Synopsis: Film director Hyun encounters a mysterious woman and asks her to be his muse. Intrigued with his daring proposal, she accepts. Soon she invites him to her villa in the country to give him some isolated space to write his screenplay. But her masochistic acts slowly consume his desire and longing. He bears escalating humiliation and pain that are inflicted on him for the sake of being with her and ultimately signs over his life to her as her slave…
eyelights: its performances. its realistic character arcs.
eyesores: its tale of degradation and human suffering. its finale.
“What a cute insect”
‘Mopi-reul Ib-eun Bineoseu’ is the solo debut of Korean writer-director Song Ye-seop. Released in 2012, it tells the story of an aspiring filmmaker who gets involved with a wealthy dominatrix to spark his creativity. It’s a low-budget picture that played on only two screens and was seen by less than 400 cinemagoers.
I stumbled upon it while I was looking for a copy of Roman Polanski’s ‘La Vénus à la fourrure‘ online. When I discovered that there were so many other movies with a similar title, I was curious to find out more about them. This one stood out for its artsy cover, so I proceeded to buying a cheap copy sight unseen.
There’s not much to the story aside for the power dynamics taking place between Min-su, the filmmaker and Ju-won, the dominatrix. After their initial meeting, she becomes intrigued by this “insect”, who is such a pathetic contrast to the powerful men she is used to being involved with, so she reels him into her web.
After offering Min-su a place to write at her country home, Ju-won begins to break him down, using emotional warmth to get him attached. Vulnerable and insecure, he soon becomes deeply attached to her and allows her to abuse him until he eventually agrees to sign his life away as her slave. There’s no escape.
Personally, I didn’t think that ‘Mopi-reul Ib-eun Bineoseu’ brought anything new to the table that European films haven’t explored since the ’70s – albeit in a much more exploitative and gratuitous fashion. But perhaps this is a rare exception in South Korean cinema, and from that perspective, is something novel.
If anything, I get the impression that it’s more of a personal picture for Song Ye-seop, who (according to KMDB) appears to have been in the industry for at least two decades but has only just made his first film. It feels as though the retched, uninspired director from this picture may be a doppelgänger for Ye-seop.
I really wish that there were more information on the matter, but the picture and its director don’t show up on IMDB (given its limited release, it’s hardly surprising…) and I’m simply not able to decipher Korean. In any event, it’s impossible to reflect on the film without thinking that it’s a case of art imitating life.
I wasn’t especially fond of it, because I’m not a fan of power dynamics to start with – let alone when another person is debased completely, as Min-su is here. I just don’t see the point of being cruel to people on purpose when we already hurt each other inadvertently. It’s a power trip and it’s totally unhealthy.
Having said that, I felt that the picture was generally well-conceived; we understood how Min-su transitioned from eager filmmaker to a pathetic emotional slave and how Ju-won was both touched by and contemptuous of him. And the choice of location, an expansive home in the countryside, was perfect and well-used.
Plus the main cast was excellent.
Though I found Baek Hyeon-jin a bit over-the-top in some of Min-su’s initial interactions (especially when he gets upset with his assistant director for thinking they had a relationship), his transition was handled well. We understood very clearly how much Min-su depended on Ju-won to bolster his self-worth.
Meanwhile, Suh Jung was pitch-perfect as Ju-won. What I liked is that Suh Jung made the character confident and supremely in control without turning her into a caricature; it was all about the look in her eyes, the expressions on her face. And she also let signs of vulnerability break through along the way.
Where the picture stumbles for me is in the third act, when Min-su’s subservience is found out by his assistant, who just walks into some room he’s in and then walks out after he makes excuses. Or when he kills the caretaker, whom Ju-won hired to abuse him: there are no repercussions; he just gets away with it.
And then he’s suddenly a masochist and Ju-won’s maid allows him to beat her, even though she’d been his only friend in the end. And what about Ju-won? Where is she in all of this? She’s the last person we see, but it’s unclear what’s happened to her and what her relationship with Min-su is at this point.
Even though I never warmed up to ‘Mopi-reul Ib-eun Bineoseu’, at least until then it was credible from a character arc standpoint. The finale took such huge leaps that it lost its footing. Still, the rest of the picture works, so anyone who enjoys these types of power dynamics might get something out of it.
Personally, it left me as cold as its wintery landscape.
Date of viewing: February 20, 2017