Empire of Lust (2015) Korean Movie Review

Empire_of_Lust-posterEmpire of Lust (2015) Korean Movie Review


Hello. This is Prof. Akia Talking with a Review of a New Korean movie “Empire of Lust” (2015) starring Korean drama favourites Shin Ha-Kyun, Jang Hyuk, and relative newcomer Kang Han-Na from “Miss Korea” (2013).

The major Korean release in March and a movie starring primarily TV Korean drama lead actors, you have to ask yourself the following question.

Will this movie good?

This is an interesting question! I would have to say that it depends… on whether you are a hardcore Korean drama lover or not.

The Plot

“Empire of Lust” (2015) is a historical period piece movie “loosely” based on the real-life events of “the 1st Conflict between the Joseon Princes”. I have a historical feature of this event here if you want to give it a look.

However, “Empire of Lust” (2015) does not bother much with historical accuracy. You basically just have to know that, in the early years of the Joseon dynasty, the princes born from different mothers fought over the claim to the throne.

Sons of the first wife
Sons of the second wife

On one side, you have the King and his youngest son born of the second wife.

Oh did I mention that the sons did not wait for the king to actually die before getting to murdering each other?
Youngsters now a day!

Shin Ha-Kyun

This is the side that our fictional protagonist played by “Shin Ha-Kyun” is on as the main military figure for his side. On the other side, you have the older brothers born of the first wife. Jang Hyuk plays the third prince who was the De facto political/military leader of his side even though he was not the eldest son.

Jang Hyuk

Thus, you have these two military men going “mano e mano” with swords and armies…

Exciting isn’t it?
This is what the promotional material tries to sell you.

However, this is actually more of the “C” plot. The “A” plot is a love story where the silent stoic type Shin Ha-Kyun’s character falls head over heels for a courtesan played by “Kang Han-Na” and brings her into his household where he has a wife, a stepson, and a daughter in law who just happens to be a princess.

Crazy isn’t it?

This “B” plot is centred around the Shin Ha-Kyun’s character’s serial rapist stepson.

Yes, I said it!
Serial rapist stepson!

This son displays perverted behaviour towards the new woman his father brought into his home.

Since the son is a pervert, you know he is watching the two have sex from the shadows.

There is technically no incest in the movie. But what do you call trying to rape your father’s girlfriend?

Game of Soap Boxes

If you literally translate the Original Korean title of this movie, you would get “Age of innocence” and not “Empire of Lust”. I think “Age of innocence” maybe a little better suited for this movie since this movie is such a romance “Soap Opera”.

As a side note, I have a thing about Korean movies and dramas ripping off well-known foreign titles.
The Age of Innocence (1993)

I actually went into the movie pretty blind other than catching the trailer which told a story about political intrigue and fighting between men.

In other words, it is trying to sell to men!

However, 15 minutes into the movie, it was very evident that “Empire of Lust” (2015) was a small scope “Soap Opera” centred around a single-family.

Sound very much like your period piece of Korean drama?

“Empire of Lust” (2015) feel much like 20 episode Korean historical drama compressed into a movie. As a result, the different plot lines do not mesh well together. It does seem that huge chunks of the story had been removed. However, for what it is, “Empire of Lust” (2015) is at minimum feels somewhat coherent than what you would expect.

The pace of the story never really bogs down.

This is done by basically shrinking down the scope of the story to Shin Ha-Kyun’s character and his new girlfriend “banging” each other and how that affects his other family members.

The movie does not really care about the story in the larger political arena. The best it can do is to have supporting characters shouting at each other with high tension music playing a few times.

What does this mean for you the person sitting in the theatre?

It means that if you do not like Korean drama’s family-centric Soap Operas, “Empire of Lust” (2015) does not have much to offer.

It is a movie made for women primarily.

If not melodrama than what?

In “Empire of Lust” (2015), there are basically about 4 action scenes in total at best. While I could say that they are not terribly choreographed, they feel more mechanical than interesting.

They feel more obligatory than anything else.

The promotion for this movie shows Shin Ha-kyun with a new body built like a rock.

And I do have to say he is built!
He reminds me of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine body.
Rock hard and scratched all over!

However, this bodybuilding is not for the action since he actually does not do much of it. Rather, it is for SEX!

“Empire of Lust” (2015) has about 4 or so major sex scenes with Shin Ha-Kyun and Kang Han-Na.

Not including the rape scenes.

And I do have to say that they are not boring. The cinematography is rather artistic and tasteful with some breast and bottom action. But what makes it not boring is that the movie does put the effort to shake things up with the actual positions of the sex acts.

You have a doggy style.

You have a missionary style.

And some other bendy positions too.

Since we are talking about sex scenes and I am straight, I should talk about Kang Han-Na. However, I have not much to say…

She looks decent…

It is odd when a straight guy can only really remember how built Shin Ha-kyun was after watching sex scenes!

But he is really really built.
I have watched too much Korean drama!

While I do appreciate some interesting sex scenes, story function-wise, some felt rather redundant.

The Acting!

For both male actors, “Empire of Lust” (2015) is an attempt to establish themselves as viable leading men in Korean movies. However, for Jang Hyuk, his role is actually a second-tier supporting character whose screen time is less than 15 minutes. He is nowhere an equal lead to Shin Ha-Kyun’s role. Thus, it is Shin Ha-Kyun’s movie to sink or lift.

Sadly, I think the overall movie was miscast.

How can that be?

In the case of Jang Hyuk, he is essentially doing the “Evil brother” version of the typical character he is actually doing in “Shine or Go Crazy” (2015) now. Jang Hyuk simply does not have the gravitas or menace the role in this movie requires.

I can understand Jang Hyuk.
What about Shin Ha-kyun?
Isn’t he an acting god?

The role Shin Ha-kyun has is basically the brooding stoic type that does not talk much. It is essentially “Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine” but with even less talk and no humour or sarcasm at all. While Shin Ha-Kyun is a great acting talent, just being silent and brooding simply is not where his talents lie.

He is more of an actively projecting actor.

The newcomer Kang Han-Na also has problems with a role which requires a more multifaceted actress. The role has several different faces that need to be displayed on a screen at different moments and she cannot really handle it.

Thus, the casting of “Empire of Lust” (2015) is a miss rather than a hit!

Story problems

Story structure-wise, “Empire of Lust” (2015) is a solid 3 act structure movie. I can always appreciate structurally tight movies which are quite rare in Korea. The problem with “Empire of Lust” (2015) is not with the story structure but the fact that 3rd act feels like a rushed rewrite for the purpose of forcing more “melodrama” at the end.

While just a backdrop, the “C” plot comes upfront in 3rd act. This is expected because of the nature of the events being used in the movie. It is not difficult to have the “A” and “B” plots feed into the “C” plot. Until the start of the 3rd act, everything was ready for this to happen.

However, the movie blows this chance.

The “C” plot’s development in the 3rd act turned out to totally negate the need for either the “A” and “B” plots to exist. This means that most of the movie had no real relevance to the outcome of the movie.

Why need a femme fatal when your enemy is just incompetent?

In conclusion

Since the “King and the Clown” (2005) became a hit, Korean movies had many attempts to make decent historical period movies. However, I do think the most failed because the stories never were able to balance “drama” with “melodrama”.

“Empire of Lust” (2015) seems to have decided to chuck out the “drama” in favour of the “melodrama”. And for the most part, this is not a bad idea. A lot of Korean dramas are purely focused on “melodrama” and work well.

This is why I think this movie is made for Korean drama lovers.

While it has serious problems, “Empire of Lust” (2015) is not a total failure also. Considering the rather strong emphasis on the sexual, “The Concubine” (2012) could be seen as being similar. Compared to that movie, “Empire of Lust” (2015) is far less convoluted and nicely paced.

For most of the time spent watching the movie, I could say that “Empire of Lust” (2015) did not offend. And, if the 3rd act did not fail to nail the already paid in the full courtesan, I would not have remembered it negatively at least. However, the 3rd act just left a bad taste in my mouth.

As so, there was no reason for the movie to have 2 rape scenes.

I will give “Empire of Lust” (2015) a “C+” grade which is the best I can do for a movie that is miscast and has a terrible 3rd act.

Score: C+ or 5.25/10

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