Review: ‘Vegetarian’

Body horror and art are conjoined in this tastefully kinky film; an audacious debut by Lee.

Body horror and body art are conjoined in the tastefully kinky “Vegetarian.” A tonally extreme portrait of a woman who swears off meat before retreating into a literally vegetative state, writer-director Lim Woo-seong’s debut is an audacious if borderline risible psychodrama that suggests a South Korean spin on “The Pillow Book.” Pic seems unlikely to appeal to Asian auds far beyond the fest circuit; impact on post-viewing Korean BBQ consumption seems negligible.

In response to a series of scary dreams, Yeong-hye (Chae Min-seo) suddenly stops eating meat and becomes near-catatonic, with occasionally violent episodes, sending her husband (Kim Young-jae) packing. Her kindly sister (Kim Yeo-jin) asks her own husband, Sang-min (Park Sang-yeon), to keep an eye on Yeong-hye, which turns out to be a bad idea: Sang-min, an artist, starts filming her while painting flowers on her naked body, which turns out to be weirdly therapeutic for the disturbed Yeong-hye. Chae gives a committed perf as a woman who should be committed, and Kang Chang-bae’s sumptuous lensing results in some eerily erotic tableaux. But Yeong-hye’s inner demons, hinted at in flashbacks and whispery voiceover, don’t have much meat on their bones.

Vegetarian

South Korea

Production

A Sponge release, presented with the support of the Korean Film Council, of a Blue Tree Pictures production in co-production with Rudolf Film. (International sales: Sponge Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Lim Min-sub. Executive producers, David Cho, Cho Eunun. Co-producer, Park Byung-choon. Directed, written by Lim Woo-seong, based on the novel by Han Kang.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Kang Chang-bae; editor, Moon In-dae; music, Jeong Yong-jin; production designer, Jang Je-jeen; costume designer, Chae Kyung-hwa; sound, Jang Chul-ho; line producer, Im Jun-hyuk; assistant director, Koh Jung-wook. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 22, 2010. (Also in 2009 Pusan Film Festival.) Original title: Chaeshikjueuija. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Chae Min-seo, Kim Hyun-sung, Kim Yeo-jin, Kim Young-jae, Park Sang-yeon.

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