preferring to be in the background yet dragged on center stage because of his unusual beauty and grace. I didn’t see Lee Jun-ki when I watched Gong-gil. I saw only his character and I was transfixed. Even if he was standing in a corner and not saying a word, I could not take my eyes off him. He was so, so beautiful, and yet he wasn’t feminine. How do I explain it?
He didn’t seem girlish at all. His voice was deeper than most of the men and he was also one of the taller characters in the movie. When he wasn’t performing, he was every bit a man, in stature and gait. But his face… it was just beautiful. Yet that beauty came with a price – a price that left me teary for days and it wasn’t a confounded cold after all.
I understand why people went to the theater in the millions to watch King and the Clown. At its heart a love story, boldly and simply told, with pathos and humor and a perfect cast, it was as magical as movies go. I wanted it to remain on top of the box office forever and was dismayed when it got dislodged the next year by a monster tale. “Damn!” I said.