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Free Love Leaves Its Mark in 'Changes'
[Film review] Min Byeong Guk's new film explores the dark underpinnings of casual sex
Robert Joe (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2005-04-05 12:15 (KST)   
Mun Ho (Jeong Chan), left, and Jong Gyu (Kim Yu Seok) are fated to be part of a bizarre ménage-a-trois.
©2005 Jeonju
You're a stewardess on an airplane. A passenger casually lifts lint off of your backside in a forward manner and tells you you're very pretty. You embarrassedly thank him and run off.

You're eating your noodle lunch in a restaurant. The man at the table next to you suddenly moves over and strikes up a conversation. Within minutes, he's swiping bites out of your food as his friend chats you up. They seem nice, so what do you do? Why, have a ménage-a-trois with them in a sleazy love hotel, of course.

That illustrates the running theme of Min Byeong Guk's "Possible Changes": At any time, in any place, sex is imminent. What that sex stands for and how real it is, is where the film has its fun.

©2005 Jeonju
The two men from the hotel room tryst are Jong Gyu (Kim Yu Seok), a shameless woman-obsessed lech, and his longtime alpha-male friend, Mun Ho (Jeong Chan). A family man with a loving wife and child, Mun Ho has recently quit his job to pursue a new career in writing. Jong Gyu is stuck in a dead-end job, taking abuse from his boss and exchanging small talk with his meek girlfriend. The story unfolds as we follow the two men and Yun Jung (Yun Ji Hye), Mun Ho's secret online friend, as they each navigate their fates in the twisted sexual wasteland of the film.

Mun Ho meets with Yun Jung for drinks, unbeknownst to his wife. They retire to a motel room where they have typical Korean-film sex. During intercourse, Yun Jung moans out her concern about the risk of pregnancy, and Mun Ho responds, "Get pregnant! Get pregnant!"

Before that tryst, Yun Jung is weighing moving to America with her Korean-American fiancé or staying in her illicit affair with her boss. Jong Gyu pays a visit to an old college flame, and ends up getting passionate in a car with her: "Miss Soo Hyeon, you are a woman after all!"

Such lines underline the embarrassment that seems to run throughout the sex in the film. Jong Gyu wants to use his married partner's name to get discounts at the hotel, even though that would compromise their affair.

This sexual cluelessness will no doubt recall Hong Sang Soo's films for some viewers, and it's clear that Min has taken more than a fair share of influence from that director.

But Min's film lacks the subtlety of Hong's films. By the time the third sex scene rolls around, you can't help but note that when you ride the fine line between art film and late-night cable soft-core porn, you probably ought to err on the side of less is more.

©2005 Jeonju
But as the film deals with the issues of aging and the indecisiveness of thirtysomethings, it can't help but wrap everything in sexual terms. Sex is all around, it's imminent, but more specifically, it's a threat.

A middle-aged man on the bus stands a little too close for comfort. A lunchtime rush at a restaurant means sharing a table with a stranger. The film finally goes so far as to personify that threat with an ominous man that appears only in shadows, leering at the characters. His presence overpowers them, suffocates them, makes them run away terrified, as achromatic chords sound.

That the same actor plays Jong Gyu's domineering boss is no coincidence. When Mun Ho is passed out on the floor of his apartment in a drunken haze, his wife sits next to him, caressing his hair. A close-up of her hand pulls out to reveal the ominous man in her place. It's not a stretch to see sex and death as the same thing in this light, a force that is alienating, uncontrollable, and threatening.

Artistically, "Possible Changes" tries some bold things. The two cinematographic styles illustrate the different realities of the film. Parts of the story are told in warm lush colors, others are bled dry of any chroma, further underlining the harsh loneliness of drinking soju alone in a bar, surrounded by strangers.

The film plays with sound as well. At one point, when Mun Ho is telling Yun Jung something they both know is a lie, the sound drops off as Yun Jung's eyes wander, giving us a glimpse inside her head.

The film plays games with the viewer, inviting you to piece together what is real, what is suggested, what is imaginary. Strange marks appear on the characters' bodies, tattoos of the same Chinese character that run as a theme from the bouncing derrière of the girl in the first sex scene, to the arm of a taxi driver. Everyone in the film is marked; marred might be a better word. It's ironic that the film's title suggests the possibilities in life, as the film's execution suggests they are all impossible.

Min has not made a feel-good film. A female friend might have put it best: "That was a pervert ajeossi (middle-aged man) film." The themes are bleak and hopeless, but cogent. But if you're not too put off by the overhanded sex (and certainly, I can't argue there isn't a certain appeal in exploitation), you'll come away with a dirty feeling that might lead to discussion. And isn't that what good art is all about?
http://www.possiblechanges.com (Korean)

Robert Joe is an aspiring filmmaker, freelance writer, voice actor and perpetual student.
©2005 OhmyNews

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