Thursday, October 07, 2010

ContemporAsian: Make Yourself at Home

Since the 1950’s, Christianity has grown rapidly throughout South Korea. Of course, there are still those who hold to traditional Confucian, Buddhist, and Shamanistic practices. This clash of cultures transports itself to suburban America in Soopum Sohn’s psychological thriller-drama Make Yourself at Home (trailer here), now screening at MoMA as part of their continuing ContemporAsian film series.

Sookhy comes from a long line of mystical shaman, which she has broken by accepting an arranged marriage to Peter Kim, a nearly fully assimilated Korean living in America with his domineering mother. Yes, they are most definitely Christians. Still, he might not be so bad when he is away from Deaconess Kim’s watchful eye. Yet, it is Julie Waits, the privileged wife of Kim’s next door neighbor, who seems to make the greatest impression on Sookhy. In fact, she even adopts Julie as her Americanized name. As tragedy, perhaps of a vaguely supernatural nature, strikes the Kim family, Julie 2 draws closer to Julie 1. Then things get strange.

Home (previously known as Fetish) somewhat follows in the tradition of Kim Ki-young’s classic 1960 film The Housemaid, suggesting one should be careful who you let into your home, because you might not be able to get them out. Yet, Sohn pulls an interesting jujitsu move with audience sympathies, clearly leading viewers to identify with the innocent newlywed bride, before throwing them a battery of curve balls. Though his pacing can be rather deliberate, his psychosexual gamesmanship holds more than a few jolts, while never feeling lurid.

Arguably Home’s greatest credibility issue of Julie Kim’s strange preoccupation with Julie Waits’ ivory blonde looks. Not too disparage actress Athena Curry, but it is Korean superstar Song Hye-kyo (notable as the lead in the North-South costume drama co-production Hwang Jin-yi) who really lights up the screen. She deftly handles Sookhy/Julie’s strange evolution, without ever completely losing the audience’s sympathies. While she is tremendous, Curry and Austrian actor Arno Frisch (with constantly modulating accent) frequently look more than a bit awkward as the Waitses. However, June Kyoko Lu’s nuanced performance delivers unexpectedly human dimensions to the problematic Mother Kim.

Though the endgame plays out a bit longer than it perhaps should, Sohn and co-writer Maragaret Monaghan devise enough attention-grabbers along the way to keep audiences fully engaged. Recommended for its strangely compelling story and Song’s mesmeric presence, Home screens at MoMA through Monday (10/11).