if you met your true love while you were engaged to
someone else? Director Kim Tae-Eun explores this question
in The Intimate, a typical "Boy Meets Girl" love
story with the added complication that the girl already
has a fiancé. On a thematic level, the film's premise
alone seems to be setting up oppositions like "Passion
vs. Logic," "Romance vs. Stability," and "Love vs. Duty,"
but when all is said and done, it's difficult to know
exactly what the filmmakers want viewers to take away
from the experience, aside from perhaps a few vicarious
thrills and empty platitudes about true love. It's not
a bad film per se; it's just one that can't really overcome
its lackluster conclusion.
Sung Hyun-Ah (from Cello and The Scarlet Letter) portrays the anonymous
"Ms. Girl" who finds herself involved in an illicit
tryst. The film begins with a frame story set some time
after the main events of the movie. In this brief prologue,
she's asked about how she first met her husband-to-be.
She smiles in response, and the film then flashes back
to a fateful day when Ms. Girl crossed paths with a
handsome stranger (Cho Dong-Hyuk, from Hypnotized).
After a few chance encounters, the two of them pal around,
and a flirtation begins that quickly turns into something
else. Soon enough, one thing leads to the other, and
the two end up having sex. Quite vigorously, in fact.
Although it's lust at
first sight, there does seem to be potential for something
more. Unfortunately, he's leaving for Africa after his
company went bankrupt, and she's engaged to be married
in a month. Rather than just leave things as they are,
"Mr. Boy" (as he's called at one point) decides to pursue
her, and the two end up spending twenty-four hours together.
In the ensuing day, Ms. Girl must take stock of her
life, as she experiences romance and passion on a level
she's only dreamed of previously. She discovers a definite
chemistry with her new hunk, but she's committed to
a man she's been dating for seven years. Who will she
choose? If the film's frame story is to be believed,
then it's a foregone conclusion, right? Well, maybe
Overall, The Intimate is a beautifully-shot, erotically-charged film with
a compelling, if not exactly original premise. The story
arc proves to be engaging simply from an "I wonder what's
going to happen next"-type perspective, but how things
eventually end up for the film's protagonists may leave
some viewers more than a little frustrated. Despite
that well-worn cliché about the importance of the "journey,"
sometimes the destination does matter.
On the plus side, the biggest
surprise in the film is Cho Dong-Hyuk's character. Mr.
Boy's motives are remarkably uncomplicated. Although
the filmmakers would like the audience to believe otherwise,
it's telegraphed from the very beginning that he's genuinely
smitten with her. Furthermore, although there is an
initial attempt to cloud the issue of his current relationship
status, Mr. Boy is quickly shown to be romantically
unattached. As a result, he's not the typical womanizer
seen in films of this ilk, but a lifelong romantic who's
nursing a broken heart. Despite his pretty boy good
looks and his too-cool fashion sense, Mr. Boy is more
or less a sweet guy that any woman would love to snag
for their own. Imagine a handsomer Ekin Cheng in My
Wife is 18 with the libido of Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct.
Whereas Cho Dong-Hyuk's character
possesses charm in spades, Ms. Girl is a relatively
blank slate. Her history and her intentions remain clouded
through the film, and aside from a few glimmers here
and there, her personality is practically non-existent.
In a sense, this "blankness" may serve as a positive
for audience members looking to project themselves onto
her character, but it doesn't make her a character that
viewers can latch onto. Seong Hyun-Ah turns in a performance
that is sedate, almost distant at times, both in and
out of the bedroom. As a result, some of the more explicit
love scenes, for all the "passion" they are meant to
convey, feel surprisingly clinical. Sure, they're prettily
staged, even elegant at times, but ultimately, the sex
on display isn't quite as erotic as it should be.
be fair, not only could it be that Seong is simply trying
to reflect the way in which her character is seemingly
sleepwalking through life, but there's an indication
that some of the best parts of her performance were
left on the cutting room floor. During the end credits,
several deleted scenes taken from Ms. Girl's and Mr.
Boy's twenty-four hours together are displayed. These
outtakes suggest a much richer, and yes, intimate, story
than the finished project depicts. Whatever chemistry
the two have - and whatever "life" Ms. Girl has at times
- seems to be amplified in these deleted scenes. Thus,
it's a shame the scenes themselves or simply the feeling
conveyed in them weren't incorporated into the final
cut of the movie.
To make matters worse, the
"doomed romance" angle is made even more frustrating
than it should be since the supposed tragedy of it all
is so entirely unnecessary. Ms. Girl's boyfriend is
revealed to be not only considerably less attractive
than her new man, but is also a smarmy jerk, who bizarrely
describes marriage as a way to share one's personal
hell with another person. What a romantic, right? Good
looking or not, if the fiancé character had been shown
to be a nice guy, then the film's primary dilemma would
have been infinitely more interesting and tragic.
Sure, complicating things by making the boyfriend more
sympathetic would have risked making Ms. Girl unappealing
to audiences, but as things are, she just comes across
as a weak character. A "good guy" fiancé would have
made the tension of choosing between him and her new
lover all the more real and considerably less cliché.
Since there's no sense of either romantic or even platonic
love between Ms. Girl and her husband-to-be, not to
mention any suggestion as to why she'd want to marry
him in the first place, for her to actually choose him
would make her look more or less like an idiot. This
is, after all, a modern day story, not a period drama
set in a time in which opportunities were denied to
women. As a consequence, the major question of The
Intimate becomes less centered on which guy she
should pick (although that's obvious), but instead on
the question, "Why get married at all?" In the absence
of love, there is no "duty" to be completed here - parental
pressures, a pregnancy, an ironclad arrangement, etc.
The fact that there is no substantial reason why she
should stick with her fiancé makes one of the film's
last scenes involving a direct rip-off of The Bridges
of Madison County seem trite and hollow.
Maybe I'm being too hard on The Intimate. As to its positives, the film does
provide vicarious thrills for audience members interested
in spending a day with a handsome guy, who just so happens
to be romantic, sweet, and great in the sack. He's the
perfect man. Well, aside from the quasi-rape, but let's
leave that aside for now. The characters sure did, since
that moronic turn of events is forgotten almost as quickly
as it happens, making one wonder why the filmmakers
put it there in the first place. That seems to be the
main problem with The Intimate - the lack of
a distinctive creative vision. When all is said and
done, what's this movie really trying to say? I'm not
sure, but without spoiling the ending, I'll say this:
perhaps they thought audiences would simply be distracted
by the sheer number of scenes in which their good-looking
leads get naked. Perhaps that's the only kind of intimacy
they were striving for. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)