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In Focus: The Fatal Encounter

by Pierce Conran   05.02.2014
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Directed by LEE Jae-kyoo
Starring HYUN Bin, JUNG Jae-young, JO Jong-suk, HAN Ji-min, CHO Jae-hyun
Release Date April 30, 2014
 
The Fatal Encounter, the first of many major period blockbusters due for release this year, if we discount January’s underperforming The Huntresses, is gearing up for release at the end of April. Featuring the silver screen return of top star HYUN Bin, following his 21-month obligatory military service, dazzling visuals and a King’s court plot full of deception and intrigue, the film should have no trouble assailing the early Spring box office.
 
Following only one year in power, King Jeong-jo finds himself the target of multiple assassination plots. Over the course of a day, the King and his eunuch servant Gap-soo must contend with hidden political foes and vengeful outsiders. One of the men out for his head is Eul-soo, a mercenary sent by a band of assassins. Gap-soo feels compelled to reveal his hidden past in that very same group and though he suffers at the hands of the King’s protectors, the monarch himself allows him to leave the royal palace with his life. When he discovers that his former master’s life is in danger, he rushes back to the King’s court before it’s too late.
 
LEE Jae-kyoo makes his studio debut with The Fatal Encounter, though he made the 60-minute online film The Influence, starring LEE Byung-hun, in 2010 and has directed several high profile TV shows. Making the most of a KRW 10 billion (USD 9.6 million) budget, LEE fills the screen with dazzling production values. Even in a crowded field of sumptuous period dramas that includes recent favorites Masquerade (2012) and The Face Reader, LEE’s film stands out for its impressive visual display.
 
Things are not quite as clean in the narrative department as the contrived one-day structure requires a number of flashbacks to provide context and emotional background. Yet this format also keeps tension high for the duration of the film. Truth be told, The Fatal Encounter is most impressive when taken on a scene-by-scene basis. Though a number of elements stand out, a few too many plot strands that don’t always mesh well with one another detract from the proceedings.
 
However, a strong cast of supporting players, including a sympathetic JUNG Jae-young, a driven JO Jong-suk, an austere PARK Sung-woong and a madcap CHO Jae-hyun, keeps the film on track even in its unbalanced moments. Dressed and mad up to the nines and toned to boot, HYUN Bin’s regal presence is of a very modern variety. The star acquits himself well in a role that demands more grace than gusto, though the filmmakers did well not to lay too much on his shoulders.
 
Tense and engrossing, if uneven, The Fatal Encounter is just the ticket to turn audiences back on to local fare following a weak few months at the domestic box office.

By Pierce Conran

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