DVD Review: The King and the Clown

DVD Review: The King and the Clown

The King and the Clown bears a strong resemblance to the Hong Kong movie Farewell, My Concubine. Both feature a pair of performers, one of whom always plays female roles. Each of the more feminine men is gay and in love with his partner. In both films the performers are threatened with destruction by powers far beyond their control. But in Concubine the menace is the Communist government’s Cultural Revolution; in Clown it is a traumatized, maddened king. Gong-gil and Jang-saeng are 15th-century street performers. Gong-gil’s feminine beauty dictates that he plays women’s roles, and the troupe’s manager often pimps him out to rich audience members. This infuriates Jang-saeng. Eventually things come to a head; in the resulting confrontation the manager is killed. Gong-gil and Jang-saeng flee to Seoul, where they join up with other street performers and create a new troupe. The ruler of Korea is the cruel, tyrannical Yeonsan, and when the troupe puts on a play mocking him and his favorite consort, Nok-su, they find themselves swiftly arrested. Jang-saeng manages to get the troupe an audience with the king; if their skit makes him laugh, he reasons, then they’ll be allowed to live. It works, and the performers become King Yeonsan’s personal entertainers, put up in the palace itself. Yeonsan is especially interested in Gong-gil, and often calls him to his chambers, to the dismay of Jang-saeng. But Yeonsan seems almost as enamored the troupe’s art as he is in Gong-gil; instead of buggering him silly, as one (well, I, because my mind is filthy) might expect, instead he asks Gong-gil to teach him the art...