After adapting the traditional tale of Hansel and Gretel in a modern, Korean setting, Yim Pil-sung decided to do the same with the classic Korean folktale Simcheongga, by creating an atmospheric, erotic thriller. Let us see how he fared.
Literature professor Hak-gyoo is a gorgeous man, whose beauty seems to put him constantly in trouble. First, he is accused for a sex scandal by a student of his, which forces him to leave Seoul and his depressed wife and daughter, Cheong-i, in order to teach in a small, rural town. While being there though, he starts an affair with a local girl, Deok-i, with the two of them soon becoming the object of much gossip, to the utter frustration of the girl's deaf-mute mother. Eventually, the allegations against him drop, and he returns to Seoul to teach at the university, leaving behind a disgruntled Deok-i, who does not hesitate to follow him to Seoul. When he decides to return to end things with her, tragedy befalls her and his family, in the harshest fashion. The film then leaps 8 years later, where Cheong-i has become a genuine playboy, to the annoyance of his daughter. Soon, however, tragedy appears once again and revenge becomes the main theme of the story.
Yim Pik-sung directs a film that is split into two segments, with the events following the return of Hak-kyu to the town serving as the dichotomy. The issue however, is that the two parts are quite different as much as they are uneven. In that fashion, the first part functions as a kind of romantic story, at least till the ending, filled with sensualism ( including a long, quite steamy sex scene) where the built up of the relationship and its repercussions are excellently built-up and portrayed.
On the other hand, the second part goes a bit too far in terms of story, which eventually becomes quite naïve, as revenge and counter revenge start dominating the narrative. As the victims become perpetrators and vice versa, the sense of measure is almost completely lost, with the same applying to the characters, who after a fashion, seem paper-thin, with the time leaps adding to this sense, in essence stripping the story of most of the impact the twists could have. This aspect applies particularly to the two girls, whose story, in the second, part, suffers in term of analysis, thus faulting the particular characters.
Although the faults in the narrative are significant, I cannot say the same about the technical aspect of the film. Lee Sung-jae's cinematography is exceptional, giving the images a dark and grey hue that suits the erotic thriller aesthetics to perfection, while his presentation of the erotic scenes is one of the highlights of the production. His focus on Jung Woo-sung's body is more than evident, but the result is excellent, since the Korean super star is build like a sculpture. The quality remains the same in both the rural and the urban setting, in another trait of Lee's work. Mowg's music also adds to the aforementioned sense, through a number of atmospheric, quite fitting tracks. Kim Sang-beom's editing gives the film a dreamy pace that functions nicely for the most part, but the time leaps are somewhat abrupt and do not help the narrative.
Jung Woo-sung as Hak-gyoo is great in the role of the temptation and as a playboy, but not as good in the part where he has to appear broken and in need. Roughly the same applies to Esom as Deok-i, who is quite good as a naïve girl in love and relatively convincing femme fatale, but not so good when she has to appear completely broken.
"Scarlet Innocence" has a number of faults in its narrative, but remains a treat for the eye for various reasons and definitely deserves a watch, particularly from those that enjoy erotic thrillers.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from YESASIA
Blu-ray HK (En Sub)
DVD HK (En Sub)
DVD (En Sub)
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Hancinema Film Review] "Scarlet Innocence""
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