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NYKFF ’14: Man on High Heels
Yoon Ji-wook is definitely a cop on the edge. In fact, he is overdue to be
re-assigned. Hey there, gender-bender pun. Just when Seoul’s most feared
gang-busting cop is about to walk away from his life of butt-kicking, the bad
guys pull him back in. Genres will also be bent and blurred in Jang Jin’s Man on High Heels (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 New York Korean Film Festival (in Brooklyn).
regularly faces down large packs of gangsters singlehandedly. Nobody knows that
better than Heo Bool. The mob boss is currently facing a raft of charges while recovering
from Yoon’s thorough thrashing. Charges have been filed against the cop, but they
are nothing the hotshot prosecutor can’t handle. This might be the perfect time
for Yoon to go out on a high note, allowing him to finally resolve his identity
issues with reassignment surgery.
there are a couple of loose ends Yoon is still not sure how to tie-up. One is
Jang-mi, an aspiring singer and bartender, who often provides freelance
undercover support for Yoon. Their ambiguously platonic relationship is even
more ambiguous than she realizes. The other loose end is Kim Jin-woo, Yoon’s
hero-worshipping protégé. Unfortunately, Heo Bool’s son Heo Gon might solve his
interpersonal problems the hard way when he declares war on the Seoul organized
crime task force and all of Yoon’s closest associates.
Heels is the strangest
mishmash of genres. It is a complicated tale of unrequited love, rooted in a
tragically sentimental schoolboy crush story, periodically punctuated with no
holds barred action beatdowns. The first and the latter are often rather
effective, but the heavy handed flashbacks are really pushing it.
Yoon’s scenes with Jang-mi are surprisingly touching, perhaps even more so before
their secret connection is revealed. They just seem to be two lost souls who
manage to connect in a hard to define way. In contrast, the detective’s scenes
with his new life coaches just seem to drag on. After a while, we just so get
the subverting masculinity thing.
Yoon and Jang-mi, Cha Seung-won and Esom develop some quiet but powerful
chemistry. Cha’s performance is particularly versatile, encompassing action
cred and the sensitive deconstruction of his macho image. In a small but
notable supporting turn, Park Sung-woong gives the film two healthy shots of
attitude and energy as Prosecutor Hong. Unfortunately, none of the villains
have the same verve.
Jang’s script is all over the place, but at
least cinematographer Lee Sung-je gives it an appropriately noir sheen. The ambivalent
conclusion might even be problematic for American LGBT festivals, but it is quite
daring by local Korean standards. While it earns credit on that score, the midsection
is still a little draggy. Recommended for fans of Korean thrillers open to gay
and transgender themes, but not an essential artistic statement on either
front, Man on High Heels screens
tomorrow night (11/22) at the BAM Rose Cinema, as part of this year’s NYKFF.
Labels: Korean Cinema, NYKFF '14