Sunday, May 13, 2007

April Snow vs Untold Scandal

Now we started addressing him with a new name - "that glass dood". This glass dood has done 12 dramas or short works so far as I know of, not many but all noteworthy. Let's see, I am tempted to list them in the order of my favorites.

Have We Really Loved? (Touches my heart the deepest! Most meaningful drama)
Winter Sonatan (An absolutely classic, the purest love story, best in the world, best in history!)
Hotelier (Most powerful, passionate lover, most charming man only lives in fantacy!)
First Love (Most practical, inspiring sunshine Chan-woo, my favorite man. Timeless drama that teaches invaluable love of family and friends in a most practical, down to earth way. Love it!)
Barefoot Youth (Most handsome HRH without glasses.)
Love Greetings (Most lovable maturing college kid)
Super Sunday (Most creative, humorous acting of a potential comedian HRH)
Six Steps to Separation (Most cool doctor alive! Another comedy of HRH)
Papa (Again, I don't fancy an unforgiving husband, but HRH is darling handsome.)
Sunny Place of the Young (Mostly fast-forward till HRH appears. He always outperforms.)
Sea Wind (Young HRH was so fresh, pure and cute.)
Goodbye My Love (The only MV of HRH)

He has also played in two movies, both are with excellent qualities. One he played with glasses - April Snow (2005), the other one without - Untold Scandal (2003). In general he looked more handsome in AS, and more sexy in US. Since we've been on the topic of analyzing April Snow, I would make another personal comparison with Untold Scandal. So today I took out US and watched it yet another time, just to reaffirm my opinions formed long ago. Once again, and even more, I found the US very moving. Tears welled up again, this feeling I will not get from watching AS.

When watching a movie, I usually assess it with 4 major criteria - moral, storyline, performance and artistic quality. Let me try to put my personal analysis into these four categories. I want to start with storyline even though I weigh moral the most important factor on my scale.



Untold Scandal :

Adopted from the French Novel 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', US tells about a "conversion story" from lust to love. Specifically it is a tragedy of an elegant, charming but notorious playboy Jo-wan in an aristocratic setting of Chosun Dynasty, who unexpectedly found his true love through seducing the "gate of chasity" Lady Jung.

Even though it is one of the many movie adaptations of a famous novel, the storyline by itself is intriguing, spiral, and emotional, topped with a bit of humor. Without knowing the story before watching this movie, I was truly struck by such an intertwined plot of sexual conquest and revenge. Watching it a few times more, I am also amazed by how intricate the author mapped the maze of the soul as well as depicted in detail the pleasure of the flesh. For example, finding out Lady Jung is a devoted Catholic, Jo-wan tries to win her attention through conversations and letters where he uses the familiar religious words and phrases that she would feel close to heart. Eventually I believe, Jo-wan is confused enough by himself whether he is faking it or really means it by saying that he is reborn from knowing her and looking for a brand new life, etc. He realizes that he is falling in a true love that he has never experienced before but he would feel ashamed to admit it as he viewed the one who is "trapped" in love silly. He believes this feeling will pass with time but his heart can never be as light as before. This theme was vaguely recognized the first time I watched the movie, that time I was mostly overwhelmed by its stunning nudity and panting bed scenes. But watching it more times and savoring on its conversations and performances, the above understanding gradually came more clearly.

April Snow :

AS tries to explore a relationship between a man and a woman who found out their respective spouses were having an affair from a car accident. Out of shock and anger, the two started an affair of their own, perhaps first for revenge, then the relationship grew into a mutual emotional comfort and may be love.

The storyline is simple and straightforward, there is not much "plot" per say. This is not a movie for people who love the storytelling, but for those who love the actors and the art of performances.



Moral of US :

Man can fall to any idol, e.g. money, power, or sexual pleasure in this case, only until he finds his true love, can he taste the sweetness and realness of life.

Just like every man in this world, other than eating, drinking and sleeping, Jo-wan needs find his purpose of life as well. On the other hand, unlike most ordinary man who has to work to make a living, he dedicated his life time of an idle nobility to the mission of "teaching the woman on the working of yin and yang". Through sexual seduction and conquest he seeks pleasure in life. Just as every other ambitious young man, he each time sets a higher goal to challenge himself. Except, his goal this time is to deflower the "gate of chastity", a noble widow Lady Jung. Out of his expectation, this cunning and difficult seducing journey revealed him the ultimate joy of lovemaking instead of the usual sensual pleasure. Knowing Lady Jung both body and soul made him fell into a true love that he could not believe and would not admit. For reasons he could not explain, this true love turned him into a brand new man. We can tell this just by the way he paints his drawings. Jo-wan is a talented painter and he put his talent in use to his hobby of drawing his sexual encounter with each of his targets. However after making love with Lady Jung, his drawing of Lady Jung was done with great respect and solemnness. His behavior and even facial expressions changed dramatically after he cruelly forced Lady Jung to end their relationship. We finally see a repented prodigal with some sense of righteousness. I love the episode at the end when Jo-wan resolutely refused his cousin Lady Jo's proposal of her "reward".

Moral of AS :

For whatever reason the spouse betrayed the marriage, for whatever reason a new extra-marriage affair can form, and it can be as beautiful and comforting.

The viewpoint of this movie is not clear. The movie tries to exhibit the issue more than to suggest a solution, but with a hint of supporting the development of this touching affair.

My standard on any first class art work is that it must have a clear and sounding theme and moral. If an art work only present the issues of the society but not suggesting a rational moral solution, it is usually more distressing than inspiring, I would rather pass it. For haven't we seen enough of these troubling issues in the reality? and don't we long to see some extra-ordinary heroic answer from the fantasy?



BYJ is my favorite actor, not because his acting is perfect, but one of the many reasons is because his acting is ruminating, and don't forget, entertaining. He strives to improve his acting skills by choosing challenging rolls. Jo-wan is one of the most challenging and controversial roll he has ever picked. Right after his extreme success of playing the perfect dream lover of the world in Winter Sonata, he decided to try a new territory of playing a shameless, dissolute playboy. One can imagine how much objection he faced with his family, friends and fans. But who is BYJ again? BYJ is not an ordinary man who often times follows the crowd and takes the easy route. He seeks growth in taking up challenges. Besides, he mentioned in some of his interviews that he finds the story of Jo-wan interesting. To me, his courage and determination are admirable. And still a personal observation, I think BYJ has particular interests in the roles of the "conversion" stories, where the "conversion" is triggered by the main character finding the true love. He finds challenge and joy in playing the roles that carry more complex and dramatic personalities, a mixture of evil and good, than just simply moral and perfect. His favorite role Jae-ho in the drama Have We Really Loved is an excellent example. Here we found another similar role Jo-wan in his debut movie Untold Scandal.

As for the role In-soo in his second movie April Snow, I would think there is not a whole lot of intricacy to explore with this character, I would even think In-soo is more ordinary than a typical above-average ordinary man. Therefore, the challenge to BYJ is even higher - to make an unremarkable In-soo attractive, radiating and even mesmerizing. Amazingly he did it!

The first time after watching AS, my impression was, BYJ in Untold Scandal was better. But watching both a few times more, I learned to distinguish the differences of the movie storyline and the performances. I came to realized that US storyline is better than AS, but I personally think BYJ's acting in AS is better than in US. Hold it! hold it! I am not saying his acting in US is not good. I am saying his performance in US is already excellent, but in AS he is even better. He deserved the Blue Dragon Award for his US performances. I wonder why he did not get another award for playing In-soo. I think it is awfully hard to play so well as he did.

Considering playing a notorious playboy in Chosun Dynasty, who is completely remote to who BYJ really is, he did an exceptionally great job. Actually I think showing a shamelessly debauched rakehell by our naturally pure hearted HRH, Jo-wan's character and tragedy was made more amusing, convincing and sympathizable. However, due to the aloof distance between BYJ and Jo-wan, once in a while I found some overplay of the wicked smiles from J0-wan. There are a few scenes in US I think he could do better with a bit more subtle handling.

Whereas in AS, his performance skills have been improved into even more detailed, subtle and natural. I can hardly find any place where I felt uncomfortable with the acting, other than the opening scene I mentioned in the previous posting ASBC vs ASDC, and there are three other places I have some opinions and they are mostly related to the directing style.

Opening scenes

The beginning is always the hardest. Perhaps the actor has not been completely immersed into the character, the performances in the opening scenes of both movies gave me a tad feeling of imperfect. In US, the expression on Jo-wan's face could have been shown a bit more annoyed when he was interrupted during his foreplay with one of his mistresses. This is really through my scrutinized eyes, if I took one step back and relaxed a little, I would say this scene is good enough.

The opening scene in AS when In-soo ran into the hospital hallway, in front of ER till he sit down at the bench, again in my scrutinized eyes, the performance was a bit overdone. The one shown in ASDC is more natural. I am thinking if HRH did a few tries of this scene, why did they not use the one shown in ASDC in ASBC? Not trying to point any fingers, just this question came into my mind when seeing the better alternative of this scene in ASDC.

Bed scenes

Bed scenes are the climax of these two movies. Somewhere I read that Korean dramas are mostly pure and traditional, yet the Korean movies are just the opposite, usually with extra sexual liberty and exposing. Here we can get a glimpse of this speculation. Look, all of HRH's dramas are traditional, beautiful love stories, and all of his movies are renowned for the delicate and exotic bed scenes. So we can not avoid talking about it.

In US, the bed scenes were done with great maturity. Very natural, you see I judge acting by how natural it is done. The only imperfection was Jo-wan's facial expression at the end of the hugging with Lady Jung, after their lovemaking with the sitting position. I expected his facial expression a bit more passionate.

In AS, the bed scenes were done with great delicacy, just a bit over-reserved for the first one. I would like to see In-soo showing a bit more of being stimulated by Seou-ying's touch, which will make the first intimacy more convincing. The second one, on the other hand, was supposedly hot, but to my eyes, needs to be more natural. I know I have been scrutinizing a great deal, but since we started a job, no matter great or small, we need to do it with perfection. See it was started off by suggesting Seou-ying lying on top of In-soo kissing him, but her actual shooting position was not completely on top of him, her lower half was slanted off of In-soo's lower body. This arrangement is fine if the actor and actress are not comfortable of doing the complete overlay. But shouldn't the shooting cut more of the lower half of her body so that we don't see that un-natual part?

Crying scenes

In US, there is a tiny crying scene for Jo-wan, tiny means the showing of the tears and emotions was made subdued and subtle. This is the most moving part of the movie. I have to give actress JDY extra credit on this episode. BYJ's acting was excellent too, but I am expecting a little bit more passion while Jo-wan telling Lady Jung what she did wrong by loving him and while speaking these cruel words, he was actually tearing. This is a very difficult play, BYJ did a great job, just, just, a little more passion will satisfy my emotion.

In AS, there are two crying scenes. The first one was the well-know one done in a restaurant after In-soo learned the truth of his wifes affair. BYJ appropriately portrayed the distress and hurt in the introvert mild tempered In-soo. His crying was done extremely convincing and natual.

I have to say that the second crying scene is completely unnecessary. First I hate to see man cries, unless there is absolutely good reason. Second, I do not see the real cause of In-soo's cry in such a degree of sorrow. In-soo to Seou-ying's relationship is not deep and strong enough to cause the man's tear and also the general impression of In-soo is a man with sensitive heart but not much passion. I somehow feel the only impact of this crying scene to me is to show more of the weakness side of In-soo. So I'd love to see this crying scene CUT.

Misc scenes

In US, when Jo-wan sneaked into Lady Jung's bedroom while she was sleeping, he made that guilt speech while wicked smiled and left, that wicked smile could be made a little later in time and a little more subtle.

In US, when J0-wan was in his cousin Lady Jo's garden and met So-ok's mother, his wicked facial expression could be reduced a bit. Sigh, maybe it is just me who does not like to see the wicked face of HRH.

In US, the first time Jo-wan met Lady Jung and her aunt, presented his gift of teas to them, when the aunt invited him to stay with them for a tour in the garden lake, his complacent smile could again be smoothed a bit.

There are a few other places where similar kind of wicked smile could be subdued a bit to give a more natural effect, and I attribute these to the drastic unfamiliarity of BYJ to that degerate prodigal Jo-wan.

In AS, I only need to mention a tiny expectation of a scene when In-soo and Seou-ying having dinner, Seou-ying being drunk, suggested that they should start an affair for revenge and then stood up and left the table. After she walked out of the door and stepping down the stairs, I was expecting In-soo turn around to look at her back with a confused and implied look on his face.

In AS, another expectation, when in In-soo's room, Seou-ying peeled the fruit for In-soo, In-soo came over, turned her chair around and facing her, his hands touching her hair, his face tends to get closer to hers, before they heard the knock on the door, that silent moment, I wish it was shot a little bit faster in pace.

Enough scrutinizing, these are all very minor, and I expected the director be more scrutinizing.

Artistic Quality

Not an expert in the art of movie making, I can't comment too much technically. I tend to think that both movies are equally well made, musics are beautiful, costumes are adequate to suit the purpose, sceneries are filmed picturesquely, both directors are solid, I would watch their movies again if they work with our HRH again in the future.


Toujours_BYJ said...

Wow another great analysis, thanks H, I love love it.
Me too, I think he deserved an award for his performance in AS, a lot of French reviews I've translated said how his acting's great, do you remember ?
But we all know how this movie and YJ has gone through in Korea at its release, right ?
It's why I's so glad when French media praised AS at its released here. I never forgot the day a Korean entertainment website reposted a review from a French movie magazine I translated and posted on KOB. It's a kind of revenge for all of us, we were so excited this day.
And I do agree with you, the second crying scene in AS is not necessary.

gosijo said...

Dear H,

Once again, I admire how open you are in sharing with us what you liked and liked less in our dear YJ’s work.

I agree with you and Camille about the second crying scene in AS. I think it was right to show In-soo’s conflicting emotions but they should have found a better way.

For US, my take on the story is very much along the lines suggested in the opening warning to viewers: they should watch until the end otherwise they will think it is a very wicked tale. Rather than seeing the conversion as the moral, however, I see that the wicked characters are punished even if their goals have been turned around (from lust to love in Cho-won’s case).

I too admire YJ for taking on a role that is so different from his usual image and from the glimpses he has allowed us to see in his personality.

For AS, I have to declare a bias. I consider it his best work to-date and one of my all-time favourite movies. I’ve already taken up a lot of your comment space elsewhere on this movie but there are perhaps two more points I’d like to make. The first is about the second love scene. One of my favourite aspects of having Seo-young originally on top is that In-soo is seen with his head on the pillow. For a moment, there, he’s like a child looking up with trust, admiration, and pure love – so beautiful!

The second point is the apple-peeling scene and the long look exchanged between In-soo and Seo-young. Ah, this one is, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the whole movie! I love the suspense of holding the silence for so long! I love how we can endlessly re-interpret what they might have been thinking! Most of all, I love how it’s place in the narrative changes from one version to the other and still fits so well (in my view, at least).

All in all, though, I’m really glad you shared your thoughts about US because it helped me consider this movie in a different light.

Lastly (I promise, I won’t go on after that!), I hope I can share with you a little something about the novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which I read a few months ago. It is a very long novel written entirely as a series of letters between the various characters. There comes a part where Madame de Tourvel (Lady Jung in US) leaves the house where Valmont (Cho-won in US)’s aunt is living and Valmont is visiting because his constant profession of love for her has become oppressive. She feels she will not be able to hide her love for him much longer so she flees. Once away, she writes to the aunt and says that she is a weak woman and has been having unworthy thoughts, but she doesn’t name the person that inspired those thoughts. The aunt writes back, having guessed Madame de Tourvel’s secret and offering her comfort and support, rather than blame. The letters between the two women are very beautiful, very romantic. They show the genius of the writer, Choderlos de Laclos, who could imagine the diabolical plots of Valmont and the other woman, but also such tender emotions between other characters.

HeippieH said...

Dear Camille,

Please pardon me for coming back after so long time. It's the usual "reasons", that I am truly occupied with many worldly chores. Sigh, Sigh!

Thank you so much for dropping by. I agree with you, YJ's performance was undervalued in this film. To me, it is a very difficult film to perform, both actor and actress did a fantastic job. It is rare to see such refined and masterly acting in nowadays regular movies. It is not that I am narrow-minded to refuse watching other movies, it is just I kept trying to watch them and most of the time could not finish those less quality movies.

I am thinking the French love the AS because they are cultured enough to know how to appreciate art.

HeippieH said...

Dear gosijo,

It is always a treat to read your comments. Likewise, I appreciate the openness you are to me, that translates into trust. I feel like we are two students exchanging notes on our course work. Honestly I take honor to feel comfortable expressing my thoughts on HRH's works, because I think my position with HRH and his work has become similar to how I am related to my children. I love them, but I would not feel unsafe to analyze them in order to see them getting better. There is still a tiny difference though, is that I can only analyze HRH and his work, he is already great enough to keep improve himself without needing to know my opinions. So the main purpose of my analysis here is just record-keeping and hopefully some thought exchanging with people who are interested.

I totally agree with you that the second crying scene should have been done in a different way. I thought about this as well, but I am not diligent and talented enough to come up with a better treatment of In-soo's emotion at that moment. I think I would change my writing there from "CUT it" to "change it".

I am very interested in reading your opinions about AS as a movie, and also your opinions of some scenes, very interesting to me is, the scenes that I feel imperfect happen to be your favorite scenes. And you have reasons for it. Next time I watch it, I'll try to watch it with gosijo's eyes. ^_^ And see what I feel with gosijo's eyes.

And mind you, I love your last paragraph in the previous comment (maybe you should promise me to go on more after that! ^_^) I never read the novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", you are so fortunate that you can read in its original language French. I am moved by your description of the relationship between Lady Jung and the Aunt. I remember in the movie Lady Jung had a talk with the aunt, she cried and expressed her weakness to her, the aunt showed her understanding but warned her to be strong to overcome these emotions. From what I read in your descriptions of these letter exchanges, I sensed the movie did not do enough to depict this beautiful exchange of the souls.

On the other hand, just as I am reading your description of the exchanging of the tender emotions of these women, I am taking this as an analogy of our thought exchanges.

Thanks very much, with much love..

gosijo said...

So true, dear H, that our thought exchange is, in some ways, analogous to the exchange I enjoyed so much in LLD! How perceptive you are!