Following the success of Masquerade last year, South Korea has rediscovered its taste for period drama chamber pieces, and Lee Jae-gyu’s The Fatal Encounter more than delivers, both in dramatic thrills and luscious visuals. The studly Hyun Bin plays young King Jeongjo, who finds himself assuming the throne after his aging father dies suddenly. Politcal unrest within the kingdom suggests that their may be an attempt on the new king’s life, and over the next 24 hours we follow the various parties jostling for control and positioning themselves to take action and make their allegiances. Chief among those threatening the king are military commander General Koo and his unfeasibly young step-grandmother (Han Ji-min), both of whom seem to want him out of the picture. As a mysterious assassin, Eul-soo (Jo Jung-suk), makes his way towards the palace, Jeongjo realises the only one he can truly trust is his lifelong manservant, Gap-soo (Jeong Jae-yeong). But inevitably, all is not what it seems and allegiances are put to the ultimate test.
Deliberately paced to the point of somewhat dragging its heels, The Fatal Encounter uses its time wisely to develop character and relationships, while meticulously plotting out the myriad factions operating within the palace walls. By the halfway mark the pace has picked up somewhat and the film’s second half delivers the requisite amounts of betrayal, bloodshed and bromance that have become all-too-commonplace in Korean thrillers. Director Lee Jae-gyu handles things confidently, however, keeping the complex web of intrigue navigable, while paying particular attention to the finer details, such as costumes and set decor. The result is a slow-burning yet ultimately accessible and entertaining tale of betrayal and greed at the highest levels of power.