The King’s Case Note (2017) Korean Movie Review
The Hollywood buddy action comedy genre had its glory day during the 90s and early 2000s with many classic movies of the genre being released. As the genre’s popularity started to wane down, movies within this genre started to branch out into different directions to rejuvenate their appeal. One was setting the movie in a period setting. Thus we got many movies such as “Shanghai Noon” (2000) starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. While further branching out gave us “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) by extending the duo into a trio, the duo dynamic remained the mainstay of the genre as it was more robust. Through these changes, the genre sustained itself during the remaining days of the 2010s. However, nothing lasts forever. The end of the era was marked by “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as the super detective duo. This was the last huge blockbuster hit for this genre. Movies within the genre such as “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) and “The Lone Ranger” (2013) were made into the early 2010s. However, the glory days of this genre did not return.
The Korean cinema industry — contrast to Hollywood — seems to not have gotten the message — the genre was dead—as it keeps trying to revive the genre in Korea by basically remaking either “Shanghai Noon” (2000) or “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) over and over. The detective K series — “Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island” (2015) and “Detective K: Secret Of Virtuous Widow” (2011) — is a product of this endeavour. The results could be said to be mixed at best. None of the movies made could prove that the popularity of the genre could be brought back in Korea. However, the industry keeps insisting on trying. This is where “The King’s Case Note” (2017) starring Lee Sun Kyun, Ahn Jae Hong, Kim Hee-Won comes into the picture. Can it change the tides of history?
In many ways, “The King’s Case Note” (2017) is remaking “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011). It is a detective and his sidekick running around trying to solve a mystery that is somehow connected to a larger conspiracy that threatens the country. So, transplant Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to the Joseon dynasty a few hundred years into the past. Then, turn Sherlock Holmes into the king of Joseon—played by actor Lee Sun Kyun — and make Dr Watson — played by actor Ahn Jae-Hong — into a royal butler. Well, technically he is the keeper of royal history which is a real position during this period but the movie just treats him as a butler. There is no real difference.
The actual plot of the movie starts as we are introduced to butler character on his first day on the job. As a character, he is not particularity bright or ambitious. However, he is simple and sincere. You know the lovable but generally useless sidekick character. In fact, if I think about the character, he is more close to Tony Stark’s butler “Happy Hogan” than Dr Watson; at least Jude Law’s Dr Watson. Happy Hogan was played by “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau. When the butler meets the king for the first time, he could instantly know that the king, while smart, is very odd and would be a huge pain in the ass to serve as, while having an attitude problem, he is very industrious and diligent towards what he viewed as his obligations; to keep the fragile peace. This would not be easy as he is surrounded by enemies. He is basically a toned-down Robert Downey Jr. mixed with the puppet Burt of the television show Sesame Street’s “Bert and Ernie” duo. Can you imagine that character? I don’t have to! I lived it.
Are you interested in the premise? It’s okay I guess. There is not much to the plot. Just imagine “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) and you’ll get the idea of what this movie is. Did you notice I am not referring to the first Sherlock Holmes movie but its sequel? While one may not like the movies in this franchise, everyone could agree that the sequel was the far lesser of the two. And “The King’s Case Note” (2017) cannot be said to be technically “good”. Unlike expectations, making a good formulaic action-comedy is not as easy as you may think. And being rather lazy and incompetent —yes you! “The King’s Case Note” (2017) —doesn’t help.
1. The plot is unbalanced and underdeveloped.
“The King’s Case Note” (2017) can be broken into 2 phases. The first is the solving mystery phase where the main duo play detective. The second is where the conspiracy is in full gear and it is time for action set pieces. It is the standard formula that this movie fails miserably at. The conspiracy itself is very underdeveloped to the degree that I was confused what the conspirators— comical paper cutouts of characters with barely any screen time — intended to do to achieve their goal of getting “Money”. Yes, the objective is nothing more than money. And when it gets started, the conspiracy peters out rather quickly because one has to end the movie somehow. However, it wasn’t as fast as I wished in the theatre. In contrast, the mystery section was better albeit “better” compared to an episode of Scooby-Doo. One problem is that this mystery rather awkwardly connects with the conspiracy. Another problem is that there was not enough content to fill for about an hour. Usually, a movie in this genre has two or so series of connected mysteries for the protagonists to solve before transitioning to the conspiracy phase. “The King’s Case Note” (2017) only has one. This leaves a significant amount of time with the main duo bantering.
2. The main duo characters are rather dull and their chemistry is only okay
“The King’s Case Note” (2017) only really has about 4 characters that matter. Even among the 4, one is a side supporting character whose story function is redundant and the other is the villain who doesn’t get much screen time with the protagonists. Thus, for a lot of movies, we are just left with the main duo. They cannot carry that time. For one, the characters as they are portrayed — Lee Sun Kyun & Ahn Jae Hong —aren’t really as interesting as they should be. This is partly because of the actors —they are okay in terms of acting talent— lack the screen presence required. For another, these characters are underdeveloped — this is a common issue with this movie — even though they get the most development. Another major issue is that the movie cannot make up its mind whether to go hard on the comedy or not. Thus, all of the jokes are under-delivered and fail to land.
3. Non-main duo characters are wasted
Even with a duo action-comedy, other characters still matter. For example, you still need a decent main villain and henchmen to deliver on-screen. This is done very poorly in this movie. For one, “The King’s Case Note” (2017) doesn’t really have a main villain but a single lead henchman e.g. Darth Maul of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999). Technically, there are 3 main villains but they are barely in the movie and very poorly introduced. This is a serious problem with the movie. Characters are very poorly introduced and thus fail to establish themselves. Then, they disappear for long stretches of the movie. When they return, it is not like they are well used. They are wasted. Even the Darth Maul of this movie — basically gets the same amount of lines as Phantom— is treated in this manner. Thus I didn’t care what they did or what happened to them.
4. Lack of tonal consistency
As mentioned before, “The King’s Case Note” (2017) is not sure how comedic it’s period buddy action-comedy should be with the King running around trying to solve the mystery of the ghost fish. Another issue with consistency is how seriously it should deal with the period setting. In parts of the movie, it feels like what one would get watching a standard period of a Korean drama with the appropriate cultural details and period speech. In other parts, it has a lot of elements of “historical steampunk” popping in and the characters speak and interact like characters in a modern setting. It just bothers me.
5. Music… Someone saw Avengers
Music is very prominently positioned throughout this movie since it plays almost in every scene like it is trying to force the slow and dull scenes to move. However, it actually makes it worse as the soundtrack lacks variety —basically repeating the same score over and over — and the tone of the tracks are slow and monotonous. The only time when the score gets excited is when it basically blatantly rips off —someone should call a lawyer —the theme of the Avengers. And this is repeated at least 3 times in the movie. It really brings me out of the movie.
6. Bad adaptation
“The King’s Case Note” (2017) is an adaptation of a Korean comic. I did not know it —have not read the comic —going in but this doesn’t surprise me. It feels like the bad “name and setting only” adaptations we tended to get out of Hollywood in the 90s. It is not bad because it tried to compress a larger plot from the source material into a 114-minute movie but is bad because it fills a 114-minute movie with “totally new” genre cliché filler –ignoring the plot of the source material—and even failing to do that. “The King’s Case Note” (2017) is incompetent. The result is that 114 minutes couldn’t go fast enough. It is not that the movie is obviously terrible. It is just dull. For myself, that is a greater sin.