The Royal Tailor (Sanguiwon)

Director: Lee Won-suk

Cast: Han Suk-kyu, Ko Soo, Yoo Yeon-seok, Park Shin-hye

Rating: 4/5

The Royal Tailor (Sanguiwon) is a South-Korean period film showcased at the Reel Asian Film Festival 2015. It is set in the Joseon Dynasty and tells the tale of two tailors whose skill and rivalry impacted the social and political climate of their time and future generations. Dol-Seok (Han Suk-kyu) works as the head of the Sanguiwon, a group of individuals who are responsible for the attire worn by royalty. He was born a poor commoner and came into the service of the head tailor when he was a boy. He honed his skills and grew up to be a head tailor, who served three kings and is renowned for his intricate designs and desire to uphold the traditional customs of the time, as it relates to fashion. The status of citizens dictates how they dress and there is heavy emphasis on modesty and decency. Dol-Seok, like many of his fellow citizens, feels that this kind of fashion holds society together and keeps it from moral decay.Gong-jin (Ko Soo) is a young, talented designer who is somewhat arrogant. He is not a part of the Sanguiwon, rather he designs clothing for ordinary citizens. His designs are colorful, sometimes form fitting, and revealing. Gong-jin, unlike Dol-Seok, does not believe in upholding tradition, he believes that fashion is an expression of the individual and that the individual should wear the clothes not the other way around. This concept is the premise on which the events in the film are based. The two tailors, in spite of their difference of opinions, manage to work together for a while, Gong-jin admires Dol-Seok’s precision while Dol-Seok admires Gong-jin’s creativity. As Gong-jin begins to gain popularity for his designs and many of the citizens begin wearing his outfits, favoring the new styles over the traditional, Dol-Seok became jealous. This jealousy leads to betrayal and agony, facilitating a series of events that were ultimately erased from history although it changed the landscape of the Joseon dynasty.

The film is moving, captivating, and well directed. It is loaded with themes of love, passion, power, politics, and change. There is a strong cast and the lives of the royal family, the tailors, and ordinary citizens are fascinating and well depicted. We are shown how the past has a hand in creating the future, the impact of tradition on all aspects of life, and, most importantly, the devastation that can occur when ego, envy, and pride are allowed to influence decisions. The film is recommended to those who like meaningful, enriching stories with multiple themes running throughout the plot, and those who enjoy experiencing culture, fashion, love, and political drama. It is important to note that this film is entirely in Korean but there are subtitles for English speakers. As for ratings, this film deserves four out of five stars and comes highly recommended.

Nekisha McLeod

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