Academic without being penetrating, and distanced instead of involving, “The Uprising” is a handsome-looking but dramatically flat drama set on the cusp of Korea’s entrance into the modern world. Noted but extremely variable director Park Kwang-su doesn’t provide too many signposts to guide Western viewers through the complex storyline, signaling mostly fest play for this first South Korean–French co-production. Even on home turf, pic’s performance was disappointing.
It’s 1901 on the island of Cheju, and the natives are restless, following the imposition of high taxes by central government to pay war indemnities. To add insult to injury, French Catholic priests, busy spreading the Western gospel, support the tax collectors. Story centers on a messenger, Yi Jae-su (Lee Jung-jae), who ends up leading a peasant rebel army set up by Confucian scholars that converges on a Catholic stronghold with bloody results. Park (“Black Republic,” “To a Starry Island”) directs in clean but anemic style, and the script fails to draw a clear dramatic bead on the complex issues and goings-on — which still have some relevance today, as South Korea is dragged screaming into the international mainstream. Performances are rote.