BABY’S NO SURE THING

December 18, 2012 – 4:29 am


A woman thinks a baby will bond her man stronger to her but in Park Seong-il’s Love Her (2001), that cannot be further from the truth. Stephen Tan reviews.

In the Sherlock Holmes story, The Three Gables, the cold and ruthless Isadora Klein will do anything to get what she wants - even discarding and inadvertently killing her lover. She tells Holmes: “You must realise it from the point of view of a woman who sees all her life’s ambition about to be ruined at the last moment. Is such a woman to be blamed if she protects herself?”

In a way, Park Seong-il’s Love Her (2001) is also about a young woman who seemingly gives her all - in this case, even having a baby - to get what she wants: to be with her man. Soo-bin appears to be in a good relationship with Jae-mo who works on odd jobs fixing up boats by the sea. Their idea of a break is sex in the cabin. Jae-mo is a composer and although he writes some pretty tunes, he does not seem to harbour much thoughts about making it big. Soo-bin, on the other hand, feels that Jae-mo ought to be a big star.

Soo-bin pesters Jae-mo to send another round of demo tapes to the record companies and gets sullen when there are no replies. They visit one of the record companies to inquire but get an off-handedly polite runaround - in other words, bug off - from a recording exec. This incenses Soo-bin who reacts by trying to thrash the exec’s room.

At a bar, Soo-bin gets involved in an argument with another customer and ends up jumping on him. At the same time, the boat owner fires Jae-mo when he feels that Jae-mo is neglecting his work - he is so pissed off he barges into the boat’s cabin and douses Soo-bin and Jae-mo with paint when the two are having a playful moment in bed.

The couple’s friend, Tae-sik, offers them a place on one of the islands to chill out. Life on the island is idyllic at first, with Jae-mo helping out at Mr Jung’s farm. Seeing Mrs Jung suckling her baby, Soo-bin gradually feels that she too should have a baby to make her life with Jae-mo complete. Soo-bin turns cold when Jae-mo tries to talk about Soo-bin’s background. But before long, the couple is having sex again.

One day, Soo-bin shows Jae-mo the results from a home pregnancy test which indicate that she is pregnant. Jae-mo is so happy that he marries Soo-bin by the sea but the joy is short-lived when the hospital calls to say that it’s an “imaginary pregnancy”. The news destroys Soo-bin who eventually loses her mind when she cuts off her breast and finger [the film’s subtitle has it as “stabbed in her chest and fingers”]. (For those looking for some gore a-la Kim Ki Duk’s The Isle, the violence happens off screen.)

While Soo-bin cuts a tragic figure, it is still hard to fully feel for her. Jae-mo’s problem is the viewer’s problem as well - just who the hell is Soo-bin? For a good part of the film, no one knows anything about her, until the end when it is revealed that she was an adopted child whose adopted parents never loved her and that her adopted sister had bullied her when they were young.

While a certain amount of anonymity is present for those living in urban cities, that Jae-mo never pursued the matter only makes Jae-mo a rather callous fellow. It does seem, especially at the beginning, that Jae-mo could easily be without Soo-bin. But what doesn’t get teased out is Soo-bin’s reliance and dependence on Jae-mo. That Jae-mo is a rock for Soo-bin is without doubt, but why? Perhaps in Soo-bin’s mind, she’s the one who sees Jae-mo’s potential, is the one who is pushing and sacrificing for him. Ironically, at the end of the film, it appears that it is now Jae-mo who is devastated with the loss of Soo-bin, who lies in a catatonic state.

Park Seong-il’s Love Her isn’t a soft-porn film per se though there is nudity and sex and these scenes are beautifully shot and soundtracked. Perhaps this is also a film that tries to pack in a bit too much - apart from the sex, which occurs at pleasing intervals; there is psycho-drama; the joys of living in the country (Mr Jung says: “Farming… I’ve never seen more honest work… I want my son to be a farmer like me”) and a jibe at the music business.

Soo-bin thinks Jae-mo is another Mozart in the making though the music Jae-mo writes is pleasant piano pieces (think Richard Clayderman?) and the episode with the recording company is a total farce. Love Her might have been made before K-Pop made it big and a more biting satire on the behind-the-scene K-Pop shenanigans is the 2011 horror movie, White: The Melody Of The Curse.

There is a commercial sheen to Love Her but it’s also hard not to poke at the holes that are in the film.

Note: The Love Her DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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