I walked into this film, with the extent of my knowledge being the drawn portraits of Prince Sado and King Yeongjo floating around google images. By the time I left the cinema, I felt I've become close companions with these men.
There is a tragically mesmerizing direction Lee Joon Ik accomplishes in his intimate insight into the Royal family. It is difficult to project the arduous politics of the kingdom in a way which doesn't diminish the drama, but heightens its emotional punch. Believe me, it's quite a punch. A series of flashbacks investigates how the relationship between King Yeongjo and his son, Crown Prince Sado deteriorates. Essentially showing how a once proud father can condemn his son to a brutal punishment. It's a wonderful piece of film editing, gripping the viewers to a claustrophobic degree as we witness Sado's sufferings, while never losing interest in the family's origins whenever the film jumps back a few years or so.
Perhaps, the greatest element of this film is undoubtedly it's ability to depict deceased historical figures with a brooding complexity and vibrance. Particularly, Yoo Ah In's portrayal of Sado is captivating in its depiction of the man's compassion, thirst for freedom and his eventual conflicted psyche. Never is there once a hint of a stereotypical, one dimensional, cold blooded lunatic. No. This is an incredible portrayal of a human being, as these historical figures were.
The inability to emphasize with and encourage others is a fault exposed here. This is how the film transcends from a dramatic period piece to a work of art which deeply resonates in families caught in strife. It truly is an absorbing insight into life between the palace walls during the height of familial tension, boasting an emotional prowess that would tingle within you for some time. A masterpiece has been extracted from this segment of history.