THE THRONE (2015)
Lusciously shot, superbly acted but deeply sad, an unwilling heir to the throne clashes with his ruthlessly demanding King father
While having a royal linage may seems the dream ticket in life’s hereditary lottery, The Throne taps into the pain and suffering a reluctant future king suffers as they prepare for life as high ruler.
Set in 1762, where traditions were forcefully realised, the real-life tale of the Crown Prince Sado, who lived during the reign of King Yeongyo, provides the ideal inspiration for this high production value film incarnation.
The brutality of formal royal regimes is at the heart of this film. The expectations that are bestowed on people from birth to rule, even if ruling is not in the fabric of their fibre.
Director Lee Joon-ik, who had previously completed emotional family masterpiece Hope two years prior, superbly manages proceeding here, aided by the visual riches of the throne during this time.
The film is a two-track time split. In the current setting, King Yeongyo (Song Kang-ho) has learned his heir, Crown Prince Sado (Yoo Ah-in), has conspired to assassinate him.
The King orders Sado to be locked into a large rice box and deprived of food and water. We then begin to jump back in time to learn more about how such a situation could come to fruition, intermittently returning to a deteriorating Sado as the days drag on in the box.
In the flashback, we see a young Sado being placed through strict education from his King father, but such academic rigour does not interest him. Rather than memorising passages, he prefers to socialise and paint.
As Sado grows into a young man, he is made a substitute king, ruling under the guidance of his father, but his performance disappoints the king, and their relationship worsens.
Eventually the timelines connect and we come to understand how a boy born to be king was handed a destiny he never wanted, while his father’s wrath grows with his disappointment.
While Yeongyo ruthlessly attempts to prepare him son for the throne, he often reveals how indifferent he feels about being king himself. It is his dedication to maintaining traditions that drives him forward.
Despite the deeply historic nature of the film’s points of conflict, there is a modern tint to such discussions. Even though this is a film about disputes within the monarchy, some of the family tensions are almost universal. For example, when Sado suggests uprooting tradition and making the crown and nobleman pay their way rather than commoners, we see an intergenerational conflict that is common around family tables today.
The film works through the production design but especially the performances. For Song Kang-ho, he departs from some of the more jovial comedy-inflicted roles to play the stern king here, while Yoo Ah-in is superb as the tortured prince.
The Throne is a luscious visual feast, but a brutal and difficult watch thematically. You might fawn a royal life for the riches but be glad to avoid it for the never-ending duties and expectations.