Friday, 5 May 2006

Bewitching Attraction (여교수의 은밀한 매력) (2006)

Remember to respect your elders and teachers; Korea is more Confucian a society than China.

Despite limping far worse than Herr Otto Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo, vocational college lecturer Cho Eun-sook (Moon So-ri) exudes confidence and raw sex appeal. An environmental activist and poet in her free time, the prof charms a succession of men into relationships with her. After conquering her male colleagues in the university, Eun-sook is in the middle of a genuine love affair with a production director (Park Won-sang) from a television station when comics illustrator Park Suk-gyu (Ji Jin-hee) is hired by the college cartoon illustration department. The new arrival disconcerts Eun-sook, whose distress unnerves Mr Yoo (Yoo Seung-mok), a fellow environmental activist who has been carrying a torch for the prof. Will Mr Yoo get the woman of his dreams to reciprocate his love? Will he unravel, then get over the possibly scandalous secret that ties Eun-sook and Suk-gyu together?

Since 2000, Lee Ha has produced and directed a series of short films that have won local and international awards. Even in his eventual leap to commercial feature films, the director retains his arthouse and independent streak and creates a film that engages the funny bone easily, and through its twisted sensibilities, also provides food for serious thought on the hypocrisy of people in real life.

The humour in Bewitching Attraction is deliciously perverse that it qualifies as black comedy. On the surface, the movie merely links together sex scenes of Eun-sook and her lovers with sequences of her meticulously plotted (yet bizarre) seductions, which are often funny in themselves. The key to Lee Ha’s masterpiece is to treat it as a social farce poking fun at strait-laced Korean society. Polite, respectable society (as well as respectable mainstream films in Korea) studiously ignores the bodily self. As Montaigne puts it, “Upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses”, and what better way to illustrate that non-rational, untameable part of humanity than to suggest that professors, who are accorded the highest respect by Koreans, are even more obsessed with sex than ordinary people? Or that when they do it, it is just as noisy and messy.

The other half to this movie’s comedy is its subversion of idea of romantic love. Subverting Schopenhauer’s claim that love is merely an uncontrollable, subconscious and non-rational programmatic response of otherwise rational humans to the will to life and the continuation of the species, Lee Ha’s script proposes that these urges, in reality, are more of a cosmic joke that brings people completely wrong for each other together, for all the wrong reasons, with nothing less than disastrous outcomes. That all the players in Bewitching Attraction misunderstand their own motivations in the game of love, their own objective attractiveness to potential partners, put on all the wrong moves - and still manage to get what they want! - provides much situational comedy that at times veers into farce.

In this anti-comedy, the characters are so consistently off-beat, off cue and off colour that they become perfectly on note, and the comic payoff, perfectly timed. It takes great skill to produce a script that delivers the laughs from such a difficult concept. If you watch only one movie a month, save it for Bewitching Attraction. It is a truly entertaining and funny black comedy on sexual and social mores, and movies like this don’t come often.

First published at incinemas on 13 July 2006

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