Bad Guy

Bad Guy


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

I approached this film with caution, not because of the various reports of people being shocked by it, but rather because there are a lot films out there about men who meet beautiful women and force them into a degrading existence as a result of their inability to express their love - I wasn't convinced that this one could offer anything more than shock value.

Bad Guy, however, is rather than usual. Not only is it braver than normal with the themes it addresses, it is more genuine in its focus on character, and it features intense central performances. The eponymous anti-hero scarcely speaks at all - when he does, his voice is curiously squeaky - yet his feelings and the emotional changes which he undergoes are nevertheless powerfully rendered. Gung-Min Nam, as the girl he entraps in prostitution, is nothing short of heartbreaking.

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Where Bad Guy differs from most films which tread the same ground is in its stark portrayal of events. This doesn't mean simply that we get to see that prostitution is a nasty business - that would hardly be a revelation, even in the cinema - but we see it as an ugly business, unglamourised; a business which leaves our heroine with small ugly bruises all over her legs, not one or two flattering bruises across her cheekbones.

The sex itself is almost never glamourised. Whilst many of the prostitutes are beautiful, the camera doesn't linger on them in a sexual way, nor does it invite the viewer to admire their bodies as they are working. Early on, we witness a rape. The very plainness of this, accompanied by the heroine's helpless sobs, makes it more powerful, and it clearly unsettled many audience members. After this, the film avoids taking the usual route of providing resolution or revenge. Instead, we see the heroine pick herself up and get on with her life, miserable as it is. This is a much more honest and respectful approach to the existence led by hundreds of thousands of women around the world than those which rely on heroes to save the day.

The heroine is never objectified by the story, but continues to have a personality. This is paralleled by the bad guy's experience; the longer he keeps her, trying to break her, the more powerful she becomes simply by not ceasing to be herself, so that it seems he will never be good enough for her. His inability to express his growing passion for her is matched by his inability to express himself in other personal relationships and business relationships. Although he is not portrayed as being powerful enough to look after himself physically in any situation, everyone around him is afraid of his violent temper. He comes across as being every bit as damaged as the heroine.

There is no relief in this film; nobody is saved from the world. Rather, the story follows two people learning to approach the world on their own terms. At the start it is perhaps a little rushed. The way the heroine is tricked is believable, because it happens a lot in real life, but it would work better if more fully substantiated - it's hard to believe she's so naive, or that there's no one to try and save her. Much of the rest of the film could be accused of being too slow. If one connects with it, it builds, through intelligent use of repetitive scenarios, toward a powerful conclusion. If one fails to connect with it, one will either be offended or bored.

From a technical point of view, the film has some superb work to offer, especially at the beginning and end, making use of different types of film and of film speed to great effect. The soundtrack, composed mostly of slightly tacky Korean pop music, also works well, and is never intrusive. Ultimately, this is a character piece, and one must be prepared to get close to some unpleasant and difficult characters in order to experience it fully. In that event, it is surprisingly affecting. Films like this don't actually come along very often at all.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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South Korean pimp becomes obssessed with a shy, new girl in the brothel.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **

Director: Kim Ki-duk

Writer: Kim Ki-duk

Starring: Jo Jae-hyeon, Seo Won, Choi Duek-mun, Kim Yun-tae

Year: 2001

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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