The "Chun-hyang story" is a narrative of Korean folklore, whose origins seem to emerge from a shamanic ritual. Subsequently, the story spread in the form of pansori singing, acquiring a more complex narrative structure that has been handed down to this day. Chun-hyang, daughter of a kisaeng and an aristocrat, falls in love with Mong-ryeong, son of the local magistrate.
Since the union of people belonging to different classes was forbidden during the Chosun era, the two young men marry in secret, but later Mong is forced to leave for Seoul to undergo state examinations.
During his absence, a new magistrate arrives in the village who, by refusing the girl to serve him, what he would be holding as a daughter of a kisaeng, makes her arrested. Mong, who in the meantime became a King's Inspector, returns just in time to save Chun-hyang from the death sentence and punish the wicked magistrate Byeon. The sweet Chun-hyang embodies the ideals of femininity exalted by Confucian society of the time, fidelity, obedience, and chastity, and its misadventures highlight the injustice of a rigidly divided class structure in classes. Hence the popularity of the character, so that there are 14 adaptations for the big screen, of which three North Koreans. The idea of Kim Dae-woo, director and screenwriter, is to revise the traditional version, centering narrative on a marginal character: Bang-ja, the servant of Lee Mong-ryeong.
The Korean title means "the story of Bang-ja," and it is understood that the shift of the point of view will be far from painful. Forget the naive boots of contrasted love and female virtues, this sarcastic update is a triumph of cynicism and carnality, to the face of the old Confucius.
"The Servant" begins with Bang-ja who tells his story to a biographer of the award.
Accompanied by his master visiting by Chun-hyang, he immediately puts his eyes on him, but belonging to a lower social class he does not know how to behave. The girl, instructed by her mother to pursue a marriage of interest, takes to bed Mong-ryeong, without however denying the attentions of the most prestigious Bang-ja. Despite being aware of the tresca, Mong signs a pre-contractual agreement and leaves for Seoul, leaving the free camp at Bang-ja, sincerely in love with the girl. Chun-hyang rejoins him but, determined to advance on the social scale, organizes with Mong an intricate plan, both of which will benefit.
Kim Dae-woo, referred to as "Untold Scandal", adapted from "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", is chiefly a screenwriter, and he sees himself. The iconoclastic shuffle that revisits the story of Chun-hyang is evident in the writing of the characters, while the direction is all about conventional and television.
Chun-hyang is a social ante-litteram mascot hoping to sell to the best bidder, and loyalty and chastity are certainly not his strengths; Mong-ryeong, far from being tender in love with the vulgate, is an imbecile fake who uses Chun-hyang for his personal purposes, and does not hesitate to get rid of when the girl is no longer of no use to him; Magistrate Byeon, who should be the black soul of history, is an outsider with sadomasochistic inclinations; The same Bang-ja, presumed hero, is a wretched tormented by jealousy, who is repeatedly mumbled as a simple servant.
Kim wants to tell the truth behind the edifying legend, deliberately accentuating the dissonance between genres, drama, comedy and tragedy, all used with great controversy, so that some might judge the movie overly disarming. Some comedy interviews, such as the seduction lessons imparted by Ma to the bare Bang-ja, are irresistible, and the director does not skirt erotic scenes, to say the true enough morigerate, who have earned "The Servant" a ban on minors but Also a good match at the box office.
The tone of the tale is deliberately strident, mocking, sensual, cynically detached and amoral, and if this is appreciable on the theoretical level, it also contributes to emotionally distancing the spectator from the vicissitudes of the protagonists.
The director, penalized by a photograph of rare flatness, is not up to the script, and keeps to the limits of the banal, languishing beyond the due in stucking postcard views.
Good for all actors, with a special mention for Ryu Seung-beom (the "No Mercy" killer), Mong-ryeong's most viscous, vanity and disagreeable in the history of Korean cinema.