South Korean maverick Park Chul-soo makes an overdue return after four years’ absence with “Green Chair,” a virtual two-hander centered on a thirtysomething divorcee and a teen college student. Subject matter will seem less daring to Western viewers than more conservative Korean auds, and its quirky mix of offbeat humor, drama and poetic moments may turn off those expecting a self-analytical shagathon. But pic — shot two years ago and shelved by its investor — reaches out in bracing, non-judgmental ways in its frank look at the protags’ age gap and their physical bond. Upscale festgoers may bite.
Park, now 56, broke internationally with his “foodie” horror pic, “301 302” (1995), but his subsequent films, including the anarchic “Push! Push!” set in an obstetrics hospital, and “Kazoku Cinema,” a satirical look at Japanese family life, haven’t reached much of an audience beyond specialist fests. His last feature, the DV-shot “Bongja,” about a 36-year-old woman’s spiritual-sexual awakening via another woman, seems in retrospect like a thematic segue into “Green Chair.”
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Taking its inspiration from a true story, pic opens with the two leads, 32-year-old Kim Mun-heui (Seo Jeong, from “The Isle”) and 19-year-old Hyeon (newcomer Shim Ji-ho), in post-coital repose. It’s his first time — he’s eager for more — and she’s gently placatory. Under the main titles, Mun-heui is then shown in police custody for corrupting a minor (20 being South Korea’s legal benchmark for adulthood); she’s sentenced to 100 hours of community service in a home for senile women.
When Hyeon meets her outside prison, only the briefest of flashbacks sketch their initial meeting and backgrounds. As they hole up in a motel and shag their brains out for several days — shown in a series of carnal, touching and funny interludes — it’s clear the film intends to focus not on their love, but whether there exists a future for it, largely because of Mun-heui’s self-doubts.
At the end of the long lovemaking session, Mun-heui says they must return to their real lives. (“We had a dream; let’s wake up from it.”) But even when she seeks refuge with a sculptress friend, the free-thinking Jin-i (Oh Yun-hong), Hyeon pursues her. Every roadblock Mun-heui constructs to shield herself from what she is convinced will be eventual disappointment, Hyeon vaults with his sincerity. The resolution, staged as a surreal confrontation with reps of their social world, is refreshingly undogmatic.
For Western viewers, there’s enough meat in the performances by Seo and Shim, enlivened by a beautifully knowing perf by Oh as the best friend, for the pic to engage on a human level. Seo, much more animated than in “The Isle” and “Spider Forest,” is especially good as Mun-heui, a fisherman’s daughter with a slightly trashy edge who’s afraid to surrender to her true feelings.
Sex scenes are mostly discreet, and hardly graphic by Korean standards; nor do they form the main dramatic meat once the pic gets going. Lensing of exteriors in cold, wintry light by Kim Jeon-han is subtly contrasted with warmer interiors, and other tech credits are pro. Title is never explained.