May 1, 2013

Forbidden Quest: Making Some Noise for Love, Sex, and Literature (a.k.a. Porn)

I believe that while watching Forbidden Quest this past weekend, I said the sentence "This movie is good" aloud three times, the word "wow" twice and the expletive "shit" (appreciatively) once. These were not the only times I was moved to speak, and as I'm sure my dog Silas would attest (if he could), I am not in the habit of talking to the TV. When a movie gets me to sound off in private, something unusual is going on. And Kim Dae-woo's directorial debut Forbidden Quest is unusual: an 18-century historic drama about a populist pornographer with artistic aspirations.

Funnily enough, the first involuntary sound the movie caused wasn't an appreciative word or a sigh of pleasure. It was the barked laugh that erupted when one government thug (Lee Beom-su) pulled out a red, hardened bull's cock as his weapon of choice to protect a court intellectual (Han Suk-kyu) tracking down a forgery. That inflamed billy club came as a hilarious shock to me as did the calligrapher (Kim Ki-hyeon) copying porn in the back room of the shop which the scholar was investigating. Does it naturally follow that said scholar would try his hand at writing erotica or become the lover of the queen (Kim Min-jung) who'd become his muse? Probably not. But Kim's script isn't about the probable. It's a warped fantasy about what happens when porn becomes an obsession, even centuries before you could get it online by the touch of a finger.

There are plenty of interesting questions raised by Forbidden Quest about honor, betrayal, love, intimacy and sex and how they interconnect. Compare the very obvious sacrifice made by the eunuch (Kim Roe-ha) to be near the royal lady to the torture the scholar undergoes to hide the identity of his illustrator. Love isn't a trifling affair for anyone here. I didn't clap, alone in my apartment, for Forbidden Quest when it was over. But I did shed a silent tear which spoke volumes, some of them quite dirty.

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