A schoolgirl prostitute (Lee So-woon) is turning tricks outside the home of the granny of her former teacher (Kim Dae-tong) when he catches her in the act. To placate him, she offers him a “fifty-grand special” but, on declaring her undying love for him following their liaison, he has her killed and reanimated (by his three henchmen and a mad scientist) as a cyborg assassin. Initially unaware of her past she undertakes a murderous mission but, when she is injured, her memory begins to return and she sets out seeking vengeance on each of her murderers…
A film with a title such as this can be almost guaranteed to grab the attention, and spark the imagination, of anyone perusing the World Cinema section of their local shiny-silver-disc store; creating expectations of a mixture of (s)exploitation film, vengeance opus and out-and-out grindhouse gorefest. However, though there are many elements from each genre present within the film, sadly Teenage Hooker's bark is largely worse than its bite.
Read the title of the film and you'll already know the vast majority of the story - a teenage hooker becomes a killing machine - and there really isn't enough here to justify the sixty minutes running time. However, rather than expanding the story to any degree; going into greater character depth; or keeping the film to a length more befitting of the narrative, director Nam Ki-woong instead chooses to stretch each short set piece out to an agonising degree, from the very first scene to the last, stealing an entire section (almost verbatim) from La Femme Nikita along the way.
The credits at the beginning of the film last for over seven minutes and, combined with another four minutes of credits at the film's conclusion, add up to over a sixth of the total duration - during which time absolutely nothing happens, apart from a schoolgirl wandering aimlessly from one place to another.
Further cases in point:
Almost every time that the teenage hooker's teacher appears on screen, he laughs manically... and laughs... and laughs; when he catches the schoolgirl plying her trade in an alley, the two characters begin a surreal dance - a great concept, but not when it goes on for almost six minutes, and; when the teacher's grandmother is disturbed by the teenage hooker servicing a client, she spends an inordinate amount of time crying "Oh, no" down the phone to her grandson - over... and over (by now you're probably getting the idea)... and over.
Even when graphic violence and nudity are added to the mix, the previous (virtually endless) meandering serves only to diminish their intended effect and that, above all, is a real shame because those visuals are some of the most wonderfully visceral and disturbing that you are likely to see in a B-movie and, if more attention had been paid to the realisation of the rest of the film, they would have succeeded to a much greater degree.
Thematically, I assume that Nam Ki-woong was attempting to provide a critique on the exploitation of youth and the control exerted on them by the older generation, but Teenage Hooker is so unfocused that, by the time the themes began to be referenced in earnest, I really didn't care anymore.
Cinematically, Teenage Hooker plays much more as an art film than a standard sex and violence B-movie; with over-saturated colours used extensively in conjunction with as many weird and distorting camera lens shots as possible. During the many sections of the film which are accompanied by music (a large number of musical genres are referenced throughout the movie), this works quite well - giving the feeling of some sort of strange music video - however, even these are somewhat adversely affected by the slow, laboured pacing and the script's lack of depth, resulting in an overall feeling of style over substance. I'm sure that Nam Ki-woong was attempting to achieve something different from the genre norm with Teenage Hooker, but the many problems present would almost imply that he was, at least partly, using the visual compositions to cover what he already knew was missing elsewhere.
The exemplary quality of acting which is routinely on show in South Korean films means that the following statement is almost a new concept for me as a reviewer: The acting in Teenage Hooker is appalling. Over-acting, under-acting - it's all here - and, in fact, only Lee So-woon (playing the titular character) shows any glimpses of talent whatsoever, though even she is not given any opportunity to put in a real performance. As far as the other cast members are concerned, singling any out for specific discussion is pointless, as their performances are each as bad as each other.
Teenage Hooker Became A Killing Machine sadly squanders the opportunity presented by one of the most evocative titles in recent memory; stretching a ten minute music video plot out to a laboured sixty minutes.
Actors: Lee So-woon, Kim Dae-tong, Bae Soo-baek, Kim Ho-kyum
edition reviewed here is the UK (Region 2) release from Third Window Films, with the film itself presented as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Shot on digital video, the image is rather bad quality and even though the transfer itself is clean and clear it can do liitle to improve matters. Nam Ki-woong's decision to oversaturate some images with glaring colours while under-lighting others only serves to add to the problem and, though it is clear that this was an attempt to give an artistic feeling to proceedings, a balance between each is never found (or sought, for that matter) resulting in the scenes looking rather amateurish.
The original Korean
language soundtrack is provided as Dolby 2.0 and subtitles are provided
throughout the main feature.
• Director: Nam Ki-woong
• Format: PAL,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Sound: Dolby 2.0
• Region: Region 2
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 1
•Studio: Third Window Films
· "Kangchul" - 30 minute short film from director Ki-woong Nam
· Trailers of other Third Window Films titles