August 10, 2017

Eungyo: A Summer-Winter Romance Gets Weatherproofed

I was ready to detest Eungyo. Truly. I mean, do we really need another movie about a horny old codger (Park Hae-il) who falls for a naif of a woman (Kim Go-eun) half his age? And are there really that many young ladies out there who have a thing for geriatric men outside of Woody Allen's universe? But Eungyo isn't actually telling that mass-produced story despite some early indications to the contrary. Because in Eungyo, director Jung Ji-woo's central love triangle doesn't culminate with Mr. Wrinkly and Ms. Baby Soft in bed. Any "action" scenes between these two are actually fantasized on the elderly poet's part and feature a much younger version of himself sticking his head under her T-shirt. She's never caressed by varicosed hands. He's not imagining getting it on with his young housekeeper. He's imagining being young again. That's an important distinction, and one that his plagiarizing protege (Kim Mu-yeol) is unable to fathom when he stumbles upon his mentor's manuscript detailing this dreamed of romance.

The inability — or unwillingness — to understand deeper feelings that might cross generations and exist outside of sex (not to mention flirtations that have no true intent in leading to physical intimacy) is really at the root of Eungyo. What is one character's undoing ultimately isn't his prudishness, his recklessness, his ego or his disloyalty. It's really his lack of imagination. What emotional ties might exist between a woman who's 17 and a man who's 70? Where is the wellspring of inspiration? Why might it be unwise to get involved sexually with a minor outside of the legal reasons? What is the nature of the very act of creation? For the younger man, such questions never arise. His desires are not to be an artist but to be a success. He doesn't want to write a masterpiece. He wants to win an award. So what is success when you haven't really done anything. At the risk of sounding too poetic — and why not go there given the nature of Eungyo, can a person die if he's never really lived? Or is that just another reason to mourn?

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