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A promotional photo from A Frozen Flower. The three lead actors are in costume, looking directly into the camera.

Daily Helping for January 7th, 2023 – A Frozen Flower

Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “Well this isn’t going to end well?” That was basically my entire viewing experience of A Frozen Flower. I must have said it out loud about half a dozen times. And it didn’t end well. It was like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion, but I couldn’t look away. All of which is to say that this was a fascinating movie that I’m still trying to unpack.

A Frozen Flower is a Korean historical film that was released in 2008 and directed by Yoo Ha. It is loosely based on the reign of King Gongmin of Goryeo, although the character in this film is only referred to as the King. The King’s guard is led by Hong-rim, a military commander who was raised in the palace and trained from a young age to serve as a palace guard. The King and Hong-rim are lovers, and as a result, the King and Queen have failed to produce an heir to the throne. This is causing significant political turmoil, and so the King orders Hong-rim to impregnate the Queen in his stead. That was the first time I said to myself, “Well this is not going to end well.”

Hong-rim and the Queen are horrified at first, but eventually they comply with the King’s demands. Unfortunately for the King, their forced union actually sparks an intense love affair between them. This was second time that I said to myself, “Well this is not going to end well.” From that point on, it really was just a matter of waiting to see how much of a disaster the King’s plan ultimately becomes. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler at this point to say that it was a disaster of epic proportions.

I must admit that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about A Frozen Flower since I saw it. It touches on so many fascinating issues, including politics, sexuality, and abuses of power. But I’ve also often wondered about the difference between how the film was received back in 2008 and how it would be received now. So much has changed in that time with how society views power dynamics, especially when it comes to sexual relationships, and I wish I could know how people interpreted this film when it was released vs. what people would say today. My guess is that it would be two very different reactions.

One last thing. This film was probably the most sexually explicit mainstream film I’ve ever seen. In addition to saying to myself, “Well this isn’t going to end well”, I also found myself saying, “Korea made this?” It is extraordinary to me that the country whose television shows are famous for their chaste and awkward kisses made this film 15 years ago. To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Quite the contrary. The sex scenes between the King and Hong-rim and between Hong-rim and the Queen were equally explicit, which was amazing. Hollywood is still unable to get over that particular prejudice. And the relationship between Hong-rim and the Queen was a beautiful exploration of two people finally being able to freely express their sexuality. But still. Korea made this?!?! It made my head spin.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!