"You really let him do that to you?"
Y (Kim Tae-yeon) is an 18 year-old virgin who is determined to lose her virginity to a man of her choosing rather than risk being raped, as both her sisters were before they reached twenty. She therefore begins to have phone sex with a 38-year-old married man, known only as J (Lee Sang-hyeon), which quickly leads to an in-person sexual relationship. As their illicit encounters become longer and more frequent, and their carnal pursuits more extreme, J convinces Y to try a fetish with which he is rather obsessed, and thus some S&M spanking, whipping, and eventually beating, is added to their sexual marathons. But to what extremes are they ultimately prepared to go, and how will the reactions of their families and friends affect their relationship and the actions they choose to take?
A film as sexually explicit as Lies is almost always going to raise the question of whether we are witnessing a cutting commentary on the moral taboos of society which uses visuals and narrative to push against the boundaries of what is considered acceptable to be shown on screen at the same time as pushing the buttons (if you will) of both censors and those of a puritanical mindset, or if we are simply watching pornography masquerading as art.
The majority of the running time of Lies is indeed taken up with increasingly graphic and involved sadomasochistic sex between the two main characters, but labeling it as nothing more than a "skin flick" is both an over simplification and, in fact, an inaccurate description:
While Lies certainly has an eroticism to it (and could even said to be titillating as well as, to a degree, arousing - especially in the early stages of Y and J's relationship), as the sexual encounters of the two begin to push more sexual boundaries there is an increasing distancing of emotion from their physical acts of sex and S&M. Thus, while it is clear throughout that J get intense pleasure from the literal slap and tickle on show, we can never be entirely sure if Y feels the same way, or if her agreement is simply an ingrained need to please brought on by a subconscious desire to be liked and wanted. As such, director Jang Sun-woo deftly pushes viewers to regularly feel that they are watching something they, perhaps, shouldn't be or that they are voyeurs to the (fictional) possible abuse of a young girl by an older man, rather than only seeing the film as containing erotic and close to pornographic levels of adult content.
Director Jang Sun-woo's decision to take viewers behind the camera lens on several occasions (the first of which occurs at the very beginning of the film, with the main actors discussing their feelings about the roles they are about to play) adds even more of a voyeuristic air to proceedings through the first half of the film and brings a level of viewer discomfort along with it from the outset, mirroring the clear reservations felt by the cast before shooting begins. Kim Tae-yeon is clearly uneasy about the level of nudity playing the role of Y requires, and her acquiescence to Jang Sun-woo's cinematic demands walks hand in hand (albeit in an inverted form) with the film's underlying theme of members of society needing to be seen to conform to the consensus of the majority while differing beliefs and desires continue to bubble under the surface.
The aforementioned discomfort continues with another 'behind the narrative' scene in which we are shown the filming of an argument between Y and her school friend Woori (Jeon Hye-jin). After the first take, both girls are obviously deeply upset (in reality) and Kim Tae-yeon even needs some time to recover her composure before the scene can be filmed again.
However, powerful and interesting though these glimpses of the reality of situations lying behind the fictional narrative are, they are sadly never utilised to anywhere near their full potential. As a result, glimpses (and only glimpses) they remain and, to my mind, it really is rather a shame that these aspects weren't followed through to the conclusion of their story. Instead, viewers are left to guess what effect the making of Lies may have had on the attitudes of the main cast, compared with their thoughts and feelings (already shown) before filming commenced.
Within the incessant, almost endless and increasingly violent sexual encounters between Y and J, director Jang Sun-woo inserts several elements of humour which somewhat serve as light relief from the discomfort brought by several scenes - at least for those who enjoy frank and somewhat in-your-face confrontational humour, but which will likely annoy (or even offend) those of a more conservative nature. Case in point: Within minutes of their first face-to-face meeting, Y and J are already engaged in varied sexual acts in a rundown love motel (J's deflowering of Y), each being heralded by large on-screen letters, on a black background, stating "First hole", "Second hole" etc.; as their forays into S&M sex increase, Y & J are shown 'shopping' for larger and larger instruments and implements to use in their whipping/beating sessions in such a matter of fact way that they almost appear to be doing their weekly supermarket shopping; and J's eventual fashioning (complete with full use of saws, sanders and goggles) of an 'cane' rather resembling a baseball bat, and the utter, almost childish, excitement with which he shows it to Y and begs her to use it.
It seems likely that the line between humour and offense that these and other scenes traverse (exactly where they ultimately lie being dependant on each individual audience member's viewpoint) is an utterly deliberate choice on the part of Jang Sun-woo and, however you choose to perceive them, they fit almost perfectly with the moral lines he draws (and crosses) and the underlying questions he raises within the increasingly questionable sexual acts portrayed in the film.
In fact, it seems fairly clear that Jang Sun-woo repeatedly uses the narrative (and the sexual content) of Lies to consciously try to play with both society's attitudes and conventions - deliberately prodding those likely to be abhorred by what they are watching, again and again. His desire to do so may well have had more than a little to do with his original decision to direct a film based on a book which landed its author in jail (Tell Me A Lie, written by Jang Jung-il), and the fact that the film was banned in both Korea and Japan at its time of release simply says that he succeeded in his goal.
Cast: Lee Sang-hyeon, Kim Tae-yeon, Jeon Hye-jin
Extremely sexually explicit, Lies mixes a discomforting narrative with moments of confrontational humour to produce a film that is both difficult to watch and hard to turn away from.
edition reviewed here is the Korean (Region 3) ShinCine Single Disc release. The film itself is
provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and there are no image artifacts present. It should be noted, however, that since the film is a low budget, documentary-esque drama, the picture quality never really stands out as exemplary, but that is a result of the original film rather than being a transfer issue.
The original Korean
language soundtrack is provided as Dolby Digital 2.0 and is clear throughout.
Excellent subtitles are provided
throughout the main feature but English-speaking viewers should note that, as with many Korean DVD releases, there are no subtitles available on any of the extras.
• Director: Jang Sun-woo
• Format: NTSC,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0
• Region: Region 3
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: Category III (Korean Film Classification)
• Run Time: 115 minutes (approx.)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Kim Tae-yeon at the Venice International Film Festival (9' 31'')