The Player King and Kingly Players
Inverting Hamlet in Lee Joon-ik's King and the Clown (2005)
Set during the reign of King Yeonsan (1476-1506), King and the Clown (Wang-ui Namja, dir. Lee Joon-ik, 2005) is an (overlooked) adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet that grafts the play onto Korean history and retells the story from the perspective of the traveling players. Employed to help Yeonsan confront and explore his unresolved (Oedipal) issues and to "catch the conscience" (2.2.582) of corrupt officials, the troupe finds itself dangerously embroiled in court politics and asked to stage a number of theatrical "mousetraps" to the point where the interior plays supersede the exterior film. By making the "clowns" the heroes and the plays-within-the-film the main foci, King and the Clown threatens to turn Shakespeare's Hamlet inside out, structurally and thematically, an inversion that reflects South Korean resistance to western cultural hegemony. This paper will explore the ways in which Lee's carnivalesque film functions to decenter the "original," as well as to blur the lines of distinction between the stage and the screen, the local and the global.
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