Remember the song; "It's so sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along..."? This premise has been "warped" to South Korea, albeit "The Bridges of Madison County" with a powerful and stronger gimmick. "The Intimate" (aka. "The Lover) is a sexually charged drama with sexier, younger performers and a modern touch. Director Kim Tae-Eun's erotically charged romantic melodrama explores that song's question. This film is a typical love story that explores the complications of a boy who meets a girl who already has a fiancé and the platitudes of love's true meaning. (after all the horror and thematic dark films I've seen lately, I have to do one review for a friend)
Seong Hyeon-ah (Time) plays an unnamed woman who has never taken a risk in her life. She has been dating the same man for 7 years and is planning to get married the next month. One day, she meets a handsome stranger (Cho Dong Hyuk), who persuades her to spend the day with him. Over the next 24 hours, she will experience a new level of excitement and intimacy, as well as confusion that she has never experienced before....
Lust at first sight or love at first sight? The film's premise explores thematic set-ups such as; "passion and logic", "love and financial stability" or "unbridled romance vs. duty". I'm very surprised that my female friends didn't take to this erotic/romantic drama and my male friends are the ones who really dug it. (maybe its because of the beautifully-shot sexual scenes) I believe that the reason may be because the film is compelling even with its not so original premise. The film really makes the audience curious, I know I was wondering what would happen next. The two leads remain unnamed, they are referred to as "Mr. Boy" and "Ms. Girl". It was quite interesting that the film seems to portray that true, unbridled love occurs in the first few days or months or years in a relationship, that love may become tainted through the years. Getting to know your partners annoying habits, bad attitude, what he does for a living and so forth makes love conditional. For Ms. Girl, true love is the man's first image, untainted love should be pure and that feelings may wane after hardships, annoyances, parental pressures.
I think the reason why I did enjoy "The Intimate" is because of its structure. Sure, the sex scenes are quite numerous and beautifully shot, Seong Hyeon-Ah is seen in her birthday suit quite often. The sex scenes may even rival those seen in other Korean erotica such as "Green Chair" and "Summertime" for raw explicitness. There is (in uncut version)a scene that features a "money shot" that will make viewers ask: "Did they or didn't they?". Erotic sequences aside, "The Intimate" has more going for it than sleazy sex. The film maintains an air of mystery on our two leads and while this may be its strongest strength, some viewers may start to form a certain alienation in the 2nd half. While "Mr. Boy's" motives are crystal clear from the first meeting, he is shown romantically unattached with a business engagement overseas, "Ms. Girl" seems to be a blank slate, her character background seems a bit clouded. I guess the character "blankness" is meant for audiences to project themselves in that situation, or in her character. I don't want to spoil the details but some folks may wonder why the film ended the way it did. The film does somewhat lack in the stereotypical complications as to why she did what she did. I see this as a positive thing.
Seong Hyeon-Ah is awesome in her role as the unnamed woman. I loved her performance in "Time" and she doesn't disappoint in this film. She turns in a performance that seems sedate, almost distracted and distant even when she is making love. I supposed this is meant to convey her confused state, that her character is plain on "riding the currents of life" and most of the time has most of the stuff she's done has been planned out from early adulthood, by her or someone else. Whereas, Cho-Dong-Hyuk's character is full of charisma that every woman will want to call him their own. The fiancé is considerably less attractive but a rich jerk whose idea of marriage is to fulfill a void missing in one's life. I guess this was a less than a stellar move from the film-makers, since if he was a likeable character then the complications would be more tragic and may need further development.
"The Intimate" is not a bad film per se, it is actually a good one. The director knew what he wanted to do and never backed down from its execution. The film wanted to explore one person's definition of love and her disappointments, and on this it does succeed. Somewhat bleak in its message which is why it probably turned off my female friends. Regardless, "The Intimate" is engaging cinema. If you look beyond all the nudity and vigorous sex and try to read between the lines, you will find a film very worthy of your time.
South Korea definitely knows how to do melodrama...
Recommended. [3 ½ stars]
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