Director Kim In-shik, who debuted two years ago with the grungy, part-gay “Road Movie,” which toured fests and gained a critical following, does a 180 with the totally different but equally off-the-wall psychodrama “Hypnotized.” Visually extravagant picture about a shrink obsessed with a borderline-crazy femme fatale is part exercise in style for its own sake, part pretentious art movie and part noir mystery, but is rarely less than watchable. On the back of Kim’s rep for his first movie, fests could give this space as an exotic curio. Local B.O. in August was moderate.
Film’s high sheen and metaphysical flavor (reflecting Kim’s background as a novelist) makes it a comparative rarity in modern Korean cinema. Only Yeo Gyun-dong’s erotic yarn, “La Belle” (2000), springs to mind as a comparable (and less successful) exercise in style.
Ji-su (Kim Hye-su) is a wannabe novelist who has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a mental clinic after attempting suicide. Meanwhile, her currency-trader husband, Min-seok (Yun Chan), is having a hotsy affair with a hard-bitten colleague, Hae-yeong (Kim Yeong-ae). In the clinic, Ji-su is cared for by Seok-weon (Kim Tae-woo, the friend in “Woman Is the Future of Man”), who quits his job through personal pressures.
A year later, Ji-su and Seok-weon meet by chance; she’s still a bit nutty and prone to freaking out, while he now has a private practice and a snazzy, modern-minimalist office. As the two spend more time together, she gradually gains strength from their relationship while his own tightly controlled world starts to fall apart as he becomes sexually obsessed with her.
Helmer Kim conjures up a self-contained universe of wealthy, well-dressed folk who exist entirely in their own world of creature comforts and emotional problems. Shot with a clinical rigor, but making resonant play with color and light, pic has a dream-like flavor that’s involving on a surface level.
Problem is that neither the script nor the heavily circumscribed perfs build up a large enough reservoir of genuine mystery or emotion to sustain the third act, with its multiple character reversals. Only in a marginally kinky (though genuinely erotic) sequence where Seok-weon has sex with Ji-su while she’s under hypnosis does the film really hook the viewer beyond admiring the pic’s technique.
In a tour de force of multiple personalities, Kim Hye-su (“Kick the Moon”) eats up the screen as the sexy Ji-su, and other thesps are fine within their limitations. Art direction and lensing are tops throughout. Pic’s earlier English title was the more resonant “Faceless Beauty,” translating the original Korean.