|Mi in 2000 South Korea La Belle|
This is not a typical soft-core flick. It's a fleshy art movie with nice production values and good lighting. Tinkling piano too. All in good taste. Although there is a lot of flesh, there's a lot of story too and it's not just inserted as filler. The film is based on the director's own novel, Body, and it explores the addiction of flesh, how to feed and conquer it, and what may come after it. Since it's an art film, as well as a fine piece of erotica, it ends tragically instead of happily but that keeps it in line with all that precedes it.
Summary: On one gloomy rainy night, a writer encounters an unexpected visit paid by a woman of his past. Seeking solitude from her ex-lover, she finds solace in this gentleman; and from that day on, they cherish every inch of each other's body and indulge in ecstacy until her forbidden past is gradually revealed.
Adapted from the director's own novel, "Body", La Belle's captivating expressions remind us of Roland Barthes with phrases like "I'm in pain with her". A single subject and an object, or existence and absence...
Let us go past the obvious, which is that the film is assuredly erotic.
Examine instead, the fact that in this, it is also beautiful and intense. Mi in is a bath of sensuality we are submerged in by the director.
The point that is missed regarding this film is that it is surreal. I assume it was intended to be so. When viewed as surrealism, it reaches an entirely different level.
We do not know at any point if the story is a figment of the vivid imagination of the male character, a writer, or if it is really happening. We might hope it is imagination at work, because the final scene before the closing of the film is so heart wrenchingly tragic.
In this scene, he has set himself free from one demon, only to inherit another. Released from the physical body of the woman over whom he obsesses, and who has tormented him in every moment of his days, he must then live with interminable guilt and grief.
It was impossible for me to disengage myself from the film once it had grasped me, which it did in a very subtle way. By the final few scenes I was emotionally involved with the characters. The woman, while also pitying and understanding her, put me off. In the end she did not have my sympathy as deeply as the writer, who was impaled on this fruitless love, and held prisoner by obsession, whereas she was deliberately using him in a cold hearted way, while she was as obsessed and impaled as he, on an abusive relationship, and self-destructive course of her own. Many times she expresses the wish to die. To be dead. To be set free from her pain.
She is at times obviously mentally unbalanced, drunk, or hysterical, and yet deliberate in her actions. She lies with equanimity, flirts and seduces without conscience.
It must be stated here that the subtitles were moronic, ghastly, and unforgivable. This factor leads to unnecessary confusion. If one were able to understand Korean, the original language of the film, our experience of this tale would have been entirely different.
When viewed through the intellect first, without expectation, but with an open mind to the surreal, this becomes a little gem in it's own right. It goes without saying that it is a most beautiful film physically. The players are both exceptionally good-looking people. Both have very beautiful bodies. They are agile and graceful, and totally believable in the love scenes.
Since this story is presented as narrative frequently, using the voice-over technique, it must be remarked that Mr. Oh has a very pleasant mature speaking voice that brings enjoyment to the ear, while giving us a fine clue regarding the nature of the character.
The director did certain things with the sound track, other than supplying us with a remarkable musical background that incidentally stands high on my list of favored film scores. It is exquisite.
The very sound of the film otherwise--the clattering departures of the woman, her slamming of the door, her frequent shrillness, her noisy occupation of another's space, is jarring. All this, opposed to the introspective silence of the writer, is calculated and clever, simply because it works on the subconscious, and tells us so much about the characters, without saying a word.
If we look at the visual aspects without the sensuality, without the sex, we see a man with beautiful gentle hands tenderly nurturing a plant. A subtle, sensitive, poignant view into the inner heart, as well as the physical self. He lives in serene simplicity.
For a movie that was not well received by the Korean public when it was released in theatres there, it has certainly enjoyed longevity as a DVD. It is still in print, and sells for a hefty twenty plus US dollars on the Asian market.
I've seen comments elsewhere regarding the performance of Oh Ji Ho, in that it is not top rate. I would therefore like to point out that this film is his debut effort, having come from a career as a successful model.He was also quite young when he made the film. He was born in 1976.
Were this film to be made now, as he approaches the age of thirty, I feel the role would have been handled far better. He would have been more credible. The character he plays is older, mature, a professional writer of some standing. The interior struggle of the man needed clarification, which would have come from clear translation (good subtitles). We did not have that. Therefore we can't judge Mr. Oh's interpretation of the role very fairly.
If it were not for the subtitles, I would have rated it as a 10, simply because it is a daring plunge into a convoluted tale by a master director who was willing it seems, to take a chance, to present a puzzle that requires the thought process. A little much to ask of the average viewer going to see a film presented as erotic, and perceived as soft-core pornography.
There is a great difference between the utter stupidity of soft-core/hard-core pornography, which relies on the display of sexual behavior in greater or lesser degree, sans art, sans viable plot, sans any modicum of sensitivity, and any trace of the difficulty presented to the human race in the course of an agonizingly debilitating relationship based on sexual obsession and unrequited love, that can only end bitterly, leaving the dust of shattered, pulverized souls behind it.
It's a fine art film that happens also to be an elegant piece of erotica.