The Royal Tailor

(Sang ui Weon)
(South Korea, 2014, 127 mins, DCP)
CAST Han Seokgyu, Ko Soo, Park Shinhye, Yoo Yeonsook
PROD Kim Sujin, Yun Inbeom
SCR Lee Byounghak
CAM Kim Jiyong
ED Nam Nayoung
PROD CO WAW Pictures / Bidangil Productions, for Showbox Mediaplex


The term “costume drama” takes on a whole new meaning in Lee Wonsuk’s sumptuous period melodrama, set in Joseon Dynasty Korea and centred on the commissioning, designing and tailoring of robes and dresses for the royal family and its court. Dolsuk (played by Han Seokgyu, a one-time matinee idol who has matured into a fine character actor) is tailor-in-chief to the court, a proud man and a stickler for tradition and protocol. When the queen makes a request which Dolsuk feels he cannot fulfil, she turns instead to Kongjin (fast-rising star Ko Soo), a brilliant young designer-tailor who is making a name for himself in civil society. The stage is set for a conflict between age-old values and new ideas, between traditional fabrics and techniques and innovative approaches.

Compared with the fusty conventions of Japanese jidai-geki and British "heritage" cinema, this is a gas. The story has roots in historical fact and respects them: this is not some Ken Russell-style extravaganza playing fast and loose with anachronisms. But the drama is brought to life in ways that resonate with the present. The issues and conflicts feel real and immediate. And the attention to the details of tailoring is awesome.

Tony Rayns

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