Do-kyeong (played by Kim Min-ki) is a doctor preparing to get married to the daughter of a colleague. Somewhat inconveniently, this happens simultaneously with his rekindling an old relationship with Ga-in (played by Ko Won). At the start of "Death in Desert", Do-kyeong passively aggressively calls the affair off after the extended opening sex scene while Ga-in increasingly pathetically begs for him to treat her like a partner rather than a sex toy. Rather tellingly, Do-kyeong manages to come off as the more sympathetic person in this situation even though he's the cheater.
Although really, none of the characters in "Death in Desert" are all that likable. This is the kind of movie where the main person who inspires compassion is a fairly random role from a woman who lost an expensive diamond ring. I feel sorry for this woman. She's in a bad situation that arose through random accident and is likely to suffer disproportionate consequences for that moment of foolishness.
Contrast the other characters- Do-kyeong, who has little respect for women. Ga-in, who has little respect for herself. And then there's Byeong-soo (played by Ryu Han-hong), a man who's gotten a little obsessed with the abstract concept of murder yet lacks the gumption to actually try to commit the act himself. Even Byeong-soo's almost interesting backstory can't really justify the fact that he's a tad self-absorbed with nothing to show for it.
So what does "Death in Desert" do with itself exactly? Well, mostly it makes good use of its erotic pretenses to make do with plenty of sex scenes. Some clever producer managed to market "Death in Desert" as the sequel to "Act", even though all the movies really have in common is the (Korean) title. Debatedly perhaps there is the element of shared hidden misery, although really, doesn't every movie boil down to shared hidden misery sooner or later?
While there are some noteworthy philosophical elements to "Death in Desert", mostly they're just window-dressing for the sex scenes. We manage to meet Do-kyeong's fianc้ at some point. Joo-hyeon (played by Lee Jae-in) has such a perfunctory role that she does little more than pop in, express some curiousity about the obviously duplicitous situation her would-be husband had gotten mixed up in and then bows out just as quickly apparently having been mostly bored by what's transpired.
I finished watching "Death in Desert" with much the same feeling. The characters don't inspire much interest, the plot trails off once it becomes clear that Ga-in won't end up having to face any punishment for any of her crimes and the sex...all right, I can give writer/director No Zin-soo that much. The sex scenes are pretty good. Context notwithstanding, they manage to be decently erotic, there's several of them, they all go on for an extended period of time without becoming too repetitive, and they're well-spaced relative to one another. If you're looking for effective pacing for sex scenes within a story, "Death in Desert" gets the job done.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Death in Desert""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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