is hard for a femme fatale to age gracefully. Kim Hye-kyung might look like she
is, but the hostess is having a particularly tough time of it, due to the
constant harassment of loan sharks and mobbed-up businessmen. She fell for the
wrong guy and never stopped falling. Undercover Detective Jung Jae-gon is probably
an even more wrong guy, but he manages to insinuate himself into Kim’s life
just the same in Oh Seung-uk’s The
which screens during the 2015 New York Korean Film Festival.
Kim was the kept woman of a high-ranking VP at Jay Investments. Unfortunately,
there were some betrayals and a number of bad investments. The upshot is Kim
now owes hundreds of thousands to her creditors, including Jay Investments, but
has little hope of paying off her debt through her toil in a hostess bar. To
make matters worse, whenever Park Joon-kil comes calling, he usually takes on
more debt in her name. Yet, she can never deny him.
Jung is technically a cop, but his division is about as rogue as it gets. He
still takes orders from his mentor, even though the senior officer was forced
to resign by a corruption probe. Jung’s latest assignment is to find Park and
cripple him in retribution for killing a rival mob associate. Knowing Park
always returns to sponge off Kim, Jung tries to get close to her, posing as her
lover’s former cellmate. Despite their frosty initial meeting, Kim soon hires
Jung to be the club’s muscle. As they spend time together, some major sexual
tension develops. There might even be some emotional substance to it, deep down
somewhere in their malfunctioning psyches.
can call Shameless a noir or a
melodrama, but either way, Jeon Do-yeon’s performance as Kim is absolutely
staggering. To get a sense of the impact of her work, try breaking ten boards
with your head. They both sting like Hell, but the results will amaze you. This
is the kind of meaty, complicated role Hollywood actresses over thirty-five
would commit blue murder to land. Jeon nails it with a perfectly modulated, harrowingly
realistic feat of screen acting.
the gruffly charismatic Park Sung-woong’s Park Joon-ki is swimming in Jeon’s
wake. Nevertheless, Kim Nam-gil deserves credit for keeping up to any extent as
the icily reserved, borderline sociopathic Det. Jung. However, Kim Min-jae
makes a memorably odious villain in the person of Min Young-ki, who apparently
works as Jay Investment’s chief liaison to gangsters and crooked coppers.
Jeon took best actress honors at Cannes for Lee
Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, which
was also pretty impressive, but her work as Kim Hye-kyung truly deserves a standing
ovation. Even though it has been fifteen years since he last helmed a feature,
Oh also definitely holds his end up. His striking sense of visual composition
and blighted urban backdrops further elevate Shameless above and beyond the realm of conventional gangster
melodrama. Highly recommended, The
Shameless screens this Saturday (11/7) at the Museum of the Moving Image,
as part of the 2015 NYKFF.
Labels: Jeon Do-yeon, Korean Cinema, NYKFF '15