Green Chair Review
A surprisingly frank look at South Korea’s age of consent laws, Green Chair starts with Kim Mun-hee receiving the sentence of a hundred hours Community Service for the crime of “seducing” her 18yr old boyfriend Seo-hyun, who is still technically a minor. After the hearing a tired, emotional, and dishevelled Kim emerges to face a mob of aggressive press reporters eager to find out if the local scarlet woman is feeling repentant about her shameful crimes. Just as this attention starts to overwhelm her, Seo-hyun emerges from within the bustle to passionately embrace his lover and whisk her away to a local hotel where they spend the next few days getting intimately re-acquainted. Once their libido is satiated though, Kim starts to take on board all the accusations the local community has flung at her since the arrest, which together with her own insecure paranoia that someone as young and handsome as Seo-hyun couldn’t possibly have remained faithful while she was locked away, leads Kim to the conclusion that she must walk away from this relationship now to save future heartache for both. In order to maintain a low profile until the press scrutiny has died down, Kim shacks up with best friend Jin, who unbeknownst to her has already been in contact with Seo-hyun and secretly arranged a meeting between the two lovers. Patching up their differences, Seo-hyun and Kim move in together with Jin, forming a somewhat unconventional family away from the judgemental eyes of South Korean society, but it’s not long with Kim’s paranoia starts bubbling to the surface.
Green Chair was originally made in 2003 but had to wait until 2005 before it received a general release in its native country of South Korea, thanks mainly to successful showings at international film festivals. Apparently the reason its Korean investors shelved it was because they decided an understated drama, which takes such a non-judgemental look at the rather universally taboo subject of under-age sex, was completely unmarketable to the mainstream populace. Another possible reason may also have been down to the lengthy sex scenes that take up over a third of the film’s runtime, which given the themes of the film lends Green Chair a certain surface similarity with Jang Sun-woo’s Lies - one of the more controversial dramas to come from South Korea in recent years. If that was the case then this is very unfortunate, because unlike Jang Sun-woo’s downbeat psychological drama (which shows sex in brutal and mildly explicit manner) Green Chair is essentially an optimistic and tender film.
Despite a premise that promises a rather complicated exploration of Korean attitudes towards its teenagers, Park Chul-soo never loses sight of what’s most important to a romantic drama: that we must on some level empathise with the romantic protagonists and actually believe in their relationship. He does this in the most understated and alarming way, first we have the marathon sex sessions that take up almost the entire first half of the film that, rather than supply any erotic titillation, are actually surprisingly tame and artful - completely highlighting how good Seo-hyun and Kim work as a couple on a purely physical level. As a westerner whose laws permit 18yr olds to engage in sexual activity, it’s almost impossible to imagine how Green Chair’s native audiences would react to these sex sequences, given the age of the male protagonist, but I find it hard to imagine anyone being offended by the way the director handles the sequences, nor his clever use of comic vignettes to not only break up the intensity of the love scenes but also immediately draw the audience into the simple (non-coital) pleasures of Kim & Seo-hyun’s relationship.
When the physical trysts are played out and Kim heads off to live with her best friend Jin, the tone of the film switches slightly to deal with the couple’s reintegration into Korean society and their settling down into a real relationship together that transcends just physical attraction. Here the supporting character of Jin becomes an important anchor for both of the main protagonists, acting as a non-judgemental confidante for the rather wistful Kim and also as a mature “motherly” type figure for the rather emotionally naïve Seo-hyun, who has to face the brunt of Kim’s insecurities. This is when Green Chair really shines as a character piece; all three characters are surprisingly nuanced and never succumb to base stereotypes, and the surrogate family they form feels completely believable, thanks mostly to how mischievously the relationship between each character is explored. For instance, rather than develop a cheap and obvious romantic love triangle between Seo-hyun, Jin and Kim, Park keeps the viewer guessing as to how Seo-hyun really feels about Jin as a woman and vice versa, throwing some playful sequences that lead us down the garden path as to what those two get up to when Kim’s not around. This of course makes the viewer more susceptible to empathise when Kim’s paranoia’s start coming back to haunt her later on in the story.
As for the social message of the film, well it’s clear that we’re meant to sympathise with Kim and Seo-hyun’s plight whilst concluding that Korean society is guilty of mollycoddling its teenage population to the point of patronising them and that general opinions on adult females who dare to be promiscuous are outdated and hypocritical, but these messages are never thrown in our face. In fact, on the contrary Park uses these themes to add to the humour of the piece wherever he can, with one amusing subplot featuring Kim and Seo-hyun repeatedly rumbling a persistent press reporter (played by the film’s scriptwriter no less) who constantly follows them whenever they leave Jin’s house. Every time they catch him he’s gagged and bound, then dumped for his amused colleagues to discover and poke fun at. Even the denouement completely refuses to resort to convention, as the cinematic rule book is totally thrown out the window when the protagonists host a cocktail party for their friends and loved ones to come and debate the implications of their coupling. It is a sequence that flies in the face of the film’s tone up until this point, but one that is completely refreshing and provides a much more satisfying conclusion to the story than I was ever expecting. Which perfectly sums Green Chair up; it is a film that at first promises to be a somewhat pessimistic look at Korean society and the pressures it places on an ultimately-doomed relationship, but turns out to be a surprisingly touching and quirky little drama.
PresentationGreen Chair’s anamorphic 1.77:1 presentation is surprisingly natural for a recent Korean film like this. Usually R3 Korean transfers are clipped to hell but the contrast and brightness levels here are very pleasing. Park Chul-soo has chosen to shoot green chair in predominantly orange hues, so while colour reproduction is strong and free of bloom the skin tones do appear quite salmony at times, this is of course completely in keeping with how the film is shot. The high amount of film grain on display too is an issue of the way Green Chair is shot, but the compression is strong enough to handle the grainier scenes without any distracting blocking. Likewise the print used is in good condition, with only the odd speck floating into frame from time to time. Detail is a touch on the low side though - certain scenes appear quite soft – but there’s a good chance this is down to the cinematography as well. All in, I was quite impressed with this transfer.
Understandably given the understated nature of the film, neither the Korean DD5.1 nor DD2.0 stereo options on this DVD can be classified as reference material, but both tracks are more than adequate for the job at hand. For the purpose of this review I predominantly listened to the DD5.1 track which, although being plagued in the quieter scenes by audible background hiss and hum, provides clean, audible dialogue and relatively solid bass reproduction. Throughout most of the film the audio is confined to the centre speaker, but from time to time the stereo and rear soundstages do come briefly to life. In comparison, the DD2.0 track sounds almost identical, just quieter and with slightly flatter bass.
Optional English subtitles are included, with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.