February 15, 2015

Insadong Scandal: Beyond the Bechdel Test

The art-forgery caper Insadong Scandal definitely doesn't pass the Bechdel test. Not only are there no conversations between two women that don't have to do with men. There aren't any conversations between two women at all. But the movie does have three fun female characters — a ruthless gallerist (Eom Jeong-hwa), an unrelenting police detective (Hong Soo-hyun) and a leather-clad gangster (Choi Song-hyeon) — that in another movie, would easily have been cast as men. For that I thank writer-director Park Hee-kon. He's at least creating strong roles for women. I'm less appreciative of his writing for men and his casting of the actors who play them.

As the duplicitous master restorer who turns everyone's life upside down, Kim Rae-won looks like he's modeling clothes when he's supposedly copying famous paintings. He's the type of performer who feels most natural when he's singing karaoke and who's most likable when he's getting slugged. Jeong Jin plays an auctioneer with a perm that looks like a joke that can't get a single laugh. As to journeyman actors Kim Byung-ok and Kim Jeong-tae — as sidekicks of good and evil — they're both on automatic pilot. You can bet they spent their time in their trailers reading scripts for other projects with more lines and less cliches. The best of the guys is probably Lim Ha-ryong, a bad-guy-turned-good who has a long monologue on the art of forgery that is definitely the most educational part of the movie.

Not that you'll leave Insadong Scandal truly informed about anything. The one thing I learned after viewing the movie is that Insadong is actually the gallery district of Seoul — the Soho of yore, the Chelsea of now. It in no way felt like a modern day Williamsburg. Eom's high-end wardrobe is a Fashion Week runway of clingy pleasures and there's not a single hipster in sight.

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