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'Moonlight' Shines on Seoul's Nightlife

2008/04/24 | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Young, stylish director Yoon Jong-bin is releasing "The Moonlight of Seoul" (aka. "Beastie Boys"), his second feature film starring Ha Jung-woo. The gleaming cast also includes singer-turned-actor Yoon Kye-sang and up and upcoming actress Yoon Jin-seo.

Director Yoon and Ha reunite for another guy movie dealing with a provoking subject matter after their critically acclaimed homosexual soldier story "The Unforgiven" (2006), which made both of them landmarks on the cinematic map.

Away from army barracks, "Moonlight" takes us to the posh strip of Cheongdam-dong in the heart of downtown Seoul. When night falls, the glitzy Louis Vuitton road shop and high-end art galleries go into deep slumber and another world awakens.

But "Moonlight" goes beyond your idea of a thrilling nightlife. It's about excessive partying in all its capitalistic glory: rich but lonely ladies (mostly 30-something businesswomen) flock to an upscale "room salon" (bar with private rooms) and pay for the services of strapping, young male hosts.

These charming "eye candies", impeccably dressed and styled at a beauty salon, are available in all types ― funny, good-looking, talented singers or dancers. They pour drinks and entertain with witty lines, croon love songs and even put on little magic shows. This is the male version of "10 peuro" or 10 percent, an actual super luxurious room salon with hostesses who are literally in the "top percentile" of the beauty hierarchy.

Yoon Kye-sang stars as the handsome Seung-woo, the bar's "ace" or most popular host. But having grown up in a wealthy and now bankrupt family, he claims to be different from the others and thinks of the job as just a passing phase leading to something greater in life. Then he meets Ji-won (Yoon Jin-seo), a client, and the seducer becomes the seduced.

Ha is Jae-hyeon, a cheeky guy who manages the younger hosts. He's a veteran parasite who has women opening up their wallets with just a few words. Although Jae-hyeon lives with his longtime girlfriend (Seung-woo's sister), he shamelessly seduces other women and even brings them home. But maintaining a stylish lifestyle lands him in debt, and he must, as in host parlance, "go into construction" or schematically lure women for cash.

After centuries of artwork depicting female courtesans to prostitutes, "Moonlight" finally brings the male counterpart of the 21st century onscreen. The film, however, could disappoint female fans. Of course, the good-looking male leads strut around in finely pressed, half unbuttoned shirts and whisper sweet nothings ― but that's just for show.

The film portrays some ugly party scenes including orgies. It's almost allegorical in showing the so-called fall of modern man. Most of the screen captures the bad hangover part, and far from being stylized, it reads more like a documentary.

Struggling 20-something year-olds capitalize on their good looks. But off work, Jae-hyeon and Seung-woo are less charming, and often engage in verbal and physical abuse against women. It reflects almost misogynistic undertones in the pleasure factor. These male hosts provide services to women, but female sexuality and sexual needs are almost non-existent ― save for the part of Yoon Jin-seo. The actress does a commendable job as the fine counterpoint to the two charismatic male leads.

Yoon Kye-sang continues to embody that fresh, youthful appeal he displayed in films such as "Flying Boys" (2004), but delivers it with weight. Ha gives yet another gripping performance, offering more of that animalistic acting instinct in his recent box office smash "The Chaser". The main cast keeps the rather long, drawn-out script (two hours) engaging.

As in the director's own words, the movie "depicts youths living in the exotic backdrop of Gangnam (southern Seoul) and those kicking and screaming to survive in the superficial, capitalistic society". It's more bitter than sweet ― in fact, acidic on the taste buds. In theaters April 30.

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