Film Review: The King's Case Note

This Korean period spectacle is enlivened by the presence of a new kind of dynamic duo—a crime-fighting detective king and his genius, if clumsy, secret weapon.
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We are in Korea, during the Joseon Dynasty, where King Yejong (Lee Sun-kyun) is beset by all manner of political intrigue threatening to overthrow him. To gather evidence about this and other major crimes, he enlists the aid of his bumbling but brilliant sidekick, Seo (Ahn Jae-hong), the happy possessor of a perfect photographic memory. Together, this unlikely pair form a powerful law-enforcement front, leaving their enemies befuddled and inevitably apprehended, with their bodiless heads sometimes on display for an awed populace.

Although that bare-bones recital of the plot doesn’t sound like all that much, director Hyun-Sung Moon fleshes out The King’s Case Note with a panoply of characters, situations both humorous and fraught, flashy fight scenes and historical detail that results in some marvelously rich entertainment. Although the budget was less than $9 million, those Koreans really know how to get value, for the film looks incredibly lavish in terms of period sets and costumes, armies of extras and locations galore. It’s a wild, colorful, action-packed romp with the kind of audience appeal that hinges on the surprise of having a king who is just as much invested in being a detective of his people as being ruler of them.

Both leads evince a powerful viewer rapport and potent mutual chemistry which marks them as true stars. The handsome Lee has a fitting authority and intelligence as the king, with some keen combat chops to boot. Baby-faced Ahn goes through his doofus-y comic paces with a winning élan, fitting snugly into the Mutt-and-Jeff comic formula of disparate, symbiotic personalities which has existed internationally since film itself began.