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Review: Bad Guy

Bad Guy’s Stockholm Syndrome-like love story requires an unreasonable suspension of disbelief.

1.5
Bad Guy
Photo: Lifesize Entertainment

It’s difficult to fathom a bright, cheery college student like Sun-hwa (Seo Won) being so easily (and docilely) suckered into prostitution by a mute pimp, but realism isn’t the focal point of Korean provocateur Kim Ki-Duk’s Bad Guy—misogynistic male power fantasies masquerading as dark, dreamlike treatises on fate and love are though. Made in 2001 after his similarly themed The Isle, Kim’s film concerns Han-gi (Cho Jae-Hyun), the titular unsavory character who is beaten in public after rudely kissing Sun-hwa, and takes revenge for this humiliation by secretly framing her for theft and forcing her to live and work in Seoul’s red light district. With the longing gaze of an obsessed paramour, the physically and emotionally wounded Han-gi (note his speech-impairing throat scar) watches Sun-hwa reluctantly service clients from behind a two-way mirror in her bedroom, thus positioning this very bad guy as a surrogate for the director himself, who first subjects Sun-hwa to this nightmarish turn of events and then sympathizes with her brutal, unpleasant plight. Immediately before her momentous decision to pick up a stray wallet filled with cash, Sun-hwa tears a page out of a book featuring an Egon Schiele painting of intertwined lovers, and there’s irony in the girl’s clandestine attempt to pilfer an image of erotica immediately prior to her degradation at the hands of lusty johns. After the film’s relatively straightforward first half, things take a surrealistic turn when Han-Gi begins surviving seemingly fatal stabbings (and engages in the most lethal rock-paper-scissor game ever), and then takes Sun-hwa to the beach, where she witnesses a suicidal woman (herself?) wade out in the water and unearths two torn-up pictures in the sand that function as foreshadowing symbols of this unlikely couple’s blossoming intimacy. Kim, a director infatuated with visual signs and ciphers, clearly intends his film to function as an allegory about both uneasy Korean class warfare—Han-gi being poor and marginalized, Sun-hwa being well-off and spoiled—and the unpredictable and oft-times cruel nature of fate and romance. Unfortunately, Bad Guy’s Stockholm Syndrome-like love story requires an unreasonable suspension of disbelief, and its final portrait of happy pimp-whore bliss in the back of a makeshift brothel-on-wheels is so preposterous as to be just plain bad.

Cast: Cho Jae-Hyun, Seo Won, Kim Yoon-Tae, Choi Duk-Moon, Choi Yoon-Young, Shin Yoo-Jin, Kim Jung-Young Director: Kim Ki-Duk Screenwriter: Kim Ki-Duk Distributor: Lifesize Entertainment Running Time: 100 min Rating: NR Year: 2001 Buy: Video

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