KIM Yoon-Suh (HAN Suk-Kyu, of Green Fish, Shiri, and A Bloody Aria) is an inspections officer and a scholar. He is called a selfish coward behind his back because he refuses to take a stand against LIM, the despised Deputy Prime Minister who, among other things, has had KIM's brother severely beaten.
When one of the Queen's favorite paintings is found to be a forgery that has been put in place of the original, KIM is tasked with apprehending the forger. He enlists the aid of LEE Gwang-heon (LEE Beom-Su, City of Violence and 200-Pound Beauty), an officer and interrogator in the Justice Administration who is known as the "angel of death" for his brutal methods for extracting confessions.
|Lee, Hwang and Kim in Hwang's shop|
Their inquiry leads them to the establishment of Hwang (OH Dal-Su, of Oldboy and director KIM's 2010 film The Servant). Ostensibly a legitimate chinaware merchant, Hwang is a go-between for various illegal activities. Besides arranging for forgeries, he also has a talented calligrapher copying "indecent books" (that is, pornography) that are very popular, especially with women.
KIM reads a bit from a work by IN Bong, a pornographic writer renowned in the city. KIM overcomes his initial aversion to such "literature," tries his hand at it, and soon becomes a sensation in his own right. He adopts the pen name CHU Wol-Sek, as well as such affectations as wearing colored glasses and smoking a pipe. LEE, who is a talented artist as well as an effective torturer, is enlisted as an illustrator for KIM's stories.
Meanwhile, his services to the Queen (KIM Min-Jung) have resulted in their meeting on the sly. Soon KIM's clandestine affair with her and his clandestine activity as a writer of indecent books become intimately and dangerously intertwined. Carrying on with the Queen and writing pornography will lead to dire consequences if discovered by the King and his court.
Forbidden Quest is a terrific period piece that brilliantly combines romance and comedy. Indeed, the scenes in which KIM uses the calligrapher to demonstrate some of the sex positions he wants LEE to draw are uproariously funny. It's beautifully shot, with wonderful costumes and set design.
ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.