The love we cannot have is the one that lasts the longest, hurts the deepest and feels the strongest.

a frozen flower ssanghwajeom jo in-sung ju jin-mo song ji-hyo

We were hooked when we woke.
We had arms for each other.
But I yearned to resume,
My dreams of another

Roman Payne

A Frozen Flower (2008)
Also known as
Action, Historical, Sageuk, Romance
Written by
Directed by
Country of Origin
South Korea
Running time
132 minutes

oh! … flashback

A Frozen Flower is a historical film set during the Goryeo Dynasty  and is based on the reign of Gongmin of Goryeo (1330–1374), but does not adhere strictly to historical fact.

King Gongmin was the second son of King Chungsuk. He was indeed married to a Mongolian Princess who became Queen Noguk.

It is true fact that King Gongmin and Queen Noguk struggled to conceive an heir. It is also a fact that at least five young pubescent boys were involved in pederastic relations with King Gongmin (those recorded were Hong Yun, Han An, Kwon Chin, Hong Kwan, and No Son.

In 1374, following a sexual relationship between Hong Ryun and on of King Gongmin’s concubines, the king was murdered in his sleep by Choe Man-saeng, Hong Ryun and others.

King Gongmin was well known for his artistic skills in painting and calligraphy.

oh! … brief

The sad situation a Goryeo king finds himself in leads him to betray the trust of the two loves in his life – his wife and his loyal and trusted Chief Military Commander.

This film takes a deep look at love, lust and the consequences of both.

oh! … talks film

Mind-blowing film! Considering I’ve stated that the Korean entertainment industry is extremely conservative, I may have to eat my words.

There’s no escaping the fact that this review will contain spoilers and sexual content. I’ll keep it as clean as possible.

This film explores sexuality, love and betrayal through an interesting story that is well thought out but doesn’t have sufficient airtime to completely develop.

Yoo Ha took historical facts and crafted a likely story about a King whose sexual predilections prevent him from truly honouring love at its core. The King is shown in early years to have a special interest in young males. Yoo Ha glazed over the fact that this character groomed young boys to serve him beyond your typical guard duties, hinting at paedophilia, but the reality is this king is homosexual, rather than a paedophile. Paedophilia wasn’t understood at the time this piece is set in, so maybe under different circumstances, the storyline would have painted a different outcome.

One of those boys grows into the dashing young Hong Rim whom the king favours as a friend and lover. I savoured how Yoo Ha portrays this young man, loyal and devoted to the man who groomed him and the chemistry between the two, the King and his servant is phenomenally developed in a short time. There is one frenzied sexual scene between the two male leads, but, is more touching and kissing (tongue included) between two naked men than any act performed. I’m guessing this alone caused quite the controversy and furore. The friendship and obvious love that develops between the two men is threatened only by the arrival of a marriage forging an alliance between the kingdom and Yuan.

My only criticism of the writing for the two male leads is that there is a lack of true romance which made me wonder initially if Hong Rim is just an object that belongs to the King. But the tender looks he bestows on the object of his affection (Hong Rim) caused me to believe he truly loved him. In the same breath he also obviously loves his Queen, even if he cannot bring himself to have sex with her often enough to produce an heir.

The story hints that the King has not slept with his wife, but I suspect that he may have made a few attempts, given the nature of the dialogue between the King and his Queen. There are no secrets between the King and Queen and most of the court and there is an unspoken understanding who the King loves and the type of sex he prefers. Yoo Ha wrote a Queen who tolerates the king’s relationship but bears a resentment to Hong Rim.

In spite of the love the king has for both Hong Rim and the Queen, he betrays that love when duty demands an heir be produced. He forces the Queen into compromise by promising that he will solve the problem of an heir. And then he turns to his loyal and ardent lover to beg the favour that will forever change the lives of the three. He asks Hong Rim to bed with the Queen to impregnate her so they can have an heir. Hong Rim is taken back by the request but understands the duty to king and country and reluctantly agrees.

Yoo Ha wrote this part of the screenplay appropriately. Hong Rim has only ever been sexual with the king and so on the first attempt, he completely fails. His heart aches for his king and queen and he just cannot bring himself to do the dirty with her. The King persists in his demand and the two complete the task as quickly as possible.

The third coming together is different though and I find that the actors interpreted the screenplay to perfection. The sex no longer feels dutiful but the two begin to find some pleasure in the act and each other. Lust will do that! The change comes with Hong Rim kissing the Queen gently on the mouth and the sex which previously was over before it really began becomes a prolonged tender enjoyment that the king witnesses and suspects that the duty may no longer be a duty for Hong Rim. Having said that, though, Hong Rim still beds the king and in one tender scene is torn by his love for the king and cried while clinging to the sleeping man. That broke my heart!

As you will expect Yoo Ha wrote a sensational part where both Hong Rim and the Queen start to betray the king’s trust and conduct an on-going and illicit affair with lots more sex. And while the king is suspicious, I think he believes that both share an unconditional love for him and wouldn’t betray his trust. This part is where I think Yoo Ha went drastically wrong in his screenplay.

He portrayed Hong Rim and the Queen as loving each other when really it’s more to do with lusting after each other. Yes, sex can be confused with love by both sexes. He didn’t write in the romantic intimate moments where the two learned about each other and fell in love. There is no transitioning from the duty to lust and then love, there is only a story that goes from the duty to love and it doesn’t entirely ring true. Yoo Ha may have been constrained by airing time, but I suspect this was overlooked in error. It doesn’t change the story or detract from the beginning and end, but it temporarily made me wonder, what the f!ck?

On the whole, the writing of the story, the narration and dialogue between the characters was convincing and when combined with the skilled cinematography delivered a credible tragic love story.

The sexual relations between Hong Rim and the Queen were particularly explicit in this film. Starting out missionary style, they quickly descend into what can only be described as soft-porn style sex – lots of nudity, positions, bare breasts and butts and most people will be wondering did the actor and actress actually just get it on for the camera. I understand that this was the reason why the film received excessive backlash and I also understood why Yoo Ha decided to go this route. He wanted to portray love through the sexual encounters as it was blatantly missing from the writing of the screenplay. There is nothing more real than lovers who are comfortable with each other displaying that through the type of sex they perform, different positions and total abandonment to the pleasure that sex can bring. Obligatory sex versus love sex is very different visually. However, he may have been a little excessive in this. I am still of the opinion that plenty of romantic intimate encounters with no sex would have been a better choice to bring the developing love full circle.

Having written the above, I must clarify that I did not find the explicit sexual scenes distracting or distasteful. They added to the story and there will be many naysayers, but, there was no escaping the sexual scenes, they were essential.

The characters, with or without their clothes were all charming in their own way and brought their own charm to the story. I did find the costumes when they were worn to be of a poorer quality than a typical kdrama, where a lot of attention is paid to the quality of cloth used, the colours and the small details. In A Frozen Flower, the costumes appeared to be drab, made of inferior cloth and the colours were slightly puzzling. Hong Rim in peach and a soft light green hanbok or po with baji was unusual unless the director was trying to cast him as being more effeminate. It was weird.

The cinematography was consistently satisfactory with its wide-screened frames. For Yoo Ha’s first venture into romance and action genre’s, it was accomplished without too much fanfare. I wanted more fanfare! I enjoyed the choreography of the assassination attempt on the king and the other various swordplay scenes during the film, but the ending was spectacular and perhaps the most aesthetically appealing part of the film. Yes, I guess I can agree that the sex scenes, while sometimes a little on the explicit end of the spectrum, were also beautifully captured by the camera.

What completed the production and brought the story full circle was the acting.

Joo Jin-mo was an excellent king. He oozed authenticity as both regent and hapless lover, trapped in a position where he did not have the freedom to live and caught up in the political machinations of his position in the court. He was very endearing in his interactions with Hong Rim, the tender moments they shared in which Joo Jin-mo gazed adoringly were darling. He did a great job in this production and it was a very daring role to take on in his career.

Jo In-sung (who I happen to adore for his natural charm and good looks) was a credible Chief Military Commander. But where he excelled in delivering his character, Hong Rim, was in the interactions with the Queen, especially the scenes of a sexual nature. The very honest portrayal of being torn between the man he has loved most of his life and this new enticing and alluring woman who he derives pleasure and pain from was evident in the myriad expressions on his face and body language. I was very surprised that he took this role given the extremely controversial nature of the film, but he did a magnificent job under the circumstances.

Song Ji-hyo who played the Queen delivered presented the audience with a resentful and angry, if not a little bitter, woman who also understands her duty and loyalty to the court and the king. I wish she has been more expressive in her interactions with the other two characters, but I found that aspect of her acting lacking. Song Ji-hyo didn’t share a natural chemistry with Jo In-sung, her acting in their interactions appeared forced and stilted. It’s a pity that she didn’t give more to her role because she has the potential to be an accomplished actress.

The musical score that accompanied this film was beautiful.

oh! … that’s a wrap

If you cast aside any controversy that surrounds this film then you are left with the sad tale of love and lust gone awry. The sad love triangle reminds me of the sad love triangles between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere (Arthur and Knights of the Roundtable) and King Marke, Tristan and Isolde (Tristan and Isolde). While the stories are all distinctly different in their situations, the love, lust and duty are the same.

I really appreciated the fact that Yoo Ha decided to write this controversial story and that while not entirely historically accurate, he does base his main characters on actual historical figures and truth in their lives. I welcomed this new exploration of love, political ambitions, lust, betrayal, chastisement and ultimate revenge. It was an authentic portrayal of a king who lived his life in the shadows of what he truly was and when he tried to better the situation, he only made it worse for himself and all those around him.

If you cannot stomach explicit sexual interactions whether homosexual or heterosexual you should avoid this film because as previously mentioned some of the scenes are fairly explicit.

This film is one that I do recommend, the story alone is worth watching, but as a major step forward for an industry that is extremely conservative, it broadens both the mind and opens doors to acceptance and tolerance of all people, irrespective of which sex they chose to love.

oh! … tidbits

The film was nominated for at least twelve awards at various Asian awards ceremonies and won the following:

Best Actor – Joo Jin-mo at the 2009 Baeksang Arts Awards

Best Art Direction – Kim Ki-chul and Best Music – Kim Jun-seok at the 2009 Grand Bell Awards

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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