Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in DaeHakRoh
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Gee-woong Nam
Keywords: low-budget, boobs
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea
Actor: Dae-tong Kim, So-yun Lee
Format: 60 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0280140/
Website category: Asian
Review date: 8 February 2012
It's amazing. I was riveted and I'd almost call it a must-watch, despite it being silly low-budget trash. It's also eccentric and so heavily stylised that if you're paying attention to the plot, you're not watching the movie.
Let's get the title out of the way first. That's what I call lurid. In fact I think it's deliberately so, with the aim being an excess of exploitation kitsch that's effectively self-parody. Yes, the film has lots of nudity and violence... but the nudity is frequently shot in such an extreme style that you can't see it, while the violence's after-effects sometimes involve prosthetics as silly as those in The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police.
The plot is... no, let's talk about the style. All the shooting seems to be done with a hand-held camera, using a fish-eye lens and often massive colour flares that make it look like a 1980s music video. When the teenage hooker (So-yun Lee) is having sex with her teacher (Dae-tong Kim), their bed is glowing so brightly that you'd think this was The X-Files or Poltergeist. Scenes will do something weird and then go on doing it so long that it becomes performance art, whether this is non-stop laughing and cycling, delivering an intimate monologue in close-up or dancing to the incidental music. (Yes, you read that right.)
Did I mention the music, by the way? It's unbelievable. The opening titles play over beautiful, delicate music that you'd put on the most rarefied of art films. Soon afterwards though we switch to a boogie jazz number for piano and saxophone. There's a loud, brash song, complete with lyrics, of which the film is so proud that they stop the action for a couple of minutes while the characters dance to it. (This is in an alleyway at night with our seedy protagonists, who a moment ago had been talking about Lee giving Kim a free one so that he won't have her expelled from school.) There's opera. Lots of opera, actually. Proper tonsil-vibrating opera, not to mention Latin guitars and choral singing from Cambridge's King's College Choir. The music is actually in my opinion the most important thing about the film, as is demonstrated by the gun-toting, bullet-popping climax of killing and treachery... which has the kind of romantic dreamy music you'd use for the slow dance at a wedding. The result is a scene that feels as if it's underwater.
It's completely bonkers. The three laughing snuff filmmakers are so surreal that they got me laughing too and I didn't even know why. After all, they'd just killed a woman by sawing her to pieces. However while this was being done to her, the victim (Lee) merely looked serenely to camera and shed one tear. You or I would have been screaming in pain, but they make their schoolgirls tough in South Korea.
The violence is silly. It occasionally gets extreme enough to be called gore, but somehow I don't think we're meant to be taking seriously a scene in which shooting a woman in the stomach can make an eight-month-old foetus appear in mid-air in front of her and float there. It's clearly hers because of the two-foot-long umbilical cord linking it to the gaping hole in her belly. (Earlier she'd decided she was pregnant with Kim's baby, only a few minutes after having sex with him, and that once they were married, they'd raise this daughter together to be an opera singer. I'm skipping over a lot in that summary, but it was a long monologue. Isn't this level of emotional attachment to your clients perhaps unwise in a prostitute?)
Admittedly Lee had some months before given Kim a free one, so one could argue that this isn't as biologically absurd as it sounds... but I don't remember noticing Kim being eight months pregnant. More importantly though, why am I discussing realism in connection with this movie? This is a film in which someone being punched makes the same sound as a video game. Oh, and the closing credits include "In-Bum Woo" and "Bum-Suk Ryu", but maybe these are entirely normal Korean names and I'm just being childish.
Meanwhile the nudity is plentiful, but you often can't see it very well.
The actors don't appear to have acted in anything else, while the writer/director's only other film to date is the similar-sounding Never Belongs to Me in 2002. I haven't watched it yet, but the words "cyborg hooker" and "man replacing his genitalia with a firearm" have clear parallels in today's film. So-yun Lee is credited as composer for This Charming Girl in 2004, though. As for Dae-tong Kim, he intrigued me because I couldn't tell if he'd made him up to resemble Satan or a Buffy the Vampire Slayer demon, or if he really looked like that.
"Surreal" is the word for this movie, although one might also mention "comedy prop phallus" and "a man deep-throating a woman's crotch-mounted cannon that's about to blow his head off". In most films, you look for realism. In this film, you look for the opposite. Check out the grumbling grandma who hears Lee servicing a customer and gets on the phone to moan that she'd been about to get some sleep for the first time in years, that it's her unlucky day, etc. If she'd been about to go to sleep, what's the story with all those candles? She's drowning in them. You'd think this was Jean Cocteau or something. It's 1980s music video time again. How long must it have taken to light them all, and wouldn't it be dangerous to do so before going to sleep? This film reminded me of Frankenstein, Metropolis and Nosferatu, as well as the more obvious candidates like Nikita. Its characters look as if they've stepped from a silent horror film, especially that white-haired hag.
Just amazing. I loved it. You get double points if you can talk someone else into watching it with you, despite the title.