MOVIE CLUB: The Face Reader Review
Welcome to The Face Reader, where political intrigue collides with ambition and a quest for justice. It’s a dark ride, so join us if you dare.
Watch The Face Reader now:
Unnichan: Well, well, well, what a great weekend film! I can’t say it’s a thriller but it certainly has that quality about it. But mostly it feels like a story about a man’s journey and yet, it’s still not that either. So I guess for me, it’s a film that can’t be categorized as anything other than a stellar political drama, with captivating directing and a cast of powerful performances. What do you guys think?
Cici: The acting and directing were excellent. It shines a light on a period of Joseon history that I, for one, am grateful not to have lived through.
Qisti: Haha, I agree. Do we know if Nae Kyung’s character is based on a true story? I know the whole history of Su Yang overthrowing the young king is true, but was a face reader really the main deciding factor for overthrowing the government? Anyways, I enjoyed the film. It definitely kept me on my toes and I wasn’t exactly sure what side I should be rooting for and what was going to happen.
Unnichan: Isn’t that the delicious thing about sageuk and political dramas? Whether you know the history or not, the reimagined version depicted affords us the opportunity to peer through a different lens with a different perspective. Then couple that with strong characters and actors and the pendulum could swing either way.
Cici: There were definitely several plot twists that made me question my initial judgements. However, I am pretty sure that “people in masks cannot be trusted” stood the test of time. That “neck cripple” character was just consistently creepy.
Qisti: I felt the same way. Even at the end when we really did get a good look at his face, it was still creepy. Was it just me, or did he look super similar to the drawings in the face reader book/manual?
Unnichan: Hehe. Throughout the film, I referred to Han Myung Hwe as “the man without a face.” I quite enjoyed that we spent the larger portion of the film without a good view of him as the audience or a sneak peek for Nae Kyung. As a viewer it may not have mattered much because we can’t “read” faces, however, his face was exactly as Nae Kyung describes it in the end--- weird. I loved that we were shut out of the knowledge of what he looked like because faces were the entire point of this story; what your face says about you.
Cici: I thought it was interesting the way Soo Yang dismissed the accuracy of face reading, yet he was the first to try to eliminate the face reader, assuming that what he said would cause him trouble. His determination to silence Nae Kyung gave the lie to all his protests.
Qisti: But what about the scene where they purposefully change Soo Yang’s face to make him have the face of a traitor so that the king would exile him? Doesn’t that kind of question the accuracy of face reading? I mean all the patterns and traits were all in books, which could be manipulated in some way.
Unnichan: I agree. Face reading isn’t a science and it could certainly just be a superstition but the issue is really never whether something is true or false but whether it is believed and can be proven or viewed as fact. Nae Kyung speaks about his craft later in the film saying he only saw traits, patterns, occupations, which takes me back to his initial conversation with the king about history. No one can predict specifics but you can always use the past to see the future. Much like our faces, the faces of people past and present, there are patterns within them that resemble this type of characteristic or behavior that was revealed in someone else. And though there are exceptions to most rules, I appreciate the notion and context.
Cici: Having been raised to avoid stereotypes and “judging a book by its cover,” it took me a while to buy in to the possibility that someone could actually use face reading to accurately tell the disposition, behavior, and future of a person. But Nae Kyung was very convincing, just because he was so consistently accurate and unflinchingly honest.
Qisti: It was the same for me too. I had a hard time in the beginning with the whole face reading concept. But then after his conversation about using the past to see the future, the concept clicked. I guess face reading is a way to foresee future behaviors as well as influencing behavior.
Unnichan: Speaking of Nae Kyung being compelling, what an outstanding protagonist we had! He was just a regular man with an intriguing gift, who could have chosen to swindle and manipulate or even lay low and collect but instead was forthright, dogged and even-tempered, living by the advice he gave others. But I have to admit, I was concerned for a split second that he would falter, mostly because we’re all prone to and there are times when we have convinced ourselves we have no other recourse, yet he never did. And it never felt extraordinary, just wise or better yet, just plain proper.
Cici: Nae Kyung’s one weakness, if you can even call it that, was his desire to protect his son. Jin Hyung did not accept his father’s ability to read faces, and preferred a logical, scholarly approach to politics and government. Yet that was his downfall. Telling the young king who was corrupt and misusing the yellow tags dispensed on the advice of the face reader ended up costing him his sight. That was perhaps the most horrific scene in the entire film. And once he saw his son’s future destroyed, Nae Kyung lost the ability to be honest.
Qisti: When Jin Hyung told the king about Kim Jong Seo’s yellow tags, I was like crap. Now what’s going to happen. Oh no, something bad is going to happen and I’m not going to like it and it’s going to be horrific because it’s a sageuk drama. Of all the characters, I was most surprised by Jo Jung Suk’s character. I originally thought that his character was there just for comic relief, and in many ways he was, but his character was super deep. I didn’t think that he would have gone and switched camps so fast. But then I remembered the conversation that he and Nae Kyung had at the beginning about having a bad temper is bad and how quick he was to betray people.
Unnichan: Exactly! Narratively this story wasn’t unpredictable but I loved how almost no moment was unnecessary. Everything had a purpose and would be revisited. Whether it was Jin Hyung’s distaste of his father’s “gift,” Paeng Hun’s temper, Soo Yang and the coup, the betrayal, talks about history; it all intertwined and was used for dual scenarios. It’s stuff like that, that makes for entertaining stories.
Cici: Well, it certainly kept me on my toes. Just when I thought everyone had evil Soo Yang figured out and a plan made for his demise, he goes and tricks Jung Suk into believing that the bad guy is actually Kim Jung Seo. That was a plot twist I didn’t see coming, and it wasn’t until Myung Hwae started gloating over how easy it was to deceive him that I realized that he’d been tricked into betraying his own brother-in-law. It was heartbreaking to watch him play into Soo Yang’s hands while attempting to garner safety and position for his family.
Qisti: That had to be my favorite plot twist in the whole movie. I would have never thought that the creepy guy, Myung Hwae, would have thought thought that far ahead. I guess that goes along with his character, being all mysterious and manipulative. But then in the end, he was trolled big time by Nae Kyung.
Unnichan: Those events were quite masterful and disappointing. The team of Soo Yang and Myung Hwe was a relationship someone must have written a novella about. I couldn’t get enough of Lee Jung Jae in this role. And though I was never swayed by Soo Yang and his diabolical bulldozing, I was taken with all of our performers in one way or another for the way they solidified the characteristics of their roles. Admittedly, I usually love the villain but here, the line is drawn so thick, there was no doubt about who wins or whom to root for, so all I could do was respect how real these people felt. So guys, is this a film you would recommend?
Cici: Yes, but only to folks who appreciate Shakespearean tragedy, and can tolerate some pretty graphic cruelty. That being said, the performances were riveting and utterly believable, the pacing was spot on, and the cinematography was gorgeous.
Qisti: Oh yeah, I definitely would recommend it. I’m not a big fan of saeguks at all, but I decided to give this a try just because of the cast. I mean a movie with Jo Jung Suk and Lee Jong Suk, count me in, and I don’t regret it at all. It was a great movie, with a plot to keep you on your toes, and I absolutely agree with you Cici, the cinematography was awesome!
Unnichan: I love history, tragedies (though this works better as a life lesson takeaway, than sad) and sageuks, so if there are other viewers like myself, this film is one not to be missed. And I completely agree with you both about the cinematography and cast. I’m not a Lee Jong Suk lover, therefore, I actually picked this one up for everyone but him, however I did find myself somewhere in the middle thinking he made an excellent choice choosing this film and the opportunity to work with such high caliber and gifted actors. The veterans of this film were phenomenal, it was lovely to look at, and the directing was so deliberate, I rarely looked away. The length could be a questioning factor but it speeds by, with little to no lulls. Hands down a must see!
Cici: Looks like we give this film three thumbs up!
It certainly was a dark ride, with heart wrenching plot twists that provided thought provoking questions on the validity of “face reading” and the idea of fairness and justice. I hope you guys enjoyed the movie just as much we did. Let us know if you did...or not.
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