Pornography or Art? New Film to Reignite Old Debate

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Pornography or Art? New Film to Reignite Old Debate

The word in the street is that 'Belle,' a movie directed by Yeo Kyun-dong and set to premiere on August 12, is a second 'Lies' - if you remember, the one that got into hot water with censors and civic groups for its 'obscenity.' Four Internet broadcasting sites for adults recently uploaded highlights from 'Belle,' attracting Internet surfers like a magnet. A homepage created by the production company also boasting clips from the movie caused the server to shut down after 80,000 people tried to access the site simultaneously.

Although 'Belle' shares the same subject - sex - as 'Lies,' the movie uses expressive techniques quite different from those of 'Lies.' While 'Lies' portrayed a self-destructive form of love through stimulating and arousing sex scenes, this move offers fragmentary thoughts on love, viewed through images of the physical body. In some ways, the movie resembles a nude photo album.

"The body is not an object to be repressed, but the focus of the most fundamental and basic human interest. While exploring the subject, I tried to use methods quite distinct from those of typical love scenes." To that end, director Yeo asked contemporary dancer Ahn Eun-mi to choreograph the body movements of the lead actors, to allow the camera to capture their every move, down to the play of muscles on their body. Ahn applied her skills to such details as the actors' necklines during the bed scenes, their postures and hand gestures as they fell on the bed, and the way they danced.

The movie is based on a novella entitled 'Body,' published by the director in 1998. It follows a 22-year-old glamor model (played by Lee Jie-hyon), who has recently parted with her boyfriend and meets a magazine reporter (played by Oh Jie-ho). The two abandon themselves to the sensual pleasures afforded by each other's body. The woman is tormented by memories of her former lover, but finds comfort from the physical relationship with the new man and slowly falls in love with him.

"I felt I was directing a stage play as I shot the movie. The two performers in the leading roles were both new faces and had to rehearse for two months before the actual shooting begun. I was particularly pleased with the piano themes by Noh Young-shim, which complemented so well the overall ambience of the movie."

Director Yeo, who majored in philosophy in college, has a multifarious past. In his youth, he translated books by G.W.F. Hegel and Gyorgy Lukacs. In the 1970s, he was once arrested for violating an emergency decree of the Park Chung Hee regime. He now works as a broadcasting commentator, a commercial film model, and an actor. He has appeared in the movies 'To You, From Me' and 'Wife in Romance.' 'Belle' is the forth movie he has directed, following 'Out to the World,' 'Porno Man,' and 'Killing Story.'

One thing consistently associated with this director is an obsession with sex. This obsession is clearly evident in 'Porno Man,' a portrayal of the fantasy-like world of three men preoccupied with pornography, and in 'To You, From Me' in which the director played the role of an impotent man. And it is in 'Belle' that this obsession comes to a culmination.

He says, "Sex is a personal taste. Sex is also a creative tool that is useful in art. There is no reason to reject the use of such a direct and emotional tool of production." He adds, "Sex was also a means of resistance for those like me who lived frustrated lives in the 1970s, when government power reigned supreme and feminine values disappeared from society."

Last year, he released a short black-comedy film, 'My Computer,' in which he offered a view of the National Security Law. He has also written about 30 scenarios dealing with controversial social and political issues. He was asked to make a feature-length film from 'My Computer,' but refused, believing it "not yet time to deal light-heartedly with such subjects."

His next film - a road movie - will explore the freedom of the individual and will not include sex scenes, he says. Yeo says that he feels 'Belle' fell a little short in terms of its psychological exploration, and that he intends to make up for the lack in future movies. 'Belle' is an experimental work aiming to comment on love using images of the human body. It remains to be seen, however, whether the cinemagoers will be able to appreciate and understand this unusual approach.

by Shin Yong-ho

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