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Voyeurism, politics and desire in 'Summer Time'

2004/03/25 | 6991 views | Permalink | Source

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Like looking at a photograph of an ex-lover years after the relationship has ended, "Summer Time" (2001), director Park Jae-ho's controversial erotic drama, possesses the power to arouse on many different levels. At the film's core are the issues of voyeurism, politics and unadulterated desire; a mesmerizing combination that makes for compulsive viewing.

With a narrative running from the present back to the dark days of the Gwangju massacre - when political unrest and social upheaval dominated the Korean landscape - this is an intriguing examination of human relationships, especially ones that are firmly in the grips of one or more of the Seven Deadly Sins.

In a small town somewhere in rural Korea, the beautiful Hee-ran spends her days at home behind a padlocked door that only husband Tae-yeol has the key to. Sang-ho, a handsome student activist, moves into the room above, discovers a hole or three in the floorboards and begins spying on the couple. Before long, he is an earnest spectator during the couple's signature "love" making encounters, a pastime that leads to an unhealthy obsession with Hee-ran.

After finding Tae-yeol's lost set of keys, Sang-ho let's himself into their apartment and turns fantasy into reality, a situation that Hee-ran weakly protests before embarking upon a sordid affair with disastrous consequences for all.

Kim Ji-hyun, the sultry K-Pop chanteuse of Roo'La fame, plays Hee-ran, a housewife trapped in a loveless marriage who passes the time sleeping and seductively dancing around the bedroom in a skimpy pink satin slip. She just has to "live for life" and is ripe for something, or someone, to distract her from this meaningless existence.

Choi Chul-ho is Tae-yeol, Hee-ran's loathsome ex-cop husband, battling to come to terms with a disintegrating life brought about by greed and corruption. Now employed as an apartment security guard, Choi superbly conveys the loneliness and grating misery of his character's existence.

A wooden performance by Ryu Soo-young as Sang-ho, the student activist on the run from authorities following the Gwangju massacre, leaves his character nearly as unlikeable as Choi's, detracting from the casts' high standard of acting.

"Summer Time" is a distinctive film worth seeing for the cast of eccentric characters and their unscrupulous struggles to rein in the peccadilloes which plague them. A generous helping of eroticism spices up the titillating onscreen mix of voyeurism, politics and unadulterated desire: fluid, exhilarating viewing at its most compulsive.

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