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'Faceless Beauty': A Journey Into Madness

2004/08/05 Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter

"Faceless Beauty" is a psychosexual drama that is as beautifully flawed as the mental state of its terminally sad characters. The film takes a highly experimental approach to storytelling that, when it works, feels like you're being enveloped in another person's madness. When it doesn't, however, the film turns into a frustrating and confusing movie-going experience.

"Faceless Beauty" is directed by Kim In-sik, who has made huge strides as a filmmaker since debuting with "Road Movie" two years ago. Kim shows surprising confidence in his manipulation of imagery and mood as he maps out his characters' descent into insanity.

The film also boasts standout performances by the leads, particularly Kim Hye-soo. Though the media has talked more about Kim's nude scenes _ the first in her career _ her complex portrayal of Jin-su, a woman grappling with insanity, should be remembered when awards are handed out at the end of the year.

The film begins with a beautifully hallucinatory scene with the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In a darkened room, Jin-su stands as if in a dream surrounded by floating household objects, which, like her fragile consciousness, suddenly come crashing down all around her.

Gradually we discover details and snippets from Jin-su's life, her failure as a writer and her alienation from her philandering husband. When she is finally admitted into a hospital, she undergoes hypnosis sessions with her therapist Sok-won (Kim Tae-woo), which begin to bring her painful past to light.

But the more Jin-su divulges, the less clear it is how much of what she says is real and how much is an extension of her hallucinations. With a melancholy past equal to that of his patient, Sok-won turns out to be not the best therapist for the job, and slowly but surely he finds himself becoming entangled in Jin-su's madness.

Director Kim In-sik is determined to drive this nightmare of a doctor-patient relationship to its horrific conclusion, not only in content but also in method. Rather than maintaining a continuous storyline, he presents a collage of different episodes and images from the two characters' past, present and dreams, along with Sok-won's therapy sessions with other patients.

But however grotesquely beautiful, the lack of a clear narrative begins to feel overwhelming, and by the second half of the film, the viewer feels forced to play connect-the-dots with plot twists and relationships that might or might not be there. And when "Faceless Beauty" finally does reach an ending, we, like the film's characters, are not quite sure how we got there.

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