CENSORSHIP, for all its injustices, can make the best marketing tool for an artist. How many times have we seen a banned book or movie become a cause c鬨bre? Such has been the case for bad-boy South Korean author Jang Jung Il, who was briefly jailed for his 1996 sadomasochistic novel Tell Me a Lie. All copies of the title were recalled and destroyed, but now the book has been made into a small but sensationalistic film. The movie is no Last Tango in Paris, and its director is no Bertolucci, but that's not to say it's not enjoyable on some level. It just might do as a cheap date for S&M enthusiasts who can't afford a professional dom this week.
Lee Sang Hyun contemplates Kim Tae Yeon.
written and directed by Jang Sun Woo with Lee Sang Hyun and Kim Tae Yeon runs December 1-7 at Egyptian
Certainly, Lies' plot is familiar: An 18-year-old woman and a middle-aged man meet regularly for casual but violent sex. But if this scenario of love and degradation seems plucked from a Marquis de Sade text, it's also the Cliff's Notes version. The flimsy storyline—have sex, beat each other up, repeat—doesn't allow the characters to become much more than their acts. The couple becomes cute and affectionate in a few perversely comic moments, but Lies eventually goes the way of your average porn flick: The sex gets old after the first few times—or the first few "holes," according to the blunt intertitles.
What we're left to appreciate is the film's self-awareness. Lies interrupts the action on several occasions for behind-the-scenes interviews with its first-time actors. (This device recalls the recent French film An Affair of Love.) Out of character, Kim Tae Yeon, a tall, collegiate-looking woman with bobbed hair, reveals it was difficult to take off her clothes for the camera. "It's not like it's my honeymoon," she says, suggesting the level of taboo that surrounds not only pornography but premarital sex in conservative Korean society.
Kim's candid confession adds an interesting dimension for the audience: Just how far did she and her costar go in making the movie? The bloody welts on their legs and other injuries are disturbingly convincing. For viewers not into S&M, Lies is difficult to watch. One of its most poignant moments occurs when Kim bawls after being punched and kicked by a jealous woman. The director shouts "cut," but Kim, crouching on the floor, keeps crying uncontrollably. Fantasy and reality are suddenly confused, jarring the spectator out of mere voyeurism. For all its shortcomings, Lies is wise to keep that nakedness uncensored.