Obsessions with physical appearances, social status and material possessions are viewed with an intelligently critical eye in “The Liar.” Centered on a superb lead performance by Kim Kkobi as a pathological fabricator who constructs an elaborate fantasy world of luxury and romance around her depressing domestic reality, the drama-thriller reps a fine feather in the cap of distaff scripter-helmer Kim Dong-myung (2o11’s “Fatigue”). This genuine Korean indie effort should have no trouble attracting domestic distribution and fest invitations following its world premiere in Busan.
Talented thesp Kkobbi (“A Record of Sweet Murder”) is ideally cast as chameleonic 28-year-old Ah-young, who’s first seen inspecting an expensive designer apartment in downtown Seoul. With all the presence and confidence in the world, Ah-young appears to be closing the deal before explaining that a last minute-hitch will delay things only temporarily.
After giving viewers a good look at the impressive modus operandi of a smooth operator who gets her kicks from test-driving fancy cars and being fawned on by sales staff before canceling orders at the final moment, the smartly constructed screenplay shows the far less glamorous truth. Employed as an assistant at an upscale beauty clinic where Botox treatment seems to account for the vast bulk of the profits, Ah-young lives with her unnamed, grossly overweight and alcoholic sister (Lee Sun-hee), and Sang-hoon (Han Jin-hee), a younger brother seen only briefly before he runs away from home.
The story steadily gathers thriller elements as brazen Ah-young juggles all manner of stolen credit cards, fake IDs and personalities in order to see, and at least touch for a moment, the trappings of a successful, luxurious life. Chief among these fanciful deceptions is an announcement to work colleagues that she will soon marry her handsome, well-off boyfriend. Truth is, the only male she has any kind of relationship with is Tae-ho (Chun Sin-hwan) , a low-level employee at a car dealership who gladly supplies Ah-young with as much cash as he can scrape up in the hopes that she’ll fall for him.
Badgered by an unnamed and highly suspicious co-worker (Lee Da-hee) for futher details, Ah-young shows her scarily cold and calculating side, using all the skill of a improv acting specialist to concoct a series of stories on the spot. She follows up by staging photographs with the unwitting Tae-ho and presenting them as proof of her “very busy and very dedicated” hubby-to-be.
Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before the house of lies comes crashing down and in this aspect the film does not disappoint. With Kkobbi pulling out all stops as Ah-young’s downward spiral escalates to dangerous proportions, Kim throws in a riveting wild-card appearance from the protag’s mother (Shin Yeon-Suk ) and high-tension developments involving Tae-ho and his mother (Kwon Nam-hee).
The film’s visual qualities absolutely nail the messages about Ah-young being a product and/or casualty of consumer culture; sequences dealing with the life she aspires to are filmed with all the razor-sharp focus, artful framing and flawless lighting of a high-end fashion magazine layout. Wisely, Kim and lenser Lee Sun-young don’t go overboard in the opposite direction with the presentation of domestic scenes, preferring to keep thing simple and effective. Though no production designer of costume designer is credited, contributions are spot-on in both departments. Other technical work is aces.