Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Venus Talk: Naughty Coffee Klatching

Some critics will reflexively compare this Korean relationship drama to that old HBO show that ended its run a decade ago. However, the three stars of this import were secure enough to allow a cameo appearance from BoA, the young and glamorous “Queen of Korean Pop.” In fact, the forty-something cast looks considerably younger than their long-faced American forerunners. They will still inevitably mismanage their private lives in Kwon Chil-in’s Venus Talk (trailer here), which opens in select theaters this Friday.

Frankly, this trio of friends is not so interested in talking, but they have to do something when they meet for brunch at Hae-young’s coffee shop. She is a single mother with a grown daughter she can’t get out of the house and the best boyfriend of the bunch. Sung-jae is mature, sensitive, and handy around the house, but harbors been-there-done-that feelings about marriage. Mi-yeon appears to be happily married, but her demands will put a strain on her relationship with her Viagra-bootlegging husband, Jae-ho. Shin-hye is more interested in her work as a television producer than any sort of romance, but a drunken fling with Hyun-seung, a much younger colleague complicates her carefully calibrated career.

Into these lives great turmoil will fall, but they always stick together—after a bit of judgmental cattiness. Sure, you probably suspect where Kwon and screenwriter Lee Soo-a are headed and have a pretty good idea how they will get there, but it must be said Venus is surprisingly fair to the guys. Frankly, the women are at least as responsible for their relationship angst and their partners, if not more so. This is particularly true in the case of Mi-yeon and the woefully cringey Jae-ho.

While never explicit, Venus is rather saucy, especially by the standards of Korean cinema. Not for no reason, most of the more suggestive scenes feature the photogenic Uhm Jung-hwa and Lee Jae-yoon as the impressively fit Shin-hye and Hyun-seung, respectively. They have okay chemistry together and Uhm nicely mixes attitude and professionalism in her straight forward dramatic scenes.

Yet, Cho Min-su once again steels the picture in a complete change of pace from her soul-shattering turn in Kim Ki-duk’s bracing Pieta. As Hae-young, she brings more dignity, forgiveness, and general humanity to Venus than you would ever expect to find in a cougar-ish chick flick. In contrast, Moon So-ri is stuck with the least sympathetic and most over-the-top of the lot, but she fully commits to the voracious Mi-yeon nonetheless.

There have been films like Venus before and there will be plenty more like it to come. Even so, it is a credit to Kwon, Uhm, and Cho how smooth it goes down, especially for those who do not have a strong affinity for the genre. It is well executed, but never pushes the envelope of women-centric relationship dramas. Mostly recommended as a women’s-night-out movie, it opens this Friday (2/28) in Honolulu at the Consolidated Pearlridge and in Vancouver at the Cineplex Silvercity.