Jae-gon (played by Kim Nam-gil) is a generally unfriendly detective who has a distinct lack of a shame in his everyday interactions. If nothing else, I have to give "The Shameless" credit for having an accurate title. In nearly every scene there's at least one moment where one character acts so incredibly rude that I can't help but think to myself "have you no shame", and it's at that point I remember the title. What was I expecting, a story about happy well-adjusted characters?
Certainly not- "The Shameless" is more about rolling around in the muck. This is a very arty film, about how people are a generally miserable depressed lot who kind of deserve our pity, but by and large they're such explicit jerks that it's hard to feel sorry for them. Like Hye-kyeong (played by Jeon Do-yeon). Her situation seems sympathetic but the woman's not really that much better than anyone else. It's just that Hye-kyeong is able to let her guard down for the sake of sex and possibly some incidental romance to go on top of that.
Technically speaking "The Shameless" is fairly well made. If you want to take a look at it shot-by-shot the camerawork is pretty good and the images communicate the subtleties that are mostly absent from the script. Jae-gon favors doing things in a quiet, sneaky way that he doesn't particularly enjoy very much, meeting people he doesn't actually like, but so what? This is the infinitely miserable crucible that is life, so he just has to deal it.
On top of everything else the story doesn't even have any urgency. If Jae-gon is this shameless about this particular case, then of course he was equally shameless about the case before this one. And no doubt he will also be shameless about the case that comes after this one. In a peculiar epilogue we actually get to see Jae-gon go off and have another adventure. This one is also pretty much no fun at all.
It's hard to know what to make out of a movie like "The Shameless". Is there some sort of greater artistic insight we're supposed to be getting from all this? Maybe the message is that crime doesn't pay. Except that Jae-gon is a cop, so maybe the message is that the law doesn't pay? Or perhaps the moral is that love is but a mere illusion, a sort of tourniquet that can stop the emotional bleeding for a while but at the end of the day you're still dying on the inside from the pain of a miserable destructive world.
In case you couldn't guess this movie didn't exactly put me in a very positive mood upon leaving the theater. Maybe grim depression is your thing, and that's an emotion you're willing to stomach for the sake of a movie that has attractive actors acting in a very unattractive way. I don't think there's anything technically wrong with "The Shameless", and in the end, this is probably exactly the story that writer / director Oh Seung-wook wanted to tell. Take that for whatever it's worth.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Shameless""
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