Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

It’s the weirdest thing because I had written a completely different first paragraph regarding this film ‘Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors' in which I was complaining about how slow and dreadfully dull it was, not a lot unlike Hong’s ‘Woman on the Beach’ but as I started writing the review, things begin to clarify themselves about the movie in my mind.  Not that the film was so overly complex that it can’t be easily understood the first time around, but other smaller things, things characters may or may not have said and certain situations have slightly altered my original opinion of this movie.  True enough, after I turned off my DVD player I yawned but today I have a different appreciation for what this film offered. 

Hong tells his story in a unique way as we see the same events played repeatedly from different perspectives and thus with subtle differences between them, though we’re never certain which perspective we’re seeing it from, but judging from the way the events go, it’s pretty clear who’s seeing what.  Our film opens with Jae-Hoon (Jeong Bo-seok) waiting in a motel room for his girlfriend Soo-Jung (the late Lee Eun-ju).  I assume he’s waiting at a motel for the reason that any young man would be waiting for a young woman in a motel mid-day, then Soo-Jung phones to say she won’t be able to make it as she is feeling ill prompting Jae-Hoon to whine and cry and beg and plead for her to jump in a cab a come to the hotel.  I’m thinking if this meeting is just about sex then this cat is quite irritating. 

The non-linear story backtracks from that point to where Jae-hoon and Soo-jung first met, Jae-hoon being a successful businessman and good friend to independent filmmaker Young-soo (Mun Seong-kun) and Soo-jung being his young screenwriter.  From one perspective we see Soo-jong as a cool, calm detached and confident, not too

terribly interested Jae-hoon who is presented as a fawning, clumsy, awkward and a new term created just for him, whiny-aggressive.  Almost as a favor Soo-jung agrees to start a relationship with Jae-hoon which leads to him begging for sex constantly, particularly when he finds out that she’s a virgin.  Here Soo-jung merely tolerates Jae-hoon’s incessant advances.

From another vantage point things are slightly different as certain incidents change, such as who actually threw up at the restaurant or who found whose gloves.  Here Soo-jung is more lively, upbeat and emotional, with her feelings towards Jae-Hoon being more powerful and her being much more interested in ‘getting down’.  However Jae-hoon remains largely unchanged, though not quite as awkward and coming off as a bit of a player, but still putting on the full court press to get some sex.

It is interesting in this film that the older character of Young-soo remains a bit of a constant as a boorish, overbearing, drunken coward.  His presence in the film I found the most perplexing and I would probably have to watch the film again to get a better understanding of his place in the film.  He seems infatuated with Soo-jung, but then what portly fifty-year old man wouldn’t be drawn to a pretty twenty year old girl he sees everyday?  Then they have this strange kissing scene after she has expressed an infatuation with him, this is followed by a scene of attempted rape.  Beats the hell out of me.  One thing I know is that he represents a sounding board for Soo-jung who explains to him the reasons for being a virgin at her ‘late age’.  She describes that she tried to have sex a couple of times with a ‘friend’, but because of rather disturbing scene we witnessed earlier, one must suspect that this ‘friend’ was her brother.  What the deal was this particular dynamic I’m not quite sure, as I sure hope it’s not an issue in Korean culture of brothers assaulting their sisters.

Hong shoots his film in black and white to good effect with contrast in shades corresponding the contrast in the various themes of the narrative.   The film is very well acted, and it is sad to address someone as ‘late’ particularly when they are only twenty-four years old which is what we forced to do when speaking of the lovely Lee Eun-ju who committed suicide a few years ago.  In this role she handles the subtle changes of her character from the different perspectives quite well, keeping a consistency within Soo-jung despite the different visions her character presents.

‘Virgin Stripped bare by her Bachelors’ is a thought provoking film that leaves a greater impact once you walk away from it.  Lee Eun-ju is a talent that will most certainly be missed.

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