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Director Jung Ji-Woo’s Latest Subject: Forbidden Love at 30

Director Jung Ji-Woo’s Latest Subject: Forbidden Love at 30

Posted September. 29, 2005 03:05,   


The director of “Happy End,” Jung Ji-woo, has released “Sarangni,” his second work in six years.

After “Happy End,” a vulgar yet desperate love story, Jung has now cooked up a romance with a unique flavor.

First up, the ingredients (the plot). They are incredibly intricate and brimming with creativity.

The age of the heroine is one thing. Thirty. Not young but not old, either. It’s an age that can be satisfied with reality (a cohabitating male), that may linger on a young girl’s first love, or that could mean trouble with a juvenile student. Coincidentally, Kim Jung-eun, who plays the role of Cho In-yeong, hit 30 just this year.

The names Jung uses add to the plot. The name of the heroine’s first boyfriend, Lee Seok, is the name of her student, her forbidden love. The student’s crush, Cho In-yeong, is also the heroine’s name. The heroine believes the student “looks like my first boyfriend,” but the first love she meets again at a reunion is a completely different man. Cho tries to fall in love with twin brothers who resemble the boy she loved, but despairs at the impossibility. The two Lees wreak havoc for the heroine, the two Chos play tug-of-war with the student Lee, and the twins confuse the student Cho.

Are memory and reality the same, like the exterior of a person and his mind? The irony of such similarity and disparity in life are all present in Jung’s work. In the end, the heroine, Cho, gets to meet her first love, her live-in partner, and her student all in one place. It seems like a muddle, but somewhere, a certain order among her love interests prevails. At this precise moment, her wisdom tooth starts to throb. What a queer love allegory!

The second aspect is the recipe (directing). With the special ingredients, the director unravels a seemingly mundane love story. He reaches for a 30-year-old woman’s “love philosophy” through the distinctiveness of “a hakwon teacher who falls in love with a juvenile student.” A story that is “unique but generic” according to Jung.

The taste (results) is the third factor. I failed to “taste” anything, despite the fresh ingredients and recipe. Eye-opening lines like, “I want to sleep with him (the student)” and “I’ve never seen one uncircumcised. It’s pretty” are flung at us uninhibitedly by the heroine (Kim Jung-eun, no less), but don’t really penetrate the audiences’ hearts as anything worth our full emotions. They talk of desire and desire freely, but a problem arises when we don’t feel any. Perhaps it’s the shadow that comes from the director’s intention to slowly devolve a squirming game of love until it becomes a tepid game of chess.

Kim Jung-eun is neither bad nor good. We worry that she has turned into an “ice princess,” utterly incapable of subtle facial expressions.

Sarangni opens September 29, and is rated for audiences ages 15 and up.

Seung-Jae Lee sjda@donga.com