March 6, 2015

Venus in Furs: Masochism Never Goes Out of Style

If the movies are any clue, Leopold von Sacher-masoch's 19th-century novella of power and perversion Venus in Furs is eternally, internationally relevant. As the years go by, filmmakers continue to be drawn to this twisted, tawdry tale for inspiration, again and again: There's Roman Polanski's French/German film based on David Ives' Broadway play, an Italian version (Devil in the Flesh), two Dutch versions, Monika Treut's bisexual Seduction: The Cruel Woman, and an American B-movie made in the '60s for under $9k. There's also this odd Korean entry, which looks to be indebted to much that came before. It's got the director/muse setup of Ives' hit drama, the sadistic revenge of the Italian pic, even the low-rent esthetics of the American flick. Based on the less-than-glowing critical reception of most of its predecessors, I'm going to hazard a guess that this Venus in Furs is also furthering a shared tradition of bad acting. It seems unlikely the "camp" quotient originated here.

To be fair, it's not easy to deliver a line like "I want to be your slave" (while on your knees) or "I want to be famous" (while writhing during foreplay) without causing a fit of the giggles. What made Ives' theatrical script such a revelation was his understanding of how constantly the tables turn in BDSM relationships and how much of the associated torture is actually psychological. Unfortunately, writer-director Song Ye-Sub never gets beyond a surface examination of the dynamic. As the mistress with the whip, Ju-won (Seo Jung) has all the power. As the puppy in the dog collar, Moon-soo (Baek Hyun-jin) keeps getting degraded and losing control. His eventual graduation to sadist doesn't really make sense within the current framework but since his self-annihilation tendencies don't really gel either, you're not so much confused as unsatisfied come his final transformation. Call me shallow but I was much more interested in the costume changes and the various wigs worn by the movie's world-weary dominatrix than in one man's rebirth as a bully.

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