June 25, 2016

Where Are to Go: Drive, She Said

The search for meaning in life is a staple of the art house film but only frowny, rich wife Hee-young (Kim Gyu-ri) would think to seek this meaning by way of a taxi. In Jin Hyun-seung's Where Are to Go, the soul-searcher's quest will lead her to being chauffeured around Busan where she'll reconnect with an old flame, stare out at the ocean, sulk amid neon, and bum a few cigarettes — plus a lighter — from her cloyingly upbeat driver (Yu Geon). Unfortunately for Hee-Young, the search for meaning is ultimately an internal one so clobbering a bully in the streets and popping sleeping pills at night are unproductive paths to reconnecting her to her lost dream of being a real actress. Well, there are worse ways to play tourist in Korea than in the back of a cute guy's cab.

As to the cabbie, his goals are a little less noble, a little more practical: He just wants a sugar mama! Broke and burdened with abandonment issues, he's been bedding female travelers from all over the world, in the hopes of finally scoring the big one. Hee-Young could be his ticket out. She's got prescription meds, a seemingly deep checking account, and a fur coat that self-dries. (That coat must be expensive!) She's also willing to dress up like a school girl when he asks. What more could a guy hope for? And so they go drinking and shopping and sightseeing and drinking again then again. One binge leads to screwing but frankly, for most of the movie, love feels out of the question.

Because she knows his game. She knows he's got to cater to her whims, cook for her, paint her toe nails, give her back massages, and be her designated driver every time she wants to get blitzed. He knows that she knows what he's doing and yet he still hopes. This is the province of youth: To hope against the odds. The province of old age is wanting to hear someone tell you you're still young. So he does that. Not she's that old. Still it's nice to hear. And maybe she can go back to being an extra in the movies. That's something, isn't it?

June 12, 2016

Play Girl: Not-So-Powerful Puff Girls

You hear of movies being made by committee but a short film? Does that happen, too? It seems so damned unlikely. And yet... Jung Won-sik's "Play Girl" (which was packaged with four other shorts in the omnibus The Youth) feels very much like a product created with a checklist in mind. A checklist dictated by a group of fetishists. With an intended demographic. And some underage girlfriends to cast. The target audience? Middle-aged perverts. The main characters? Sexy, private school bitches (their word, not mine) who wear short plaid skirts while puffing cigarettes (traditional and electronic) and planning their next fistfight (which a friend will Instagram from the sidelines). I'm not saying there aren't young women out there who fit this description — including the neck tattoos and an occasional black surgical mask — but a whole high school populated by them? Well, that Jung's movie fantasy, I guess.

It's a fantasy that has some attributes in its favor: gang politics among bad girls, defied sexist stereotypes and Lord of the Flies power plays... What it also has are many poorly thrown punches pretentiously shown as shadow play, and too many tough chicks smoking with attitude played by actresses too afraid to inhale and hoping the scripted tough talk will suffice for "being mean."

Recently, I read a marvelous collection of short stories (Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet). I mention this because I'm now asking myself: Why are there so many more great short stories than short films, not just in numbers but in percentages as well. But the answer isn't hard to arrive at. Very few filmmakers have any interest in creating short films. I'm not claiming there have been no great shorts or none by Korean filmmakers. Who else but Park Chan-wook made "Judgement", "Night Fishing" and "The Cut" — all of them excellent? But the reality is that shorts are a tough sell for an audience and "Play Girl" just ensures that this remains the case.

June 2, 2016

You're My Pet: Dog Is Not Only Man's Best Friend But One Woman's Lover


I am perfectly aware that director Kim Byeong-gon's You're My Pet is packaged as a quirky rom-com in which a lovelorn career woman (Kim Ha-Neul) takes in a failed ballet dancer and somehow ends up finding her soulmate. That is not what I got from the movie, however. Instead, You're My Pet comes across as a lighthearted nightmare, a freaky bit of froth about how role playing — when taken too far — can lead to a psychotic break. Follow me here: An emotionally shut-down editrix tells he brother's pal (Jang Keun-Suk) that he can stay in her apartment rent-free if he pretends he's her dead childhood dog Momo. She gets off by being in control. He relishes her unconditional affection. She also enjoys making him do silly tricks (shake, roll over) and he isn't above feeling her breasts while she's asleep.

Where things get weird is when she begins to hallucinate him as her long-dead Labrador Retreiver in bed or stares into a glass of wine to find his face floating amid vintage red. Another man (Ryu Tae-Joon) — better looking, more succesful, more considerate, more romantic, more mature but not into role play at this level — engages her in prolonged courtship but she's only got puppy dog eyes for her domesticated dream-lover. Not that those two are having sex or kissing or cuddling. Intimacy between beauty and the beast here is restricted to shampooing then blow-drying each other's hair. Always clothed!

The self-delusion may be worse in the submissive than the aggressive one in You're My Pet. Once a rising Danseur Nobel, the collared stray now has taken up playing guitar and lands the lead in a K-Pop recital of Barry Manilow's "Mandy" that takes place simultaneously in an Opera House and in the garden of a fancy estate. Given the skill level of the dancers, neither scenario can possibly be real. Has a case of mass hysteria infected everyone in the audience? My final analysis that is love is a sickness worse than rabies for some.