음란서생 (淫亂書生, Forbidden Quest) Press Screening Report + Video

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음란 (淫亂). Filth, lascivious and lewd content. Sleaze, so to speak. Shaped by society and people's acceptance, by history and by destiny, the notion of what represents lewd content keeps changing, evolving with times. Especially in a relatively young medium like Cinema, and its tendency to take full advantage of a period's popular trends. Take Korean Cinema for example: in the mid 50s, just showing a kiss on screen raised huge controversies. When Yoon In-Ja became the star of the first on-screen kiss in Korean Cinema history -- thanks to Han Hyung-Mo's 1954 film 운명의 손 (The Hand of Fate) -- people even walked out of theaters in disgust.

Fast forward a good 40 years, and Jang Sun-Woo became the new bad boy in town, with his own brand of 'pornography' in his genial 너에게 나를 보낸다 (To You From Me). His 1999 film 거짓말 (Lies) created more than a few headaches to the censorship board, so much a fully uncut version of the film has never been released in the Korean home video market (although it was released uncut on a now legendary R1 DVD by Fox Lorber). Considered by many people a pretentious attempt to make a porn film look intelligent, Jang followed the path of visionaries like Kim Ki-Young in pushing the boundaries of what was considered 'proper' in Cinema. Yet, the most prolific period for eroticism and full fledged sleaze in Korean Cinema were the eighties.

It might have been the decade of Bae Chang-Ho's popular hits like 고래사냥 (Whale Hunting), or the beginning of serious International acceptance for Korean Cinema thanks to Im Kwon-Taek films like 씨받지 (The Surrogate Womb). Yet, for many people from the 386 generation (in their thirties, went to college in the 80s, born in the 60s), the 80s are the age of eroticism and sleaze brought to new, unprecedented levels. Critics would have highlighted Yoo Ji-In, Jang Mi-Hee and Jung Yoon-Hee as the 'troika' of best actresses in the 80s, but a quick survey on the streets would have brought up other names, like that of Ahn So-Young, the curvaceous lead of 애마부인 (Madame Aema); Lee Bo-Hee, stars of many sexy Lee Jang-Ho films and with enough sex appeal to make Lee Hyo-Ri look like a boring schoolgirl (despite not being a classic beauty); and Won Mi-Kyung, master Jung Jin-Woo's favourite muse and someone who took off her clothes with disarming frequency. Korean Cinema in the 80s was dominated by erotic melodramas, often set in the Joseon Dynasty, as the heightened sense of social oppression and morality made those stories feel even more appealing, and allegorical in a certain way, mirroring modern Korea's own social atmosphere.

Censorship was less strict, and sleazy films started to flood theaters from the early years of the decade. But while many films were simply an excuse to titillate viewers, some smart filmmakers used the 'genre' to make thinly veiled social commentary. Lee Du-Young's 뽕 (Mulberry Tree) -- recently released on a great looking DVD by Spectrum -- feels like a Joseon Dynasty 색즉시공 (Sex is Zero) for most of its first half, with Lee Dae-Geun drooling over Lee Mi-Sook's curves just like Im Chang-Jung did with Ha Ji-Won in the 2002 comedy. But then master Lee turns the page slowly, heightens the Drama, and that last scene... it all makes you reconsider what you were watching. Look at Jung Jin-Woo's films, seemingly patriarchal and full of misogyny, but possessing that edge of feminism which was in deep contrast with most of what was showing back then -- just look at the final, stunning scene of 1980's 뻐꾸기도 밤에 우는가 (Does The Cuckoo Cry at Night?), with Jung Yoon-Hee devilishly taking care of business against those who committed sins against her.

But it's interesting to look at how much sexuality, eroticism and even sleaze have changed in recent Korean Cinema. Films like 해피엔드 (Happy End) used strong sexual content to highlight their characters' state of mind, whereas 정사 (An Affair) went in the opposite direction, suggesting instead of showing, creating great sexual tension despite very little sex. But it was 2003's 스캔들 (Untold Scandal) which showed best how much eroticism has matured in Korean Cinema. One of the first 'Fusion Dramas' to appear on the scene, the film used a similar historical setting with those old 80s flicks, but balanced all those elements to create a tremendously solid whole. 'Scandal' wasn't just about sex, sleaze, or even eroticism. It was about the psychology behind those primal feelings, and how it was connected to its historical background, driving the characters' actions.

The man responsible for writing that script, Kim Dae-Woo, will finally debut as director in 음란서생 (Forbidden Quest), which translates as something like 'Scholar of Sleaze', the new passion in life a noble in the Joseon Dynasty (Han Suk-Gyu) finds, giving him new confidence and joy. Along the way he'll meet Gwang-Heon (Lee Beom-Soo), who will help him realize his dream of becoming the best at what he does, and even Jung Bin (Kim Min-Jung), the King's favourite concubine. Mixing drama, comedy and eroticism just like his previous work 'Untold Scandal', Kim's debut film 'Forbidden Quest' had its press screening today at the CGV Multiplex in Yongsan. Present at the premiere the director and stars Han Suk-Gyu, Lee Beom-Soo and Kim Min-Jung. Release is set for February 23.

Press Screening Clip (Downloadable, Windows Media)

You can also read our Production Meeting Report.

Press Reaction

The last time a film was able to unanimously satisfy critics and convince them of its box office potential was a little flick called 왕의 남자 (The King and The Clown), which, last I've heard, is doing quite well at the box office. And just like Lee Joon-Ik's Historical Drama and other success stories in the past, like 스캔들 (Untold Scandal) and 혈의 누 (Blood Rain), the film was praised as an almost perfect fusion of all its elements: the sex appeal and charisma of Kim Min-Jung, the sumptuous costumes and lavish sets, the comic timing of Lee Beom-Soo and Oh Dal-Soo, and Han Suk-Gyu's 'physique du role'. Most importantly, it seems Lee Jae-Yong wasn't the only one responsible for the mood and sexual drive in 'An Affair' and Untold Scandal', as director Kim Dae-Woo (who wrote both) shows admirable skills on his first outing in the directing chair. Critics also praised the film for showing interesting, well developed characters, helped immensely by the talented ensemble cast. It might not have the box office 'legs' of those clowns, but success shouldn't be much of a 'forbidden quest' for this film. Looks like we have a winner here, folks.

Comments

DIRECTOR KIM DAE-WOO

"Just like the noble Yoon-Seo becomes happier by writing erotic novels, writing this film made me happy as well. I wanted to send a message of happiness with this film, and I think thanks to the actors' power, that message came across effectively. It feels like something you might be dreaming about, something you've experienced while dreaming, or even something you'd like to experience once, even if only in a dream."

HAN SUK-GYU

"7 years ago they asked me what my dream as an actor was, and I said I would have liked to become one of those actors who can draw great crowds to every film he works in, and that's still my dream. It's NOT doing something that's harder than actually giving things a try, that's what I learned working in this field. For an actor, sitting home doing nothing is much harder than any possible role or film you might take. My wish is exactly that, to continue doing what I love, acting in films. The film's main theme is not strictly about the past, it applies to the modern days too. Through this role, I wanted to display a new sense of masculinity, and I hope people will take it that way. I would have liked a '30 and Over' rating, but it only got '18 and Over', too bad (laughs)."

KIM MIN-JUNG

"I joked with director Kim 'not to forget about making me pretty' in the film, but I'm really thankful he was really able to do so, I'll never forget what he did. I felt the beauty of the costumes, that unique charm only 한복 (hanbok, traditional Korean clothes) can possess, and wearing them I always felt really comfortable. This might be the most revealing role I've ever been involved with, but I think eroticism depends on context and situations, it's all about how you approach it. I'm experiencing many different feelings at the same time: I'm both sad about finishing this project, but also satisfied and happy about the result."

LEE BEOM-SOO

"Difficulties go hand in hand with living, but overcoming all that and finding success always brings a smile to your face. I realize now how much of a blessing in disguise my formative years were, when I was mostly acting in bit roles. You can never know if one day you'll see today's success as something negative, but people should focus all their efforts on fulfilling their dreams, without feeling discouraged about their current misfortunes. I hope many people can relate to this film's message."

Quick Judgment

Premiere's Shin Jin-Ah
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Movieweek's Kim Soo-Yeon
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Herald Economy's Lee Hyung-Seok
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Segye Ilbo's Jung Jin-Soo
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: EXCELLENT

Sports World's Hong Dong-Hee
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Joy News 24's Jung Myung-Hwa
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Cineseoul's Na Ha-Na
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

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