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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.22.16] Republic of Korea thriller drama

On paper this is nothing new: a pair of con artists building a convoluted plot to defraud a rich heiress is bound to end up in raspberry jam. But, it's Park Chan-Wook at the helm, the undisputed kind of oddball romantic comedies. And since his expertise truly shines in the careful exploration of human relationships in unexpected settings, it is no surprise that this picture ends up being the lovechild of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Salo.

Before you say anything on that point. Yes OldBoy was a romantic comedy, it's not incompatible with incest, and so were Thirst and I'm a lumberjack and that's ok even if I’m not quite sure I got the last name right.

As much as it is entertaining, it does try to juggle way too many processes at the same time for everything to be exploited to its full potential, only two of them are really fleshed out.

The narration is a wonderful variation on the usual tropes. There's nothing more annoying than seeing "Part 1" at the beginning of a feature. It usually reeks of laziness or play-writing badly transposed. I cannot praise the director enough for twisting that into something interesting.

There are indeed three "parts" in the course of the script, yet they aren't "parts" in the usual meaning, of detached story lines bundled together to excuse gaps in the time-line or plot, but the same story told from a higher layer. A variation on the good old pneuma, soma, sarx. Each retelling giving more insight on what is happening until the whole picture is laid out and everything that was the first part is explained and justified in a coherent whole.

Not something you see every day and a nice achievement in itself yet the most salient feature of the picture isn't this but the cinematographic treatment of desire.

Thanks to brilliant camera work and a positively superb performance from the two actresses we are immersed in some truly breathtaking intimacy. The small minutiae of gestures springing from the nascent lust, the glances, sighs and soft touches, the infinitesimal lingering of a fingertip in a mundane contact, the delicate shade of crimson blooming slowly on cheeks of alabaster, all rendered with striking beauty … only to be marred by the subsequent Sapphic porn scenes where the treatment mixes the explosion of animality and unrestrained passion with some rather gimmicky shots that are so schoolboy-humor as to act as a cold shower.

If you are wondering when Salo comes into play in all that, it's a bit later. The sadly underexploited arc on the universality of smut across the civilized world has a few scenes that will undoubtedly ring a few familiar bells to anyone acquainted with Pasolini's picture. To use this as a canvas on which to weave the story is amusing but it should have warranted a more in depth treatment, because there is something truly comforting in the thought of weird porn as a landmark of cultural refinement.

There's also an unexpected bonus: you will learn more Japanese and Korean slang for the velvet meat grinder that you would ever have thought possible.

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