September 8, 2012

Beasties Boys: Boy Hookers, Girl Hookers and Not a Lot of Romance

Prostitution is a messy affair and prostitutes in love are even messier. So while you might think Yun Jong-bin's Beastie Boys (a.k.a. The Moonlight of Seoul) is going to be a salacious bit of peekaboo concerning as it does Seung-woo (Yun Gye-sang), the rookie gigolo who falls in love with experienced call girl Ji-won (Yun Jin-seo), while he's working at a host bar pouring drinks out to cougars, this depressing drama serves up a lot more domestic anguish than it does backroom titillation. That's because director Yun is super-aware that professional seduction is the art of the con and that if you make a living out of a certain type of behavior then that same behavior is going to spill over into all other parts of your life.

So since Ji-won makes a living lying to men (and laying men), her being a scam artist too is inevitable because she can't help thinking of a better deal, a better setup, a richer life, a quicker fix. It's all part of her daily thinking. Jae-hyeon (Ha Jung-woo), Seung-woo's mentor, has been in the business even longer and he takes the compulsiveness even further — gambling, double-dealing, cheating, and extorting self-righteously without even a trace of guilt. Get tangled up with one of these warper sex-workers, as Seung-woo's sister Han-byeol (Lee Seung-min) does, and you're going to end up fleeced and heartbroken.

But Beastie Boys' descent into degradation and despair isn't as straightforward as this might suggest. On screen the story plays out as first as a rocky bromance alongside a sweetly unlikely romance. When things fall apart, as they tend to do in social realist dramas, all alliances are off. And it's not just every man and woman for his or her self, it's also "vengeance is mine." Since no one has been dealt a fair hand in life, these characters are out to win at all costs, and if not win then get into a different game, and if not that then make sure the competition is wiped out and that justice is served, no matter how much it hurts. This is a world in which the conscience has been devalued, which also means that guilt is scarily absent. Not a great film, Beastie Boys falls into that category of not-half-bad movies that periodically seize your attention with unexpected force.

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