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An Uneven 'Quest' for Something More

2006/03/03 | Permalink | Source

One day while investigating a fake painting, Yoon Seo (Han Suk-kyu), a renowned Chosun-era scholar, comes across a dirty book secretly circulated among the lower class. Yoon Seo starts writing erotic novels himself and later asks ranking government official Gwang-heon (Lee Beom-soo) to draw the illustrations for his book. When Jeong Bin (Kim Min-jung), a favorite concubine of the king (Ahn Nae-sang), develops a crush on Yoon, it provides the perfect fodder for his racy stories.

The movie 'Forbidden Quest' is filled with a refreshing humor rare in Korean films. Parodies of today's Internet postings and Chosun-era "room salons" -- a take on the hostess bars where nubile waitresses serve clients in their séparé -- are delightful. But, just like in "The King and the Clown", the racy jokes are told in a sophisticated manner without damaging the dignity of the noblemen. Director Kim Dae-woo has added his own experiences as a screenwriter in some scenes, such as when Yoon Seo is stressed by an impending deadline or anxious how readers will react to his erotic stories.

Common in Western films like "Quills", "Swimming Pool" and "Basic Instinct", such drawing on the screenwriter's own life is unprecedented in movies made in Chungmuro. In that sense, "Forbidden Quest", though full of vitality, is an artist's movie. Han Suk-kyu chose a perfect part for himself, and his slow and dreamy manner of talking perfectly convey both the weariness of a high government official and the desires of a racy novelist. A stunning performance from Oh Dal-su as an erotic book distributor and the stable presence of Kim Ki-hyun-I as a scribe provide excellent support.

However, the biggest flaw is the inconsistency of mood. It is hard for the audience to follow the story without losing the beat. Distractions and a lumbering pace in the beginning and the sudden shift from comedy to melodrama leave the viewer with an inexplicable craving for something more. The king laments that "the one who loves more is the vulnerable one:" romantic enough, but the words sound hollow on screen. The less than passionate chemistry between Han Suk-kyu and Kim Min-jung is another disappointment. An abrupt action sequence and overly brutal scenes also get in the way of a consistent mood.

"Forbidden Quest" picked the right time to hit the screens on the back of the soaring popularity of "The King and the Clown", another period movie, and director Kim Dae-woo, despite the unfinished touches in this one, definitely raises great expectations for his next film.

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