In-shik Kim’s feature début is a challenging look at a variety of social issues and mores in present-day South Korea, ranging from homelessness, to homosexuality to the ravages of capitalism on those earning their living from high-tech trading rather than no-tech manual labour.
The result is a fascinating if often uneven film that, like the tides that perpetually wash up and down the spectacular beaches, spends much of its time throwing the cast together only to wrench them apart, some to meet again, others to drown in their own private angst.
Dae-sik (Jeong-min Hwang) is the rugged mountaineer who loves men with very rough passion then sends them away to “Go home and have a good life.” Hwang takes on the challenge of portraying this tough-love enigma and does a remarkable job in convincing everyone that, despite his manly good looks and oh-so-hetero moodiness, it’s a recently bankrupt fund manager that has captured his undying interest. Suk Won (Chan Jung, whose conversion to the “other side” is as convincing as his countless beatings and bottle binges are tiresome) loses his job, wife, and esteem in a market-crash-instant before being drawn into the nether-land of the homeless, stripped of his coat, then rescued from the brink by Dae-sik.
The street people give the early frames a lift: the old man and the crazy bitch outraged with the inclusion of Suk Won into their “Boss’” (Dae-sik) group, so they rant and rave with passion as their world, too, is turned upside down—being evicted from the subway tunnels to the shelter is a definite step backwards because “you can’t even smoke there.”
The third wheel soon arrives in personage of hooker Il-joo (Rin Seo) who with two of her colleagues try to dance their way into the pants of Dae-sik, Suk Won and their host (industrialist Min-suk) for the evening. Naturally, she falls in love with the man whose member has long since rearranged its stimulation track.
For the next 45 minutes the three disenfranchised souls save each other’s lives, run away, then run towards, then run away, get arrested, beaten, drunk, high, blown up …. But not, er, laid. Even when Il-joo realizes that her intended is gay she doesn’t let that complication curb her desire. “You just haven’t met a real woman,” she explains as Suk Won blurts out to Dae-sik “You’ve been nice to me just to get a taste of my anus.” Well then! This leads to the shot of the film when the trio walk off in three different directions, oblivious to each other, cuing the tenor sax to take up its sultry wail.
As writer and director, In-shik Kim brings considerable insight into the underside of life, but seems too preoccupied with throwing his characters in such reckless situations that it’s astonishing they’re still standing after the first hour. Nonetheless, his vision is beautifully recorded by Jae-ho Kim’s camera and knowingly underscored by Han-na Lee’s music tracks—especially the jazz features.
The sexual tension varies—much of the activity just off camera—but the scene that remains etched in memory for a long time to come is Chan’s solo, standing naked in the rain discovering his new identity with his own hands as he caresses his chest and washes away the fateful consummation of his forbidden need. Magnificent.
More scenes like that and In-shik Kim will be revered around the globe with whatever subject takes his fancy. JWR