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Ko - production in Busan
  • In Focus: Obsessed
  • by LEE Yong-cheol /  Jun 02, 2014
    Directed by KIM Dae-woo
    Starring SONG Seung-heon, LIM Ji-yeon
    Release Date May 14
    Are there any Korean movies that depict sexual love successfully? Nothing strikes me in particular. Although a number of adult erotic films attracted audiences in the 1980s, there is not much to pick from among them. The new, fresh attempts in the early 80’s gradually waned later on. Those films were only thirsty to describe a sexual act in a coarse manner, and consequently the adult movies were disgraced as a shoddy genre which decreased the quality of Korean movies overall. As a result, popular directors rarely tried to make adult movies. Therefore, the advent of sexual movies that came with Forbidden Quest (2006) and also further with KIM Dae-woo’s Obsessed were enough to draw our attention.

    Director KIM has completely removed our prejudice against adult movies. The sets and art designs are well-polished, unlike what we would expect in an adult film. Rather, his films are too luxurious to make us feel awkward. Just like the main characters who are troublemakers of their time, the fancy props and dresses used in the film do not matched those of the Joseon Dynasty period which would have been more monochromatic. He also did a good job in carefully weaving narratives and characters together in his film, reflecting a temporal barrier as well as romantic factors. KIM seems to realize that if characters pursue only sexual pleasure, they are not much different from beasts. He has firmly built his own world in film after film. At least he appears to do so.

    Because KIM’s lavish style captures audiences, the characters’ complex emotions are often pushed out of the spotlight. KIM Dae-woo started his career as a screenwriter. His scenarios, such as An Affair (1998), Rainbow Trout (1999) and Untold Scandal (2003), have excellent psychological and descriptive details. As a matter of fact, his literary style closely traces the changes in a characters’ mentality. While characters’ psychological developments were not entirely expressed in his previous movies, Forbidden Quest (2006) and The Servant (2010), they are fully described in his new film Obsessed. It is a movie about a man slowly going insane.
    Along with the title, the film starts with a view of a small village that houses the official military residences. This must be the most beautiful scene in the film. The reason for this is that a lonely man is playing tennis by himself and the cozy landscape surrounds him. One strange thing is that the film does not say much about its main character KIM Jin-pyeong, even though it reveals surrounding people’s families and histories one by one. Almost all that we learn about Jin-pyeong is: he is a soldier who used force to defeat enemies in the Vietnam War, a husband who daydreams when his wife chatters, and a man who likes to listen to music but doesn’t know what a Macintosh record player is.

    A healthy and sincere country boy, Jin-pyeong may have attended the Military Academy in the late 1950s in order to go with the tide. When he was in the war, he might have fought bravely even without any commands. When the general’s daughter Sook-jin was persistent towards him, he may have accepted marriage due to his future prospects. The setting whereby they have no child symbolically shows their unhappiness. Unlike his wife’s desire to have a baby, he doesn’t love her deeply as he just pretends to express his love for her. One day, his subordinate’s wife catches his eyes when they move in next door. He feels this is the right time to extend his hand to hers, although he used to live a passive life.

    Jin-pyeong considers Ga-heun a rescuer. It looks pathetic to see him hide his affair to be seen as an ordinary man in order to move ahead in his career. Jin-pyeong finds himself caught between a grown man's physical desires and boyish sentiments. He wants to be with Ga-heun, but he’s also afraid to disclose the beast inside himself. On the contrary, he is full of joy when he makes her happy with a flower arrangement that he has never done before. In this type of film, the lovers face ruin when another person finds out about their secret. The catastrophe is brought about when Jin-pyeong is caught off his guard due to his suppressed life. He is promoted to general and recovers after he lost his confidence during the celebration. Intoxicated with power, he expresses repressive and authoritative gestures towards Ga-heun for the first time. When she adamantly rejects him, disappointed at his true self, he instantly collapses.

    In KIM Dae-woo’s movies, male protagonists always have difficulty settling with the time period. It was a conservative society for Yun-seo in Forbidden Quest (2006) and a caste system for Bang-ja in The Servant (2010). In Obsessed, which depicts the 1970s, Jin-pyeong is the epitome of oppressive masculinity from the military government, but also a victim at the same time. Being introverted, he gains trust in the organization but he is not very good at politics. Tactics, secret deals and political line-ups all make him tired. Meanwhile, the bloody scars from the war can’t be washed away even by the grace of love. Jin-pyeong’s tragedy is sitting inside of his split character. It is only a matter of time before it will blow out.

    In spite of the importance of female characters, this is a man’s movie. Being keen on male characters’ emotions, KIM doesn’t cross a superficial line with female characters. One might wonder if he is not familiar with women’s psychology, but it is evident from Obsessed that it is intentional disregard. Ga-heun’s character is not a mysterious one, as she is neglected from the outset. She is nothing but an object that only responds to Jin-pyeong’s impetuous mind. In the end, it is a serious egotist’s movie. Confusing one-sided love with a noble and pure one, the man leaves the world, then the rest of the characters are all left alone. Maybe it is because director KIM was listening to Bach when he was writing his scenario. There is no virtue of coexistence in Obsessed.
    By LEE Yong-cheol (Film Critic)
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