On celluloid, plastic is murderWho would refuse to look beautiful if it could easily be done? All it takes, after all, is a knife, a talented doctor and a wad of cash.
Apparently, not many would refuse, particularly in Korea, where it’s a badge of honor to be counted as an eoljjang (“face king,” a person with a great face) or a momjjang (“body king”).
A recent survey conducted by the movie magazine Movie Week found that 71 percent of its respondents said they would have plastic surgery if they could afford it. The magazine said its survey showed that plastic surgery was no longer just for celebrities, a point that would surprise few people here.
Chungmuro, the street in Seoul that houses Korea’s biggest filmmakers and one of the most sensitive places to social changes in the country, didn’t need a survey to know that plastic surgery is a big issue. Two films released this month revolve around the issue of cosmetic surgery, and another film to be released soon features a girl who succeeds in life after having plastic surgery.
The two August films are “Cinderella,” by the director Bong Man-dae, and “Time,” by the veteran arthouse filmmaker Kim Ki-duk. Though the plots of both movies are about plastic surgery, the two directors deal with it in very different ways.
In “Cinderella,” plastic surgery is a frightful thing. In the film, high school girls die one by one after going under the knife, in scenes that are brutally realistic in their depiction of the process of cosmetic surgery.
“Time,” however, poses a philosophical question about appearance and success, asking if plastic surgery can actually change one’s love life, friendships and even ego.
The third movie, to be released at the end of the year, is a comedy directed by Kim Yong-wha called, “It Isn’t Easy Being a Beauty.” In the film, a terribly unattractive woman named Han-nah (played by Kim Ah-Jung), turns into a sexy and attractive singer after having plastic surgery.
Plastic surgery is not entirely a new twist to the movies. In “Swiri,” the 1999 film by director Kang Je-kyu, Lee Bang-hui (played by Kim Yun-jin) radically transforms her face in order to conceal her identity as a North Korean spy. In the comedy “The Beast and the Beauty” by Lee Gye-byeok, the hero, Dong-geon (Ryu Seung-beom), ends up ugly after getting surgery from a quack.
The new films are a bit different, however. The new movies no longer regard plastic surgery as a plot device or source of cheap jokes. They delve deeper into the issue of plastic surgery by relating the matter to the desires of human hearts.
“Cinderella” is a critical depiction of human selfishness, as its characters try to be happy at all costs ― even if it requires hurting people. In it, the plastic surgeon Yoon-hui (Do Ji-won) and her daughter Hyun-su (Shin Se-gyeong) appear to live happy lives. However, once high school girls suffer from schizophrenia and die after they get plastic surgery from Yoon-hui, viewers find out that there is a hidden secret behind the two women.
Its director said that in the sense that the mother and daughter bully another girl, the film is much like the fairy tale Cinderella.
Se-hui (Pak Ji-yeon) in the movie “Time” undergoes plastic surgery to become a new and different person ― and to win back the man she loves. Having become a totally different person, the new Se-hui (played by Sung Hyun-ah) approaches her ex-boyfriend Ji-u (played by Ha Jung-u), who has no idea that the girl standing in front of him is Se-hui. She takes him to the places where the two used to go on dates together in the past. To her disappointment, however, she realizes that she isn’t happy, even though her boyfriend seems to have fallen in love with her new self. She is left in a state of confusion.
“It’s instinct to pursue something new, and it’s life that makes us realize that time never allows anything to last forever,” the director said.
There are no good points to plastic surgery in the movies; it is uniformly seen as unnatural and undesirable.
In the movie “Time,” the plastic surgeon (Kim Sung-min) warns the female character that she should be aware of the fact that once she goes through with the operation, she will never be able to go back to what she used to look like. He makes sure that she understands that her life will be entirely different once she gets a new face. Despite the doctor’s warning, Se-hui insists on going through the operation ― and regrets it.
The movie “Cinderella” reminds people of the serious dangers plastic surgery carries. It shows eerie scenes of girls lying alone in the operating room, nervously waiting for the doctor to come in. It also depicts the gruesome results of the mother’s quest to make her daughter the “prettiest girl in the world.”
by Joo Jung-wan
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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