Body horror and body art are conjoined in the tastefully kinky “Vegetarian.” A tonally extreme portrait of a woman who swears off meat before retreating into a literally vegetative state, writer-director Lim Woo-seong’s debut is an audacious if borderline risible psychodrama that suggests a South Korean spin on “The Pillow Book.” Pic seems unlikely to appeal to Asian auds far beyond the fest circuit; impact on post-viewing Korean BBQ consumption seems negligible.
In response to a series of scary dreams, Yeong-hye (Chae Min-seo) suddenly stops eating meat and becomes near-catatonic, with occasionally violent episodes, sending her husband (Kim Young-jae) packing. Her kindly sister (Kim Yeo-jin) asks her own husband, Sang-min (Park Sang-yeon), to keep an eye on Yeong-hye, which turns out to be a bad idea: Sang-min, an artist, starts filming her while painting flowers on her naked body, which turns out to be weirdly therapeutic for the disturbed Yeong-hye. Chae gives a committed perf as a woman who should be committed, and Kang Chang-bae’s sumptuous lensing results in some eerily erotic tableaux. But Yeong-hye’s inner demons, hinted at in flashbacks and whispery voiceover, don’t have much meat on their bones.