Attractive, but far from bewitchingThere are different kinds of cynics. There are people who are naturally cynics, and there are those who pretend to be cynics only to moderate their passion. Finally, there are those who use cynicism to purely mock humanity, mostly due to the same kind of reckless hostility rebellious teens exhibit.
Lee Ha’s “Bewitching Attraction,” a film that was apparently too shy to directly translate its Korean title, “The Secrete Charms of a Female Professor,” has the kind of cynicism found in categories one and three.
From beginning to end, the film is about nothing other than the naughty flirtatiousness of a female college professor, Eun-suk (Mun So-ri), and the men who fall under her command.
Yet irritatingly, vague visual hints overwhelm the film, such as repeatedly playing around with a transient sense of place or the overdressed professor, wearing a slinkly satin something, wandering around dingy motel rooms, sleeping around with the members of an activist group she is part of.
Up until the ending credits, however, viewers aren’t given a single clue as to why the film had to be set in a fictional suburban city named “Simcheon,” which is the same Korean name of a city in China. (The film, however, takes this idea further by showing a scene of an academic seminar held among college professors in Korea. Oddly, a banner hung at the forum is entirely written in Chinese. It’s possible that the panelists might have flown to China for the meeting. But then why doesn’t the film say so?)
In fact, the film splatters vague symbols all over the place, leaving fragments of images that don’t lead into the story’s narrative. At times, the film poses as a messy version of a Kim Ki-duk film, except that in this movie, characters demystify women in a very tasteless way, whereas Kim’s films are filled with indulgent metaphors that serve to mystify its female characters.
This film is like a poodle that runs away after it pees. It doesn’t know how to clean up its mess, and it probably wouldn’t even if it did.
You can’t really question an artist’s intention unless it’s clearly presented. Yet it’s difficult to avoid thinking that the film’s shifting codes are there simply to confuse viewer about what the film is really trying to say.
Despite the story’s poor construction, however, the film offers some deliciously captivating visuals.
The scene of a giant duck boat approaching onscreen in the background as two guys spit out vulgar complaints about life sets up a strange image that’s both amusing and melancholic. The stream of blood from a kid smashing his head into the dry swimming pool in a desolate neighborhood is a haunting image.
The film’s ending, which shows Eun-suk leaning on her sofa narcissistically reading a poem, perfectly encapsulates the film’s unsettling undertone.
In the end, “Bewitching Attraction” is like listening to bad poetry that merely irritates viewers and offers them no enlightening thoughts.
Directed by Lee Ha
Starring Mun So-ri, Ji Jin-hee
Running time: 104 minutes
by Park Soo-mee