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[MOVIE REVIEW] 'Beautiful' examines idea of beauty a la Kim Ki-duk mode

2008/02/04 Source

Combine sex, obsession and extreme circumstances, and you'll have a perfect formula for a movie created and crafted by the award-winning filmmaker Kim Ki-duk. "Beautiful" (Areumdapda), however, is not Kim's movie -- officially, in the least.

The movie, to be released on Feb. 14, is Juhn Jai-hong's debut feature, but it has all the artistic and thematic trappings that are automatically identified with director Kim. After all, Jeon is Kim's new protege, who has a firm grip on what is called the "Kim Ki-duk style" of the big screen.

"Beautiful" is based on Kim's incomplete screenplay, and Juhn, eager to learn Kim's filmmaking techniques, has turned it into a feature-length movie. Kim, known for his uncontrollably sarcastic humor, says he "saw that it was good".

Kim is actually telling the truth to some extent. "Beautiful" has been invited to the Panorama section of the 58th Berlin International Film Festival, Germany, which will start on Thursday. This is also Kim's trademark: whatever related to Kim -- or his protege in this particular case -- tends to intrigue the juries at major international filmfests.

True to form, "Beautiful" does not pull any punches in tackling a provocative theme, which is simply summed up as a twisted urban fable about a beauty and the beast. The beauty hates the reality in which she is extremely beautiful -- a curse that always attracts the lustful stare of the sex-hungry beasts, also known as, well, "men".

Eun-young (Cha Soo-yeon) has the misfortune of being a salient beauty. Whenever she goes out, all the men -- and some women -- notice her existence and admire her gorgeous appearance. She routinely gets a request to sign an autograph from high school girls who believe she's a top celebrity. If not, the logic goes, she cannot be this beautiful.

Eun-young is also familiar with unexpected advances from men, including her close friend's beau. She also ignores all the flowers sent by hordes of men, many of whom are bound to be stalkers and perverts yearning for only her body as an object of sexual pleasure. Seong-min (Kim Min-soo), one of the flower-sending stalkers, proves the point rather cruelly. He disguises himself as a gas company official (don't trust strangers), intrudes into her house (sign up for a home security service, if You Are Beautiful) and rapes her (living alone in an apartment is a bad idea especially for a beauty like Eun-young).

The stalker-turned-rapist, however, blames Eun-young for the sorry incident. "I did it because you're so beautiful", he says. Even when he shows up to confess his sin at the police station, he insists on his innocence: "I did not rape her; your beauty raped me!"

Beauty is supposedly in the eye of the beholder, but "Beautiful" does not endorse the oft-misunderstood subjectivity of beauty. If you're drop-dead gorgeous, your beauty shows, often in an ugly and not-so-desirable way. The reason is that most, if not all, of the beholders are male pigs who instantly link an attractive woman to sex, a ruthlessly simplified yet strangely resonating theme that director Juhn strikes home by offering a uniform portrait of male characters.

One of those characters is Eun-cheol (Lee Chun-hee), a policeman who witnesses the downfall of Eun-young. Eun-cheol initially has pity and sympathy for the rape victim but he's also a man who does care about outer beauty.

The movie depicts the downward struggle of Eun-young switching between bulimia and anorexia, her belated attempt to get rid of her curse of being a beauty. At the same time, it portrays the downward transformation of Eun-cheol from a kind-hearted policeman into an obsessive stalker finding it hard to resist a desire to sleep with her.

"Beautiful" is a deliberate, relatively well-balanced concoction of sex, obsession and extreme circumstances a la Kim Ki-duk, which means director Jeon Jae-hong has to find his own style free from his manipulative master. By all measure, director Juhn is Kim Ki-duk Lite, and he should understand that audiences always prefer Kim Ki-duk Classic whose secret formula entails shocking yet thought-provoking visual tastes.

By Yang Sung-jin

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