Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: The Face Reader (2013)

The Face Reader (aka Physiognomy) (Review)
Han Jae-rim/Song Kang-ho/2013
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...a marvelous achievement."

Nae-gyeong (Song Kang-ho) is incredibly talented in face reading – assessing a person's personality, mental state, habits or their past, present, and even future by looking at his face. Nae-gyeong enters a partnership with Yeon-hong, a hostess and fellow face reader, bringing him into a whole new world...

The Face Reader follows Nae-gyeong as he continues to read faces. Eventually, he solves a murder by simply looking at the face of the victim and the potential suspects. The first act of the film is very lighthearted and humorous compared to the rest. Thereafter, his skill captures the attention of King Munjong, who then hires Nae-gyeong to find the potential traitors in his coup. When King Munjong mysteriously dies, Nae-gyeong spirals into a deep and dangerous conspiracy and must work with any allies he can trust to save the throne. The final act becomes much darker and moodier, and it delivers a devastating blow; the ending was clever, as well.

The Face Reader is very entertaining. I really enjoy the plot and how it carefully crafts each character up to the very end. The first act, although very humorous at times, did feel a bit too drawn out, though. The rest of the film continues with the humor, which I really did enjoy, but on a much smaller scale until it slowly fades out. At this time, it transitions into a very effective drama. The humor and the drama thankfully never clash and ultimately compliment each other to create a consistent and effective film. The face reading isn't as detailed as I hoped, but there are some interesting scenes that develop the concept. Ultimately, it's a very entertaining and versatile film, but it does feel a bit on the lengthy side and the art of physiognomy is unfortunately never delved into deeply enough.

Song Kang-ho delivers a fantastic performance – his performance is very versatile, delivering quirky and clumsy humor and some very powerful emotional scenes. Lee Jung-jae also delivers a noteworthy performance. The set and costume designs are superb – they are the definition of elegant, and help create an immersive atmosphere – really puts you into the “zone”. The cinematography further amplifies the beauty of the masterfully crafted sets and costumes. The music is also beautiful, they compliment the setting so wonderfully – it's a score that I’d love to listen to, even without the film. Director Han Jae-rim does well in crafting this wonderful world, and delivering a large scale tale. From a technical standpoint, The Face Reader is a marvelous achievement.

Overall, The Face Reader is a great historical drama. The humor is often laugh-out-loud hilarious, the drama is deep and effective, especially the fantastic ending, the world is beautifully crafted, and the performances are brilliant, especially from leading man Song Kang-ho. However, the story also feels a bit too long, particularly due to a long-winded introduction, and the concept of face reading can feel like it comes up short due to a lack of development -- how much weight that holds, though, is completely up to you.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

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