Glasses, a clock, pencils, a lamp and other sundry objects float around in a surreal atmosphere. Timelessness shrouds the room. Suddenly, everything floating in the air drops, breaking into pieces. Shards of glass pierce the delicate skin of a woman. What's really hurt, however, is not her body but her lonely heart.
("Eolgul eopneun minyeo") opening this Friday, explores the fragility of the human heart when love is denied. Few words can describe the pain when love is entirely rejected and there is no possibility of having your love returned in this lifetime.
In the film, Ji-su (Kim Hye-soo
) leads a troubled life because of her peculiar illness - a borderline personality disorder. Borderline patients tend to have almost unlimited fear of being rejected by the people around them. At the same time, they always feel that they may soon lose their loved ones.
As reflected by the floating objects that she alone sees in her room, Ji-su is struggling with a sense of emptiness and directionlessness in her life. She wants to write a novel, but nobody believes her words, and she seems to be in a state of constant delusion. Meanwhile, her husband, a successful foreign exchange dealer, is having an affair with a colleague.
At the hospital she meets Suk-won, a psychiatrist who feels strong compassion for her. A year later when Suk-won returns from the United States and happens to meet Ji-su at a gym, their relationship begins to chug along toward a fatal conclusion.
This time, the two relate not as doctor and patient but as friends - or much more than that. Suk-won starts using hypnosis to get Ji-su to have sex with him, giving up his ethical and professional standards altogether. Legally, this is rape, but Suk-won doesn't care. He is so desperate to have his love reciprocated by Ji-su that he slowly loses his mind, mimicking the symptoms of Ji-su's borderline disorder.
Why is Suk-won so obsessed with Ji-su? He also has a wounded heart because his wife died after having an affair with a colleague. In other words, his past relationships have already been shattered, and the encounter with Ji-su, who was similarly hurt, seems to fuel his unrepressible desire for companionship and affection.
The plot is somewhat difficult to follow, since director Kim In-sik
ornately mixes reality and fantasy. But stylistically, the film achieves some cinematic breakthroughs. Images that evoke gloominess and uneasiness abound: A long hall at the hospital, a short running track at the gym, a claustrophobic underground parking lot.
Symbolic images also are found in Suk-won's room at the hospital, which is decorated by just a couple of black-and-white photos and a bare-branched tree. "Do you usually reveal your loneliness like this?" Ji-su asks.
Hypnosis is also an important symbol. Reality is portrayed as extremely barren and dreary. The neon signs of a huge, bustling city shower meaninglessness upon the characters. The only way to escape this painful space is hypnosis, which has long been associated with a supernatural power to transcend the mundane world.
But the reliance on hypnosis generates a dilemma. Suk-won's uncontrollable wish to be loved by Ji-su is fulfilled only when he uses hypnosis. In reality, his life remains shattered, and love still unattainable. "It's all the more painful because I know she and I are now living under the same sky", Suk-won says. Yes, they live on the same earth, but he finds no way to communicate his love properly.
One illustration of this broken communication channel comes from mobile phones. After Suk-won's wife dies, he receives voice messages left for her by her secret lover, who has no knowledge she is dead. The lover keeps calling, and using her handset Suk-won keeps listening to these tortuous one-sided communications.
Mobile phones are supposedly interactive, but they can be crippling for those in ill-fated relationships. When there is no longer love or affection, calls go unanswered and voice messages are deleted without even being played.
Since one can readily check whether the recipient is responding to one's desperate calls for attention, mobile phones can deal a consuming blow to those who have lost their lovers.
Even without mobile phones, however, unreturned love can make people desperate and rend them deeply. This tragic, destructive and universal aspect of love has inspired countless poets to write mournful verses.
The director's repeated use of the number eight as a symbol is linked to the nature of fatal love. When an electronic clock in Suk-won's room shows only eight in its display, his psychological state reaches a destructive point. Suk-won also inserts "eight roses" in his hypnotic phrases to manipulate Ji-su.
In Asian culture, the number eight usually refers to repetition of events or a return to the starting point, which means that the painful relationship between Suk-won and Ji-su will likely be repeated by other people in this postmodern society where communications are often blocked and misinterpreted, forming an open-ended chain of depression and despair.
Separately, the local media has spotlighted unprecedented nude scenes by Kim Hye-soo
, the first in the actress's 19-year career. She exceeds expectations with a bold and confident performance.
All in all, the movie throws a couple of issues to the Korean audience. For all their denials, human beings are always vulnerable to destruction when their love relationships go awry and hypnotic despair and loneliness set in. What would you do if you made a terrible mistake and you couldn't help agonizing over a ravaged relationship? Don't we all have inherent fear of being rejected and denied?
The mesmerizing aspect of love is irresistibly tempting, but its pernicious other side can crush even iron hearts when things go wrong. Hypnotically wrong.
By Yang Sung-jin