For most people pain is an unwelcome commodity – one that is generally associated with a trip to the dentist, the stubbing of a toe or a rerun of Hey Dad. To some though, pain is an exquisite pleasure, one to be savoured and one used to up the bedroom ante. Now there is a lot to be said for the concept of sexual freedom, consenting partners and so on, but if you want to make an uncompromising film about the subject you can expect to have the film banned across your home continent and to receive a big spanking from the censors. Case in point: Jang Sun-Yoo’s Lies.
The film revolves around the clandestine and destructive affair between ‘J’, a 38-year-old arts professor (played by real life sculptor, Lee Sang Hyuen) and an 18-year-old schoolgirl ‘Y’ (played by fashion model, Kim Tae Yeon). Any misgivings about the age difference between the two protagonists are laid to rest fairly early in the piece when it becomes clear just how much the characters mean to each other. In fact, given the tempestuous and somewhat eccentric nature of their union, the romance is portrayed with more tenderness and honesty than your average romantic fare.
Make no mistake, the sex scenes are at times as shocking as they are confronting and the fact that it is often portrayed with such ugliness should be enough to shake off the ‘mere pornography’ tag. There is no intimate mood music and soft-focus here, my friends. The film instead goes to great lengths (though perhaps not great enough) to illustrate the painful aftermath of these bizarre encounters. For the most part, it seems that the lovers’ emotions are taking as much of a beating as their skinny little bottoms.
Lies was shot in a variety of styles and employs a number of techniques to try and prove itself beyond the pale. Sometimes the footage is in the form of a documentary, with the characters being asked direct questions by an unseen interviewer, there are wobbly voyeuristic shots and there are even scenes that take place outside the confines of the film where the actors are interviewed out of character. Although the plot is wafer thin, the variety of production techniques and the rawness of the footage is enough to make for, at the very least, a confronting experience.
Director Jang Sun-Woo has been defiantly unapologetic in defence of his film and, in his director’s statement, maintains that: "It only takes a small change of angle to see love as absurd or hopeless". It is such absurdity that ultimately makes Lies so intriguing and such a unique experience for the viewer. I think it is safe to assume that this is one foreign film that will not be hijacked by the Hollywood glitter machine and fed to the masses (although the thought of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan trying to pull this one off together is an intriguing one, it must be said).
Whether this film is offensive to you or whether it is right up your alley (sorry), it will probably be unlike anything else you have ever seen before, in which case how could I do anything but recommend it? Be warned though, there is plenty in here to shock, so you may want to be mindful of when you watch it and who you watch it with.
Lies is NOT a film to watch on a first date.
The ‘docudrama’ style of Lies means that the cinematography was never going to rival some of the director’s more stylish efforts. The picture is of a varying quality as the film is drawn from a number of visual sources. Most of the footage shot as narrative around various locations is crisp and without fault as are most of the bedroom scenes. The actor and character interviews, on the other hand, are shot onto video and suffer the usual afflictions like microphony and low level noise. Still, given that most of these decisions were artistic ones, it is fair to say that the picture quality, although inconsistent, is at least serviceable to the film. The transfer itself is of a decent enough standard with any of the problems with lesser production methods only enhancing the voyeuristic nature of the film.
Lies is presented with a Korean Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack and, although it is enough, it is below the standard that we have come to expect from most releases. As with the picture quality, the sound also varies. Some of the footage shot directly onto video barely seems to have seen the editing suite at all with the sound somewhat dull and with a considerable amount of background noise. These scenes are few and most of the narrative is of a higher standard. Still, even at its best, the sound quality is still found wanting in many departments with much of it coming across as somewhat muted. The dialogue, especially, comes across as a little fuzzy, but it is probably only our Korean readers that would have any great qualms with that. Overall, the sound is a little substandard, but strangely enough, seems to suit the pace and style of the film.
The big talking point surrounding any film that goes toe-to-toe with the censors is unfortunately always going to be the film’s infamy rather than its merits. In the case of Lies, much of the controversy seemed to slip under the radar in this country (they must have been too busy with welfare mums and dangerous dogs on A Current Affair and Today Tonight that week), so it is likely to be viewed more on face value. To that end, the open-minded should find Lies an interesting experience, if not necessarily an enjoyable one.