(The Sword with No Name) (2009)
Starring:Soo Ae (Empress Myeong-seong), Jae-jin Baek (King's father's commander), Ho-jin Cheon (Dae Won-gun), Seung-woo Cho (Moo-myeong), Jae-woong Choi (Noe-jeon), Terri Doty (Johannes). Su-hee Go (So-hee), In-gu Heo (Ko-jong's follower), Se-hyeong Ki, Young-min Kim (Go-jong), Seol-gu Lee (Wandering man 4), Yong-nyeo Lee (Court lady Choi).
love affair between commoner and Queen Myeongseong married to King Gojong (reigned from 1864 to 1907)
Spoiler Warning:below is a summary of the entire film.
The government troops arrive to shut down a Christian worship service. They are about to cut off the head of a Christian woman. Her son Johannes tries to rush over to his mother to prevent this, but he is stopped by one of the government troops. Her head is cut-off. The spokesperson says that this is what happens to people who are tempted by foreign invaders.
When Johannes is older he takes revenge by killing two of the soldiers there at the beheading of his mother.
"In the late 19th century, Imperialist powers sent Catholicism and printed paper to Eastern countries to expand their colonization. Gojong became king of Korea's Joseon Dynasty, and his father, Daewongun, executed a strong policy of seclusion and closed the nation's doors. With the fear and thirst for new things, the whole nation was engulfed in a conflict between reform and conservatism. Daewongun hastened to choose a Queen in order to strengthen the royal power. And during these times, a man meets a woman. And this woman shall be the fate of Joseon. . . . 'The Sword with No Name'."
Two servant women are bad-mouthing the new queen-to-be. It is said one of the woman's strengths is that she has no father. "But how could she be queen of a royal family?" Perhaps they are avoiding the influences from the royal brides' families. "Daewongun has taken this way too far."
Daewongun says in this matter of marriage he only trusts his son. The young woman must not be harmed. He tells Gojong that he has created a separate military officer over which Gojong will have control. He wants a special bullet proof vest to be created so Korea can withstand foreign invasions.
A young boy named Dae-doo and a heavy-set woman are fishing from a small boat. With them is a young man who is trying to sleep. The two fishing people say that a pretty woman on a horse escorted by two men is a femme fatale. The sleepy fellow raises his large hat to catch a glimpse of the woman.
The young woman is set to become the new queen of Korea under the Joseon Dynasty. Her mother is not crazy about the idea. She says the palace ". . . is a place that wreaks of blood left over from never-ending battles."
The young woman wants to go see the sea. She goes by herself. She reaches the place by the water that she passed not long ago. She sees the sleepy boatman and asks if he can take her to go see the sea? It takes the man awhile to rouse himself, but when he sees it's the beautiful woman he saw earlier, he jumps into action.
He pushes the boat along with a long pole. The fellow reaches the end of the journey and he and the future queen get out of the boat. He asks if he could accompany her because he has never seen the sea and would like to get a good look at it.
After a long walk they reach the sea. They walk along the edge of the water. She writes her name in the sand: Ja-yung (Red Flower).
The fellow picks some flowers from the sand dunes and gives them to her. She thanks him. Ja-yung says that whenever she felt bad her father would bring her down to the sea to make her feel better. The fellow asks if she needs consoling now? She answers that she is going far away to a place where she will fulfill her destiny. She adds that she is actually scared.
The boatman wants to show something to Ja-yung. He picks up the nest of a water fowl and shows it to her. He says to her that when the babies hatch from their eggs, they fly away as soon as their wings dry, never again to return home. "They sure are courageous, huh?" Ja-yung thanks him for the story and says that it gives her strength.
At night the journey comes to an end. Ja-yung wants to pay him for the trip, but all he asks for is her hair ribbon. She gives him the ribbon. Two assassins start flinging knives at Ja-yung. The young fellow pulls Ja-yung to the ground and he takes a couple of knives to his back. He pulls out one of the knives and throws it at one of the assassins knocking the man out of commission.
Now three men ride up. The young fellow asks Ja-young why does she have so many enemies? But these men are not enemies. They are from the king. The man in charge says that his name is Lee Noi-jeon. Daewongun sent him. They will be her escort now.
The boatman follows the group and in the morning he asks to see Ja-young. The guards asks him if he's crazy? Lee Noi-jeon comes over and asks if the fellow is asking for death by coming here? No, he just wants to see Ja-young. Lee Noi-jeon draws his sword but Ja-young yells out: "Stop it!" She then asks the boatman what can she do for him? He gives her a gift of a tiger skin rug. He says he killed the tiger when he was younger -- a time when he yearned to be very strong.
A man comes to the home of the young boy and the heavy-set woman. She says a man came with a picture of that femme fatale they saw the other day. The boatman named Moo-myoung asks why did the visitor want the woman killed? They have no idea but the reward is a lot of money.
Someone throws the wanted poster down to Lee Noi-jeon saying that they will be coming soon for Ja-young. Then the someone just disappears.
Moo-myoung is in the bedroom of Ja-young. He sits and watches her sleeping. She awakens and he puts something over her mouth that makes her go unconscious.
Noi-jeon comes in to check on Ja-young. When she does not answer his question, he goes into the bedroom to see what happened. Ja-young is gone.
Ja-young is at Moo-myoung's small place. When she awakens she wants to know the meaning of his actions? She gets up and goes outside. The boatman comes after her and tells her that his name is Moo-myoung. When he was young, his Christian name was Johannes. She thanks him for the gift he gave her, but now turns to go. Moo-myoung grabs her and hugs her. She asks him why is he doing this when tomorrow she is to be wedded to the king?
She says if he doesn't let her loose, she will be disgraced. He tells her that all he wants is to protect her. She says she's sorry, but she must return. "Starting tomorrow, Ja-young will exist no more. People won't call me by that name any more."
Ja-young puts on her make-up for the wedding ceremony. The two are married.
Moo-myoung sees the face of Ja-young in the water. At night Moo-,young sits on in his boat out on the water. He sees Lee Noi-jeon standing on a boat headed toward him. He acknowledges that Lee Noi-jeon is the best swordsman in all of Korea. Moo-myoung asks him why has he come to bother a low-level person like him? Noi-jeon says that Moo-myoung has received too much of the attention of an exalted person.
He challenges Moo-myoung to a fight to the death. Noi-jeon wins the contest, but does not kill Moo-myoung. As he leaves, he tells Moo-myoung: "Do not appear before her again. Next time, I will kill you."
The husband tells his wife that tonight he will sleep in a different room from the one she will sleep in.
Moo-myoung shows back up on the doorstep of the queen. He says he has come to see Daewongun. Lee Noi-jeon is very unhappy to see the crazy man back again. Moo-myoung makes a lot of noise and this attracts the attention of Daewongun. So the young man asks the king's father, if he defeats Lee Noi-jeon in a challenge, can he be granted just one wish.
But Daewongun has another idea. He has Moo-myoung put on a bullet-proof vest to test it's efficacy. Moo-myoung says he wants to be a member of the palace guard. The king's father tells him that if he survives, he will grant Moo-myoung his wish. Three bullets are fired at Moo-myoung and his vest. Moo-myoung is able to get back up. Three more bullets are fired at Moo-myoung. And again he survives. So the king's father says to give Moo-myoung what he asked for.
Daewongun asks Lee Noi-jeon for information on what's going on in the palace. Noi-jeon says his daughter-in-law invited the wives of the foreign ambassadors over to the palace. But it was only a ceremony. Daewongun slaps Noi-jeon across the face saying: "Since when has the country been ruled by the Queen?"
Daewongun tells his son that meeting with Westerners is forbidden. The queen takes issue with this, but Daewongun says Korea cannot risk Westerners forcing Catholicism and opium on the Koreans as they did with the Qing Chinese. The queen retorts that if they do not deal with the foreigners now, they will not know how to deal with them at all when the foreigners eventually arrive. Daewongun aks the queen directly if she has chosen to delve into politics, because, if she has chosen that route, then he will have no choice but to take action against her.
The queen meets with the foreign wives. She says the woman from France will be helping her along with a foreign doctor to treat the sick of the royal family.
Court lady Choi tells the queen that the king has gone into Lady Lee Gwi's chambers. She tells Choi that she doesn't need to report that any more. The queen turns the tables on her and asks Lady Choi is she is experienced at having sex? Lady Choi is shocked, but the queen just says that if she is ever to be loved by the king, she must learn all about sex. Lady Choi sounds so scandalized that the queen just laughs and tells her that all this is just a joke.
Moo-myoung is now part of the Palace Guard. The queen walks right past him without noticing him. As she rides in a palanquin, he calls to her. When she looks out the window she sees Moo-myoung. She is so shocked that she looks stunned. Then she smiles and laughs about it.
She calls for him and he comes. He says he has been at the Palace for quite some time now. It's just that he is of such low-rank that he could not get near her. She asks why is he here? To protect her.
The queen signs an agreement with the Russians. This is bad news for Japan. The news arrives that Korea and Russia have signed an agreement to build an ice-free port.
Japan plans a countermeasure. The ambassador to Korea shows the Korean king what the Japanese want from the Koreans. The king is to structure a new cabinet and station new troops in the palace. The king is outraged by the proposal. The ambassador pleads with the king to try and find an effective way to appease Japan's worries about Korea siding with the Russians against them.
The Korean queen tries on a corset. She wears a bright red Western dress with it. It exposes her back and also is low cut in the front. She says Korean clothes are much more comfortable.
A bomb is sent to the quarters of the queen's mother. The container is opened and the bomb explodes with great power. The queen cries over the death of her mother. And Moo-myoung goes after Lee Noi-jeon.
The Queen arrives at the electric lighting ceremony. She gives Daewongun a very dirty look. Oh, if looks could kill. As the lights come on the fight between Moo-myoung and Lee Noi-jeon spills over into the ceremony. The people think this is just part of the ceremony and they clap for the two actors. The king is amused and says the two men will put on a special sword fighting display for the crowd.
Daewongun sends out Lee Noi-jeon to punish those who helped Japan against Korea. Death is dealt out all over the place. Noi-jeon asks Lady Choi where is the queen? She says she does not know.
The queen in running away accompanied by Moo-myoung. She says it would be better for the queen to be dead now.
Daewongun tells his son: "This uprising is the people's frustration with the Queen, who has brought both Japan and Westerners to make this country suffer." He wants the queen to be declared dead.
In a cave, out of the rain, Moo-myoung pleads with the queen to never go back to the palace. He will live beside her always, but never return. The queen feels so cold, so Moo-myoung gives her some of his clothing and holds her tight.
In the morning he starts walking her out of the woods to be with his friends. They are happy to see them. Mee-myoung sends the young fellow with a note to the wife of the Western doctor. The doctor in turn gives the note to the king.
Lee Noi-jeon tells his man to tail Moo-myoung's young messenger to see if he will lead them to Moo-myoung and the queen. They follow him and when he doesn't lead them to Moo-myoung and the queen, they kill the boy.
Moo-myoung and the queen ride their horses slowly down the road to meet up with Lee Noi-jeon and his crew. The queen is now taken to the king. who is ecstatic at her survival.
The Japanese confer. An underling says that nearly everyone thinks that Daewongun was the one behind the uprising.
The queen tells Moo-myoung that from now on he is to protect both her and the king. The king comes to see the queen. The queen wants Moo-myoung to go now, but the king tells him that he is to stand outside and protect this room. He says the king will be staying with the queen tonight. (This is the real start of good relations between the king and queen.) He tells the queen that he neglected her too much. But, he says, now he has realized just how precious she is to him.
The queen is stripped down to a slim garment to go to bed with the king. The queen doesn't look too excited to be with the king. He tells her she is so beautiful and that she has no idea of how much he has missed his queen. They have sex.
Standing just outside the door, poor Moo-myoung has to hear the sounds of love making. He walks a ways away from the love making so he doesn't have to hear it.
A court woman tries to kill the queen. The king stops her and then a returning Moo-myoung slits her throat.
Daewongun now uses the special relationship between the queen and Moo-myoung against the queen. The guard was alone with the queen for a few days then it's possible that they had sex together. The ugly rumors are flying around the palace. They even say that it was Moo-myoung who started the uprising because of his lust for the queen.
The queen is informed of what Daewongun said about her and the palace guard. The king stripped Daewongun of his title. Moo-myoung was removed from his post and exiled from the palace. Moo-myoung goes back to his home.
Looking for a way to discredit Daewongun, the king tells the queen that she his going to make Moo-myoung fight his father. Lady Choi later goes to speak with the queen, saying that Daewongun's protest is only four days away. The king is waiting for her answer.
The queen comes to see Moo-myoung. She tells him he has no chance to survive the fight. If he does not fight, she will understand. Moo-myoung says he will fight.
A 500 year old dynasty is on the verge of collapse.
Moo-myoung sees the force behind Daewongun accompany him to enter the palace. He shouts to the king's father that he may not enter the palace. Daewongun sends about six men to kill Moo-myoung, but the fellow kills all his attackers.
The king and queen are informed that Moo-myoung is fighting Daewongun's soldiers by himself.
Moo-myoung keeps fighting and fighting. He finally shouts to Daewongun to stop all this! "Your son! Your daughter-in-law! Your people! Are you trying to kill them all? Why can't you just let it be?"
Daewongun says: "Moo-myoung, I have made you into a hero. The heavens are not on my side." He turns his troops around and they leave.
The king and queen are told that Moo-myoung forced the soldiers of Daewongun to retreat. With desperation in her voice, the queen asks of the fate of Moo-myoung. He has survived. The king says he has a handsome prize for Moo-myoung. He will receive his reward, but he can never return to the palace.
A treasure of gifts is put in a big chest and given to Moo-myoung. He becomes very upset because he is told that the gifts are from the queen.
The queen pets her dog. She cries and tells the dog her heart aches so.
The Japanese now put real pressure on Daewongun to work with them. Daewongun doesn't want his country always bowing to the Japanese.
One day Moo-myoung stands outside the palace looking it over. He says: "Korea's king dismissed the Japanese forces and reshuffled the cabinet with pro-Russian members."
Tonight the Japanese carry out the planned assassination of Korea's queen. It looks like Lee Noi-jeon has gone over to the Japanese side. He tells Daewongun about the plan of the Japanese. Daewongun now tells him to go protect his daughter-in-law.
The king doesn't want to surrender to the Japanese. He brandishes his sword, but he faces many rifles pointed very close to his body. He finally surrenders.
Moo-myoung goes to protect the queen. He runs to the queen's quarters saying that the Japanese are coming for her and she has to escape at once. She asks him why does he keep coming back to the palace after he is banned? She also asks if he knows just how much this is torturing her? She wants to escape with him, but duty says stay.
The Japanese are coming. The queen asks Moo-myoung to forgive her. He tells her not to be afraid. He goes onto the palace courtyard to fight the Japanese. The Japanese commander attacks Moo-myoung, but the Korean kills his horse and the commander goes flying.
Lee Noi-jeon pretends that he is going to kill Moo-myoung, but he goes over to his side. They are beating the enemy, but now the army opens fire with its rifles. Everyone is cut down. Lee Noi-jeon is about ready to die. He tells Moo-myoung to go and protect the queen.
The enemy arrives first. There is a group of women standing in front of the queen. The women are cut down with swords one after another. The only one left is the queen. Moo-myoung comes crashing through the roof. He backs up the swordsmen because they are afraid of the skill of Moo-myoung. He then cements his right foot to the floor by running a blade through it.
The ambassador says that Korea simply cannot stop the overwhelming force that is Japan. He tells the swordsmen to attack. Moo-myoung starts chopping them up, until a soldier shoots him. Then he is shot a second time. A third and fourth shot hit him. A fifth shot hits him and he still doesn't fall. So now the ambassador shoots him up close with his pistol. The ambassador fires again but the man still won't fall.
The queen goes over to him and holds his face. She cries. He dies.
The queen says she is not afraid of these people. She is the queen of Korea. Now many swords are thrust into her body. Blood is spurting out of her wounds as she says: "Johannes! Johannes!" She dies.
Good movie. And it covers quite a bit of Korean history. It is the story ultimately of the last of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), which was followed by the start of the Korean Empire (1897-1910). Gojong was the Joseon king (1863-1897). Korea was trying to gets its independence by handling both China and Japan, but also Russia. The actual movie is mostly about Gojong's wife, Queen Min. She was a very strong and ambitious woman. She wanted a strong alliance with Russia to keep the Japanese and Chinese at bay. This brought her into direct conflict with her father-in-law, who wanted Korea to be free from all foreign influence and power. This put Queen Min right in the center of the struggles for who was to decide Korea's future.
So this is a story of a power struggle during the reign of Gojong. This is offset a little by a couple of love stories between the Queen and two men. Watch the film and see who wins or loses in the power struggle.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
1392-1897 -- rule in Korea of the Joseon Dynasty.
1851 -- the daughter of Min Chithe, the future Empress Myeongseong is born into the aristocratic Min family of the Yeoheung branch (a noble clan) on October 19, 1851 in Yeoju County, in the province of Gyeonggi Province (where the clan originated).
c 1859 -- by the age of eight, she had lost both of her parents.
1864-1907 -- rule of Gojong.
1864 -- King Cheoljong was dying. There were no male heirs because of foul play carried out by a rival branch of the royal family, the Andong Kim clan (who were allied by marriage with the royal Yi family).
Queen Cheonin, the queen consort of Cheoljong and a member of the Andong Kim clan, claimed the right to choose the next king, although traditionally the eldest queen dowager is the one with the authority to select the new king. Cheoljong's cousin, Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong of the Pungyang Jo clan, who too had risen to prominence by intermarriage with the Yi family, currently held this title.
Queen Sinjeong saw an opportunity to advance the cause of the Pungyang Jo clan, the only true rival of the Andong Kim clan in Korean politics. As Cheoljong fell deeper under his illness, the Grand Royal Dowager Queen was approached by Yi Ha-eung, an obscure descendant of King Yeongjo through his son Crown Prince Sado.
The branch that Yi Ha-eung's family belonged to was an obscure line of descendants of the Yi clan, which survived the often deadly political intrigue that frequently embroiled the Joseon court by forming no affiliation with any factions. Yi Ha-eung himself was ineligible for the throne due to a law that dictated that any possible heir to the kingdom have to be part of the generation after the most recent incumbent of the throne, but Yi Myeong-bok, Yi Ha-eung's second son (later became King Gojong and Gwangmu Emperor), was a possible successor to the throne.
The Pungyang Jo clan saw that Yi Myeong-bok was only 12 and would not be able to rule in his own name until he came of age, and that they could easily influence Yi Ha-eung, who would be acting as regent for the to-be boy king. As soon as news of Cheoljong's death reached Yi Ha-eung through his intricate network of spies in the palace, he and the Pungyang Jo clan took the hereditary royal seal (an object that was considered necessary for a legitimate reign to take place and aristocratic recognition to be received) —- effectively giving her absolute power to select the successor to the throne. By the time Cheoljong's death had become a known fact, the Andong Kim clan was powerless according to law as the seal lay in the hands of the Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong.
1864 (autumn) -- Yi Myeong-bok was crowned the new king of the Kingdom of Joseon, with his father entitled as the Heungseon Daewongun (Grand Internal Prince).
The strongly Confucian Heungseon Daewongun proved to be a wise and calculating leader in the early years of Gojong's reign. He abolished the old government institutions that had become corrupt. The daughter of Min Chi-roknder the rule of various clans, revised the law codes along with the household laws of the royal court and the rules of court ritual, and heavily reformed the military techniques of the royal armies. Within a few short years, he was able to secure complete control of the court and eventually receive the submission of the Pungyang Jos while successfully disposing the last of the Andong Kims, whose corruption, he believed, was responsible for ruining the country.
When Gojong reached the age of 15, his father decided it was time for him to be married. Candidates were rejected one by one, until both the Daewongun's wife and his mother proposed a bride from their own clan (the Yeoheung Mins). Both his mother & his wife's descriptions of the girl was quite persuasive: orphaned, beautiful features, healthy body, ordinary level of education (no less than that of the most noble in the country).
1866 (March 6) -- the bride to be meets the Daewongun.
1866 (March 20) - barely at the age of 16 the bride-to-be marries the boy king and became the Queen Consort of Joseon.
Older officials then noticed that the new Queen Consort was an assertive and ambitious woman, unlike the past Queens Consort. She did not participate in lavish parties, rarely commissioned extravagant fashions from the royal ateliers, and almost never hosted afternoon tea parties with the powerful aristocratic ladies unless it was politically necessary. Instead of being an icon to the high society of Korea, she read books reserved for men, and taught herself philosophy, history, science, politics, and religion.
The new Queen Consort even secretly forms a powerful faction against Heungseon Daewongun as soon as she reached adulthood.
1868 (April 16) -- Heungseon Daewongun, having directed Gojong to have intercourse with a royal concubine, Lee gwi-in from the Yeongbo Hall gives birth to a healthy baby boy, Prince Wanhwa, Heungseon Daewongun named Crown Prince.
1871 -- at age 20, she begins to play an active part in politics. At the same time, she defends her views against high officials who viewed her as becoming too meddlesome. Heungseon Daewongun was also upset by the Queen Consort's aggressiveness.
1871 - the Queen Consort gives birth to a son, but four days later, the son dies. Heungseon Daewongun publicly states that the Queen Consort is unable to bear a healthy male child. (The Queen Consort says her father-in-law deliberately had her eat too much ginseng.)
The Queen Consort uses a powerful faction of high officials, scholars and members of her clan to bring down Heungseon Daewongun. Min Seung-ho, one of the Queen Consort's relatives, with court scholar Choe Ik-hyeon, wrote a formal impeachment of Heungseon Daewongun to be presented to the Royal Council of Administration, arguing that Gojong, now 22, should rule in his own right.
1872 -- with the approval of Gojong and the Royal Council, Heungseon Daewongun was forced to retire to his estate at Yangju. She then banished the royal concubine and her child to a village outside the capital, stripped of royal titles.
1873 -- when Heungseon Daewongun was ousted from politics, Japan renewed efforts to establish ties with Korea.
1876 -- Japan sends six naval vessels and an imperial Japanese envoy is send to Ganghwa Island to enforce the unequal treaty pushed on the Korean through military threats. The treaty was signed on 15 February 1876, thus opening Korea to Japan. Japan enjoyed a near total monopoly of trade, while Korean merchants suffered serious losses.
The Queen Consort wants Korea to become modernized. She had hoped to win yangban approval to invite Western nations into Korea. [The yangban was part of the traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty.]
1880 -- the Crown Prince dies (some accusing the Queen Consort of involvement). The Queen Consort had gained complete control over her court, placing her family in high court positions.
later -- the king and queen grew close to each other as the king had to take over running the government himself. He found that he needed the help of the queen who was very knowledgeable because of her involvement in politics and decision-making.
1894-1895 -- the Japanese win the First Sino-Japanese War. After Japan's victory Queen Min advocated stronger ties between Korea and Russia in an attempt to counter Japanese influence in Korea.
1895 -- The Eulmi Incident refers to the Japanese assassination of Empress Myeongseong, which occurred at Okho-ru in the Geoncheonggung, which was the rear private royal residence inside Gyeongbokgung Palace.
1896 -- King Gojong and the crown prince (later Emperor Sunjong) flee for refuge to the Russian legation.
1897 -- King Gojong declares the founding of the Korean Empire. This turned King Gojong into the Gwangmu Emperor, the first imperial head of state and hereditary sovereign of the Empire of Korea. This was the end of the Joseon Dynasty.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)