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The Intimate

Cho Dong-Hyuk and Seong Hyun-Ah in The Intimate.
AKA: Lover  
Korean: 애인  
Year: 2005  
Director: Kim Tae Eun  
  Cast: Seong Hyun-Ah, Cho Dong-Hyuk, Lee Chang-Yong
  The Skinny: The basic premise of The Bridges of Madison County gets transported to Korea, albeit with younger and prettier people who just so happen to enjoy vigorous, comparatively explicit sex. Cho Dong-Hyuk turns in a likeable performance as the film's "other man," but overall, poor filmmaking choices keep The Intimate at an arm's length from its audience.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

What 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 not.

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.

To 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)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Sky Entertainment, Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc


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