Friday, November 06, 2015

NYKFF ’15: Trap

“Waxing the cat” is a publishing expression for the pretexts writers invent to do anything but finish the manuscripts they are expected to deliver imminently. Outside the business, it might sound like a euphemism for something else. Either use of the term would probably apply to screenwriter Jeong-min. He checked into a rustic mountain guesthouse to complete the screenplay he didn’t want to write, but quickly becomes obsessed with the owner’s Lolita-ish daughter in “Playboy” Bong Man-dae’s Trap (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 New York Korean Film Festival.

Jeong-min has just had a confidence-bruising break-up and an embarrassing career setback. Despite his bitterness at the way his angst-ridden screenplay was bastardized into something crassly commercial by a hipster director, he accepts an assignment to do something quite similar to a literary novel. His heart was not in it to begin with. Then he met Yu-mi, if that is indeed her name. It seems to depend when he asks. That is what she goes by at night, when she is infinitely more flirtatious. In contrast, she is mostly cold shouldersville during the day.

On his first night as a guest, Jeong-min immediately starts peeping on Yu-mi while she takes her bath. That always gets him hot and bothered. Before long, Yu-mi starts coming to his room for some heavy foreplay. However, they always stop short of full consummation and she never acknowledges their passion the next morning. Eventually, Jeong-min starts to wonder if he is having difficulty distinguishing dreams from reality or if Yu-mi is just toying with him—or both.

As you might deduce from his nickname, “Playboy” Bong has a reputation for sexually charged fare. Yet, Trap is not as creepy as it sounds, despite Jeong-min’s kinship with Humbert Humbert. Bong’s hothouse vibe is appropriately seductive and unsettling, but his pacing is surprisingly slow and deliberate. Frankly, the dawdling first act needs much tighter focus. Still, it is hard to get bored once the sexual obsession kicks in.

Han Je-in displays amazing range as Yu-mi, playing a spirited, no-nonsense persona by day and a scenery chewing femme fatale at night. Yoo Ha-joon is convincingly awkward as Jeong-min, but his passive presence leaves the film feeling rudderless at times. Bong’s big twist is not exactly shocking either, but at least he chronicles some engaging gamesmanship along the way.

As an eroticized thriller, Trap is better realizing the former rather than the latter. Regardless, it is a useful reminder how dangerous getting away from it all can be. It is certainly diverting but not nearly as entertaining as the adrenaline-infused period action thriller Assassination also screening tomorrow (11/7) at this year’s NYKFF. Nevertheless, Trap is not the sort of Korean film that gets picked up for American distribution, so intrigued viewers should make a point of seeing it when it screens at MoMI.