The Last Princess (덕혜옹주)

There’s a new Korean movie about the last princess of the Joseon Dynasty  who had to move to Japan during the Japanese colonialism of Korea and was forced to marry a Japanese Count. The subject matter was super interesting! Just look

She was kept in Japan against her will, and there’s a lot of drama to that story. But the director didn’t find that exciting enough! So, to make it more exciting, he invented a new character, her childhood friend, who was a high ranking officer in the Japanese military and also a leader of the Korean independence movement. 

Sadly, he also felt  that this character should be the main character, and that’s where the movie failed. The movie about the last princess of Korea turned her into a side dish to the main action, the failed plot to get Korean independence and get her back to Korea. It robbed the movie of the emotional climax of her being barred from her country until finally coming back as an old woman (of course, 100% thanks to her childhood friend who talked to the Korean president to let her back). Her emotional journey was stifled and didn’t hit the right beats, because she was sidelined for a large section of the movie in favor of following her childhood friend who was also a superhero! Despite being shot in the stomach, he was able to take care of the princess while they ran away, leaving her constantly in a passive role for the whole movie.

There was a great drama in this movie that wasn’t followed through, and though a lot of the emotion didn’t hit, what did hit was seeing her come back to the palace she grew up in and having the camera move over to the “do not enter” sign while she imagines her dead parents welcoming her back. Cut to her standing alone. 

There’s also something to be said for the sad gradual westernization of the country, and the first images of the film – the King in his traditional Korean hanbok talking to his western suit-wearing council – fit really well with the ending of the palace surrounded by tall business buildings.


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