December 28, 2014

Ashamed: Lesbos on the Beach

Full disclosure: I'm a certifiable homosexual. Which means, I'm slightly more willing to forgive convoluted storytelling or cruddy production values when a movie's material slants even slightly queer. LGBT depictions in Korean movies aren't unheard of (The King and the Clown, Like a Virgin, Antique Bakery) but they're rare enough that I tend to be curious (at the least!) to see which facet of gay culture might catch the light. Will it be closet queens (Two Weddings and a Funeral) or street hustlers (White Night) or a perverted serial killer (Rainbow Eyes)? Okay, okay. That's not gay culture but even homophobic depictions excite a certain interest in me. But with writer-director Kim Soo-hyun's lesbian love story Ashamed, I'd say this one's more straight male fantasy than girl-on-girl truth.

For while Ashamed doesn't shy away from same-sex love, the intimacy never feels charged and the actual naked action looks staged and sometimes causes the giggles. Layered with some gibberish about altruistic (a.k.a. gay) love versus selfish (a.k.a. straight) love, the plot of Ashamed wants to talk about the forbidden but never truly taps into the repression or the expression of intense feelings that often accompany loving someone your society has forbidden you to do. Throughout, Kim substitutes quirk for character: A timid shop assistant (Kim Hy-jin) has a mannequin for her confidante (so kooky), a reckless pickpocket (Kim Kkobbi) seduces everyone including a monk (so kinky), a melancholic art teacher (Kim Sang-hyun) photographs an equally morose student underwater to recreate the death of a fetus in a mother who's been murdered (so kray-kray).

To be brief, Ashamed is not one for the history books. Not the LGBT history books. Not the Korean movie history books. Not the Sapphic softcore history books. You could, however, put it in the encyclopedia documenting all the well-meaning movies that just don't work.

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