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Portrait of a Beauty


Canadian Premiere

  • South korea 2008
  • 108 min
  • 35mm
  • Korean with English subtitles

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“A lushly photographed, beautifully acted, erotic film that explores the dangerous risks a groundbreaking artist can take” — G. Allen Johnson, SFGATE.COM


Director: Jeon Yun-su
Screenplay: Han Soo-ryeon, Jeon Yoon-seo
Cast: Kim Min-sun, Kim Yeong-ho, Kim Nam-gil, Choo Ja-hyeon, Han Myeong-goo
Producers: Choi Joon-young, Lee Sung-hoon
Distributor: CJ Entertainment


Born of a royal painter and teacher, Shin Yun-jeong paints for her older brother. Their father desperately wants his son to follow in his footsteps, but the boy, sadly, lacks the talent. He comes to depend on his sister’s abilities to escape his father’s bullying. When his subterfuge is revealed, the boy cannot live with the shame and takes his own life. This tragic event sets the stage for Yun-jeong. Their father blames her for her brother’s death and forces her to take on his identity in order to enter the world of court painting—women at the time were forbidden to paint. She is accepted in the royal court and works under the tutelage of the great master Kim Hong-do. It doesn’t take him long to notice her surprising talent and she soon becomes his prize pupil. But things become a bit complicated when she meets and falls in love with a local tradesman, and her artistic style develops into a form of eroticism seen by her peers as obscene. Adding to her problems is Kim’s attraction to her…

After charming Fantasia audiences in 2008 with LE GRAND CHEF, Jeon Yun-su returns with PORTRAIT OF A BEAUTY, based on a controversial 2007 novel “Baramui Hwawon” by Kee Jung-meong. It’s a fictional account of the life of 18th-century painter Shin Yoon-bok, better known under the pseudonym Hyewon. Although not much proof exists, other than the artist’s rather feminine pen name, the book’s and film’s premise that the artist may have been a woman seems to have caught the public’s fancy. The film is a tragic melodrama, a story of repressed sexuality, love, betrayal and the terrible price of revenge. Beautifully shot to highlight the period costumes and sets, PORTRAIT OF A BEAUTY offers a peek into a world whose culture and social politics often led to tragedy.

—Robert Guillemette

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