This will not be a typical birthday for Seo-hyun. It will make his relationship legal. He made the first move on Kim Mun-hee and she paid quite a price. It is a love story of sorts, the provocative kind that appealed to the sensibilities of Korean auteur Park Chul-soo. Fittingly, Park’s eyebrow-raiser Green Chair (trailer here) screens this Tuesday in New York as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s continuing Korean Film Night retrospective tribute to the late filmmaker.
The thirty-two year old Kim has plenty to teach the nineteen-going-on-twenty Hyun. Unfortunately, the cops get wind of their relationship, resulting in a brief spell in jail and a stiff community service sentence for Kim. When she is released, she and Hyun hole up in a seedy motel, hoping to avoid the tabloid press. (Evidently, the real age of consent is considerably younger in South Korea, so what they simulate in that hotel room really isn’t so problematic.)
On an intellectual level, Kim understands their relationship is not sustainable, but she just can’t quit him. Reeling from the scandal and humiliation, she has become somewhat erratic, yet Hyun puts up with her outbursts. Hoping to run out the clock as his magic birthday approaches, Kim and her illicit lover take refuge in the home of her amazingly indulgent artist friend Jean. Given his immaturity, her instability, and the outside pressures they face, it is hard to envision them lasting, but Park is clearly more interested in their in-the-moment intensity.
Green is way more explicit than Summer of ’42 and considerably more honest about the consequential emotional toll. Despite the eroticism, Park jars viewers with the raw emotion of the first two acts and completely throws everyone for a loop with the bizarrely discordant (almost absurdist) climax. Say what you will about the film, but it has one of the darnedest dinner parties you will ever see in the movies.
Likewise, Seo Jung goes for broke and beyond as Kim. Her performance is revealing in every conceivable way. Often naked and self-recriminating, she redefines the expression “hot mess.” Necessarily more introverted, Shim Ji-ho’s Seo-hyun is still convincingly petulant, rash, and boy-toyish. Yet, the warmth and hints of vulnerability Oh Yun-hong displays as Jean make her the one character viewers would want to meet in real life.