Directed by Lee Joon-ik, The King and the Clown (Wang-ui namja, also known as The King’s Man, Eagle Pictures, 2005), is a South Korean feature film that echoes multiple characters and motifs in Shakespeare, including the revenge plot in Hamlet, the device of a bawdy play-within-a-play in Taming of the Shrew, and the love triangle in the aforementioned Twelfth Night.
The tragicomic film chronicles the life of a masculine and a trans-feminine vagabond performers in the fifteenth-century Joseon Dynasty. The traveling actors stage multiple plays-within-a-film using the conventions of the all-male vagabond theatre with masks, or namsadang nori (a UN Intangible Cultural Heritage).
The king recruits the two “clowns” and their supporting crew to be court entertainers. They stage a short play in court to appeal to the conscience of corrupt court officials that parallels the “mousetrap” play (the play-within-a-play that Hamlet designs to “catch the conscience of the king” who murders Hamlet’s father). Interestingly, this film does not explicitly advertise itself as having any relationship to Shakespeare other than its director’s statements during interviews.
The film is often categorized as a gay film, but Alexa Alice Joubin’s research reveals that this is a transgender film.
With a budget of $6 million USD, The King and the Clown was a box-office hit ($85 million USD) in South Korea where it grossed as much as Titanic. It was seen by more than 12 million people—a quarter of Korean population.
Kam Woo-sung as Jang-saeng
Lee Joon-gi as Gong-gil
Jung Jin-young as King Yeonsan
Kang Sung-yeon as Jang Nok-su
Jang Hang-seon as Cheo-sun
Yoo Hae-jin as Yuk-gab
Jeong Seok-yong as Chil-duk
Lee Seung-hun as Pal-bok