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'Kitchen' Offers Tasteful Romance

2009/02/05 | 1542 views | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

The title says it all: "The Naked Kitchen". Newcomer Hong Ji-young brings a sensuous romance that paints the taste of juicy meals and unforgettable kisses.

After competing at a few international short film festivals with "Herstory", Hong makes her feature film debut both here and abroad through the Berlin International Film Festival, which continues through Feb. 15. The movie's nationwide release in Japan is slated for June.

For local moviegoers, "Kitchen" will be a delightful trend-spotting, trend-setting franchise. It capitalizes on the national obsession with fine dining, particularly the recent interest in food styling and things fusion. Martha Stewart can feast her eyes with brunch dished up on Hermes china and Korean court cuisine served in a Western-style multiple-course meal.

Other scenes are like fashion magazine spreads, as the cellophane-thin lead actress struts around trendy neighborhoods in her candy-colored shoes. But the emerging director displays a sense for both style and substance as she delves the meaning of love and infidelity. The movie is a fine asset to the Korean chick flick genre as it sugarcoats the sensitive subject matter with scrumptious dishes, summer sunshine and colorful parasols.

Mo-rae (Shin Min-ah) is a young parasol designer happily married to the love of her life (Kim Tae-woo). She is the perfect wife who supports Sang-in even when he secretly quits his high-paying job in finance to pursue his dreams of becoming a chef. Their newly wedded bliss, however, is disrupted when a new man (Ju Ji-hoon) enters Mo-rae's life.

Unlike other stories about clandestine liaisons, "Kitchen" depicts the incident with fairy-tale charms, though not without a touch of eroticism. "He tasted different", Mo-rae immediately confesses to her husband, with childlike innocence, that she kissed a stranger in an art gallery. Sang-in tries to forgive and forget, having always been the generous older brother figure to his childhood friend-turned-wife.

Mo-rae's mysterious kisser, however, turns out to be none other than her husband's dear friend Du-re, a genius cook who was invited to stay at their home while helping out with Sang-in's new restaurant. And so begins a shaky, three-way cohabitation.

"Kitchen" can be compared to Gina Kim's "Never Forever", as both show that first loves, or one great love, does not necessarily last forever. The movie also suggests it is possible to love two people at the same time, quite like Jeoong Yoon-soo's "My Wife Got Married". But unlike the said film's openly polygamous wife, Mo-rae is more "ordinary" and tries not to fool around with Du-re. But considering their having exchanged kisses before names, it's not easy. "It started as Eros and now you want to go platonic? Does that make sense?" reprimands Mo-rae's friend.

The viewer is bound to sympathize with Sang-in, who cannot help feeling an inferiority complex toward Du-re's innate cooking abilities. Others might take sides with lonely boy Du-re, played by the model-turned-actor Joo. The heartthrob of the hit TV soap "Princess Hours" is an actor to watch out for, as his big screen debut "Antique" is also being shown alongside "The Naked Kitchen" at Berlin. Yet one drawback is that this non-francophone actor plays a character that is supposed to speak better French than Korean. Those who aren't distracted by the actor's natural charms may find his chanson d'amour version of a popular Shim Su-bong trot beat rather cheesy.

Now showing in theaters. 102 minutes. Distributed by Silver Spoon.

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