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'Quest' Teases But Doesn't Satisfy

2006/02/23 Source

By Joon Soh
Contributing Writer

With vastly different results, the ingredients of sex, satire and the Choson Kingdom proved to be recipes for success in such films as "Untold Scandal" in 2003 and the recent blockbuster "The King and the Clown". The same elements are combined in the latest film "Forbidden Quest" in a manner that proves to be highly creative and entertaining before losing steam in the latter half.

The Choson period, often presented as an Asian equivalent of Victorian-era England, seems a perfect setting for a bawdy sex romp. This is doubly true for its upper "yangban" class, who are the epitome of reservation and restraint.

And there is no yangban more restrained than Yun-so (Han Suk-kyu), an expert in literature and art whose mousiness borders on cowardice. Called by the queen to solve a case of art forgery, Yun-so teams up with yangban detective Kwang-hon (Lee Beom-soo) to track down the criminals.

When they find and capture the forgers, however, Yun-so also discovers a book being painstakingly copied by hand. The criminals, it turns out, are in the business of publishing erotic literature, written by anonymous authors.

His curiosity peaked, Yun-so decides to try his hand at the genre, rationalizing it as an intellectual exercise. But erotica begins to take over the shy yangban, opening up a new world and getting his creative juices flowing.

It also becomes a way for him to sublimate his repressed urges, especially regarding the flirtatious queen (Kim Min-jung), who is transformed into one of the main characters in his stories. Yun-so even recruits a flabbergasted Kwang-hon, convincing him to use his talent for drawing running horses into creating lewd illustrations for his books.

It is here that "Forbidden Quest" also hits its stride. We get caught up in the gentlemen's project as they rack their brains to come up with the latest sexual twist. However, as the two wallow in their newfound perversions, there seems to be something a bit subversive underneath it, as if their creativity is a joyous shout within a repressive society.

Unfortunately, as much as the film seems to celebrate that creativity in the first half, it seems just as intent on extinguishing it later on. First-time director Kim Dae-woo, who wrote the script for "Untold Scandal" and "Foul King", curiously loses his gift for subtlety and instead uses waves of violence and sentimentality to pound the audience into submission.

Kim may sprinkle in some cleverness along the way to make it more palatable, but it's not enough to shake the feeling that "Forbidden Quest" has lost its way.

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