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The Scarlet Letter

Posted October. 20, 2004 23:15,   


“The woman saw how beautiful the tree was and how good its fruit would be to eat, and she thought how wonderful it would be to become wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, and he also ate it.”

This is from Genesis 3:6 of the Bible, a verse that portrays the scene where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The movie “The Scarlet Letter” starts with this verse.

“The Scarlet Letter” is producer Byun Hyuk’s first film in four years, after he became famous for the 2000 movie “Interview,” his first feature film, and the 1991 short film “Homo Videocus.” If a movie is compared to a style of writing, then this one is made of Byun Hyuk’s unique “handwriting.” It has a bold theme, strong expression and creative style.

Kee-hoon (Han Suk-gyu) is a criminal investigator; intelligent and with animal instincts. He has a submissive wife, Soo-hyun (Uhm Ji-won), and a passionate mistress, Ga-hee (Lee Eun-joo). Kee-hoon feels guilty, yet continues to move back and forth between these two women, who also happen to be schoolmates from high school. One day Kee-hoon goes to a murder scene and there he meets Kyung-hee (Sung Hyun-a), a woman accused of murdering her husband.

“The Scarlet Letter” is the 21st Century Genesis Chapter 3. Mystery and melodrama cover the movie from the outside, but they do not mean much. This movie deals with - as Kee-hoon confesses at the beginning of the story - man’s desire and original nature that “starts like a joke, but cannot be turned down, and later leads to the destruction of the self.” Among all recently released Korean films, this one makes the closest approach to human nature.

This movie resembles “Old Boy” in the way it portrays an undeniable fate and expressions that go to the limit, but the density is much thicker. “Old Boy” neutralized the intensity of the theme through screen techniques while “The Scarlet Letter” intensified the degree of shock buy making the images stronger.

Kee-hoon, the “Adam” in this movie, is a “bad man.” He thinks he has chosen between Ga-hee and Soo-hyun. He also thinks he has sinned against both by continuing his relationship with one while being married to another. However, what if the facts that Kee-hoon knows to be true are only the tip of the iceberg? The movie portrays him as a dual figure, both antagonist and protagonist.

The highlight of this movie is its last 20 minutes, where Adam (Kee-hoon) and Eve (Ga-hee) are trapped in the car trunk. This scene is to be remembered as one of the most shocking and intense scenes in the history of Korean film, showing the reality of a man being punished for having chosen desire. The red tones that appear in both the trunk scene and the picture that is overlapped with the scene are somewhat different. The former shows the despair of approaching death, symbolized by the blood; the red background is portrayed as a sensual quality that contains another truth.

The camera’s movement and the music are sticky and sweet, like the tongue of the snake that whispered to Eve. This is because of the excellent combination of Lee Jae-jin, who had worked on the music of the movies “Peppermint Candy,” “Failan,” and “Oasis,” and Byun Hyuk, who was musically talented enough to be offered a chance to learn conducting under the world famous conductor Chung Myung-hoon. Byun Hyuk actually appears in the movie as a conductor as well.

Han Suk-gyu has come back to the screen after the failure of last year’s film “Double Agent.” The low life images he has shown in the movies “Green Fish” and “No.3” kept coming back, but he succeeded in powerfully portraying a complex character. The scene in which Kee-hoon goes to the murder scene while singing “Pace Pace Mio Dio (Peace, peace O Lord in English)” from the opera “La Forze del Destino”, and spitting out foul language is acting that only Han Suk-gyu can do.

Lee Eun-joo was the tragic Eve. Not many actresses can show the difference between “lustful” sex and “despairing” sex. To be released on October 29. Available for audiences over 18.

Gab-Sik Kim dunanworld@donga.com