Kev reviews the debut feature from promising director Lee Ha, starring Moon So-ri (Oasis) as a promiscuous teacher in this comedy/drama/romantic hybrid type thingy of a film.
An interesting aspect of the Korean film industry in general is how it goes about marketing its films; we’ve seen it umpteen times, from horrors to comedy, some of which, like, Save the Green Planet and The Uninvited (to name but two) have met with rather bizarre campaigns featuring artwork that can be classed all too easily as being deceptive. A similar fate befalls Lee Ha’s debut film Bewitching Attraction, in that it’s touted as a new romantic comedy, and judging from the artwork that features Moon So-ri in a rather compromising position, a provocative one at that. Make no mistake; while Bewitching Attraction contains elements of these, along with a very naked Moon So-ri in spots, it also features a few dark moments that make it just that little bit difficult to categorise.
Cho Eun-sook (Moon So-ri) is a professor at Shim Chun Design School, working for the dyeing department. She seems to be a pleasant worker who appears to have some commendable traits, participating in environmental issues, being proficient in poetry and having the utmost respect for her job. But her daily life, which also entails wearing glasses that she doesn’t need is all a front to make herself appear to be an interesting woman, while the reality is that all of this makes it a whole lot easier and exciting to seduce male victims and she goes on a sex spree, which eventually leads her to attract the attention of married producer Kim Young-ho (Park Won-sang).
Park Suk-gyu (Ji Jin-hee) is a cartoonist who is offered a job to teach at Shim Chun. When he arrives and is introduced to Eun-sook the pair doesn’t exactly hit it off well. Although they don’t initially recognise each other it’s soon revealed that they once attended the same school back in ’86. She used to date his brother and also happens to have a deeper history with Suk-gyu himself. With Suk-gyu permanently around Eun-sook begins to worry if their past will leak out and present itself to her closest friends and colleagues. It’s difficult for Eun-sook to keep secrets while keeping two guys on the go, not to mention an old friend who is dragged back into something that he sooner not have to relive.
Lee Ha’s Bewitching Attraction is a very visual film. Now that might make little sense as all films are, but here there’s an overpowering sense of communication via the director’s careful set ups. In many respects Ha’s film is simplicity x5 (10 is too simple); there’s no great amount of movement, flashy panning, crane or lengthy dolly shots. Most of what we see takes place in confined and controlled environments. This is where Ha’s talent for film making is ultimately demonstrated. The director is careful not to convolute his story or aesthetic values (even when heading into flashback territory), he simply composes and lights his scenes with great skill: one single shot tells more than expected, negating the need for dialogue. As a result of this he succeeds in also scoring huge points for the comedic aspects that run throughout its course. You’ll find that gags don’t come directly from conversation but are genially placed during the most unexpected moments; whether it’s during the middle of somebody in deep thought, or taking a dog for a walk, there’s always something to smile or laugh at. The comedy on display though is certainly quirky, which is to say that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, and after the first act in which characters are introduced it takes a substantial turn toward relationships and their dramatic after effects.
As the film works its way toward a satisfying conclusion Lee Ha thrusts himself into depicting the relationships shared between several parties with his self-penned script, which examines the darker lifestyles of seemingly normal and reserved people. While it never gets overly serious, despite an important piece that ties some of these characters together, it most certainly becomes darker in tone. However, just when you’re fairly certain that you know where all of this is heading the director takes an unpredictable route, of which I can only applaud. Ha doesn’t resort to cheapening his film by pairing certain characters together for the sake of it; he tells their side of the story and he keeps a couple of players emotionally distant enough to ensure that the picture never falls into a clichéd, melodramatic and romanticised trap. Speaking of romance there’s not a great deal that comes across as being overly romantic; characters love, hate, deceive, but in general we’re seeing several tones to various relationships, not all of which are coated with sugar and spice and everything nice. As for that all important sexy side, indeed there are moments, though Moon So-ri has to thank for that in all her naked glory. In all there are three sex scenes which are brief interludes, but clearly they seemed to be enough to warrant an excessively sex-fuelled ad campaign.
Likewise the characters themselves aren’t exactly prone to stereotype, nor are they ones that we’re forced to like. Moon So-ri delivering yet another brilliant performance in her career plays a character that can be quite nasty: she’s pretty horrible, playing emotional games with those closest to her; she mocks, drinks excessively and snubs her way through life, all the while leaving an air of curiosity about her. Yet with all of this she is likeable all the same. It could just be the way that So-ri sniggers so effectively, amuses herself at the expense of others, recites poetry in pretentious fashion or carries herself so admirably; for some reason she reminds me of former Japanese pop singer and actor Kyoko Koizumi. Her character has a background that’s not entirely divulged; the mystery surrounding her limp is never explained and that only leaves us wondering. In fact it’s for the better, with Lee Ha showing us that we don’t need to learn every single little thing about every single person for us to decide if we’re going to get along with them and the film as a whole. Ji Jin-hee, who made his film debut in 2002’s H also has an extremely likable quality. If I was to compare him to any other living actor then I’d have to say that he’s uncannily like Cha Seung-won of Kick the Moon, Break Out, Jailbreakers and My Teacher, Mr. Kim fame. With similar qualities he demonstrates a nice, subtle approach, though he’s prone to sudden fits of rage and oddball mannerisms. Ha’s approach to not only these characters but also the support is a lively one, and I for one am glad to see a director straying from convention and not pandering to audience expectations.
KD Media presents Bewitching Attraction as a 2-disc collector’s edition. Unlike some of the more lavish packaging we’ve seen from South Korea of late we’re given a standard amaray case that holds both discs. A slip cover, replicating the amaray cover is also supplied.
Note: As I couldn’t acquire the exact cover art I’ve used a shot of the bonus insert card shown on Yesasia’s site.
Bewitching Attraction is given a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The image displays edge enhancement and slightly boosted contrast levels, though in all it’s most pleasant to look at. Detail is nice throughout and colours are vibrant, with no signs of compression artefacts or distracting aliasing.
Korean DD2.0 and DD5.1 Surround options are available. Having gone with the latter there’s not a great amount of detail to get into. Dialogue is forwarded simply enough and comes through fine from the centre channel, while the rears make little do with various other effects. The pleasant score which entails of violins, harmonicas and Spanish guitar stylings, giving the film that extra quirky lift, is nicely separated across the soundstage.
Optional English subtitles are available. Aside from some minor spelling mistakes these read well and have no timing problems.
Disc 1 contains a feature commentary with director and cast. I sampled a little to get an idea of the general tone, which appeared to be fun throughout. The actors talk and laugh a lot, which makes it seem like a lively enough chat. Shame there are no subs. There is also a three minute after commentary which is video footage of the main cast talking about the film.
Disc 2 has the rest of the goodies. To start with we get a making of programme which does the usual of going behind the scenes, interviewing actors and crew members and showing a little onset fun (20.08). Following on from that, we get interviews with the three main cast members (16.25). Next is a mini documentary (10.29) that consists of more interviews and behind the scenes footage; unfortunately I don’t know what’s going on. Auditions come next (6.50) and the cast members do a spot of reading, but the audition is for a younger guy who they then judge upon him leaving. A press conference with director and cast looking snazzy finishes up the first menu (6.43). Moving on we look at the promo campaign shoot, which gets more bizarre the longer it runs (5.26), followed by another shoot (5.25), this time in a different location. The theatrical trailer and a TV spot round off the disc.
Bewitching Attraction offers a different outlook on love and relationships surrounding tightly knit groups, and although it digs up a narrative twist that might be considered too convenient, director Ha takes it in a different direction and shows us that much more can be made from a relatively simple premise; it’s also a very funny film, with a generally even tone for the most part, backed by some very eccentric performances. I’ll look forward to the director’s next film with anticipation; until then I’d advise people to check this out and take in one of the better efforts from recent South Korean cinema, which sadly failed to ignite the Seoul box office.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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