The King and the Clown (partial viewing notes)

January 13, 2009 at 12:08 pm (Moving Pictures)

So, no I haven’t seen the whole thing. I want to, I started to on YouTube, but ten minute chunks is no way to see a movie, especially one that comes this highly recommended. So I’ve seen maybe the first twenty-thirty minutes or so? And then guiltily snuck to the last fifteen minutes because I am awful with not spoiling myself, a habit I should probably break some time in the near future.


The ending conversation between Jangsaeng and Gonggil: my limited literary context translation.

Jangsaeng: [tells the story of how he’s been blind all his life] [When I became a player, I was blind to anything other than that life–to protecting Gonggil. When I came to Seoul, I was blinded by the prospect of starting over and making a life as a clown where Gonggil wouldn’t have to be pimped and I wouldn’t have to stand by and watch it happen. When I came to the palace I was too blinded by my own need to protect him and my jealousy of the king to see that he didn’t need me, that I wasn’t what he needed, I wasn’t what he wanted. I loved him too much to see that he loved the king. And now I don’t see anything besides Gonggil’s happiness without me, and I accept that.]

Gonggil: [Is it really so good to be blind?] [How can you be happy that I don’t love you back? How can you be HAPPY that the person you love doesn’t love you back? How can you BELIEVE that I don’t love you?]

Jangsaeng: [I love it, I really do] [If that’s the way it is then I can accept it as long as you’re happy.]

Gonggil: [repeats line from opening dialogue; “Here stands a fool, rash and proud. A sightless fool who knows not where he stands.”] [You’re an idiot. I couldn’t be truly happy without you. You don’t know how much YOU mean to ME.]

Gonggil: [“Get down this instant.”] [Come back, don’t leave me. You don’t have to die. There’s a way out]

Jangsaeng: [“Ho, a tongue most untamed. I am King of this palace, you wench.”] [I’ve already made my choices and I’ve paid their price. It’s not your fault.]

Gonggil: [“Indeed you are. I’ve always wanted to see my King. And now I’ve seen thee, I see…Thou are blind to what is high and what is low. So thou hast turned the world upside down.”] [You don’t get that I can’t accept that. I can’t accept you walking away, I can’t accept you dying, I can’t accept living without you. You can’t walk away from me and expect me to accept your sacrifice.]

Gonggil: [asks what Jangsaeng would be in the next life] [Can you forgive me for causing this to happen to you? For all the trouble I’ve caused you, all the pain you’ve endured on my behalf, to keep me safe. Only for me to push you away in the end.]

Jangsaeng: [says he’d be a minstrel again] [I forgive you. I have no regrets–I would rather live this life all over again, and be with you.]

Gonggil: [“Witless fool! Why seek again thy cause for ruin?”] [I don’t deserve your love, or your loyalty.]

Jangsaeng: [“What new body awaits you?”] [Then what about you? If you truly believe that I would be better off without you, if you’d truly rather live again without me by your side…what life would you choose?]

Gonggil: [“A minstrel! And nothing more.”] [I would rather live this life again] (And Jangsaeng knew that’s what Gonggil would say: Gonggil is as loyal to him as he is to Gonggil, whatever hardships their loyalty and love for each other has caused them, and that’s all he needs to know for it to be okay.]

Jangsaeng: [“The world’s but a stage. Kingly is he who struts for a while, then exits in style. Then together again, we shall royally this blessed earth roam!”] [Everything comes to an end. Better to live with no regrets and die without regrets (and now that I know you love me, I can.). If we die today, if we die together or apart, I will see you again in the next life.] (You could see this as an invitation to double suicide.)

Gonggil: [starts onto the rope] [Thank you. I’ll see you there.]

(obviously paraphrased. will be interesting to see if my interpretation changes once I’ve had the chance to see the whole movie.)

1. Also my limited viewing of the movie has given me this impression of Jangsaeng and Gonggil: they aren’t lovers. At least, in the physical sense. Jangsaeng because he doesn’t want to come across like another john just interested in Gonggil’s beauty, so he contents himself with trying to protect him, and give him a better life. Gonggil because…he has issues with physicality. Violence and sex…maybe he thinks Jangsaeng can do better than him, maybe he feels guilty for being the cause of so much pain to Jangsaeng, both physical and emotional. Whatever relationship they have, it’s not brotherly and it’s not platonic. They aren’t lovers in a physical sense, but perhaps in an emotional sense–that feeling of companionship, of implicit trust, of intimacy, of understanding that’s almost instinctual. I don’t think even they themselves fully understood any of it–too many issues in the way that they didn’t know how to address.

Maybe there was even a bit of class divide in it, too. Gonggil presents a very delicate, very feminine, rather upper-class sort of image. Jangsaeng is very obviously a rough-and-tumble peasant. Most men react to Gonggil’s femininity by seeing “object of desire,” probably because they are themselves high class and view Gonggil as lower class and therefore sexually available to them. Jangsaeng seens Gonggil and he also reacts to the feminine cues Gonggil presents, but where the upper class officials see “peasant woman to be exploited” Jangsaeng sees “noblewoman to be cherished and protected.” Not to say that Jangsaeng actually sees Gonggil as being a woman–he clearly views Gonggil as being on equal standing with him re: acrobatics and acting skill. But he reacts to the female cues in Gonggil’s appearance and manner. Gonggil is “above” him and therefore untouchable and unavailable to him; therefore, he settles for protecting him as best he can because he can’t have Gonggil.

Whereas Gonggil probably comes with the attendant issues of being (forced into) prostitution–feelings of unworth, of shame, of self-loathing. It might be a little cavalier for me to say that these are blanket issues but the truth is that it’s really, really hard to write/protray a prostitute who’s happy being a prostitute. Oh, you can do it–or at least counterfeit it–but it has to come with a lot of caveats, you have to be able to spin it so that those issues are rendered moot by the society that the prostitution takes place in. That’s not what happens in the King and the Clown, so I feel safe in saying that Gonggil probably had some of those issues.

2. I think Gonggil is a good example of why uke only works in highly unrealistic yaoi manga. In anything vaguely resembling reality, it’s too damn creepy and disturbing to allow anything resembling a healthy relationship.


1 Comment

  1. beks said,

    I was able to find the entire film online about a month ago, it was such an enjoyable movie to watch, albeit I was a bit disappointed at ending right after it ended… now I think I’m happy with how it ended. Had the film ended any other way, I think the relationship between the two would have been weakened… I kind of wish there was a sequel, but at the same time, the film stands well on its own. I completely agree with how you describe what the relationship between Goggil and Jangsaeng was, it makes a lot more sense looking at their interaction when you think of them as… soul mates in the non-physical sense? XD

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