February 16, 2019

A Reluctant Prince: The Man Who Shall Not Be King

Watching A Reluctant Prince can be somewhat like channel surfing except each time you change the channel, you've got most of the same actors involved with a different plot. The opening section feels like a comedy about two tight-knit brothers (Shin Yeong-gyun and Kim Seung-ho) pointlessly persecuted by the government. Then when, fairly early on, the younger sibling (Shin) gets suddenly promoted to king because of his bloodline, you think it's going to be a Pygmalion story. But the king never masters the ways of the court and the focus shifts to a forbidden romance — that between him and his hometown girlfriend (Choi Eun-hie). Then even that story line gets abandoned after she's come to realize that it's best for the nation if she weren't around. Which leaves the king to go on a Leaving Las Vegas bender that lasts for years and toys with him falling in love with his assigned queen but then ditches that idea, too.

So how do you classify Shin Sang-ok's 1963 movie? A bromance? A romance? A period piece? A tragedy? Well, it's definitely not the last option because A Reluctant Prince is played in a broad style that forbids you to inhabit its more serious moments — and there definitely are some — for very long. In fact, scenery-chewing of the highest caliber may be what holds A Reluctant Prince together. The cartoon-like glee exhibited by Choi and Shin when stitching up a pair of torn pants that has left his privates exposed or the exaggerated childishness they parody while running around the palace courtyard at night may ring as false but it's also incredibly fun so why begrudge them the pleasure they're apparently having. A Reluctant Prince is a movie that wins you over for all the wrong reasons. Or makes you realize there are times to abandon "what should be" or "what could be" and simply embrace "what is."