This is the other Korean movie back in 2012 that dealt with the “The Prince and the Pauper” theme, the other being the critically acclaimed Masquerade (aka Gwanghae – The Man Who Became King). The other similarity between both movies is the stories were developed based on the missing entries of both the Kings in the Joseon Annals. Despite the similar themes, both films dealt with different time periods, and the tone of both are vastly different. While Masquerade is all solemn and serious, I Am King takes the comedy route.
Strictly speaking, I Am King was not about a Joseon King, but rather Prince Chungnung, who’d later become Sejong the Great. Prince Chungnung (Joo Ji Hoon) was the third son of King Taejo (Park Yeong-gyu), and he happily made use of the fact that he’s not the first in the succession line to bury himself in books. King Taejo however, was hellbent in removing his firstborn from being his successor, as the son, Crown Prince Yangnung, surrounds himself only with women and wine daily without fail.
The movie is swift in dealing with all the political maneuverings, establishing quickly our resident villain as Minister Shin Ik-yeok (Byun Hee-bong), who first ousted his political rival Minister Hwang Hee (he’ll come in the latter half of the movie again), and when he knows that Crown Prince Chungnung is not the real deal, he orders a swift murder of the real Prince who’s somewhere out there, in a bid to control the court through the fake Chungnung, once he ascends the throne.
The movie never explains why there’s a Chungnung doppelganger, living his life as a slave, but I suppose as all comedies go, such details give way to suspension of disbelief. Unlike in Masquerade where Gwanghae-gun (Lee Byung Hoon) actively orders his trusted aide to look for his lookalike, Chungnung literally bumps into his lookalike when escaping from the palace, simply because he doesn’t want to be a King. His lookalike Deok-chil, the slave, all drunk prior to the bump, faints after being bumped into, and Chungnung decided there and then to swap his clothes with Deok-chil’s, and off to freedom he runs. His two bodyguards are the first two to find out about the switch-a-roo, and heads out to find the real prince, while the other stays behind to help monitor the situation with the fake Prince in check.
The movie tracks the practice of slavery and ill-treatment of them as Chungnung gets mistaken with the bodyguard Hae Goo (Im Won-hee) who went to find him, as one of the slaves (due to his clothings), and on the other hand, his doppelganger undergoes training by his guard Hwang Goo (Kim Soo Ro). Despite Chungnung’s repeated claims of being the Crown Prince, the presence of Deok-chil’s slave friend negates his claims, and all the slaves think is is just Deok-chil going crazy with grief (his beloved was whisked away to jail along with her family, during a political purge orchestrated by Minister Shin).
I Am King tries to offer an alternative (and comedic) explanation of how Sejong the Great becomes a good king who understands his citizens’ plights and living condition. The movie goes further to introduce Chungnung’s first meeting with Jang Young-shil (Im Hyung Joon), who was well-known for his innovation and spearheaded King Sejong’s various technological research and development. I Am King is a rather light-hearted watch which makes two hours pass quickly with its generous dose of comedic moments.
PS: It’s hilarious that Chungnung’s consort is that irritating landlady in King’s Family. One would have thought if Honey Lee plays the part of Deok-chil’s beloved, the Prince’s consort would also be a good-looking lady…anything but.