Lesbian explorations take a backseat to a circuitous structure in "Ashamed."

Lesbian explorations take a backseat to a circuitous structure in “Ashamed.” While pic pushes the envelope for same-sex eroticism, a narrative first in South Korean cinema, Kim Soo-hyun’s film makes auds endure unnecessary detours that play like show-reel opportunities for aspiring thesps. Pic faded into the morass of the Pusan fest’s indie selection last year, but its upcoming Berlin slot will serve as a springboard to additional fests looking to pad out their Asian content.

The film’s unwieldy structure is further complicated by a Godardian conceit in which most of the protagonists are named Ji-woo. So, Ji-woo (Kim Sang-hyun), Svengali-like art professor-cum-film-maker, takes a shine to Ji-woo (Kim Hyo-jin), friend of the first Ji-woo’s pupil Hee-jin (Seo Hyun-jin). As a prelude to seduction, the professor casts the friend in her latest arty opus, setting up the younger woman to relate her initiation into lesbianism in an extended yarn-within-a-yarn. Performances seem awkward, but against the odds, Kim Hyo-jin manages to endear. For a low-budget venture, pic makes some surprisingly impressive forays into glossy effects, but these merely reinforce the sense of uneveness. Helming is mannered, but tech credits are solid.

Ashamed

South Korea

Production

An NR. Lee's Entertainment production. (International sales: M-Line Distribution, Seoul.) Produced by Lee Kyung-hee. Directed, written by Kim Soo-hyun.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Kim Jin-eu; editor, Lee Yeon-jin; music, Sim Hyun-jeong; production designer, Lee Sin-hye. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, Jan. 5, 2011. (In Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama; Pusan Film Festival -- New Currents.) Running time: 129 MIN.

With

Kim Hyo-jin, Kim Sang-hyun, Seo Hyun-jin, Kim Kkot-bi.

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