Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review: Gojitmal

Gojitmal (1999, Sung-Woo Jang)

The English language title of Sung-Woo Jang’s Gojitmal is Lies, a curious title for a curious film. As the film opens, a director (Sang Hyun Lee) explains the theme of his most recent script. Spirituality, purity, fantasy, etc. All subjects that can grab people’s imaginations, satisfy their desires, and strike their curiosity, either through genuine teachings or, as is often the case, through lies. Intriguing, I won’t deny it.

From here Gojitmal becomes a film within a film to a certain degree. The director we saw at the beginning stars in his own film as an architect, J. He awaits at a train station for a girl, Y (Tae Yeon Kim), 20 years younger than himself. They had inadvertently begun a discussion on the phone a few days a go (J had originally wanted to talk to Y’s best friend) and found each other’s voices to be incredibly sexy. On the train, Y speaks to the camera and makes no attempt to hide the fact that she asked J if he would like to CINECAST! her and that as he spoke to her, she became more and more wet.

Their first encounter is a far calmer one that what follows. She is a virgin awaiting to be deflowered. J proceeds to do so (not before a quick cut to the actress portraying Y who explains her thoughts about undressing nude on camera). Pleasure and pain intertwine for the first time. Once the act has been committed, they embrace and leave for their respective homes. But that one encounter creates an greater spark between the two. They aren’t done with one another and neither is ashamed at admit it. Well, they aren’t ashamed to admit it to themselves at least. Showing in public the physical relationship between a 38 year old and an 18 year old is another matter altogether. We witness few scenes them in the midst of genuine conversations. Only once does this occur if memory serves me right, and immediately afterwards J tells himself what a boring and vapid conversation it was. With his wife living halfway across the world in Paris, all he wants is to devour Y, to have her body above all else, and she in turn wants to be devoured. Their sexual excapades go from innocent to violent, but in the highly stimulating sense. Yes, masochism becomes the flavour of the day, then the week, and then some more still.

All this transpires in the opening 30 minutes. For the remaining 75 minutes the viewer sees Y and J engage in a series of masochistic encounters, nurse their wounds and then intensify the dosage. Y’s friend becomes accepting of the relationship (she had wanted J to be her first lover, but alas, it was not meant to be). There are a few scenes thrown to mix the elements up a little bit. What happens when Y admits she has been unfaithful. What happens when J spends time with his wife in Paris, who wants nothing to do with masochism. What happens when the tables turn and Y begins to inflict erotic pain on J. Director Sung-Woo Jang, with some of those moments, adds a certain layer of complexity to this questionable relationship. Both become so obsessed with the mutilation of each other’s bodies that little else holds their relationship together. It’s like a couple whose attractiveness to one another rests primarily on the great sex they have and nothing else. That would seem quite vapid and prone to self-destruction, and yet here, it exists and consistently finds energy to fuel itself, whether it be by feeling the pain, inflicting the pain,

The ‘film within a film’ technique becomes almost non-existent in the final hour of the film, which brings me to question its usefulness in the first place. Or perhaps its noticeable absence (noticeable in the sense that we no longer have interview scenes or shots of the crew) relates to the obsessive sexual fantasy that these two creatures are living. Money, work, school, family members, none of these are of any importance anymore. Everything has become so obsolete that we, in fact, no longer receive any hints that this is a ‘film within a film’. Through the renting of hotels rooms and due to his absence at work, J’s funds begin to run out. The intensity of the relationship has overpowered everything else, even reality. The reality of the film world and the reality of the film’s ‘real world’ have disappeared into the background, they have been left shipwrecked out at sea with little hope of finding a way back. Not only have the characters in the story fallen into an abyss but they have taken the crew and the viewer with them as well. The poisonous flowers fruits can be the most beautiful at times. And now we have touched on the English language title: Lies. To the outside world, whenever they are in genuine contact with it, they are living lies. When together, they have, in their own sick manners, reached a state that to them is pure. Their fantasies, their desires have become not only the ends, but the means to those ends as well. Little else matters and they are consumed by it to an almost spiritual degree. They want it, then take pleasure in it, and then want some more. Is it the pleasure or the pain? The answer to that has become inconsequential for both have been fused together and are now tightly interwoven.

Gojitmal is a difficult film to assess. It seems tantalizingly complex and yet its complexity is protected, or perhaps hidden is a better word, by a façade of soft and occasionally not so soft pornography. Anyone unwilling to think about what exactly transpires onscreen will surely, although I guess not necessarily, find little to chew on. I beg to differ. I think obsession, particularly in circumstances as dark discomforting as the one the viewer is invited to see, it always a fascinating subject.

I question whether Gojitmal goes deep enough into the road it embarks on. I believe some discussions between certain characters on the nature of masochism, discussions that could have been as little heavy handed as possible, would have made the exploration more compelling. Is there a way to write non heavy handed material dealing with masochism, a practice so disgusting and discomforting to many, a practice so explicit in its very nature? I haven’t the slightest idea and therefore I may very well be asking for the impossible for all I know.

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