Goongnyeo (Shadows in the Palace) (2007)




Director:     Mee-jeung Kim.

Starring:     Jin-hie Park (Chun-ryung - the court medic),  Se-ah Yun (Hee-bin - the royal concubine),  Yeong-hie Seo (Wol-ryung - the dead court maid),  Jeong-eun Lim (Ok-jin - the mute court maid),  Hye-jin Jeon (Jung-ryul - court maid),  Sung-ryeong Kim (Kam-cheol - the supervising court maid),  Nam-jin Kim (Lee Hyung-ik).

fictionalized account of court maids during Joseon era


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Kam-cheol, the supervising court maid says:  "A court maid must be devoted to the king to the day she dies.  If you do not keep your chastity, you will be severely punished."  All alone a court maid, Chun-ryung, gives birth to a baby in the forest.  One gets the idea that she has thrown her baby down a well. 

Six years later.  Court maid Jung-ryul, the Queen's maid, has night guard duty for the Crown Prince.  When she hears sexual noises she opens the sliding door just a bit to see the King and the Queen having sex.  Jung-ryul likes to gossip and she tells some of the other court maids that she heard and saw the love making session.  Another court maid says mistress Hee-bin gave him the first son in fifteen years of marriage.  He is thinking he will make this son the Crown Prince.  But that will never happen as long as the Queen Mother is still alive.  The court maid tells Jung-ryul she better watch her tongue or it will get cut off at the maid's ritual.  This makes Jung-ryul angry and she leaves. 

She goes down to the living quarters of the court maids and sits outside of Wol-ryung's room.  After awhile she calls out for Wol-ryung.  When there is no answer she slides the door open and sees poor Wol-ryung hanging from the ceiling.  While looking at the corpse, Jung-ryul sees a beautiful orange oval-shaped jewel.  She pulls it off the corpse and the body drops three feet or so to be eye to eye with Jung-ryu., who is frightened by the sudden movement.

Jung-ryul tells others that Wol-ryung hanged herself.  Chun-ryung, the court medic, is brought in to examine the body.  She is accompanied by her very young assistant.  Chun-ryung tells her assistant that this is not a suicide.  There was no rope dust given off by a struggling body.  They find in the deceased's clothes an exist pass from the palace which is only given to high court maids. 

Kam-cheol comes to see Chun-ryung and the latter tells Kam-cheol that Wol-ryung was here for eight years.  Jung-ryul, who lives next door, discovered her body in the morning at 6 a.m.  Supervisor Kam-cheol tells Chun-ryung that she does not need to speak with Jung-ryul.  "You just finish the autopsy report."  But Chun-ryung says about the death:  "It is a meticulously planned murder."  Kam-cheol asserts:  "That cannot be.  Report it as a suicide." 

When Kam-cheol reports to her superiors and she gets criticized.  That's the third one this year:  "The court maids' discipline must be weak." 

Chun-ryung still insists that the court maid did not kill herself.  She was hanged after she was dead.  And Chung-ryung believes that Wol-ryung was pregnant or had just recently given birth.  Senior Nurse is brought in to examine the corpse.  She says there was no miscarriage.  The court maid must have given birth.  But the senior nurse insists that the death be reported as a suicide.  That will cause the least amount of damage for all. 

Hee-bin gets very dressed-up to go see the Queen Mother.  But many say that she has already lost face with the Queen Mother. 

The senior nurse tells Chun-ryung that if this was found out, Hee-bin would be cast out of court.  And remember, the senior nurse says, she can cast out a court nurse at any time.  She advises Chun-ryung:  "Don't ruin your future out of pity."   This makes Chun-ryung mad and she says that the murderer(s) knew the court would try to cover up the crime, so they knew they could get away with murder.  She asks the senior nurse:  "What if it happens again?" 

Hee-bin, all dressed-up and carefully coifed, goes to see the Queen Mother but is told that the Queen Mother does not wish to receive her.  Hee-bin asks if the Queen Mother will see her grandson?  To do that, Hee-bin would have to register the Prince as the Queen's son.  As Hee-bin remains standing there, the Queen Mother and her retinue come out and pass by her.  The Queen Mother says:  "I will not stand for the son of a common concubine becoming the heir."  Again Hee-bein is advised that if she wants to make her son heir, let the Queen adopt him as her own. 

Chun-ryung goes to get the medical records for all the court maids.  The record keeper tells her that the Viscount took all the records that nurse Park kept.  And Park recently left her position.  So Chung-ryung marches over to the Viscount's place and tells one of the Viscount's men that she wants to meet the Viscount.  The aide tells her that women are not allowed here.  Cung-ryung sees the Viscount come out, so she tells the aide in a loud voice to please ask the Viscount to return the medical records today. 

Two nasty court maids tease Ok-jin, a mute court maid.  They like taunting her and pushing her around.  Their little game is stopped for a moment because their immediate supervisor is coming.  The court maid immediate supervisor says that gold and silver thread has been disappearing from storage.  She says that a thief can be beheaded, so:  "Who is it?"  The two taunters say they saw Ok-jin near the storage area in the morning.  So the wonderful immediate supervisor decides to torture the mute court maid to get her to confess.  She has the young women tie her stomach-side down on a table.  Long needles are thrust under her fingernails.  When someone knocks on the door, they have to throw Ok-jin into a cabinet. 

Kam-cheol has come for Ok-jin because she was the roommate of the murdered court maid.  The court maid supervisor talks with Ok-jin and then tells her that she will be kept in this room until things get settled. 

Hee-bin learns that Wol-ryung hanged herself.  She is shocked. Her helper Maid Shim tells her it is best that she pretend she doesn't know about Wol-ryung and let her handle it for her.  But Hee-bin says:  "I must see for myself." 

Flashback.   Wol-ryung is to be punished for something her superior Hee-bin did.  But Hee-bin steps forward and says she will take her own punishment.  Kam-cheol takes pleasure in hitting the woman's lower legs with a reed.  Her crime was that when it was Chung's turn to be with the King, Hee-bin lured His Majesty to her bed.  Wol-ryung is very upset and rushes over to cover Hee-bin's legs with her own body and arms.  This breaks up the session and the punishment is over. 

Back to the present.  Chung-ryung tells Hee-bin that she needs to ask Jung-ryul something.  Meanwhile, the medic's aide is all by herself with the corpse.  A black cloud descends slowly over everything in the room. 

Jung-ryul waits in the room next to the mute court maid.  She looks at the orange jewel she stole from Wol-ryung and suddenly a hand comes over the top of her shoulder as if it is trying to grab the jewel.  This obviously freaks out Jung-ryul.

Kam-cheol  questions the mute court maid.  She sees that the mute has a nice expensive trinket and wants to know how she could afford it?  Meanwhile red string-like threads start crawling all over Jung-ryul's body. She goes crazy and demands to be let out.  When they let her out she runs for it with the court maids in hot pursuit.  Kam-cheol tells Chun-ryung to go back to her office. 

The medical assistant finds herself in pitch dark in the office.  She goes to get a lantern.  While she is temporarily gone, someone enters the room with a lamp. 

Chun-ryung examines Wol-ryung's room.  She finds a love letter at the bottom of a sewing box. 

The medical assistant returns to the office and finds it a mess. 

Flashback.  The Viscount is teaching the court maids the art of calligraphy.  It's obvious he has taken an interest in Chun-ryung.  In private he starts to have sex with her and she tells him that she has missed her period.  The Viscount tells her, in disgust, that a court nurse should know better. He tells her he will get her some pills so she can get rid of it. 

Back to the present.  Chun-ryung hears noises and goes to investigate.  Someone knocks her out. 

Hee-bin is with the King.  She is very worried about her and her son's welfare.  She says maybe she shouldn't have bore him a son.  There is such disorder in the palace.  She tells the King that he surely realizes that he can't do anything while the Queen Mother is alive.  The King gets mad and leaves.  Hee-bin wonders when will he ever come out from underneath his mother's wing?

Chun-ryung awakens with a headache.  She shouts:  "The letter!"  She goes to retrieve it, but it is gone. 

Chun-ryung speaks with the mute and asks if she knew Baron Lee in the court physician's quarters?  He is the Queen Mother's daughter's son, making him the King's nephew.  A court maid comes in and tells Chun-ryung to hurry, Jung-ryul can't breathe.  They hang Jung-ryul upside-down by her feet and Chun-ryung hits her back with a stick.  Soon Jung-ryul spits out the orange jewel.    Kam-cheol enters the room and slaps the senior court maid in the face knocking her down.  She asks her why did she let Chun-ryung in?  Chung-Ryung notices that the orange jewel has the royal seal marked on it.  She then tells Kam-cheol that Wol-ryung had a baby.  Kam-Cheol says that she will show the court maids what happens when they disobey the rules.  Cunn-ryung is very concerned and says that Kam-cheol just plans to blame everything on Jung-ryul.  

When Chun-ryung finally gets back to her medical assistant, the young girl tells her that someone was in the office last night.  Chung-ryung is not happy that her assistant didn't stop it from happening.  The assistant changes the topic by telling her boss that Hee-Bin had been there and had asked to see her. 

Kam-cheol tells Maid Shim that Jung-ryul got the orange jewel from Wol-ryung.  Maid Shim says that they could not report it as missing. 

The senior nurse informs Chun-ryung that nurse Park is dead.  She then gives Chun-ryung the medical records.  Chun-ryung notices that Wol-Ryung's pages are of a different color.  Park must have added these records later.  She fabricated Wol-Ryung's records. 

Chun-ryung goes to see Hee-bin.  Hee-bin asks her what took her so long?  Chun-ryung apologizes.  Hee-bin asks the medic how did Wol-ryung die?  She was murdered is the answer.  Maid Shim says that's absurd.  She says it's a plot against Hee-bin to harm her.  Chun-ryung ignores Maid Shim and tells Hee-bin that nurse Park fabricated Wol-Ryung;'s medical record.  Maid Shim demands the court maids take the medic away.  They pull her out of the room. 

The senior nurse looks at the burned body of nurse Park.  She then sees a piece of partially burned paper in the fire place.  She examines the piece of paper and sees that it is a record of her ovulation times. 

Maid Shim talks with the captured medic.  She says that Chun-ryung is a threat to them because the Queen Mother is looking for any excuse to take the prince away from Hee-bin.  Maid Shim then has the medic locked in a cabinet. 

Flashback.  The two court maid bullies push the mute court maid to the ground and she spills items from her sewing box.  The Viscount comes along and helps her pick-up some of her things.  The mute maid is touched by his kindness. 

Back to the present.  Hee-bin releases Chun-ryung from the cabinet.  She tells her she must go because now she is in real danger.  Hee-bin wants her to find the killer of Wol-ryung. 

Chun-ryung puts on the uniform of a house cleaner.  She walks over to the Viscount's office.  She starts looking through his papers.  The Viscount returns to his office, but is held up at the door by a man.  The medic walks out of the office right between the two talking men.  The Viscount recognizes and chases her.  He chases her through parts of the palace and into the woods where he catches her.  Chun-ryung tells him that it was he who stole the love letter.  The Viscount says he already burned it.  The medic says she knew it was him.  The Viscount asks her if she really thought that the King would execute him for trifling with a mere court maid?  He's the King's nephew, after all.  The Viscount is going to kill the medic with his knife, but she throws acid in his face.  His face and eyes are burned by the acid.  And he is partially blinded.  He tries to find the medic but ends up falling to his death off a drop-off in the woods.   

The mute court maid is mutilating the skin on her thigh by thrusting the needle and thread in and through and out of the skin and then back in again

Flashback.  Wol-ryung asks OK-Jin the mute, where did she get that love letter?  Ok-Jin just grabs it from her when Wol-ryung tries to burn the letter.  Wol-ryung says she will be put on trial too if it is discovered. 

The Viscount comes to see the mute.  He hugs and kisses her despite of the fact that she is very bloody. 

Back to the present.  Chun-ryung changes back into her regular uniform. She returns to her office to find that Wol-ryung's body is gone.  Her assistant says the supervisor came and took the body and cremated it.  Chun-ryung rushes outside and sees the black smoke rising into the sky.  She walks over and confronts the supervisor.  But as she starts speaking she sees a body in the room.  She rushes over to the body and finds out that it is the body of the mute court maid. 

The supervisor grabs Jung-ryul.  She is going to be the ritual victim.  Chung-ryung shouts that she is innocent.  Kam-cheol responds that the medic already told her that she stole the orange jewel from Wol-ryung.  She will be executed tonight. 

The senior nurse is returning in a palanquin to the palace.  She is busy studying the ovulation chart.  The black shadow descends over her and kills her. When she arrives back at the palace, she is found to be dead.  Chun-ryung comes out to find out what happened.  She and her assistant examine the  body.  They find something in her mouth.  It is the rolled up ovulation chart.  The medic tells her assistant she is going over to the library.  There she looks into the records room.  She examines the King's sleeping records and starts matching up the dates of Wol-ryung's ovulation times with the nights when the King stayed with Hee-bin.  She finds a perfect match. 

Flashback.  Wol-ryung goes into the room where the King is sleeping.  Maid Shim is there to supervise.  After she has sex with the King, she comes out and Hee-bin is sent in.  It's the old switcheroo. 

Back to the present.  The ritual ceremony is about to begin.  The supervisor walks the court maids over to the place where the ritual ceremony is to be held. 

Maid Shim goes to check on Chun-ryung but finds that she is no longer in the cabinet.  She goes to speak with Hee-bin.  She asks Hee-bin if she released the medic?  Yes.  In discussing the matter, Hee-bin learns that Maid Shim got rid of nurse Park.  And she also killed Wol-ryung.  Maid Shim says that Wol-rung was avaricious and took things from her whenever she wanted. 

Flashback.  Wol-ryung wet nurses her child.  Maid Shim and Hee-bin discover her and Maid Shim asks Wol-ryung if she is trying to get them all killed?  Wol-ryung says: "I put my life on the line for you, but he is still my son." 

Back to the present.  Maid Shim tells Hee-bin that she was incapable of handling Wol-ryung.  Hee-bin hands her a knife so she can kill herself.  Maid Shim says:  "You can't do this to me!"  She says she has Hee-bin's court record.  She then takes the baby and runs off with him.  Hee-bin starts to pursue her, but as she steps out of the house, she is grabbed by the ankles and pulled under the house into the crawlspace.  It's the black cloud.  There are sounds of choking from underneath the house.

Maid Shim runs into the forest.  She is very spooked because she senses something around her.  A hand reaches over her shoulder for the child and Maid Shim drops the boy.  She picks the baby back up and then looks up in the trees.  There hanging is another body staring straight at Maid Shim.

Chun-ryung runs to Hee-bin's place.  There is no one there.  She finds the red court record for Hee-bin.  She matches it up with Wol-ryung's court record and discovers that the two women were sisters. 

The court maid supervisor is scaring the hell out of the court maids with descriptions of the punishments that await them if they fail in their duties or betray their King.   With her head covered by a sack, Jung-ryul is brought out to the guillotine.  They place her hands in a stock.  Chun-ryung shouts out that the court maid is innocent.  But she is too late, her hands are loped off by the guillotine.  Then a swordsman cuts her throat.  Chun-ryung runs to the victim and pulls off the sack.  It's not Jung-ryul, but Maid Shim.  The supervisor orders her maids to grab Chung-ryung.  Jung-ryul is watching the events with the other court maids.  She goes hysterical once again and shouts that they are all crazy.  Chung-ryung uses the chaos to pull away from the court maids  She starts running and the court maids chase after her. 

A black cloud appears over the Queen Mother as she lays in her bed.  A woman appears out of the black clouds and throws her hair around the head of the older woman.  The phantasm is Wol-ryung.  She says:  "My baby shall be King!"  The hair then tightens around the head and crushes the skull of the Queen Mother.  The servants find the Queen Mother dead. 

Chun-ryung runs into the forest.  In the dark she trips over the body of the Viscount.  She gets up and continues running.  She stops because she hears a baby cry.  Chun-ryung finds the baby and picks it up.  Wol-ryung appears in the form of Hee-bin in front of Chun-ryung.  She says:  "Give me my baby!"  The court maids find the Viscount's body.  Wol-ryung pushes Chun-ryung off a drop-off, but the medic is able to hold on with one hand to a tree root.   She gives the baby to Wol-ryung and then falls to the bottom with a thud.  Wol-ryung suckles her son. 

The court maids pick up Chun-ryung.  She is taken in and tortured.  The supervisor wants to know who she met in the forest?  But Chun-ryung is not talking.  She screams, but doesn't tell.  The supervisor reports to her superior that the medic will not open up.  In the form of Hee-bin, Wol-ryung takes her position among the court mistresses.  She is invited inside.  The supervisor returns to Chun-ryung and wants to know who is she protecting?  The court maids surround the medic.  They cut her right palm with a knife.  The cutter then shakes right hands with the medic in a type of blood-sisters ceremony.  Then they wrap her wound with gauze.   

Chun-ryung is released.  She slowly walks out into the sunlight.  Her assistant sees her and comes running over to her to help steady her.  The assistant tells her that the Queen Mother died.  And now Chun-ryung has been made mistress Hee-bin's nurse.  Soon she will be a physician. 

Wol-ryung as Hee-bin watches as the King proclaims Kyon to be the Crown Prince.  Hee-bin has had her right palm slashed also.  The audience shouts:  "Long live the Crown Prince!"


Interesting movie.  But I had a hard time following it.  Here's all these women of similar height and build with black hair pulled back and wearing the same or similar uniforms.  Because the subtititilist used the names only very sparingly it was hard figuring out who was who.  Was that woman in the scene Chun-ryung, Hee-bin or  Kam-cheol?  I had to watch the movie twice before I felt I had an adequate (but maybe not perfect) understanding of the movie and even then I had to triple check certain scenes.  Here's a switch:  an historical movie with super-natural and horror elements in it.  I wouldn't recommend it, but here it did work.  Too bad there wasn't more history.  On Google there is virtually nothing on the Kings of this period. 

I felt sorry for the court maids.  Here they were kept away from male companionship and love and they could be horribly mutilated for small offenses and beheaded if it was a bit more serious of an offense committed.   Being a court maid is a bit like joining the army, but worse.  The discipline was much stricter on the court maids.  But it certainly was good to be the absolute monarch with the emphasis on absolute. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.   


P.S.  Gei Chan was very kind to write me and correct several misidentification mistakes I had made.  I have incorporated the changes.


Historical Background:


13921910 five century rule of the Joseon Dynasty, a Korean sovereign state.

1694  --  birth of the future King Yeonigo, twenty-first king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He was the second son of Sukjong, and succeeded his older brother Gyeongjong. 

1724-1776  --  reign of King Yeongjo.

1728 death of Prince Hyojang, first son of King Yeonigo. 

1735 birth of Crown Prince Sado (17351762) as the second son of the King Yeongio.

1752  -- birth of the future King Jeongjo.  His father was Prince Sato and his mother was Lady Hyegyeong.  (She wrote The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong about her life as the ill-fated Crown Princess of Korea.) 

1758 Yeongjo officially outlawed Catholicism.

1762 the king was told that Sado was mentally ill. It was said he was erratic and killed people. Dad had him sealed alive in a large rice chest. It took eight days for him to die. (His son became King Jeongio after Prince Sado's death.)

1776-1800  --  reign of son of Prince Sato, King Jeongjo,  successful and visionary 22nd ruler of Joseon Dynasty of Korea. Known as the reformation ruler because he tried to reform and improve the nation.

1790  -- birth of His Royal Highness, Prince Gong of Korea, the second son of King Jeongjo.  His mother was the King's concubine, Lady Subin.  He became King Sunjo. 

1794-1796  --  he built Hwaseong Fortress to guard the tomb of his father. 

1800  --  47 year old Jeongjo died suddenly for some mysterious reason.

1800-1834  --  reign of King Sunjo (r. 18001834).

1802 -- he married Lady Kim of Andong ( known posthumously as Queen Sunwon). She was a daughter of Kim Jo-sun, a leader of Andong-Kim clan.



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