Jo Dol-seok has tailored clothes for three generations of kings before finally becoming the head of the Sanguiwon, the department responsible for the royal attire. He was born a commoner, and looks forward to upgrading his social status after serving the royal family for thirty years. Careful to use the traditional rules and patterns, Dol-seok denies the queen’s request when she asks him to replace the king’s robe that was accidentally burnt. To do so would be against court customs, but also simply impossible in the short time before the robe is needed.
Anxious to cover her mistake, the queen looks for a designer elsewhere. She is introduced to Lee Gong-jin, a young designer whose good looks and expertise at making unconventional hanboks have charmed many women in the capital. He is portrayed in the film as the inventor of the bell-shaped design of hanboks and new colours. Gong-jin falls in love with the queen at first sight and uses his extraordinary gift as a tailor to save the dress. He subsequently becomes a tailor at the Sanguiwon and begins a prosperous career. He repeatedly uses his craft to support the queen, who is at risk of being dethroned and replaced by the selfish king.
This movie is a feast for the eyes regarding costumes but it is less successful in making a lasting impression on us story-wise. There are no new scenarios; we get the usual palace intrigue where ministers plot and scheme to garner the king’s support with the help of their daughters in the harem, the usual rivalry story between two experts, and the unrequited romance in the background.
There was potential for the movie being more than the usual period drama spiel, but it was never realised. I wanted to see more action by the queen, more drama. A slightly more solid scenario would lift this movie form the middle ground and make it an unforgettable experience. One of the major things going for the movie is the change of the setting from the usual – we enter the huge sewing department of the palace. And it is a fascinating look into an often neglected part of palace life. I loved seeing the sewing process for those amazing silk garments. The sheer hours of hand-work needed for the embroidery! The rules and regulations are so restrictive yet the people manage to produce truly inventive garments nonetheless.
I loved the subtle humour, the sheer joy of the young designer. He was brimming with energy, with new and more outrageous ideas. The friendship he strikes up with the mature head of the sewing department was a joy to behold before court intrigue bashed it all to dust. I just loved the bond these two souls forge in a short amount of time.
Leading actors carry the movie and it is only thanks to their performance that it doesn’t turn into a bland affair. Han Suk-kyu as Jo Dol-seok kills it as the tortured lead tailor. Go Soo as Lee Gong-jin is the upbeat and sympathetic young designer with brilliant ideas, and Park Shin-hye as the unfortunate Queen. They deserve the 4 rating from me for their efforts and the natural way they take on the roles, making them their own. They truly breathe life into the barest bones they are given.
I’m a big fan of costume dramas, so this movie was just what I needed to feast my eyes on. The subtle humour is a nice balance to the melancholy and often moody undertone of the movie.