Notable mainly for restlessly inventive lensing from Hong Kong-based Chris Doyle in his first Korean effort, “Motel Cactus” is a largely tepid look at modern male-female relations. It draws few interesting conclusions from antic-yet-moody actions of the various angry, depressed and generally boring couples under scrutiny. Literally steamy sex scenes at beginning of pic don’t compensate for lack of drama, but self-consciously languid film could find secondary payoffs, with smart packaging ensuring some video action.
Intriguing conceit fixes on a single room in a Seoul hostelry, a “love hotel” that a disproportionate number of young, good-looking people just happen to rent by the night or the hour. Helmer Park Ki-Yong breaks condom-thin narrative into four sequential stories, with each fixed on a twosome in a different stage of relationship hell. First into Room 407 is handsome, brooding Min-Koo (Jung Woo-Sung), waiting for his g.f. so they can celebrate her birthday. When Hyun-Joo (Jin Hee-Kyung) shows up, however, they don’t really connect, despite frequent bouts of lovemaking — particularly in their photogenic bathroom, with shower running and rain splashing atmos-pherically against the windows.
Next up is Joon-Ki (Han Woong-Soo), a college student trying to finish his video project for a filmmaking class. He’s waiting for his star, but the flighty Seo-Kyung (Kim Seung-Hyun) has been coincidentally waylaid by a TV news crew: In the pic’s funniest sequence (and only exterior one), she misunderstands a question about homonyms and launches into a speech about homosexual marriage. There’s a return to claustrophobia soon enough: Back in the room, the would-be auteur proves jealous of Seo-Kyung’s relationship with a third pal, also due to show up. When it turns out the guy is in jail, Joon-Ki imposes himself on the half-responsive young woman, to no one’s satisfaction.
Next up, a very drunk Hyun-Joo returns, this time with new, obviously temporary beau Suk-Tae (Park Shin-Yang). They trash the room, having alcohol-fueled coitus everywhere (including the good ol’ bathroom, natch), and the woman finally staggers off without a word. In final seg, Suk-Tae calls an old g.f., and she comes over to talk. Hee-Soo (Lee Mi-Yun), it turns out, has married and divorced and now lives in Canada. Both seem mildly intent on stirring old embers, but their shared history of abortion and abandonment is too much to bear, and she, too, leaves — after the requisite bonk, of course.
All this connubial action makes pic sound like an easy sell, but Park has a deadeningly uniform, notably antiseptic way of staging sex scenes, and the leads, while attractive, are all of a certain type as well — the women tug on their spaghetti straps while the men let their cigarettes do the talking. The helmer’s monotonous vision doesn’t allow for anything like pleasure to creep through the bleak proceedings, either for his subjects (who do have impressive stamina) or for glass-eyed auds, who may want to flee this prickly “Motel” long before checkout time. Tech credits are solid.