Likely to create almost as much scandal and notoriety as Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses” did 23 years ago, Jan Sun Woo’s “Lies” is an amazingly candid and explicit adaptation of Jang Jung Il’s banned book, “Tell Me a Lie.” Dealing almost exclusively with an intense sexual relationship between a 38-year-old man and a teen-age schoolgirl, film consists mostly of bedroom scenes with the naked couple taking part in sexual activities including sadomasochism and coprophilia. Though not quite hard-core, the film will outrage censorship authorities in many countries, which will bring it added attention. Box office results will be limited by the material, which many will view as unpleasant, and by the fact that the film has nothing much to say.
“Tell Me a Lie,” released by one of Korea’s leading publishing houses in 1996, was promptly deemed pornographic by the authorities; all copies were destroyed and those already sold were recalled for destruction. Author Jang was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment (he served one-third that time). It was obviously risky business to make a film from this provocative material, with casting one of the biggest hurdles. Neither thesp, in what is essentially a two-hander, had acted before; Lee Sang Hyun is a sculptor and Kim Tae Yeon a fashion model.
Kim plays Y, a virginal schoolgirl who is eager to experience sex. When she discovers that her friend, Woori, has been flirting with a J (Lee), a famous sculptor, she boldly organizes a rendezvous with him. During their steamy first encounter in a small hotel, Y surrenders every orifice to her experienced, married lover (titles, helpfully, divide the stages of the lovemaking into First Hole, Second Hole, Third Hole). Back at school she tells her friend the most intimate details of her sexual initiation.
Before long, J reveals that his wife, G (Choi Hyun Joo), left him to live in Paris when he started beating her. Y eagerly embraces the notion of sadomasochism, and hard slapping soon escalates into beating with sticks. This appears to be enjoyable, despite the severe bruising that results (the helpful Woori is on hand to tend to her friend’s wounds). After a while, Y takes the dominant position.
Though the onscreen sex stops just this side of hard-core, it’s fairly evident that intercourse, among other things, is actually taking place in some scenes. Production notes assert that Lee fell in love with his co-star during filming but that this was not reciprocated.
D.p. Kim Woo Hyung follows the action with a hand-held camera, with the wilder moments caught via a digital video system. It’s all accompanied by a pounding techno music score by Dal Palan. Overall, pic is well made technically.
Although for a certain amount of time the boldness and frankness of the film impresses, ultimately it outstays its welcome. “Lies” contains the wisp of political commentary (the couple passes street demonstrators protesting at the establishment of golf courses in national parks) and there’s some reference to the lowly status of women in Korea (both of Y’s sisters were raped, and the elder committed suicide; her possessive brother discovers the affair and harasses J). But this isn’t enough to sustain a film of such length, and pic ends as arbitrarily as it began. A couple of scenes feature the two actors talking about their roles, but this potentially intriguing concept is soon dropped.