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[MOVIE REVIEW] 'Legendary Libido' twists Korean sex folklore

2008/04/28 | Permalink | Source

"A Tale of Legendary Libido" (Garoojigi), directed by Sin Han-sol, is loosely based on "Byeon Gang-soe Tale", one of the most notoriously decadent and sexually provocative theatrical songs which took its current form in the late 19th century.

Byeon Gang-soe is a Joseon-era version of Austen Powers, as he has an amazing sexual energy. The original tale, transmitted by word of mouth, was documented and extensively edited by Shin Jae-hyo (1812-1884). Many of the explicit sexual descriptions were cut out in the process; nevertheless, the extant version contains imagery and expressions that are shockingly frank about sexuality, even by today's relatively liberal standards.

The challenges facing director Shin were obvious. First, the highly inflated and exaggerated metaphors throughout the risque story could not be easily revised for mainstream moviegoers, including some adults who are not familiar with the sex comedy genre. Second, the theme has been adapted for the big screen several times, with ho-hum responses even from the targeted B-movie audiences who wanted just cheap laughs, plenty of nudity, and meaningless sex.

Despite the enormous challenges to such a project, director Shin can be credited for impressive casting. Not only the top-notch talent Bong Tae-gyu, but also veteran actors such as Oh Dal-soo and Youn Yuh-jung signed on to the movie for some reasons -- a far more intriguing mystery than the overflowing sexual energy of the film's central character. Bong Tae-gyu plays Byeon Gang-soe, a loner in an obscure mountainous village in the Joseon period. He makes a living, barely, by selling Korean cakes on the street, but wherever he goes, he is jeered by scantily clad village women. Byeon, it turns out, has become a laughing stock because he lacks sexual energy.

He has a dedicated and understanding brother, Gang-mok (Oh Dal-soo), but their ties are disrupted when they encounter a seemingly disoriented beauty who has no qualms about swimming naked in the river and dancing voluptuously on a bridge.

A string of events push the depressed Gang-soe to look for some solution. From this point on, the movie charges ahead with its trademark sex scenes, some of which seem borrowed and adapted from famous comic strips.

But the relentless presentation of luscious female bodies cannot fix the character problem, especially when it comes to the movie's supposed superhero, Gang-seo. Bong Tae-kyu is mostly sullen throughout the film, rarely showing off his renowned talent in fleshing out a realistic and likable character.

In an earlier movie adaptation of this story, veteran actor and sex symbol Lee Dae-geun created a unique character who was at times entertaining and amusing. In contrast, Bong Tae-kyu seems out of place amid a horde of lusty women in a village where desirable men are in seriously short supply.

In this film, the matter of clothing is also problematic. The costume designer apparently opted for a hybrid fashion that resulted in revealing clothes for most actresses, but its effect is, at best, gaudy, and, at worse, unbearable.

"A Tale of Legendary Libido", to be released on April 30, has taken the peculiar subject of unabashed sexuality in conservative Joseon times, but it might have provided the sorely lacking mojo of the supposed sex symbol if it had taken some cues from the purely comical approach of the Austen Powers franchise.

By Yang Sung-jin

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