Jealousy Is My Middle Name
Reviewed by Adrian Sim
Korean Title: Jiltuneun naui him
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writing Credits: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Park Hae-il, Bae Chong-ok, Mun Seong-kun, Seo Yeong-hie
Genre: Drama, romance
Country: South Korea
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 124 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)
There are many reasons why an audience might pan Jealousy Is My Middle Name. It has a meandering plot, an intermittently tedious pace, and heavy subtextual themes. On the other hand, this is a film that can be appreciated because it plunges headlong into the complex issues of the human heart, often glossed over by many filmmakers. In this regard, Jealousy covers an incredible amount of emotional ground. Indeed, some of the seemingly unimportant subplots actually add resonance to the main plot.
Jealousy, the emotion, is an oddity these days. It is obviously an important aspect of our daily functioning, and is often mixed with many other emotions (e.g. lust, love, anger, etc.). Jealousy perverts relationships. In the film, it complicates the relationships between all the main characters. Each one of them has an emotional need for the other, for selfish or other reasons.
First-time director Park Chan-wook chooses to film Jealousy clinically and avoids subjectivising her characters. She allows the audience to read the film polysemically and come up with their own interpretations. As such, Jealousy is quite a difficult and challenging pill to swallow. Plus the fact that this film makes it hard for one to feel emotionally engaged. So theoretically, it is heading straight for disaster. However, it is salvaged by the fact that the film does indeed ring true to the incomprehensibility and unpredictability of human nature.
Particularly fascinating is the weird triangular relationship between Wonsang, Seongyeon (the photographer) and Yunsik (the editor). Here are some of the combinations and permutations of relational dynamics between the three protagonists:
Seongyeon is a masturbatory outlet for Wonsang. She is a replacement for his ex. In a sadistic kind of way, Seongyeon is the source where Wonsang continually gets motivated and reassured to feel jealous of Yunsik.
She treats him as a toyboy. In her sadistic little game, she enjoys tormenting Wonsang to her whims. Being lonesome and bored, she needs Wonsang to amuse her. She carries this whim of hers to greater lengths later.
This is a sado-masochistic kind of relationship in dat Yunsik needs Seongyeon to feel authoritative and in power. In other words, his dog where he can afford to blow his hot and cold over.
To continue to be jealous of Yunsik is to be enslaved by him. A truly strange dynamic!
He needs her as an outlet to get out of his stuffy and loveless marriage.
Early, Yunsik is part of Seongyeon's amusement to feel less lonely. Later, she recognises Yunsik and Wonsang's sado-masochistic relationship and becomes a willing catalyst to spur Wonsang's jealousy.
Jealousy deserves commendation for bracingly ruminating upon the idiosyncracies of human emotions and behaviour without any compromise. What is particularly refreshing is its take on the (occasional) lack of rationality in human thoughts. This aspect probably put most people off the film! What is remarkable is the director's refusal to deal with the emotions on a superficial level.
Jealousy is a rarefied pointillistic and penetrating character study. The film succeeds on its own terms by not succumbing to our latent wishes to see it turn to the pedantic route of a revenge-gone-wrong (or -right) tale.
Indeed this film rewards those who are prepared to painstakingly dissect it psychoanalytically.