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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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Reviewed by O Thiam Chin

Korean Title: Yok Mang
Director: Kim Eung-su
Writing Credits: Kim Eung-su
Cast: Lee Sua, Lee Dongkyu, An Taegun, Jang Soyeon
Genre: Drama
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Year Released: 2002
Duration: 85 mins

A close examination of the sexual mores of young lovers and couples in Korea, as the notions of couplehood and marriages underwent undulating sexual landscapes brought about by changing views of sex, affairs and relationships. The strain and stress of meaningless affairs, of one-night stands are evidently potentially subversive as these sexual desires and needs are branched out from the weakening and eroding traditional Confucian society that Korea was previously built on.

The permutations and manifestations of desires in this film are not only to liberate, to buy affections, or to starve off lust but also to lure, to entrap, to taunt one another. Sex is debased mechanically into an instrument of betrayal and revenge, as each tried to have an upper hand over the other, by wielding this tool to dominate another.

This film is a complicating and complicated affair of desire and love as the lovers jumped from one lover to another, like love vampires, feasting one another for love and sex, breaking and making love as they move along from one victim to another. The wife’s betrayal of her husband is a mirror image of the betrayal that she suffered from her husband, a vicious cycle that has no end in mind; Even as the wife plotted to enact her revenge, she gets no satisfaction; instead she is driven into inner turmoil and misery by the very act that she devised to torment her husband.

Even as she broke the proper societal decorum by having an affair with her husband’s lover, she is duly warned and cautioned when she received a ‘moral slapping’ from a stranger, right after her first night she spent with the lover. The stranger acts as a personification of the rigid, strait-laced societal norms that serve as a moral watchdog for those transgressors, especially women who are morally and sexually lax. By transgressing the boundaries of proper societal behaviors and admonished through this physical act of slapping, she is punished punitively for her immoral act.

The institution of marriage is also turned on its head. The status of the husband has become powerless and impotent as he is devoid of love and affections for the wife. In addition the perception of a dutiful and sexually inert wife is subverted by the actions of the wife who sought to satiate her need for desire for lust and revenge, through the act of adultery and revenge.

The hit and miss/go attitudes of the different lovers are especially poignant as even in the most intimate act of sex and love, they are impotent to articulate their feelings or emotions toward the other party, instead they substitute it with wordless grunts and thrusts. While the mood of lust and desire is wanton and strangely perverse, it goes deeper, beyond the act of sex itself, to examine the hollow shell of loveless marriage, and raging desires.

There are no fast answers to the questions and quandaries that are raised about the failings of marriages and infidelity in this film, as desires, sex and love are so deeply entwined in the social fabric of contemporary relationships that it offers no simple answers or conclusive explanations.