Remakes aren't just being done in America, and Japan isn't the only country that rules eroticism with their dosage of sexy "pink" films. This re-imagining of the Filipino erotic tale "Scorpio Nights", Jae Ho Park's "Summer Time" (2001) is one of the most erotically charged films I've seen from South Korea. The film is full of definitions of the purest of human instincts, full of voyeurism and also explores our innate nature to watch other people's lives that may go for the better and sometimes for the worst.
A young student who became involved in the political unrest of South Korea's Kwangju incident is on the run and decides to find shelter in a small isolated town. He finds that this small town has a sense of perverse freedom and voyeuristic thoughts run rampant with its residences. He rents a small room and finds a hole, he can see the downstairs dwelling. Downstairs, lives a beautiful, alluringly sexy young housewife--it is hot, humid because it is summer. Almost everyday he watches her, her curvaceous body inviting him as he watches her have sex with her husband when he comes home. This woman is locked in her apartment when her husband goes to work, and one day, he comes across his spare keys. Her curvaceous body is just one floor away and he may just fulfill his wildest dreams.
The film's political backdrop is a minor set up for the film's main premise. The film is a story about life, the lost of freedom due to fear and maybe obligation, and the healing or distracting power of sex. Hie-ran (Ji Hyeon Kim) the wife is a woman stuck in her predicament, she was raped by the same man she had married. Yes, you would ask why? The film is a sort of a character study of a woman who had a very limited exposure to the world. Hie-ran is a prisoner of a complex situation, locked in their dwelling, all she has going on in her daily life is her dancing when she tries to re-live her life as a young ballerina, wear make-up, maybe cook; at night, she waits and lays on her stomach in bed until her husband arrives from work and has intercourse with her. Sex is something that is expected and a daily routine, she may feel passion at times, maybe even enjoyment, but never love or even a fondness for the man she is married to. Sang-Ho (Soo-yeong Ryu) the young man is quite disturbed, and has a lot of regrets and seeks companionship and distraction; of course, any man would be drawn to Hi-ran's pure animal sexiness. Tae-Yeol (Cheol-ho Choi) is the ex-cop and the controlling husband who sees Hie-ran as a trophy.
Now, Director Park's imaginative direction is excellent for this type of film. Park's manipulations and masterful execution of the camera angles is just amazing. It exudes pure seduction as he carefully chooses his wide shots. Of course, it is so easy to make Ji-Hyeon Kim look sexy because this woman can indeed seduce and titillate with very small effort. Still, Park makes the shots voyeuristic shots more erotically artful than perverse (a lady friend saw this and in no way did she feel that it is a smutty film). I loved the part when Ji-Hyeon Kim dances, exercises and stretches, prances around, the way she moves when she seduces young Sang-Ho from his "viewing hole" made me want to exchange positions with him.
The film also has an abundance of graphic sex scenes and nudity (in the uncut edition) but no, none of it is full frontal. To tell you the truth, Ji-Hyeon could have pulled off the seduction without taking her clothes off, since the scenes are that alluring. The sex scenes are vigorous and long, and quite realistic. It came no surprise that Hie-ran was going to sleep with Sang-Ho, and I found it quite curious that she didn't mind when Sang-Ho took advantage of her the first time--when the young pretended to be her husband while she laid on her stomach. Clearly, this is a woman who had never known the touch of another man, and to know the warmth of another must mean temporary freedom.
Aside, from the eroticism and the film's depressing overtone, the film has its share of eccentric characters that lighten the film's mood. There's a young woman named Young-Mi who is fond of Sang-Ho who is overly ambitious (and not bad-looking), there's Ki-Wok, the woman who likes to be curious and to meddle with other people's lives, a Korean Elvis wanna-be, a half-wit and the trio of carpenters that watches women as they go up the stairs--all this contribute to the film's "slice of life" premise. The screenplay can go outside Hie-Ran's apartment and still be entertained.
The film may feel rather predictable but its journey is indeed worth a watch. The film will not win any awards in Korea, I cannot give it my best recommendation but I know people will find a reason to enjoy it. It's political references to the Kwangju incident, the hot and steamy nudity, the vigorous love making, or even its slice of daily human drama will no doubt prove diverting. The film's editing and direction is quite good and Ji-Hyeon Kim is enchantingly seductive. This film is definitely for the male audience but need I say that a lot of women I know did also enjoy it?
Recommended! [3 ½ Stars]
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Korean Film Based on Historical Events
South Korean Historical-Fiction Epic