Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jang Sun-woo
Stars: Kim Tae Yeon, Lee Sang Hyun
Last Tango In Seoul? A Korean version of The Story Of O?
This graphic Korean film about a sado-masochistic relationship that becomes increasingly obsessive and self-destructive has caused controversy in its country of origin, not least for its frank sex scenes and depiction of sexual fetishism, but has somehow managed to sneak through our censors without much fanfare. How times and attitudes have changed! Over twenty years ago, The Story Of O was confined to a release through the sleazy sex cinema circuit, catering mainly to the raincoat brigade, and Salo was banned.
However, this controversial and uncomfortably realistic Korean film about a sado-masochistic relationship gains an “art house” release that gives it some sort of legitimacy as a “serious” film. As with other films of this ilk, Lies explores whether a deeper relationship can survive on sex alone, or whether some emotional connection and sustenance also needs to exist. The film also subtly explores the power shifts within a sexual relationship, but as with many other recent films like Intimacy, Romance, Une Affair Pornographique, and their ilk, the serious subtext will be lost in the controversy about the realistic on-screen sex scenes and the fine line between art and pornography.
Thirty-eight year old sculptor J (Lee Sang Hyun) begins a torrid affair with virginal student Y (Kim Tae Yeon). But the sexual side of their illicit weekly meetings soon gives way to J’s desire for more physical punishment, and a sado-masochistic relationship begins. J beats Y with a variety of implements, and she begins to enjoy the experience more and more. Eventually he is able to convince her to do likewise with him.
Much of the film is shot in confined and almost stiflingly claustrophobic sets like hotel bedrooms and flats. Characterisation is slim, and the actors are not given much opportunity to develop much depth or sympathy for their characters. Director Jang Sun-Woo tries to break down that wall between reality and the fictitious world of cinema by including interviews with his two tyro stars and calling “cut” to end a particularly harrowing scene. But this technique still doesn’t hide the fact that the on-screen sex and punishment looks too real – it sometimes seems as though the two actors are in genuine pain after their torrid beatings.
Unfortunately, given its nature, this film is unlikely to hold much interest for a broad audience. Uncomfortably real at times, its hot sweaty sex scenes become repetitive, and the deliberately slow pace may also prove a turn off for many. Lies is likely to appeal more to the raincoat brigade than the casual film goer.