Hwang Jin Yi

Reviewed by: sukting

September 30, 2007

Rating: two-point-five

How long
2 hours

The movie was shown in local cinemas on the 27th of September but because I won movie preview tickets, I was able to watch it a day earlier. How did Hae Gyo fare as the legendary courtesan?


Jin Yi is famous for her beauty and wits. Being playful, she once disguised as a man to sneak out of home but is seen through her disguise by several lustful men outside a brothel. Luckily, Nom Yi rescues her in time. Nom Yi is her family housekeeper who is secretly in love with her. A man is captivated by Jin Yi's beauty and she writes her name on a piece of cloth to pass to him as a gift.

On her way home after a temple visit, Jin Yi notices that Nom Yi is involved in an old courtesan's funeral. Her trainer tells her that it is the custom to have loud and nice music played during the session. Later, Jin Yi learns that her engagement with her fiancé is called off. Jin Yi's maid, Yee Jin, is nearly raped by her brother and she reports this to her mother.

Her mother sighs and says that her brother is a replica of Jin Yi's father. Her father had raped her maid, who is Jin Yi's real birth mother, and impregnated her. Jin Yi's mother left the household after her birth and became a courtesan but she often comes secretly to look at her daughter from the outside. Jin Yi is brought up as a rich man's daughter but her parentage is leaked out and this ruins her engagement.

Jin Yi is devastated. She then realizes that the dead courtesan is her mother and thanks Nom Yi for his help. (This is a big loophole – his young mistress doesn't know about her past but how does he find out?) Later, the man dies and the other villagers sing a song about Jin Yi's parentage to force her to come out. Nom Yi is about to go out to beat these people with his men but she stops them. She appears and covers his coffin with a wedding gown, indicating that she is willing to marry him.

She doesn't want to be like her mother. (Soon we know how wrong she is.) There are 3 routes for Jin Yi now. One is to get on with her present status and marry an old rich man as his concubine in the future. Two is to become a slave. Three is to become a courtesan. She chooses the last one but wants to give her chastity to Nom Yi. (Hae Gyo bares her back but it is still not as steamy as I expected.) She wants men to subdue to her in the future. (But this is only empty talk.)

Nom Yi is guilt-stricken after spending the night with her. He reveals that he was the one who revealed her parentage to her fiancé's family, so that she can be with him. He never expected to bring so much sorrow to her and begs for her forgiveness. Although Jin Yi doesn't blame him, she doesn't trust anyone except him to be her procurer in the brothel she is going to. (Is she sure that she isn't blaming him? This is the worst punishment or torture for a man, isn't it?!)

Her gisaeng life starts and many other courtesans are jealous of her because of her talents and also of her background. On the first day she receives her guests, one hits her brutally and she faints when she retaliates. (How can this happen since she has been set to be a courtesan?) When the man wants to hurt her further, Nom Yi holds off the man's arm and carries her out. Overpowered by rage, he castrates the man. Nom Yi loves her too much and leaves to become a bandit. Still, he gets his friend, Ju Tong, to take care of her.

Jin Yi and Magistrate Kim play a dangerous liaisons game of luring virtuous men into vice. Kim admires her poetry talents. She refuses to sleep with Kim but agrees to seduce Magistrate Bak. Bak doesn't join the others for merry making but only reads in his room. He gets to see Jin Yi in mourning clothes and talking to Ju Tong in the garden. He can't take his eyes off her face. Later in the night, Jin Yi sets his bed. Bak can't control himself so he holds her hand to sleep with her.

The next day, Kim arranges his friends for a book gathering. All are shocked to know that he invites Jin Yi. Bak is angry when Jin Yi sends a letter to tell how she wishes to be with him. He wants to chase her away when she arrives. But she lifts her skirt and shows the handwriting that he has written before sleeping with her the last night! That puts him into shame as she wins the prize – a book she wishes to own all along. (It is the only scene that I enjoy throughout the movie.)

Kim asks her to seduce another old scholar. She goes to him at night and requests to stay over. The old man approves but Jin Yi later respects him as he shows knowledge and also has no evil designs towards her. He is a real gentleman who can see through her feelings, advising her to forget her greed and hatred.

The court's wealth is missing and Nom Yi is blamed for the theft. He returns to clear his name by discovering the heist to protest that he is framed for it. Still, Kim murders the culprits and demands for his head. The court seeks his hideout and injures him although he manages to get away. Jin Yi worries for him and tends to his wound, wanting him to get away. He escapes to an island with his men.

Jin Yi arranges Yee Jin to marry Ju Tong since they are in love. Magistrate Kim locks Ju Tong up to torture him as he finds out Nom Yi's connection with Jin Yi from another courtesan. Jin Yi sleeps with Kim for Ju Tong's release (This scene is really nothing as she only bares her shoulders and legs.) Although Kim longs for her to stay longer, she refuses. There are 3 things that Kim can't win over – the clouds, the old scholar and her.

Upon her return home, she learns that Nom Yi has just left and is going to Kim's place. She hurries there but is too late – only to see him walking through the doors, surrounded by Kim's men. (Stupid man – he should know where she is since she isn't at home. Why waste her efforts to make such a big sacrifice?!)

She faints due to shock and visits him in prison for the last time. He requests her not to witness his execution. His happiest days are spent with her. His head is hung at the gate for 3 days after the execution but she manages to bring his ashes to the high mountains to scatter them in the wind.

Interesting facts

The movie started filming in June 2006. It took 4 years of groundwork, seven months in production and cost 10 billion won to make. The director took great pains to transfer a novel into the movie script.

But within 4 months, the television version was shown. Many compared the 2 versions. A survey with 3400 people showed that more than half thought Ha Ji Won fitted the image better. They criticized Hae Gyo for being too short. Hae Gyo was disappointed – she worked 12 years in showbiz and this was the first time that people commented on her height. It affected her so much that she cried when reading the report.

Hae Gyo explained that the focus on both versions were different so that wasn't much competition. Both actresses did not mean to compete with each other – only the newspapers wanted them to do so. Ji Won turned up for the movie preview in Seoul and even exchanged greetings with her then. Rain appeared on the shooting set to give her support. Some rumoured them to be a couple but Rain insisted that they were only good friends.

Hae Gyo described this movie different from other courtesan movies. They were not that interested in Hwang Jin Yi's beauty. They wanted to present her secretive side – her thinking. That was why the phrase for it was 'the 21st century woman living in the 16th century'.

Hae Gyo had never acted in a periodic drama before. She spent 2 years to reduce her weight, 3 months to practice the zither, dance, calligraphy and ancient gestures.

But her greatest challenge was the bed scenes. She had often given others a sweet and innocent image. But still, her intimate scenes with Yoo Ji Tae were shot with minimal crew members. It was categorized as M16 in Korean cinemas. The trailer had her saying 'I am giving you my chastity. Please treat me as a courtesan. Where can you find a man not to hug a courtesan?' This line became the talk of the town.

Nom Yi lives and dies for his love but Ji Tae says that he isn't as brave. He even finds his act unbelievable. He cannot be so loyal for love. These men simply do not know what bravery is to pursue their target blindly. He even finds the way Nom Yi fights shameful. He must be patient and have self-control to win against all odds.

The 186cm tall Ji Tae practised using the spears and sabres. He also learned archery to give a perfect performance. He only spent 3 days to complete all the fighting scenes. Even the stunts director was impressed.

Although he was the male lead, his scenes were not many. Many told him that he should not be involved in a movie which only showed his face 70% of the movie. He disagreed with this, he only wanted to act in a movie that had a good storyline. Otherwise, he would be considered a star and not an actor.

Hwang Jin Yi was born in 1520. She was the most famous courtesan who had wits and beauty. Her father was an aristocrat and her mother was a blind courtesan. She continued her mother's profession to accept China's cultural education, law and philosophy. She was also good in playing musical instruments, composing songs and dancing. She was popular and loved a court official's son when she was 15.

But she was the daughter of a slave so her marriage was disapproved. She later loved another aristocrat but the same happened again. She was very independent and attractive to become a symbol of Korean culture. Her pathetic life became famous novels in North and South Korea in 2002 and 2004.

This movie nearly became the first movie to be shown in North Korea. But because their requirement was strict, it could only be shown at the tourists' sites. Those who assisted at the King Gung Mountain shooting would be the first few North Koreans to watch this movie.

Before it was shown, the movie had the fortune of VIP treatment. A poster with Hae Gyo's photograph was hung at Seoul public building to attract all citizens.


It was like "Memoirs of a Geisha" combining "Robin Hood" and "Dangerous Liaisons" together. Unlike "Untold Scandal" which is enjoyable, this movie lacks the sparks. This production is messy. Maybe I had expected too much after watching 4 R(A) Japanese movies from the Japanese Movie Festival before watching this movie. (The Japanese actresses are hot and daring in their roles.)

It is a tragic drama weepie, and doesn't look like a big screen flick. Ji Tae, although okay as the manly rebel who revolts against the unjust ruling class, lacks the chemistry with Hae Gyo. He looks listless all the way. This 2h movie is a big test to my patience. It is so slow that I can predict the ending quickly.

I can't relate myself with Korean culture. That is why I often stay away from ancient Korean dramas. I didn't even enjoy "Jewel in the Palace" as I find the part of a Ming official tasting the Manchurian feast ridiculous. This movie proves no better too.

Is there a need to be a courtesan since she is a rich man's daughter? Is the ending so drastic as her mother is a slave? Unless she thinks naively that a gisaeng only needs to sing and dance to entertain men. Since Jin Yi is prepared to be a 'hooker', why present herself to be so 'honourable' to resist the beast treatments from men?! I simply don't understand this.

Why isn't the courtesan as determined as she sounds to be? She makes a great statement but never lives up to her name in this movie. I was looking to an anti-climax but sadly, this movie offers none. I find the way Jin Yi witnessing Nom Yi walking into this doom stupid. Well, even though there wasn't any handphone during the period era, she should shout to get his attention instead of fainting!!

And why can't his henchmen be resourceful enough to find ways to save him from prison since they are so capable of thefts? I simply can't stomach this.

I must admit that it is a pleasure to observe Hae Gyo's flawless skin. She tried hard to be an ancient maiden. But I don't find her seductive enough even with the thick make-up. She still looks innocent and is stingy in sexy scenes. It doesn't help with her pixie face – the director has made a wrong choice.

Sukting's ratings :

On acting : **1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : ** (Scale of 5)

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