Three years after the death of the previous king, long time royal tailor Cho Dol-seok gets the call to make new garments for the heir to the throne, the queen, and the royal court. Things are complicated due to a historical turning over of power from the royal family to that of a prime minister. Styles and attitudes are changing. Even the ruling class is in upheaval since the monarch finds himself torn between two potential queens. Dol-seok finds his job and status threatened by the arrival of a younger, hotter new designer, Gong-jin, a former fashioner of courtesan dresses. A sometimes amicable, increasingly tumultuous rivalry starts between the two men, and both are drawn into the personal lives and problems of the king and his potential suitors.
With only his second film, Korean filmmaker Lee Won-suk has proven to be a major talent to watch. With both The Royal Tailor and his previous outing, the offbeat romantic comedy How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (which played Reel Asian back in 2013), he proves to be a master of both comedy and drama. Won-suk blends broad comedy and high drama without ever making his films seem like soap operas. His tonal shifts make perfect sense, and it especially befits a tale of mostly good, but flawed people stuck in jobs they can’t stand doing.
It looks wonderfully opulent; a huge step up from his previous film. It’s also densely plotted, but constantly engrossing, with audience sympathies constantly shifting throughout the story. It’s definitely designed to be a crowd pleaser, but it’s a very thoughtfully made and constructed one.