Friday, July 06, 2012

NYAFF ’12: Secret Love

Jin-ho and Jin-woo are not just brothers.  They are twins with Shakespearean bad luck.  Each has suffered from a coma-inducing accident, but not simultaneously.  In fact, it is when both are finally conscious and ambulatory that things really get complicated for Jin-woo’s wife.  Starring NYAFF special guest Yoon Jin-seo of Oldboy fame, Ryu Hoon-i’s Secret Love (trailer here), screens for free this coming Tuesday as a co-presentation of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival and the Korean Cultural Service in New York.

Two months after their wedding, an exhausted Yeon-yi dutifully cares for her comatose husband.  She knew he had a brother, but she is not prepared for the sight of Jin-ho.  Much to her consternation, the prodigal twin seems more interested in her emotional condition than his brother’s physical prognosis.  Yet, slowly but surely, she starts to fall for Jin-ho.  Frankly, he might just be the better of the matched set.  Of course, right when she is poised to embrace her new love for Jin-ho, Jin-woo pops up again.

The premise of Secret might sound vaguely like Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping, but it is anything but.  It starts out as a classier if more or less conventional Korean melodrama, but pivots into a sinister psychological thriller.  Indeed, it does not take Jin-woo long to figure out the reason his wife and brother are acting so awkward around him and he is slightly put out by it.  Before long, she is looking at Jin-woo like he is Charles Boyer in Gaslight—or at least she thinks it is Jin-woo.  When he changes his look to match his brother, it makes it devilishly difficult to tell them apart.

Secret begins with a rather confusing prologue that will eventually be explained during the denouement.  It is worth sticking with it though, thanks to Ryu’s wickedly stylish approach to both the forbidden love story and psychological thriller aspects of the film.  To top it off, his dizzying climax would appeal to the old master himself.

Of course, there is a reason Secret was chosen as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s mini-Yoon Jin-seo tribute series.  Her performance is sensitive, but also brittle and raw, making it far more realistic than anything you will see in a Hollywood tearjerker.  Basically hitting for the cycle, she creates a convincing portrait of a woman struggling with depression, while also appearing in some scorching love scenes.

For a time, it looked like circumstances would force Yoon to cancel her trip to New York, but she subsequently rescinded her cancelation.  If she can make it from Korea, New York cineastes have no excuse for missing Tuesday’s screening.  It’s free after all, so plan to arrive early.  A strange but compelling thriller-tragedy hybrid, Secret Love is definitely recommended for anyone who likes their cinema dark and moody when it screens this Tuesday (7/10) at the Tribeca Cinemas, courtesy of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival, in conjunction with the Korean Cultural Service.