Friday, June 19, 2009

Crush and Blush

Showing at the New York Asian Film Festival: Crush and Blush, directed by Lee Kyeong-Mi

Synopsis from the NYAFF website:

Me-Sook (Kong Hyo-Jin) is probably not the finest teacher that the South Korean educational system has to offer. A paranoid, ruddy-faced stick of dynamite, she lives in the faculty lounge, teaches middle school English without knowing the language, and has been in love with colleague Mr. Seo (Lee Jong-Hyeok) since she was his student. Mr. Seo has a family now, but as far as Me-Sook is concerned, they’re just temporary obstacles. When she learns that dizzy colleague Lee Yu-Ri (Hwangwoo Seul-Hye) has been carrying on an affair with Seo, Me-Sook goes thermonuclear, forming an unholy alliance with a student who's a born loser, just like her: Mr. Seo’s daughter. Imagine a movie based on a team-up by Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction and Reese Witherspoon from Election, and you’re just starting to understand the pathology on display here.

"People like us must work harder than everyone else," Me-Sook warns Jong-Hee, Mr. Seo’s daughter, at the start of their mission. And they do. In between rehearsals for their ill-advised performance of Waiting for Godot at the school talent festival, the girls spend their nights posing as Mr. Seo on the Net, luring the virginal Yu-Ri into cybersex trysts, but to their dismay, the more perverse the chats become the more aroused Yu-Ri gets. As their scheme expands and begins to collapse, comedy becomes dramedy, laying bare the fragile bonds not only between outcasts but between women. When Mrs. Seo (a magnificent Bang Eun-Jin) puts it all together, it's time to put on your headphones in the language lab, and choose your future through guided meditation and soul-shattering confessions.

Crush and Blush is helmed by first-time female director, Lee Kyeong-Mi, who splices thriller, satire and, yes, chick flick DNA to create a gorgeous monster. Upending all the tired "female stalker" cinema tropes, she places you in the headspace of the supposed “psychos” while the prey remains at a distance. Co-written and produced by Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy)—who cameos in the film along with Bong Joon-Ho (director of The Host)—the film took home "Best New Director" and "Best Screenplay" at the Blue Dragon Film Awards. Kong Hyo-Jin won "Best Actress" at the Korean Film Awards for her tour de force as the unstoppable Me-Sook, whom she transforms from an object of derision to one of shocking identification. These characters do horrible things, but for profoundly human reasons, and unlike Fatal Attraction, nobody gets stabbed, shot, or boils a bunny. Catharsis, when it comes, is both hysterical and heartbreaking. Crush and Blush is a subversion of the stalker picture, a love letter to the world's losers. "No one cares about people like us," Me-Sook tells Jong-hee late in the picture. "But I care," Jong-Hee replies. By the end of this film, so will you.

Wed June 24, 9:15pm at the IFC Center (with actress Kong Hyo-jin in attendance)
Thu June 25, 5:00pm at the IFC center (with actress Kong Hyo-jin in attendance)

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