Alienated Seoul-based metrosexuals conduct desultory affairs and contemplate “Possible Changes” of country, life partner and career in this languid, sensual feature debut by writer-helmer Min Byeong-guk. A former a.d. for festival-darling Hong Sang-soo (“Woman Is the Future of Man”), Min shares with his ex-boss a jaded view of modern relationships, a strictly need-to-know approach to storytelling and a penchant for long, static takes. End result is slightly derivative and more than a little chilly, but still sexy and eye-catching enough to make it a possible niche attraction where fresh Asian product is appreciated.
Two male protagonists, Mun-ho (Jeong Chan) and Jong-gyu (Kim Yu-seok), fly back to Seoul together, visit a seaside cliff top, and then pick up a girl in a restaurant for a violence-tinged threesome in a hotel room. After this salacious start, pic branches out to tell two different but subtly connected stories about each man’s relationships with various women. Although the two guys are the links between the film’s two halves, helmer Min spends more time and sympathy on the women, all more interesting and complex than the boorish lead lads.
Married-with-kid freelance writer Mun-ho has struck up a romantic email correspondence with office worker Lee Yun-jeong (Yun Ji-hye). She’s a cool customer who, despite being engaged to American-Korean Dave, has also been having an affair with her boss. Mun-ho gives his wife the slip to meet Yun-jeong for a late-night date, and also lies to the latter about his marital status.
After a loveless (but extensively shot) shag in a hotel, she quietly explains she doesn’t think they’re right for each other and heads home in a cab, while Mun-ho gets drunk, is beaten up and crawls home to his long-suffering spouse.
She’s a photog who seems to be developing a photograph of Jong-gyu in a scene which takes place later in the movie but in which she is never glimpsed. A flyer also crops up in both storylines, printed with the nonsensical but ominous words, “Worship God with death. The flame bears the flame.”
Other storyline is even less cheerful. Single Jong-gyu, a science researcher who has a very bad limp, visits university lecturer Su-hyeon (Shin So-mi) to deliver work she’s commissioned from him. During a drive to the country, he confesses he’s always been in love with her and literally throws himself on her in the car. She, surprisingly, responds and the two go to a posh hotel for explicit sex, although not before an amusing scene in the lobby where the impoverished Jong-gyu tries to get out of paying for the expensive room himself.
Through a welter of tiny details that have no plot pay-off — such as Yun-jeong’s phone call to a third lover, or Jong-gyu’s casual dalliance with his boss’ secretary — Min’s screenplay suggests much bigger stories going on offscreen, ones that can only be glimpsed through the tiny pinhole of what is actually shown. It’s a strategy that could easily come over as pretentious; but the thesps, especially Yun as Yun-jeong and Kim as Jong-gyu, pull it off, mainly by suggesting the rich interior lives for their characters which, respectively, their implacable or jocular expressions belie.
Air of detachment is reinforced by mostly static set-ups. At seemingly random moments, Lee Byeong-hun’s score lets off sudden, racking sobs of strings, as if reflecting the character’s passing thoughts, and then goes quiet for the next long stretch.