The setup has betrayal, loss and a power struggle, which amps up expectations for a gripping political drama set in the Joseon era, yet the film does not make as much of an impression as its superior cousin “The Face Reader” did in 2013.
The movie is set in the late Joseon era, when the royal family had all but lost its authority to powerful aristocrats, particularly the Kims of Jeongnam, whose real-life versions are the Kims of Andong.
|“Feng Shui” (Megabox)|
Cho Seung-woo plays Park Jae-sang, a master of “pungsujiri” or the East Asian art of geomancy, who loses his wife and baby after his loyalty to the king gets him on the wrong side of the powerful Kim Jwa-geun, played by Baek Yun-sik. Kim is the great-uncle of young King Heonjong -- Lee Won-geun -- who sits frustrated and powerless upon the throne.
Over a decade later, Park is embroiled in a political struggle as Heonjong’s uncle Heungseon -- Ji Sung -- moves to thwart Kim Jwa-geun’s plot to keep the royals under the Kims’ control by acquiring the one piece of land that will ensure power throughout all ages.
Director Park does a passable job of keeping up the suspense with intriguing characters and depiction of the peril at hand, although this is not an immensely difficult task with the abundance of quality actors. Cho is good as usual, and Baek’s steady tone and solemn look reek of charisma.
However, the film relies too much on luck, guesswork and brute force to appeal as a political drama.
The same thing happened with another of Park’s films starring Cho, which raises the suspicion that “strong characters, weak delivery” is Park’s modus operandi.
Too much emphasis on pungsujiri was bothersome as well.
Throughout the film, the characters act as if burying their father in an ideal spot would solve all problems. The odd thing is that it actually does.
The complex power struggle for control of the country gives way to a fight over “magical land,” but the plotting for the land itself is laughably simple.
In terms of acting, some of the characters are one-dimensional, which is unfortunate considering their talent. Moon Chae-won and Kim Sung-kyun are both good actors, but they are reduced to rubber-stamp good guy and bad guy roles respectively. You Jae-myeong as Park’s best friend provides some comic relief but is mostly forgettable.
Lee does a passable job of depicting the angst of a youth up against an overwhelming enemy, but his tone and the way he delivers his lines just don’t work for a period piece.
The biggest problem is Ji Sung’s Heungseon, who should’ve been the highlight of the film. Ji is a good actor, so why is he slurring all of a sudden?
Heungseon’s emotional struggle should have carried the show; despite being the main character, Park actually has a supporting role in the real story arc. Ultimately, it is Heungseon’s story. Yet Ji’s performance is flat, and that costs the whole movie.
Veteran actor Park Chung-seon, who plays a rival “pungsujiri” master, is among the few that exceed expectations. His character steals nearly every scene he’s in, but that is not nearly enough to redeem the entire show.
Overall, “Feng Shui” is not a bad film at all. But it should have been much, much more, considering the amount of talent that went into it.
Anyone who knows Korean cinema would know to expect borderline greatness from the collection of names on this film -- and would know that “just OK” doesn’t cut it.
By Yoon Min-sik