Intimate Strangers


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Intimate Strangers
"With excellent, carefully balanced performances all round and great chemistry within the group, Intimate Strangers is a real pleasure to watch."

When you're a kid, friendships often involve fights, physical as well as verbal. Afterwards, it doesn't usually take long until everything goes back to normal. These scuffles are a natural consequence of limited social skills, a lack of adult taboos and an openness to sharing everything. There's something particularly magical about one night beside Young-lang lake, where the heroes of this film have got together to watch a lunar eclipse. 30 years later, when another such eclipse takes place, they reunite for a dinner party and an exercise in sharing that goes down rather differently.

What would you do if somebody asked you to put your phone on the table and share every message or call that came in over dinner? Would it change things if everyone else was doing it too? Each of the characters here has just seconds to make that decision; most of them are there in couples and non-participants are immediately suspected of having something to hide. One of them is a plastic surgeon and might have stopped the game if only he had quickly thought to mention patient confidentiality, but he doesn't, and then it's too late. Another hurriedly takes his friend outside and begs him to swap phones. They have the same type. If he receives a message from the older woman who has been sending him pictures of her breasts, his wife will be furious, he says, but if his single friend receives it, the most that will happen is a bit of teasing. It's a simple plan which will backfire spectacularly.

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Farce is one of the most difficult art forms to get right and director Lee JQ shows considerable skill in managing it, but there's much more to this tragicomic tale. Bae Se-young's smartly written script allows for plenty of character development in and around the scandals - real, misunderstood, and amusing for all - that arise from the phones. There are also texts and calls with no real significance at all, though this is a film you may want to watch multiple times to make sure you've spotted everything.

Relationships within the group are not quite what they appear to be and each of the couples has been coping with a measure of strain before this, leaving it unspoken or trying to work around it, a subject which the film addresses in multiple ways. It takes on a number of socially taboo issues, questioning whether its characters are really as enlightened as they think they are and exposing the ways that they've exploited each other or concealed deep unhappiness. There are also moments of real heroism as character forced to make awful decisions try to do what's right and protect others. From time to time they also make reference to a serial killer operating in the area, and with so many twists and turns, you'll keep asking yourself just how far the film is going to go.

With excellent, carefully balanced performances all round and great chemistry within the group, Intimate Strangers is a real pleasure to watch. There is no pretence here that liberty, honesty and kindness can share the same roof, but there's a curious suggestion that pretending they can has value in itself, and lies at the heart of what friendship really is. Outsiders pay the heaviest price.

Reviewed on: 11 Nov 2020
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Friendships and marriages are put at risk when a game played over dinner threatens to reveal intimate secrets.

Director: Jae-kyoo Lee

Writer: Bae Se-yeong

Starring: Yoo Hae-jin, Cho Jin-woong, Lee Seo-jin, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Ji-soo

Year: 2018

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: South Korea


London Korean 2020

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