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.