"You shall not covet your neighbor's wife". The interpretation: There are plenty of men coveting their neighbor's wives, so the practice should be strictly banned to maintain the society's declining morality.
For many (if not all) human beings, however, making something forbidden only increases its tempting allure. Coveting a neighbor's wife, therefore, is a pithy statement about human desire and limitation, which is also an intriguing theme of "Cheaters"
(Nae-yeoja-ui namja-chingu), a small-budget film directed by Park Seong-beom
Seok-ho (Choi Won-yeong
) does not covet his neighbor's wife - technically. He's married to a beautiful wife, but he does not want to remain faithful. A self-styled playboy, Seok-ho covets, well, unmarried women. He's maintaining sexual relationship with Ji-yeon (Ko Da-mi
), a voluptuous photographer who wants something more than capturing a man's body through her camera lens, and also wants to seduce Chae-young (Kim Poo-reun
), a college student who seems to be the most virtuous girl in Korea.
The neighbor's-wife-coveting dynamics is also at work here. Ji-yeon keeps romanticizing about Seok-ho, an easy-to-play game that he thinks is obviously in his favor. Given that he has firm control over the photographer, it's a waste of time for Seok-ho to invest more time and energy in their relationship.
He obsessively ventures out to conquer more, and the target is the paragon of innocence - Chae-young. No matter how hard he tries to seduce her by offering expensive gifts and usual date tricks, Chae-young doesn't budge at all. Of course, her persistent refusal heats up Seok-ho's inflammable passion further - more evidence suggesting that a human desire, when the fruit is forbidden, gets magnified to an extreme.
So far, so plain, in terms of cinematic techniques. Director Park, however, reveals his real intentions gradually from this point on. He shifts the omniscient camera angle to Chae-young, who turns out not to be so chaste. Juxtaposing Seok-ho's images, the director discloses what the girl is really up to at each scene. In most cases, she's sleeping with her boyfriend, a college student who spends more time at a motel than in the library.
Sounds familiar? Director Hong Sang-soo
already experimented with the double-perspective technique in his classic satiric comedy "Oh! Soo-jung (Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors
)" in 2000.
seems to imitate the trick for a while, but it gradually begins to assert its unique features by incorporating new subplots and characters into the main story, and amplifying the revelation effects to the fullest.
Key scenes are viewed again and again, adding new layers into the intricate web of relationships. And the story takes off when Seok-ho interacts with his close friend and colleague named Young-su (Ko Hye-seong
Tacky? The film's provocative plot development does not stop there - fortunately for moviegoers who enter the theater with no expectation whatsoever and then get sucked into the complicated yet entertaining storytelling.
Young-su seems extremely shy and even clumsy, but he is not a person who sits still and wishes for something good. He sets his eyes on Ji-yeon, not knowing that she is already sexually and emotionally committed to her freewheeling Casanova Seok-ho. What Seok-ho does not know is that his best buddy is actually sleeping with his wife.
Interestingly, Young-su does not get excited much about the established adultery with Seok-ho's wife. Instead, Young-su focuses on what he doesn't control yet: Ji-yeon, the photographer whose heart - yes, another coveting formula - is somewhere between Seok-ho and another lover. And a slew of graphic sex scenes involving many of the characters throughout the film add a commercial dimension to the complex drama.
The crucial question is where these complex relationships are eventually headed for and whether all the efforts to follow the repetitive and overlapping scenes are worth the ticket price. As for the first question, answering is not possible without spoiling the movie. But the second question can get a resounding "yes" because its surprising conclusion - surely a showstopper - not only puts together all the puzzles into a neat picture, but also places a fresh spin on the Bible's famous commandment about adultery.
By Yang Sung-jin