Based on the real-life plots to kill King Jeong-jo of Korea's Joseon Dynasty, "The Fatal Encounter" peppers its palace intrigue with various parallel narratives, double agents, surrogate brothers and the requisite swordplay.
In this dramatized account that spans 20 hours in 1775, Jeong-jo (Hyun Bin) dodges attempts on his life engineered by the Noron faction that murdered his father, Crown Prince Sado. Meanwhile, three orphans groomed as assassins by Gwang-baek (Cho Jae-hyun) await their turn — two undercover as servants in the palace (Jung Jae-young and Jung Eun-chae), plus a professional hit man (Cho Jung-seok).
Veteran television director Lee Jae-kyoo balances the most engrossing aspects of the South Korean telenovela with grandiloquent Hong Kong-influenced fight scenes. It's patent from the get-go that artistic license has been taken to amp up the popcorn factor — as evidenced by a shirtless Hyun doing push-ups, an exercise not invented until more than a century later.
The Korean audience has the benefit of a certain familiarity with the historical background — after all, the life of King Jeong-jo has spawned at least eight television series. But the film's multiple story lines, conflicting interests, double dealings and flashbacks within flashbacks might overwhelm all but history scholars.
"The Fatal Encounter"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.